Playmob's Jude Ower on getting help from a business support programme
[This article is from a series of special features on starting your own studio, as found in Develop #133, which is available through your browser and on iPad. We'll be posting up further articles in the coming days.]
If you're thinking about a business model which is new, innovative and needing some refinement, a technology accelerator is a great catalyst to quickly getting onto the right track, or not.
An accelerator is not for everyone, it really depends on the business and its needs. If there is an option to do one, check it out thoroughly. Who is running it, what is their background, and more importantly, what do you want to get out of it?
For us it made sense as we were changing the business from building games as a service, to considering being a middleware developer. The decision came about when we had charities ask if we could build games for them which taught players about causes, but also raised money.
We loved this concept, and wanted to work out a philanthro-capitalist model to create a sustainable business with ‘doing good’ at its core.
A SENSE OF SCALE
We had two options: we could raise finance for a suite of games, or build a toolkit for developers to connect to causes directly.
After review, the platform model was going to be the most scalable to help us reach our objective of ‘doing good through games’. But because this had not been done before, there were a lot of unknowns and lessons to be learned, and participating in tech accelerator Springboard seemed to be the ideal solution to learn quick and fail/succeed fast.
Springboard is a 13-week programme split into mentoring, development, testing and pitching. We applied the business into Springboard, along with 300 other companies, and after submitting an application and various interviews, we were one of the lucky ten selected to participate in the program.
We had to spend 13 weeks in Cambridge, where the first accelerator was based. Each company was given an investment of £15k in return for six per cent equity. But for us, it was not the funds that were the driver, it was the mentoring, support and being able to test the market and ensure we were testing the right things, in a set time frame, and quickly.
In the first four weeks we met over 100 mentors, including serial entrepreneurs who really helped us dissect our platform. Every wall in our temporary home in Cambridge was covered in whiteboard paper, covered in diagrams of our tech. knowing where to start was difficult.
THE BUILD UP
After the mentoring we moved into the ‘build phase’. Here we developed a prototype of what our platform could be and connected it with a game to demo how it could work. It was nothing fancy and was nowhere near the final product, but it gave us a pilot to test.
In the final phase we met a pitch coach. She worked with us to initially get us to pitch so she understood our businesses.
At the start of the process I could easily say I had the worst pitch in terms of getting the messaging clear and succinct, and by the end of the process we had an investment offer on the table, and also won a competition the next month for ‘Best Pitch’ at the European Entrepreneurs Festival in London.
The whole experience was an incredible one, and one I feel got our business focused, on track and ready to make a leap forward.
OWER’S TOP TIPS FOR ACCELERATOR SUCCESS
• If there are a lot of unknowns or you are trying to achieve a certain scale or market, then an accelerator is right for you
• Know exactly what you want to get out of it, and always have this in your mind when meeting with your mentors
• Keep track of all the feedback you get or your head will explode. We kept a daily spreadsheet of feedback and then watched for consistent themes. These themes were the parts we focused on
• Understand what your business is lacking and utilise the programme to fill those gaps
• Support and ask for support from the other teams – a year on from our time on Springboard, we still keep an active email group with the other teams
Jude Ower has spent 10 years working within the games industry, creating games for training and education. Devoted to raising awareness of causes through gameplay, and to helping charities to raise funds through games, Ower set up PlayMob. www.playmob.com
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