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Diary of a start up
20-02-2011, 12:32 PM
Post: #1
Diary of a start up
Oli Christie, ex-creative director of InboxDMG, is setting up his own mobile games studio called Neon Play. This is a monthly diary of the ups and downs of launching a start-up in today’s digital media market.

February 2011
Creating a logo

It’s all very well having a company name, but then you need to create a brand (a bit like Stuart Baggs ‘The Brand’ without the delusion). And having spent 11 years as a creative director, it was probably wise that I didn’t create a bag o’ shite because no doubt friends and ex-colleagues would be waiting to see what I produced.

I’m a copywriter, not a designer, so I went to an ex-colleague called Jon, who lived locally, to design and implement our brand. As is traditional, I wrote a creative brief that explained what I wanted the Neon Play brand to represent. This is what it said:

“We want to be seen as an innovative, fun, cool, creative, technology-pushing company. We want people to easily recognise our brand. We want people to want to work for us and clients/partners to come to us. We want our Neon Play logo to be a stamp of quality. It needs to have good standout. It needs to look sleek and cool.” Easy.

So the first step for Jon and I was to look at the font for the logo – rightly or wrongly, it was a good starting point. And this is what Jon’s first font suggestions were:

This was a good start and, following some first-stage feedback, this was the next round of designs. It’s quite interesting looking back seeing the logo evolve:

These were narrowed down to two fonts and having Neon and Play as one word or two:

Finally we had our logo and the fun of getting business cards, PowerPoint templates and so on was done. This suddenly felt very grown-up and we had to build a website next, even though we had nothing at all to show. This is how our logo looked on the iPhone:

Making a website

Our website was clearly going to be our shop window so it had to look great, convince people that we were good at what we do, but also helping to sell the company to potential employees, partners, clients and journalists. For me, that meant keeping it fresh and full of new content, whatever that may be. Nothing annoys me more than a website with a button saying Latest News yet the most recent entry is six months old. And hopefully you can see from our website that the blog section has a lot of stories – over 70 to date in just eight months.

Company culture

As we’re a new company aiming to compete with some big game studios, I felt that a culture and ethos that stood out from the glut of corporate dullness would be vital. So I put down all my thoughts about the sort of company I wanted to create. I believe that any company is basically about its people and that people should enjoy coming to work – we are making games, after all. Click here if you want to read a bit more about our culture and ethos.

And then I thought I’d make it really clear what sort of place this is and drew up a list of ten reasons people should want to work at Neon Play. The full list is here, but the one that most people always talk about is our “posh bog-roll guarantee”. It’s not asking a lot really to have Andrex at work and it makes a difference to people even though it’s only for your bum. We also give everyone their birthday as a free day off, give 1% of our profits to charity (if we have any) and buy everyone beer on Fridays.

When you set up a company, you think there are a few things to do, but when you’re doing it all by yourself there are so many separate areas you need to think about that you didn’t consider when you started on the venture. I could have rewritten the Book of Lists with the amount of to-do lists I compiled, often at 4am when something triggers your mind. Again.

It wasn’t a classic time to be starting up a new company, with a new baby (plus six- and four-year-olds), but that’s just how it was, so I had to work around that. That meant working on the laptop in bed on Sunday mornings, working late every night and generally doing everything you could whenever there was a spare second. It was all-consuming and it still is, more so than I thought it would be, but I’ve loved every moment (mostly).

Affordable office

They say that overheads can kill a young company and for that reason I did all I could to find office space in Cirencester that wasn’t going to break the bank. And I got lucky, I can’t deny it. I asked a fellow dad at school who owns some property in Cirencester if he had any spare office space. And what do you know, he did. And he gave me a generous rent and rates deal, which was a great boost and enabled us to have a central starting base with a roof over our heads and it wasn’t going to cripple us financially. Phew.

Here’s a picture of our empty office. The glamour of it all:

Next time: Making our first iPhone game Flick Football and getting into the UK top ten

January 2011
“Babe, I’m leaving Inbox to go and set up my own company”

When your wife is six months pregnant and a touch on the hormonal side, this statement doesn’t go down particularly well. In fact, it went down rather badly.

And so it was. After nearly six happy years, I’d decided to take the plunge, leave a comfortable, enjoyable, well-paid job and go off on my own, like a clueless lemming going off a cliff. Shit.

So what next? I have no staff, no clients, no name and not much of an idea, but I know one thing: the iPhone has changed the landscape. You could make money by creating games and engaging apps, and that’s what I want to do. Having made more than 200 viral games for InboxDMG and Panlogic, I know what people like, so I hope I can translate that onto the iPhone.

Can we produce the next Doodle Jump or Angry Birds? Unlikely, but you never know. And as well as making our own iPhone apps, we can start working with agencies and clients, and get paid to make apps for them as well. So there’s potential and different revenue areas.

Okay, so I know I want to make iPhone games, but now what? I’m told I need a business plan, which sounds grown up. And as I was a creative director, numbers, P&L thingies and balance sheets all sound rather boring and scary. So I get out Excel and try to work out what to do. That doesn’t really go very well to be honest – I’ll need help there.

You need a cracking name and an available URL for a new company, so I write down a whole bunch of words to do with games, playing, cool words, different words that I like and that work well as a URL. After hours on, Neon Play is my new company’s name, plus the word neon has lots of potential for a nice looking site.

How about staff? Mmm, tricky one that, especially as I’m setting up in Cirencester in the middle of the Cotswolds. It’s not exactly Hoxton. Usually people start a company with a partner or two, and that of course would be ideal. But after a false start or two (it’s a long story), I decide to post a good old job ad online for an iPhone developer.

The response is thin to say the least, but the only chap who did apply turned out to be my future business partner. He’d worked in the games industry for ten years and had just returned to the Cotswolds after five years in the US working for Midway Games. That was a stroke of luck I needed. So Mark joins Neon Play as technical director, aka The Wizard. We can now start to actually make an app.

Next month: Creating the brand, company culture, finding office space, setting up a company

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