Follow a short series of posts by Insane Gorilla CEO Chris Peck as he walks through the first weeks of the company’s existence as part of the ANZ Innovyz START business accelerator program.
So, first off, we actually joined the accelerator program to help another guy deliver his travel app. Week one he announced he had a job, and in effect asked if we could do all the hard work and make him rich. Hmm…I don’t think so.
We did the research, and found out there wasn’t much of a market for an app designed to help you drive on the correct side of the road. I mean, just follow the damned car in front of you?! It’s that, or you win the Darwin award you deserve.
So, we spoke to an amazing mentor called Simran Gambhir, and he said “do something you love, otherwise the next 12 weeks will be hell for you”. Wise words indeed, it would have been hell.
For the second week of the program we considered our options, and given our passion for video games, there were two main choices:
1. Make a video game, which was so damned tempting, but would be tough given we had no team in place.
2. There was an idea I had a while before joining the program about validating games. Basically, as an independent development company we’d had trouble finding focus testers, so crowd sourced focus testing was the idea (and crowd sourcing is something of a buzzword).
Given the time pressure to make a decision, and the lack of a game development team, we went for the focus testing option.
Week three we had the first wave of mentors. It wasn’t great for us; we’d only just decided what we were doing. We didn’t have a company name, so we had to stand up and pitch our business as a two-minute pitch based on “the company with no name” (without being as cool as Clint Eastwood). For the mentors, it must have been weird, we had an idea on a napkin, and so they really couldn’t give us much advice.
One bit of good news for week three was that we spoke to one of the guys on another team, Jono Birkett from Memtell, famous for his rapping skills and ability to come up with cool names. We explained our business, and he asked “Is it scalable?”. I replied “Insanely so!”. He said, “Well, you will probably hate it, but I have a name for you…Insane Gorilla”.
I blinked at him… Had he listened to a word we’d said?! But, given we were considering really dull names, like “We Focus Test Games”…ok…not that bad, but pretty bad. We decided to give it some thought. By the end of the day we’d fallen in love with Insane Gorilla!
The next day we spoke to Luca Hohler, the talented young artist from BrokenArmsGames, to ask him to design our Logo. Again it didn’t really fit the brief we gave him, but it grew on us, and has gone down well with everyone since. Probably the best comment we had on it was “it looks like Homer Simpson in a gorilla suit”. Genius!
Week four we integrated some of the feedback from the first round of mentors, and prepared for the next wave coming in week five. We also worked on the business plan, and thought about some more services we could offer. So, we had focus testing, and we added in expert testing (an expert in code, art, design or audio giving constructive feedback on the game), as well as mentoring (someone like me giving advice and support to young teams), plus recruitment services.
By week five we had a much better two-minute pitch, and we had a name to go with it. The week with the mentors was amazing; each new mentor added a new perspective on the business plan, or another service that we could add. According to an insider, they’d never seen the mentors so unanimously positive about a business on the program – pretty amazing given we were basically a three-week-old business!
Week six we focused on integrating the feedback from our mentors, and the business plan grew to offer 13 services for game developers. We also tried to get a web developer on board, with the aim of being able to build the basic version of the platform and get to revenue.
Consequently we struck a deal with a local developer: we offered them a healthy 5% of the company and a salary for only four weeks work. Sounds Insane?! Well, the idea was that if we could get to revenue, then we’d need no investment, so it wasn’t as crazy at it sounds.
Unfortunately, despite many positive recommendations of his talents (which were probably justified), he failed to mention that he didn’t actually have the time to do the job. So, in the first week he did no work at all. Needless to say we spoke to him about it and he said he was finishing off old projects. We took him at his word and hoped for better the next week.
Week seven was yet another round of mentors, and although this time there were fewer of them, it was still constructive for us. Most notably for us was Jim Schuman who was fantastic, and who we subsequently added as an advisor to the company. After meeting Jim we added in another two possible services. Meanwhile, the website continued to stall. This time there was probably one day of work done, and we were getting totally frustrated.
Week eight was a crap week for us. We had a very serious meeting with our developer at the beginning of the week, giving him one week to sort his act out, or we’d fire him. This was something we’d debated as a management team, I felt we should give him one more chance; Elena was keen to pull the plug there & then. He pledged to focus on our business; so again, we took him at his word.
At the end of the week we had to go to an expo in Adelaide to promote the company, and who should we bump into acting as a helper for the expo…yep, our developer. It was time for action.
We got the advice and support of two of the leaders of the Innovyz START program, who asked if the situation was resolvable. We thought not. A vital three weeks had been wasted, we’d lost momentum, wasted a lot of energy, and still had no website with which to promote our business.
Week nine we had a meeting with our developer and pulled the plug. To be fair to him, his decent act was to offer to return the 5% equity we’d given him (although we’d have to pay the lawyers to get the paperwork done). To reciprocate we agreed to pay him for the work he had done so far.
