Don't Sweat over Fortnite

Ashish Mistry 98C launched KontrolFreek to bring much-needed ergonomics to performance gamers.

By Elizabeth Cobb Durel

Hero to Fortnite-playing kids everywhere, Ashish Mistry 98C launched KontrolFreek out of gamer need. The performance gaming gear began as an industrial design project brought to Mistry’s desk by one of his staff, a rabid Call of Duty gamer. “His hands would cramp up after playing for hours on end and he started thinking about the ergonomics of where his hands rested on the controller,” says Mistry. “He devised the idea of creating a performance thumbstick.” With a selection of products ranging from the enhanced thumbsticks to a sweat resistant controller grip, the gear from KontrolFreek, in its tenth year of production, is fitted to every major gaming system and type of game.

We talked with Mistry as a part of our series getting to know the winners of the 2018 Emory Entrepreneur Awards. He and KontrolFreek took home the top prize in the Business-to-Consumer category. While the gear company is one he and his partner wholly own, he also is an investor in BLH Venture Partners, which currently has interests in 43 mostly minority owned ventures.

Do you play?

I've never been a gamer. I sort of call myself the enabler and we’re trying to be cognizant of that.

How so?

As a business, you have to take some responsibility for your products and for the sort of influence you can wield. If you look at the voice of the brand, it's very much like an older big brother or sister. You can feel a little bit of snarkiness but we're not offensive. We really try to push responsibility as much as we do gameplay.

How do you spend your day?

I'm on the phone nonstop. We pride ourselves on being able to take what we are gleaning from one business and bring it to the next one. 

How did your time at Emory influence the work that you do now?

The network and developing the ability to think on your feet. My degree in religion doesn't lend itself well to gaming or venture capital, but if you step back it's all about stitching things together whether it's teams or concepts.

Have you ever utterly failed?

Which time? Our first company we started almost just out of Emory. It was in the IT support arena. We raised venture capital for that business and then we built the IT backbone and started to get customers. Ultimately the business required more capital than we could raise and the business failed.

What did you learn from that experience?

While the business was a failure and we lost money for both ourselves and our investors, the one thing we walked away with was a real sort of understanding of how to carry yourself and how to treat people.

What's the best advice you’ve ever gotten.

Learn from your mistakes and don't be afraid to make many more. We continue to fail every day in different ways but it means that we're trying new things. As a result we're getting ahead and advancing in ways we didn't realize.

Do you think your own failures give you more forgiveness for the companies you invest in?

We have a tolerance for risk and for second chances, but the most important thing is character. When you have outside investor dollars, you must respect the fact that somebody is taking a risk on you. They're taking their hard-earned cash, after tax dollars, which they could have put into the market or given to charity, but they gave it to you instead. If you can respect that, then you get to play again.

What’s the key to negotiations?

It's fun. It's strategic. You have a scorecard at the end of it. Someone once told me that in a great negotiation both parties walk away just a little bit upset.

What do you consume to keep you informed?

I spend half my day reading. The Wall Street Journal. The New York Times. I'll read The Economist and get industry-specific newsletters.

What do you do for fun?

I'm doing it. This is fun for me. I exercise but I don't play golf. I used to play tennis recreationally, but what I do for a living and the people I get to spend time with are fun. I spend time with smart people all day long. Have discussion, debate. And then, maybe I put money into a company, so we can work on the problem together.

When you think about your time at Emory what's the one word that comes to mind and why?

Home. Emory's always sort of been that place to be if all is not right. Just driving down Clifton centers me a little bit.

Editor's Note: Elizabeth Cobb Durel has a ten-year-old, an eight-year-old, and a four-year-old. The two oldest audibly gasped in awe when she told them about this interview. They also gave her strict instructions to thank Mistry for his good work helping them “crush it.”

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