Ask Imre Jele, founder of games developer Bossa Studios, and he’ll says he’s a lucky guy… but this interview shows how his luck needed to be paired with determination and clear goals in order to bring Bossa Studios to success.
Imre started the company with two friends in 2011 and the conversations between him, Roberta Lucca and Henrique Olifiers are probably something many of us can relate to. After all, how many aspiring entrepreneur talks regularly about “starting their own company one day”? And time to time someone will ask “and why not now?” Voilà, a new company is born.
Their first game, Monstermind, received two BAFTA nomination in 2012, for Online Browser, pitting it up against The Sims Social, and for Debut Game, taking home the former in the end. The company today has 30 employees and had their 5th BAFTA nomination this year for Twelve a Dozen in the Family category.
What does it take to bring a company to success in such a competitive and serendipity-heavy market? It would seem daring to dream big and staying consistent is incredibly important.
“You know, if you don’t try, nothing ever is going to happen. The market is huge: in 2013 the industry produced $70 billion and according to the projections in 2016-17 it will reach new heights around $100 billion. But it is simply not enough to think only about the money. My biggest dream is to create a game which will leave a lasting mark, which will move the whole games industry forward. We haven’t had our Citizen Kane yet. It’d be amazing to be around when that happens. Having this big blue sky vision is what helped us through painful failures and tough times and also to go after funding in a very conscientious way.”
It is also important to stay sane and grow emotionally and personally.
“One of the biggest lessons for me was to relax more. It is hard to run your own business, especially because every question becomes an emotional one in some way and controlling this with reason is important.
So is how you choose the people you work with. It often comes up whether it’s a good idea to start a company with your friends, but for us it worked, because we are on the same page about the big why of the business. Even if we don’t agree in something, this common goal helps to argue in a sensible manner and gives foundation to mutual respect. We are still friends and this is probably one of the cornerstone of our success. When there is a stable emotional hinter ground it helps you to focus on solving the real problems.”
How can this approach be kept consistent when you grow and need to hire? It is certainly not the same to keep a certain culture with 30 people as it was with 3.
“The first thing we want to find out when hiring is why does this person want to work with us? I’d say the experience is secondary, what really counts is the emotional background and the motivation, because skills you can always teach but it’s very hard to change attitude. We like the crazy and grandiose type. The second thing we look for is how well can someone work in a team because our environment is not one you could thrive in as a lone-wolf type. The skill only comes after these.”
It seems this attitude works very well when looking for funding as well. However Imre and his team started their entrepreneurial life with balancing the cash flow with a bit of contracting work, – and it is certainly true that the longer you go without investment the better deals you might gain – it became evident very soon that in order to grow at the pace they want to they are going to need money.
“For me building a company is not about power but what do we achieve. I’d much rather have a small piece of a large pie than a large piece in a tiny pie. On a B2C gaming market creating a fast and big impact without significant investment is hard, since it relies on a single breakout success too much and those happen rarely.
But when we started to look for investors we looked for people who understand our vision. We were very lucky with Shine Television: they were not going for a money in – more money out quick buck and had their own blue sky ideas about digital entertainment. This is incredibly important, to have a common goal and be able to make strategic decisions accordingly. In tough times it is not enough to have an investor with money or even with significant experience in your field. The key thing is again this common vision and trust that the entrepreneur will be able to ride out the hardest times too. Your investor is like your spouse really.”
How long did it take to find the right partner and close the investment round? Any advice on how to find your investor?
“It took us about 6 month to find Shine Television and there again was an element of luck. We didn’t even target them as potential partners at the time, but our apparently passionate pitch caught somebody’s ear at the company, who passed it along to his boss and we got a call the next day. The Head of Terms took about 3 to 6 months then another 3 month to finalise and sign the contract. It is not a fast process, which is important to keep in mind when you start out.
And how to find them, well, we went to the parties and meetups, the usual rounds. After a while you know who you should talk to as soon as you enter the room. There is a lot of different kind of money to go around with diverse risk tolerance so it is important to know what are you looking for and how to gauge if your goals and motivations are aligned.”
What is the biggest challenge you face as building the business?
“There certainly were tough times but I think the most challenging is to keep a certain mindset that helps you grow. To always question everything: is this really what you want to do? Is this model really working? Is this the right thing to do? The tricky part is staying confident at the same time… I’d say question everything when things are going well and stay confident even at the worst of times. And, finally, it important to never sit back on your laurels. You are only ever as good as your last game.
Running your own business is tough, but it’s hugely rewarding. I’ve learnt more about myself as a person, and I picked up skills with a speed I never thought was possible. If I had a chance to go back in time and do it again, I most certainly would.”