Ashley doesn't boast a typical entrepreneurial story growing up. He din't sell sweets to profit from in secondary school, nor was he selling lemonades during the weekend. He din't really know anything about entrepreneurship and startup or did he think he would be running his own business at all. But everything changed when he got to university.
During his time at university, he came increasingly interested in startups, reading articles by Paul Graham and the book “Founders at Work” by Jessica Livingston and from there, well.. Now you have Scirra.
Hi Ashley, great to have you on YHP, How are you doing?
Great, thanks for getting in touch!
Could you quickly give us some background information about yourself? Tell me about yourself growing up?
I’ve always lived in south-west London, apart from a year out living in Dublin for a university placement. I graduated last summer in Music & Sound Recording. I always used to love messing around with computers, and I got a dusty old second hand “Cyrix” computer of my own when I was 14 or 15. That’s about when I got hooked on programming!
How did you get into entrepreneurship?
I don’t think I had much exposure to entrepreneurship while I was young, but during university I was reading a lot about startups, especially Paul Graham’s articles. Paul Graham runs a famous (in the tech world) startup program called Y Combinator, and they have helped fund hundreds of tech startups. His experience and opinions on startups is fascinating and highly recommended for anyone else in the software business! Combine that with looming graduation, a successful side-project and a vague reluctance about having to work for someone else, and it seemed like the obvious thing to do.
Who was your inspiration growing up and why?
I don’t think I actually imagined myself doing this while growing up! However the book “Founders at Work” also gave a very insightful look at several other famous startups, and I was amazed how modest many startups were when they started. I always naively imagined tech startups being done in glassy skyscrapers with people hurrying around futuristic offices. The reality is much closer to one or two ordinary people in a basement or garage with their home PCs who can just about afford takeaways and a website server.
What was the inspiration behind Scirra? How did the idea come about?
As a kid I thought it was amazingly cool to be able to make your own computer games. There were a few tools out there that allowed you to put games together without technical knowledge. However as I was learning to program, I realized most of them had big problems. I thought it must be possible to do better. So eventually with some friends we got going with a side-project to make a new, improved tool to make games without programming: that was Construct Classic.
What were you doing before you founded Scirra?
Construct Classic was the open-source game creator we worked on for a few years in our spare time, mainly while we were all at university. We never sold it or made any money off it, we just gave it away for free. However it was crucial experience in developing that kind of software.
What is the story behind Scirra? How did it start?
We wanted anyone to be able to make games even if they didn’t’t know how to program. We think it’s especially cool in schools where it can be used to help teach programming, and maybe even inspire young people the same way I was. We’ve completely rewritten and redesigned it so it’s now “Construct 2” (and closed-source), and we think we have a really intuitive modern tool. It also uses the latest web technology HTML5, so your games can run on the Internet, a bit like Flash games that most people have probably come across. Our customers include artists, hobbyists, indie game developers, designers, schools, universities, advertisers, and professional game developers who want a quicker way to prototype.
What was your biggest challenge during the starting up phase?
I think it’s the emotional toll of trying to make a living on your own – the future is unpredictable, it can be lonely working alone for long hours, and at times it can seem completely pointless. I think that’s natural about doing a startup. You have to be pretty dedicated to get through it though.
How have you been able to fund Scirra?
We were very lucky to find a great angel investor who could support us. That gave us security in covering basic living costs and expenses for a while. Then we started selling and license sales have been better than we expected – we’re self-sufficient if the current rate keeps up.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
Just starting to sell. It’s easy to say there are so many things to be done before you can justify selling. However if you’re not selling yet you literally have a countdown until your company runs out of money and is dead. Just start selling even if you’re not 100% happy and keep improving from there. That’s your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) – the very least you can do to make something useful. We also did a cut-price “early adopter” deal at the start to make up for the fact we still had a lot of work to do and that was surprisingly popular.
Would you say the business has changed from the first initial idea expect from changing your name?
Not so much in principle – we’ve been making game creation software from the start. With Construct 2 we did make a few technology changes (such as switching to HTML5 for the games), but a lot of people don’t mind what’s going on under the hood.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Definitely being our own bosses. Those days when you wake up and you just can’t be bothered? No one to answer to if you want to stay at home.
What can we be expecting from Scirra in 2012?
We’re working on getting our games running nicely on mobiles and tablets like the iPhone, iPad, Android, and maybe some others. So you can make games for mobile without programming, and publish them to the App Store. That means potentially anyone could make the next Angry Birds!
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1. Know everything. You should have a deep understanding of your area. For example in software this means not just knowing your programming language inside out, but also facts about how the CPU in the computer works. This also means knowing honestly the real strengths and weaknesses of yourself and your competitors, so you know where you stand.
Don’t brainwash yourself or be fooled by other companies’ marketing, use their stuff for real and judge for yourself.
2. Don’t give up early. Don’t sit there flogging a dead horse, but do see it through to the end.
3. Don’t do it alone. Get a good co-founder, and make sure it’s someone you’d trust with your life. I’ve got my brother as co-founder.