Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Why do we fall?

I been thinking a lot about personal evolution lately. The events in a persons life that shape who they are and set them apart from the rest of the cattle that is the human race.

Lately, I haven't been able to say much about what's going on behind closed doors at Skill City. Stiff upper lip and all that.

The company itself never really had a very strong market, I have said that already. What we do have is some very fascinating technology, and a team of people that are talented at creating it, though about as easy to motivate as roadkill.

I have been looking for a second round of funding, you know this because I have said it here. What happens if I don't get it?

Skill City is my dream and my vision. It is that which I always had in my heart finally come to life for others to see. I would say that its only half done as it stands, and I need to get the other half complete. I am a driven person, and I will do anything to see it get completed.

I'll post more on Friday, until then I am busy trying to find where the next paycheck will come from... you know, the usual.

My advice and lesson from all of this going on here today is this: have at least two years of operating funds in the bank before you start. At the end of your first year, start raising the next five years worth of operating funds. If you can't then your product isn't interesting, or has no market, or you are a poor salesman who doesn't really really at his core want your product to succeed.

Your entire staff needs to be that way too. If they aren't and they quit when things get choppy, it will ruin you.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Your friend, the time burglar.

So the business is in need of a round two, a phase B, whatever you want to call it. We need money to continue development of both our web based front end, and our uber cool back-end.

Having read the Andreesen blog yesterday I will not call it a platform. It is a back-end. I know that some people want us to call it a platform because thats the current buzz topic among various people with lots of money who want to invest it in to tech stuff.

Anyway I have two very nice opportunities, and of course I can't talk about them here because of many things. The first would be that I have a corporate image, and blogging about the inner workings of my company is already sketchy. I share here more than I think most people would, but I do keep a lot of things close to my chest.

I think thats a card analogy. The only thing close to my chest right now is my shirt.

I had a few meetings, and a few people who asked me for things like white papers or full documentation on my entire system and its design before we had even begun to talk about partnering or shaping any sort of deal.


People know that you are a small business, and they can sense the chance to milk you for information. Information that might let them, and their larger team of coders simply reproduce what you have. I know its one of the top 10 fallacies of business startups: not everybody is out to rip you off. Guess what? In casual games they are. These are such tiny games that its very very easy to copy somebody else. Why buy what you can just create yourself for cheaper?

Well most of the time they look at something like we have and go "Whoah... hold on. This is very complex." and then they set up meetings where they pump us for information.

They may have no intention of doing anything at all with us. These meetings do two things. One is that they waste your time, and theirs. They should be smarter than that but if every executive was a genius then one company would rule them all. The other thing they do is give you important face time with your competition, or cooperation.

Face time is critical as a small business. You want people to know who you are when you walk up to them at an industry mixer. Even if it's because that abortion of a meeting you had a week ago is how they know you, it's still an excuse to shake hands and say hello. You might get linked to somebody else through it, and then meet the one guy who says YES to your proposals.

Anyway you can tell by reading between the lines I have been told NO a few times, and that I have been dealing with lots of people who "think there might be a good opportunity here, just send me all your designs and then we'll see!"

Yeah right. I'll let you drive that car off the lot and if you want to buy it maybe you'll come back later and pay too.

Part of your job as the good entrepreneur is making these dead ends in to something useful, or knowing when to turn the tables and say NO first.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Google yourself.

I know, that sounds like some sort of derogatory remark doesn't it?

It isn't. If you google for your own name do you get a lot of hits? If you do, you are doing well building the brand known as YOU.

If you start a business and you google it, or you google some things that it does like "casual games" do you see yourself in the results?

No? Get on it them. People need to link to you, talk about you, and search for you a lot so that your google rating rises. Set up some dummy sites... just kidding that's evil. I would never do that.

I found this while googling myself today:

Skill City Interview

Lol! Im on TV mom!

Don't google yourself too much, you will get hairy palms... or go blind... or get addicted to internet porn or something.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


You are thinking of starting a video game company, or a restaurant, or maybe a comic book store. It doesn't matter honestly. You are going to need money. Where do you get it?

First go to google and read up on how to approach investment groups. There are some good coaching articles out there, and there are even some good professional places that will give you a weekend class on how to talk to investors. Then you will be ready to go out and talk to them for real.

