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  • Five Lessons Learned Growing A Game Dev Start-Up

    - Ryan Canuel

  • #2 Mentorship

    We'd founded Petricore while we were all in our senior year of college, and I can say with one hundred percent certainty that we would not still be in business today without our mentors. Having experienced people to help you though starting a business is a must. Having a great mentor is like having an amazing boss, teacher, friend, and therapist rolled into one person.

    I've found the best qualities in mentorships I've found have been people who've been very successful in their careers, but also had their share of failures. Someone who ran a successful business is extremely valuable to get advice from, but someone who was part of three failed businesses also has a lot to share in what went wrong. Look for people who will tell you about what they did wrong as much as what they've done right. Likewise I've found that I gravitate to advisors who give me blunt advice. Like anyone, I love being told nice things about myself, but I'm looking to grow and learn from mentorship. I've found straightforward, no frills feedback, to be the best delivery mechanism.

    If you're starting out with a small network, and relatively unknown in the industry, finding mentors who've been in the industry longer, are trusted, and have a large network is really important. We started with no track record, and a very small portfolio of work. Our first few work for hire projects were a direct result of a mentor who helped create trust and confidence in us, which slowly over time allowed us to develop a greater portfolio of work. It took me about 16 months to get our first client that wasn't through a friend or mentor, and even to this day the "cold call" projects are significantly harder to close than "warm" introductions though mentors/friends.

    My main mentor came through a college professor with a lot of prior experience, and I hear this from a lot of recent students turned founders. If you're not in school, there's other ways to meet with mentors. SCORE is a program that connects experienced mentors with founders, they partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration, which also runs other local mentoring programs. 

    You may not connect with someone in the games industry, but I found that non-games mentorship helped me with other aspects of running a business. If where you are has game industry meetups, that's a great way to meet more senior game developers in your area. If you're more removed from an industry hub, you can always follow other game industry professionals on Twitter and social media. 

    I'm constantly seeing experienced people offer their time for free to help up-and-coming game developers, and it's a great way to develop mentor relationships.

    #3 Feedback/Advice

    In the process of starting and running your business you will become very quickly enamored with lots of feedback and advice. You'll receive feedback from friends, family, your teammates, game industry folks, people at tradeshows, random strangers, and if you're still reading this - me! I've found that getting and accepting feedback is just as important as the act of understanding where that feedback comes from and choosing to not move forward with it.

    It can often be easy to just look towards experienced people for advice and just follow it, but everyone's experiences and ideas are so tied to their own personal experiences the advice that you're getting might not suit you at all. It could be leading you towards a completely wrong direction. 

    I've found my best process for this is actively listening to everyone's feedback and asking some questions to further understand where they're coming from. Afterwards, I like to take time to think about the feedback and how it applies to me and the particular issue. It's just as important to think about the person who gave you the feedback. 

    Would you say you're similar to them in many ways? Do they understand your particular issue, or was their issue this feedback worked for not the same as yours? Do you trust this person's opinion on this issue? Understand that no one is purposefully trying to give you bad advice or steer you in the wrong direction, we just can only speak from our own point of view - and sometimes that just isn't a good fit for you.

    I can speak endlessly about starting your own business, and ways to go about it, but in the end that advice will only work for a few people in similar situations to me. It's easy for a white man from a middle class family to talk about how great/the easy steps it is to just start a business, but for a lot of people it's much, much harder. 

    All advice is coming from a good place at heart and meant to be a useful tool - you just have to figure out if it's a tool useful for your personal toolbox.


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