Chedy Hampson has always been a huge fan of card games, his favorite being Magic: The Gathering. In the Magic gaming world, it’s all about finding, trading and buying the right cards. Websites like eBay and Amazon helped gamers sell to other gamers, but the shopping experience was lacking: quality guarantees, fast delivery, easy shopping comparisons and buying assorted volumes was not on level. Hampson knew it could be; and niche gamer sites lacked the inventory.
In 1999, Hampson and cofounder Ray Moore began TCGPlayer.com, which was then a content site talking about the popular card games they loved.
“We were ad based at the time,” said Hampson, “And survived off banners. You can’t do that really: web traffic is way too up and down.” After three years of riding that roller coaster with a 3-4 person team, Hampson and Moore transformed the site into the beginning of an optimized product listing hub for several games including Pokemon, Heroclix, and of course, Magic – a model that is simply spectacular in the e-commerce world.
Though going directly to the site is the best user experience, TCG opened its code (API) across the web so that niche sites everywhere could use the handy search tool and find not only any card they were looking for but the best quality and cheapest price anywhere. Hampson smiled widely as he filled his cart with several cards at a time and hit the “optimizer” button, automatically selecting the best deal for every card in barely two seconds, showing the savings onscreen.
“99% of the apps and sites out there use our pricing data,” said Hampson.
Unlike Amazon, which gives resellers commission on only the first facilitated sales, TCG gives resellers 90 days commission on anything a sales lead they send to the site generates, creating a much more mutually lucrative, friendly e-commerce relationship across the online card game world.
TGC went ahead and bought at least one of every card in their system so they could ship next day to anyone in the country using the system. As of April 2014, there are over 13,000 different Magic: The Gathering trading cards alone. They also became exclusive sellers of the few games they actively market.
“We’re killing eBay,” said Hampson. His new TCGPlayer Direct program mirrors Amazon Prime and the best e-commerce models, such as Zappos. Like Prime, multiple purchases will ship in one package, instead of eBay’s several, further optimizing the purchasing experience. They also give free shipping for purchases above $35.
“Same day shipping, every package,” said Hampson, “We have a happiness guarantee for every package. No matter what, we replace your card immediately if there is a problem – before we get the other one back.”
He mentioned they also model their packaging after Apple and Bose; unlike most of the industry that gives you just brown paper. With TCG graphics, they make it feel like you are getting a gift.
“We struggled for about the first 12 of the 15 years we’ve been in business,” he said, recalling the years they worked out of his home in round-the-clock customer support, shipping and receiving, and inventory shifts. They also spent time in Syracuse’s Tech Garden downtown. In February of this year, they moved to the State Tower Building in Syracuse, and are currently renovating a spacious 10th Floor skylight room. The building has not been used in over 50 years as a ‘hip headquarters’ and the new space should be ready for business soon.The company has also grown exponentially in terms of personnel. “Last September we were 14 employees,” noted Hampson, “Now we are over 45!”
Though some developers are connected remotely out of Rochester and Buffalo, the majority of the staff works on-site in Syracuse. This year 11 employees relocated to the CNY area to work or continue their careers at TCG.
“A lot of people out there don’t like their job,” Hampson remarked, “They are out and spend their nights and weekends distracting themselves from the fact they don’t like what they do. Here at TCG, everyone is part of the ‘geek’ culture and this is what we love doing.” Hampson mentioned if it’s not Magic, employees are usually big Star Wars fans, Trekkies, or the like.
Hampson told a story about applicants crying during interviews because they were so happy to make their job what they loved.
“I just didn’t think a place like this existed,” said one game lover through tears of joy.
“We have weekly game nights,” said Hampson, “And we spent about 8 months hearing from everyone what they thought our core values should be, and then shaping them into something that really encapsulates that work-fun customer service culture we are trying to emulate.”
“We could just hire shippers,” he said, “But we want people who love the culture. In the end, we all come together extremely well. We share similar loves: movies, TV shows, and the games.”
TCGPlayer.com also partners with the local comic book and board game store “Play the Game, Read the Story” in hosting local Magic: The Gathering tournaments.
When asked what his focus was as CEO, Hampson pointed outside his office to his employees. “I’m here for them,” he said.
When asked what his favorite movie is, he answered, “Highlander.” Favorite TV show? “Battlestar Galactica.”
Chedy Hampson studied business in college but says he went to school to play baseball. Amid the stress of running a successful and innovative tech company, it looks like he will keep on playing all day for the rest of his life.