Remember that most investors already know you are just an entrepreneur, they don't expect you to be a big money roller because then why are you talking to them?

So you need that startup money. I usually tell people that its easier to sell something that partly done, or all done, than to sell them vaporware. This is usually true. If you can keep your day job and get the foundation of your new gig well laid before actually start drawing on your startup cash you will be better off.

Common sense? Probably. Did I make this mistake? Yup. I learned not to do this again though. While the benefit was great, I could dedicate all my time to getting us up and running, that time spent could have kept another month worth of money in my bank account and would only have delayed my time to market by like a month. A month wont kill ya.

I would like to stress two things for you to consider, and I think they are pretty important.

1. Go to friends and family (or your own reserves) for your startup cash before you try to seek outside funding.

2. Do not screw around with equity / stock. It's a trap, it's filled with paperwork, just don't go there.

Its going to be a lot easier to try and get your friends and family to give you some money for your business idea. The best part is that it will give you practice trying to sell a good idea to people, and if you totally screw up your presentation they are more likely to forgive you since they are relatives. Then there is the other side of screwing up: your business fails. Your friends and family are once again more likely to forgive you for losing their money than a stranger is. Sure your mom may get mad, your friends might not call you to go to the pub with them, but they probably aren't going to sue you like a stranger would.

Okay now for number two, do not bother with stock. When you first create your company you can create a corporation. If you are taking other people's money you will probably want to do that, but you might want to so sole proprietor instead. It really depends on how you forsee yourself raising money, and how you want to be taxed on everything you do.

Talk to a small business attorney and find out the pros and cons of each one.

If you create a corporation you have to issue stock (I think) and I would recommend creating something like a million shares. It's easier for the future. Now, just give yourself 100. You are now the sole owner of stock, and own 100% of the issued shares, so you are the boss. You can also write off the business' losses and do other crazy tax things. Laws vary by the state in which you incorporated.

DO NOT give out shares of your company to the friends and family that invest in you. They want something in return for the money they are giving you? Fine make a contract with them that says you will pay them back their money within the first year (or 2, or 4) that your venture is profitable and that their money to you is a loan, interest free. Now, that takes care of paying them back, but what else? They probably want to make more than they paid because that's the whole point in investing. So add on something like "You also get a percentage of any profits that the board of directors decides to pay out to the investors."

That way you are selling them the promise of future money, but you are avoiding the sick mountain of paperwork that selling them securities (stock) requires.

If you do this, you might want to think about acquisition or how it will affect your investors in the future. If you have a pile of loans that need to be repaid is anybody going to want to buy your little company? Probably not, nobody is in the business of buying debt. So take your friends and family money and make it last long enough to get your product made, and launched, and in to the "it's making money but I need that push to really take off."

Now you are more attractive to an investor. You have a real product, you have a market share, and you have some revenue. Your loans become less off putting now.

Thats my advice so far. I learned this by doing it, and by shopping Skill City around to various interested parties. Hopefully you will find your experience easier now, having read this.

Oh and read this: http://blog.pmarca.com/

Thursday, September 6, 2007


You are a new company to the games industry, and you are wondering how it is that you make those important connection with others in the same industry.

The answer is trade shows, conventions, expos, whatever you choose to call them.

You need to go. A friend of mine who is now the successful business man in the games world once told me the same thing when I asked him how it was that he met all the contacts he now has. Go to trade shows, he said.

Today I was standing in my booth alone, because I hate to admit this but my staff abandon me. They decided they didn't want to come to the trade show because its very time consuming and far away from home. I agreed, it is hard to see a benefit to something that hasn't happened yet. For a moment, I wanted to stay home as well in the safe womb of my own space and enjoy a week of doing the usual comfortable task to which I have grown accustomed.

Then I woke up and smelled the stench of reality, and decided that here lies another lesson I have learned and deemed worthy of sharing on this blog.

My business, and if you are reading this probably yours too, will utterly fail to achieve the greatness you seek if you do not attend these shows and speak to those who matter, and those who don't. You will never know until you talk to them for a while.

Who are those people? Who matters to you? You have a game and you are distributing on your own website and it appears to be doing well, so why bother right?