At the same time, one of the other teams had met a web developer at the expo, so we interviewed him as a possible replacement. However, our expectations had to change. Instead of trying to deliver a prototype working product, we now just wanted a damned website so we could promote the business!
Week ten we began the development of our WordPress website with our developer Kestutis, and he had the first version of the website up by the end of the week. Progress, finally!
Week eleven was a really good week. We were making progress with the website, and we went to GCAP (Game Convention Asia Pacific) in Melbourne. It was Elena’s first time in Melbourne, and she immediately fell in love with the city.
We got re-energised by all the fantastic developers and talent there. I love developer meet ups. There’s a collective aim to make kick ass games, and we’ve all been there, done that. To maximize our time, we used a divide & conquer approach, splitting apart & attending the different talks, so that we could get the most information possible.
We met some fantastic people, and have to say thank you to Tony Reed, head of the GDAA (Game Developers’ Association of Australia) for his support. As soon as we got back from GCAP we had to focus on the preparation for the pitch day in the Adelaide Town Hall.
Week twelve was totally insane. We were working on our six-minute pitch, working on our slide deck for the PowerPoint, and rehearsing like bastards (we must have done the pitch 100 times!).
One of the days was particularly mad: we signed our Shareholder Agreement; finished off the pitch, finished off our one page company summary, designed and ordered a free standing banner for the pitch day, signed up three advisors to the company, and got the signature of the departing web developer to return our shares.
On the Friday before pitch day we had a practice pitch that went really badly. We went for a walk pretty downhearted. We came to the conclusion that while the pitch was well written, it was a written style, not a spoken style, so we simplified many of the sentences, and that fixed the problem.
Week thirteen was pitch day. What a day! I decided that to make a good impression, or at least a strong impression, I’d wear my kilt. When I brought it to Australia everyone wondered why, including me. When it came to demo day, I was delighted I’d done it.
Before the pitch itself all the CEOs went to a room behind the stage, and it was like a room of animals that have been caged in a zoo for too long. They were all pacing up and down, muttering the lines of their pitches to themselves. Occasionally we’d all sit down and chat and laugh, and then return to the crazy pacing behavior.
Meanwhile, Elena was sitting nervously in the balcony section of the Town Hall, with the people from the other teams. In some ways, I think it’s worse being the one watching, as your heart is in your mouth for most of the time, and you don’t have any control over the outcome, all you can do is watch and pray!
The pitch itself was good, I did well enough, I just regretted one cock up where I blanked my next bit. It was before a slightly complex part that someone else had worded and we hadn’t found a way to simplify it, and I suspect that’s what threw me. With the benefit of hindsight I’d restructure the pitch to have a formal learned element, and then a free form element. I am a lot more engaging and passionate when talking from my heart and it’s something that didn’t come across with our formal pitch.
I showed the pitch to a friend of mine from a previous company, and he said it was good, but that my left hand was very active, while my right hand was very passive. I pointed out that I was holding the clicker that controls the slides in my right hand, and that I had feared that if I gesticulated with my right hand, I would lose my grip on the clicker and send it flying into the audience! Still, I have to agree, it looked a little odd!
• Firstly, all the companies taking part in the 13 week ANZ Innovyz START business accelerator program owe a huge debt of gratitude to the boundless energy and hard work put in by the head of the program Jana Matthews, without whom I doubt any of it would be happening. Adelaide is not exactly famous for its entrepreneurial scene!
• Secondly, the best part would have to be the mentors. We met some truly amazing people, ones that had worked with Richard Branson, others that had sold companies to Google, or were working in Microsoft, Cisco, and other big companies. All of them gave us their time and wisdom, and without them we’d be weeks if not months further back.
• Thirdly, we re-learnt the lesson, hire slow, fire fast. As a two-man team (having lost our founder), the program was always going to be tough (they make three man teams a minimum requirement, and rightly so). We were working like demons to keep up with the other teams, and we were kind of managing it, but when we got a third member, who turned out to be more of a third wheel, it really cost us big time.
• Fourthly, and kind of obviously, we experienced the value of an accelerator program. It’s hard to quantify the value of it, but I’d guess, based on my past experience, we are at the stage a company would be at after a year of business, but it only took us 13 weeks to get there.
• Finally, we met some amazing teams on the program.
It was great to be surrounded by other teams going through the same stuff. Not only were they great people, but we all helped each other whenever we could.
For me, the best example is our business card. The company name was thought up by Jono Birkett from Memtell, the logo by Luca Hohler from the Italian games company BrokenArmsGames, and the layout of the card was inspired by the feedback of Cameron Bolam from Kicktone. In isolation, we’d have had a crap name, a weak logo, and an uninspired card. With the help of the other teams, we have a kick ass card.
I’d also say that the friendly rivalry between the teams helped all the teams drive each other forward. When one team nailed a two-minute pitch, the rest upped their game. When another team made a lovely slide deck, we all upped our game. When one team ordered a lovely 2 metre tall banner, off we all rushed to get ours done too!