When I started my first company in 1988 with my business partner at the time, Mark Tilson (employee number six at EA Europe), I was 24 years old and I really didn’t have a clue about what a business was.
All we had was an idea, some contacts and a track record in the embryonic computer games industry of delivering against our word. We also had no money.
I decided to quit my highly paid job working for a service company in the games industry, but didn’t really have a clue about how the industry would develop and cared little about the customers and suppliers. I decided I could do better and set my own company up.
Nowadays, I hear the word ‘bootstrap’ a lot. Bootstrapping to me means to start your business without external funds or resources. This was exactly what we did when we started The Producers. We needed to create an income as fast as possible and ensure that it not only covered our costs, but made some profit.
We took some office space with friends Andy Wood, Roger Large and Roy Campbell, and they allowed us to use their phone system and a fax. We borrowed a PC to write our quotes and invoices and then persuaded some contacts to do business with us.
We quickly realised that confidence and the ability to communicate are vital, but you also have to make money. That means you must define what you are setting out to do and then communicate it to your target customers, whilst always measuring progress.
All businesses need customers and if you don’t think that matters, then you will never run a successful business.
Our first order was producing 50,000 audio cassettes of the sound track to Rainbird’s Starglider 2 for insertion into the game box as an added value item. We got the order because we were trusted, we offered a great price and provided a guaranteed quick turnaround.
We were trusted not only by the customer, but by the supplier of the cassettes. We set up a trading account on both sides of the fence and our small profit enabled us to bank it all, spend none of it and most importantly tell other people what we had done.
That built confidence and it was our first step on the way to building our reputation for service, quality and trust.
At the same time as managing ‘front of house’ with the customers, we realised that running the ‘back office’ was equally important. That is something that both of us were able to do, but we had to decide who would do what, and then ensure we stuck to that way of working.
I went front of house and Mark took the back office. Today technology has made starting up a business even easier than it was in the 80’s. You don’t even need an office now, just a mobile, an internet connection and a good idea, some contacts and the will to make things happen.
But if you want to build and run a successful business, I firmly believe you need to use both sides of your brain. Left is associated with logic, data, and analytics and the right is more creative. So if you don’t have both of these skills then you will need to either find someone who does and hire them in, or outsource to someone experienced.
Remember, you will always know what you are making or selling, or should do, but others won’t necessarily have a clue. Never be scared to communicate clearly and often and always ensure you have an administration system that works for you. It should allow you to analyse exactly where and when you make or lose money.
In game making today, we have access to tools and communities which make this a whole lot easier, but you have to make the time to analyse and if necessary change tack quickly to meet the market needs.
Find a business mentor
This year I was offered the chance to become a business mentor by Nesta and it was the easiest decision I have taken this year.
I passionately believe in the creative industries and am also convinced that here in the UK, or Great Britain as we may well be calling it in the future, we are rather good at building businesses that can create compelling entertainment whether they be products and or services, which millions around the world want to see, touch and hear.
Over 50 per cent of all TV shows shown around the world originate from the UK, something I only found out last week when I attended the Government’s Global Business Summit for Creative Content.
The vibrancy and success of the UK’s creative industries needs to be celebrated and it also needs to be defined. For too long, the Government has simply not been able to measure the industry, but now things are changing and the perception is being backed up with data.
The fact that the Government has woken up to our industry and the wider creative industries is a tribute to some pretty heavy marketing and communication on the part of the industry.
I am looking forward to helping young game makers with their businesses through the Nesta Creative Business Mentor Network – for more information visit the official website.