Well those people are your peers for starters. You need to know them. Know your enemy, because they compete with you, and know your friends because they are there to help you when you need it. For example I have met several business people at this show alone who provide a service I had no idea was even in existence. These things benefit me, I need to move forward and incorporate them to get that important leg up on those who are in the same market as I am.

Then I also met my competition, and received enlightenment. There are things I am doing, that they are not. Should this be cause for arrogant triumph? No, it should be cause for a meeting with them to discuss how what I have could benefit them, and in so doing I can turn a competitor in to a partner and we both flourish. Seeing this beneficial synergy (and yes I hate myself a little for using that word but this is a case where it makes sense) is what sets apart a savvy business owner from one who will blunder in to becoming a statistic: 80% of start up companies fail.

Don't give in to your desire to stay in your comfort zone and stay home. Even if you are anti-social you need to go to these shows and network. It may be acting, but like any role you will find that which you pretend to be is what you eventually become.

Be friendly, talk to everybody who approaches your booth. They will skirt you, and dive in o grab a brochure without making eye contact. Trump them with a friend greeting, a smile and a question about how they are doing and what it is they do. Don't talk about yourself at first.

Don't sit. Don't stand behind a table. You are there to connect, so make your physical self connectable.

Don't put your hands in your pockets, and do shake hands with people when you meet them and begin a formal conversation.

Don't eat at your booth, and keep some breath mints around. You can't smell the slaughterhouse of your own horrid exhalations because you are immune to them.

I have learned these things through careful observation as some sort of scientist observing an island of untouched wildlife would.

I talked to a few people who were just passing by, and discovered that they were in fact looking for exactly what it was that I am selling, only they didn't know it until I spoke to them.

Diamonds in the rough, but one has to brush the dust aside first to find them. These gems do not arrive gift wrapped in to your hands.

Oh, I would also like to add that while the cost of attendance is high (about 2,500 dollars for a booth, and then about 2000 more bucks for table rentals and hotels and plane tickets) your option of making a sale to somebody would pay for this ten fold. Do not be daunted by the high price, because it is part of your advertising budget. You have one of those right?

Have any observations of your own? You do... I know it... share now or you must narfle the garthok.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A fan?

I am currently at the Austin GDC show. I was just sitting there in my booth, getting things ready for the expo hall to open up to the public in he morning when two very strange things happened.

The first was this: a guy walked up to me while I was busily getting things ready to go. He began to ask me about our games, and then before having seen them launched in to a pitch for a game he is currently developing. Then he told me all about how it is a perfect for Skill City and that there are some good options for partnership and revenue sharing.

Now, let's not get confused about my intention here. Lets call him Jim because it's a short name that isn't his. Jim is a nice guy, I have nothing against him, and his game really was neat.

Jim's pitch was horrible. Please all ye seekers of publishers, distributors, do not make these mistakes.

First, I am busy, and most other people who you would like to meet with are busy as well. While a tradeshow is a great place to pitch your idea and to network, you have to know there is a time a place. I am extremely annoyed when people fail to realize that I value my time as much as they value theirs. You cannot approach a CEO and pitch your game out of the blue. Call me? Email me? Make an appointment. I will set aside time just for you, time that is all yours, even if your game is trash or you don't have anything I care about... I have set aside that time for you.

I have met with several other people in the video game production world, publishers, and developers. Some may be terse, some may be rude, but all will respect you if you call and ask to set an appointment so that you can pitch your game idea.

The second mistake was his complete lack of knowledge of what we do at Skill City. When you are going to pitch your game to somebody you must do your homework. Take a moment to get to know them. If you are going to cold pitch like this (that's the pitch to somebody you haven't talked to before) then that's fine but you must understand that you know not to whom you are talking, and you need to adjust your pitch.

If you don't, you might give one the impression you are arrogant and even worse than that you might impress upon your listener that you are foolish.

My visitor made this mistake a few times and I am a nice guy so I just smiled. For all he knew Skill City was an online porn site and had some web based games people could play while switching photo galleries.

The third mistake, and honestly the most fatal one was that he bad mouthed the other companies he had spoken to about his game.


