November 2009 “Darling I know we’re about to have our third child, we’re worried about post-natal depression & I’ve got a well-paid job. But I’m going to use my life savings to start a business doing something I’ve not done before”. Silence.
Oli Christie is founder and CEO of Neon Play, a mobile games studio in Cirencester. They’ve had 160 million downloads and big hits like Roller Splat, Flick Football and Idle Tap Strongman. Plus they’ve had loads of rubbish games that bombed. In the last ten years, Oli has met the Queen at Buckingham Palace, former Prime Minister David Cameron at Downing Street…and the late John McCririck and his wife Booby in their little house in north London.
Over the next few months, we’ve asked him to write a few columns on how he started his business, and offer some cracking advice for those who are thinking of doing the same in 2020.
Are you ready?
Starting your own company is a huge deal requiring big balls.
(well not these sort of balls, but you get my drift)
It’s like nothing else you will ever do.
It’s a world of unknowns.
You won’t get much sleep.
You will become obsessed.
You’ll feel alive.
It’s squeeky-bum time the whole time.
It’s the ride of your life.
And you can’t get off.
Is this you?
If you’re reading this, you might be someone who has started their own company. You’ll know. Or you’re someone who is on the verge of thinking about the process of starting their own thing. Yes. Do it. Or maybe you’re someone who might want to start their own company one day in the future. Read on.
Why start your own company?
There are obviously many reasons. Maybe you have a big idea or invention that the world just has to see. Maybe you’re fed up with making your boss rich when they don’t do a lot. Or maybe you’re highly regarded and well paid within your company and you enjoy it, but you have no equity.
Maybe you have a friend or colleague who you want to do this with. Awesome. There’s a good chance you feel entrepreneurial, you’re a bit of a risk taker and you want to make your own way. And ideally make a few quid. Perfect.
Research and plan
So you think you’re ready to take the big leap. Will your new company fly? Who knows? No one really knows. But with a lot of research, buckets of questions, honest soul searching and a bit of a business plan, you will give it a better chance. Or maybe you won’t even start it – there is no shame in that. It will make you stronger and more ready for next time.
Before you leave your existing job, do as much planning, R&D, marketing materials, website, funding, product design, manufacturing…anything and everything. Because once you’ve left the cosy warmth of a salaried job, the money starts to run out quickly. And that’s scary. Also assuming you’ll be taking little or no salary to start off with. Keep it lean. Keep it mean.
Into the Den…
Something that I did before I started Neon Play was do a presentation to my parents and wife. It was like Dragon’s Den but without the cool chairs and the brick walls. And no money on the table. Not even a fiver.
They were not 100% convinced that starting a mobile games company (way before mobile games got big – we’re talking Doodle Jump days in 2009/2010) was not the finest idea. Especially as I’d never actually made a mobile game in my life. Or run a company. Or knew much. Fair point.
But it was a very good exercise in making me think about what the company would be; what I needed to get started and how I would try and make money. So why not do that with your family and/or some critical friends? It focuses the mind. But make sure they’re brutally honest and ask tough questions. Think Deborah Meadon, but nastier.
By the end of the Powerpoint, my family seemed to get it and bought into the idea. That’s important as you need those people, who will bear the brunt of your hard work and late nights, to get it. Even if they don’t actually get what the hell I was doing.
Money, money, money
I’m no expert on fundraising, but clearly you’ll need a lump of dosh to start a new company. It may be a few thousand. It may be multi-millions. There are so many ways to get finance, but none are easy. You’ll probably need more than you think (imagine it’s your daughter’s wedding).
You can try and self-finance. I put in my life savings of £40,000 to start Neon Play. That was it. All or nothing. Shit or bust. It certainly sharpens your thinking. But the mobile games market was very different then – much less cluttered and easier to market. Today, I reckon I’d need a couple of million quid to get going. You won’t find that down the back of the sofa.
Depending on how much you need, you could borrow from friends or family (risky/unadvised). You could crowdfund (it’s all the rage). You could borrow from the bank or someone like Funding Circle (check the interest rates). Or get angel investors (could be good if they also offer really helpful advice). Or if you’re looking for bigger investment, go to VCs and watch them hover over you like vultures. Or rob a bank.
Anyway, I’ll assume you can find a way to raise the required reddies.
Lists, lists and more lists
One of the things I remember so clearly from the early planning stages of Neon Play was my mind just whirring 20 hours a day with so many ideas and things that needed doing. I’d never started a company before and I hadn’t a clue what needed to be done to get it off the ground. I bought books but never read them fully – I just got stuck in.
So I would just write list after list of different things that needed doing – Companies House, insurance, website, web hosting, logo, business cards, VAT registration, (see my children), bank accounts, accountant, lawyer, buy a computer, write a business plan, (eat), what is a business plan, social media accounts set up, get lots of LinkedIn recommendations, (sleep), etc.
And one by one, these things get done. But be laser focussed in the time you do have.
Making the big jump
Ultimately, once you’ve done all your research, worked out your USP and got some money together, you’re going to have to resign from your current job. Assuming you’re vaguely senior, you’ll probably have a three or six month notice period, so clearly build that into your planning. They will probably let you go earlier if you ask nicely. Either way, it gives you a good time to get the final things sorted before D-Day.
The key thing about resigning is doing it well. Most industries are small and LinkedIn has made the business world a very small place. There is no hiding. So explain to your boss that it’s been your life dream to start your own business and you hope they understand that. As long as you are not seen as a threat to your former employer, it should be fine. But just be honest and truthful and always leave on good terms.
OK, you’re ready to rock…
Next time I’ll talk about coming up with a company name, your culture, brand and what is says about you and how it can help you recruit your first, very important, employees.
PS – thanks to Freeimages.com for letting us use some of their photographs