You' ll be glad to hear that it’s not just in London that you can find interesting start-ups or entrepreneurs. I guess it’s safe to say that the UK is ripe for disruption and London is not the only place to look, in fact when researching for my book I realised that the next generation of entrepreneurs might not come from London, maybe, but the chances might be that they start their companies in their hometown then head into London when they can afford it, after all Silicon Roundabout is no more a cheap route to take. My interview today takes place in Derby where I speak to Laurie Brown about his start-up, IndieSkies.
Hi Laurie, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
Good thanks; we recently got our tax return sorted out for last year so that's a weight of my mind.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I've always been interested in computers, maths, physics and art, I think this is the balance that drew me to computer games programming. I'm also a people person and very passionate so networking and communication came easily to me when we started the business. Of course I love games too, I've been playing them as long as I can remember and they've always been a huge part of my life.
At what age did you get into computer and programming?
How did the idea for IndieSkies come about?
David Jones one of the other two directors of IndieSkies had talked about the idea of starting a company in our first year of university to myself and Kevin Chandler, the third director. When it came to our sandwich year we decided to explore the option and see if we could get others on board. We spent about three months throwing names around and looking for URLs that weren't already taken before we settled on IndieSkies.
How did you all meet?
We were all at university together but we didn't necessarily know each other. David had worked with three artists on a group project who had expressed an interest in starting a company too. The other programmers we approached to see if they'd be interested and if they thought they could survive with no guarantee of income.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
At first it was the money, a number of government grants for startups had just come to an end and we had to entirely self-fund using our student loans and savings. It was also tricky finding affordable office space but we knew that the productivity we would gain from having an office would be worth the money.
What is IndieSkies?
IndieSkies is a collective of passionate people interested in all aspects of computer game development who really love making games that people will find fun and entertaining.
What other ways did you exploit funding the company initially? And what tactics can you advice young entrepreneurs to employ when looking to raise money for their startups?
The way we initially funded was using our own money. This was tricky of course because we had to pay our own living expenses too. We did some work for Nokia and Microsoft and released our first three iPhone games and this gave us a bit more money to go out and start doing some real networking and talking to people about our company.
Like many indie games companies we struck a balance between contract work and our own ideas. There are some new funding methods being employed at the moment such as crowd funding that are really useful for entrepreneurs today. I think it's really worth pursuing every opportunity for funding when first starting out because once you're up and running it's a lot harder to spare the time. For games you have sources such as Indie Fund or more generally the Prince's Trust that can help startups who need that initial money.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
It was a very exciting time, it was also very daunting. We had never worked on anything that would be released before. It's very different to making a game in your bedroom for your own amusement. We were 11 strong and we didn't want to make the mistake of starting a project that was too ambitious so we split into groups and made multiple games. There was a great buzz around the office and we really learnt how to work with each other.
How did you initially get traction?
Before we had released anything we were going to festivals and expos telling people about our games. We met a lot of other indie developers and became friends with them; they helped us a lot with networking and opportunities. The indie game development community in the UK is a really friendly group of people. Getting our name out there was the main priority and public relations were really the only way we could do it without a marketing budget.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
Talking to as many people as possible at conferences and gaining contacts that proved invaluable to us later on. Getting contract work is impossible if no one knows who you are and there are a lot of companies that want to show off innovators using their technology too. Networking definitely had the biggest impact on our growth and our opportunities.
You see a lot of startups relocating to London to find even more success, and I know you guys are currently located in Derby. How important do you think Location plays in the success of a startup or has played in the success of your startup?
I think it's very important, I've talked to indie developers from all over the country and there are strengths and weaknesses to every area. We were pretty lucky in Derby actually because it combines an affordable living cost with an express train to London so you never feel too far away from the action. Being able to get to London easily is very important for networking especially; there are quite a few indie developers in Cambridge and Brighton for that reason.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Definitely all the feedback we've had from people who've played our games. We really didn't go into this with any major expectations; we just thought it would be something challenging and exciting. We've had some really great responses to our games at expos, conferences and online, it's a great feeling to know that other people are getting enjoyment from something you worked really hard on.
What should we be expecting from yourself and the IndieSkies team for 2013?
Well at the moment we're finishing our dissertations so unfortunately we aren't able to work on anything new for IndieSkies. Once we've finished university we'll be splitting up slightly. I and some of the other programmers are hoping to move to London and either work as freelance Indies or get jobs at game development companies there. David and Kevin are starting another company here in Derby called Bevel Studios (bevelstudios.com) and some of the others may be Kickstarting their great game S.S. Eternity (http://youtu.be/UfGg2s_NXL8) which I very much hope they do.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
If you have an idea that you think is good it doesn't cost much to make a decent pitch for it. You can then gauge interest from crowd funding, publishers and media as to whether you should take that forward into a business or not. Don't form a company too early. There are a lot of complications that come with running a company and if you can hold off until you have some guaranteed income you can save yourselves some headaches. Go out and talk to everybody about yourselves. You never know who they might pass your information on to or what opportunities you may get down the road from people you've been networking with.
On Saturday 9th March we will be hosting, alongside Brightside, ‘Get Up Start Up‘ where you will be able to apply and be approved for a Startup loan of between £2,500 & £10,000 to help you get your business started!