You never do this. You do not walk in to Microsoft and try to impress them or win them over by talking trash on Nintendo. Why? Everybody sitting in that room knows, personally, somebody over at Nintendo. Your chances of them ever talking to you again go down by an order of magnitude every time you make this blunder.

I have made this blunder too. I am not without sin. I learned from my mistake though and now when I am in meetings and the names of another company come up I nod and agree that I have dealt with them in the past. If details are pressed from me I might say something like "It didn't work out and I am not doing business with them right now." See? I didn't say I am not doing business them ever, or that things went badly. I left any emotional qualifiers out.

Please let me remember to do this from now on, because its an easy pit to fall in to.

The final mistake that was made by Jim Von Doomedpitcher (I made up that name just now) was that he had no game design spec, no timeline, no milestones, and brought up such immediately. His defense was just that he was a fast coder and needed no such things because his game would be done on time, and he was a man who was always timely. Further he blundered in to his last pitfall once more and slandered the last executive he pitched to for asking for such a ludicrous thing as a plan for his development.

At this point I finally had to halt Jim because a time burglar left un-checked will consume an entire day of mine, and I am nothing if not busy. Simultaneously I knew that Jim was a man with talent, and no experience.

Ah, you are leaning in to your monitor now and saying to your screen as if speaking to me that I am also a man of no experience. Nay, for I am one of little experience, but certainly more than your average basement indie developer. It may seem common sense even, the wisdom of my experience.

Back to Jim. I told him that he needed to stop, because Skill City had no use for his game, and while it was impressive he needed to be talking to other people. I offered him their names and pointed him in the right direction. Undaunted he pushed on insisting there was a synergy for us, me as the holder of a site with traffic and him as the maker of a game.

I am sorry, I told him, but we make our own games, and our business plan is such that we will continue to do so. Further his lack of a written plan and slander of those who request it was something I stated to him as being very foolish. Did he not understand that a million dollar business is only that because of its use of plans and documents? He cannot fault them for wanting one, and to be surprised when they ask for it, or offended, is just stupid because they will ALL want this. He was forced to agree.

Now Jim had a leg up on everybody else. His game, while a prototype that was 90% done, was way ahead of most who come pitching. He had a game to show me, not just a written plan. Why then do we want a plan? Here is the game laid bare before me. I want a plan because I want to see written down what the 10% that isn't complete is going to look like, and a written guarantee of when it will be done.

So will everybody else.

That my friends is todays object lesson, and I do feel badly that I am using this guy as the example of what not to do, but that is life. We learn the most from mistakes, we never notice the subtleness of a choice well made for very long.

I did say I had two visitors that surprised me.

The second from a reader of this Blog, and that was really cool. I have never met in person somebody who reads anything I put on here, and his words of praise motive me to keep going here. The best part? He is from Australia, so aside from the cool accent that's a really far away place, and to just walk past and say "Ah, thats the big logo on that booth for the guy who does that company with the blog I read while I am here in the US a billion miles from home."

Well that's just cool. It blew my mind for a second and I recognized again that this is a tight knit little industry we have here.

So, don't talk bad about anybody 'cause it will hurt if ya do. (sorry Jim)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


A long time ago in the isles of Greece there was a girl named Pandora.

The gods, feeling that the world needed to be tested as they often do, and having grown tired of springing out from behind trees with a series of trivia questions or math problems gave to Pandora a box.

They told her not to open this box, that it contained within it all the sorrow and pain, death and horror that the wide world could offer. Gods were much like that chef who knows that while he was baking you cookies he dropped one on the floor and he just brushed it off and hands it to you anyway. This box was just like that cookie, the gods knew she would eat it and therefore ruin everything, and they would laugh because they are jerks.

Pandora accepted the box, and for many days it sat upon her table. Dust gathered upon it, and the sun rose and set as the days past in the usual way. Her curiosity burned within her and so she set one hand upon the box, and decided to take a peek inside.

The moment the box was opened, the very second that its lid cracked and light entered the darkness within it, she knew that she had done something so Bad it had to be capitalized.

The box spilled forth the woe and tragedy that it held, and forever hence man has known that Pandora is ultimately responsible for the existence of attorneys.

Pandora also found hope at the bottom of the box, but the attorneys sued it for slander and it was barred from sale or use in all countries.