Starting a new business is challenging and exciting in equal measure. Quite apart from the fact that you need a good idea for whatever it is you are selling in the first place, you need to get good at being a business. If you hate admin, spreadsheets, sending and responding to dozens of emails, and keeping track of every penny you spend, then you probably ought to reconsider.
But if not, here are three things you should probably keep repeating to yourself – perhaps recorded onto a Dictaphone and played back at low volume while you sleep – in order to keep things on the right track.
- Be smart
If you’ve ever worked in the video games industry you’ll know all about the MVP, or minimum viable product. This is generally the path of least resistance when getting a game to market, creating features that are just about good enough to be released. Being smart doesn’t deliver the minimum viable product, it delivers the maximum viable product.
You should work out as early as you can what you need to spend your money on; and I mean really spend your money on, not the things you think you should spend your money on. It can be all too easy to fall into the ‘production cycle’ trap too early, where you’re paying for a conveyor belt of work when you only really needed the first couple of pieces that came off the line.
John and I are currently debating whether or not to spend a significant amount of money on a centrepiece terrain board for the game. In isolation it would appear to be an irresponsible use of our (limited) funds, but when you factor in the usage we would get out of it – publicity shots, promotional materials, interior art for the rulebook, live gameplay demos, social media shares, word of mouth – it starts to look like a much smarter investment than simply producing more concept art.
- Be enthusiastic
Seriously, if you don’t love your product then you’re probably better off calling it quits now. You need to become the world’s foremost expert on whatever it is you are selling, and give people a reason to believe what you’re telling them. And yes, you can blag it! I spent the best part of 15 years creating racing video games, and do you know what? For at least 5 of those years I didn’t really enjoy playing racing games, yet the games I designed in those 5 years where the best of my career.
It doesn’t matter where that passion comes from – be it the project or the process – as long as the passion itself is genuine. Let loose, run wild, live free! At the end of the day, you can’t expect anyone else to take an interest in your product if you don’t have one yourself. And when things get tough – believe me, they will – you’ll need every ounce of that passion to get you through it.
- Be realistic
This should really be number one given its importance: everyone running a business needs to be realistic about their aims and ambition. I realise that most people will start a business because they want to follow their dream – that’s why I started Massive Awesome in the first place – but you need to have a realistic approach to getting there. Whatever your ultimate goal may be, the best way to approach it is to break it down into logical and manageable chunks.
In our current business plan, the ‘dream’ doesn’t become a reality until year three; that’s after the first game has launched and we’re well into the second one. Jamey Stegmaier makes the point that you shouldn’t count your Kickstarter money until you’ve fulfilled every backer’s pledge, and it’s the same principle here. Our dream doesn’t become a reality until we have proven that the business is sustainable, and we can both make a living out of it.
I know how tempting it is to rush ahead because you’re excited or you need to start making money, like, NOW, but taking the time to get things right at the start will not only save time later, it will prevent costly mistakes. You need to write a business plan with realistic aims, and create a financial plan that covers at least the next three years, and review them both regularly.
I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with some very smart, very enthusiastic, and very pragmatic people over the years, and I’ve made it my business to learn from them whenever I can. We still don’t have all the answers, and I’m sure we’ll make mistakes along the way, but I feel like we’ve given ourselves at least a fighting chance at success.