You’d never know it from his personable nature, but , Founder and CEO of , wasn’t always popular. Adopted as a baby and raised in a small farm town as the only person of color, he often felt like a fish out of water in his early years. “Gaming was my escape,” he says. “It was comforting to me.” Fabian found confidence in the hobby, as a shortcut to feeling “important, relevant, or significant,” he says. Then, as a teenager, he began competing–first, playing –which became an evolution of the love he felt for games as a child. “Nothing mattered except for how much you prepared in advance,” he says. “It was a great equalizer, and that was the first magic moment for me.”
Today, Fabian is world-class. He’s been in the top 0.01% of players for 10 games, including and . In 2016, he left his Lead Designer position at Groupon to play games competitively when a select few had begun to earn a living doing what they loved. He played eight hours a day. “If I lost a game, I’d write down in a notebook who I lost to and what I could have done differently,” Fabian says. “I took it very seriously, just like a job.”
He was top 20 in the world at Clash Royale–and one of the top YouTube streamers for the game–but it was hard to monetize his skills. One day during a stream, a viewer asked if he could teach them how to play like he did–an atypical style based on his experience with card games. Fabian agreed to teach the user for $100/hour, not thinking the person would say yes, but simply because that’s what he charged for his design work. And the viewer purchased his time.
This first transaction kicked off Fabian’s coaching career. “Every time I was streaming, I was coaching,” he says. He made about $40,000 in six months, which was dramatically more than he made just streaming at $30 a day.
With a family in mind, and without the proper infrastructure to support a coaching business, Fabian ultimately went back to tech. But he did pass a love of gaming onto his kids, who wanted to learn themselves… just not from their dad, of course.
Given the way he fell into coaching, Fabian decided to reach out to the Pokémon World Champion to see if he might be interested in teaching his kids; he agreed to do it at a rate of $20/hour. “That was the real ‘a-ha’ moment for Metafy,” Fabian says. “This guy was the World Champion in this game, and he is working in a warehouse." Even top players couldn't make enough money to sustain themselves simply by streaming, but an appetite to monetize through coaching was starting to reveal itself. Fabian knew if he didn't build Metafy, someone else would.
Serving Coaches as Much as the Consumer
When he set out to create the Metafy platform, Fabian did so with a critical eye on the business model. “It’s hard being first to market, so I give credit where credit is due,” he says of the skills coaching platforms that came before. “But the reason most of our competitors have failed is because the model was inherently flawed.” You can’t treat coaches like products on a shelf, Fabian explains–taking a cut of their profits, ignoring whether or not they can earn a living at their trade, catering to the consumer but not the consultant. With competitors’ tools, coaches would often connect with students on the platform, and then ask them to pay via Venmo or PayPal for future sessions to bypass the company’s commission. After all, once a coach connected with a client, the company served little purpose.
Fabian didn’t want to build a platform that wasn’t truly aligned with the coaches’ interests. In a very human way, Fabian knew these top gamers. He’d shared drinks with them. He’d had good conversations with them. And he was concerned with their success. “I wanted to make sure that any decision we made, I could sit down across from our coaches and say, ‘Here’s why we did it,’ and not feel like the bad guy for saying it,” he says. “That led to Metafy’s approach where the coaches are our customers.”
Today, coaches use Metafy to house their entire business–and even market it organically. Many link to their Metafy profile from their Twitter accounts, YouTube channels, or Twitch streams. In fact, the company has hardly marketed at all to students who sign up for coaching sessions (yet), but rather the gamers who teach on the platform drive growth.
Fabian credits his stellar coaches with the platform’s surge of growth in 2021. In , Metafy reported that the gamers on the platform had cleared $100,000+. Just a year prior, they pulled in $1,206. Today, four coaches on the platform have quit their jobs to teach gaming full-time. “It’s humbling, shocking, and terrifying–you know, it’s a lot of feelings,” he says. “But it is very cool nonetheless.”
Rapid Growth as a Company and Founder
Metafy is in a stage of hyper-growth, which is its own form of trial by fire. Now a group of 36, Fabian began creating his leadership team in earnest over the past year–brilliant folks who spearhead teams like growth, engineering, and product management. “I have a really clear vision for Metafy,” he says. “And when I started to build the leadership team that I thought we needed to accomplish that vision, I started seeing, ‘Wow, being a leader of leaders is really challenging,’” he says.
In his words, he’s learned to “eat his humble pie” and accept that he is not always right about every company decision. Fabian admits he is still learning to think more like a CEO and less like a Founder. “I always thought founders were just CEOs,” he says. “And it’s been a rocky transition. I think it’s important to say that, not just because it’s true, but because I think it’s rocky for everyone in this role.”
Founders have a say in everything, effectively running a dictatorship, says Fabian. CEOs are running a more disciplined operation where people–often more skilled than the founder in their specialty–have a vote and an impact. “When your team grows, you are sharing a piece of your dream with every person on the team,” he says. “And you hope they are good stewards of the dream–but they can’t be good stewards if they don’t have the autonomy to do so.”
To be a good Founder-CEO, and have longevity in the role, you have to allow your company to become a democracy, Fabian insists. “Your voice changes to represent the core tenants and mission of your company,” he says. “That’s how you ensure your presence is in the room even when you’re not in the room.”