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  • Writer's pictureJosh Simons

Everything I've Learned from Starting a Company

A stack of folders and papers sprawled out

Hey, in case you missed it, I announced this week that I started a company! My co-founder and I were thrilled to finally announce the launch of Broken Door Entertainment LLC. As we've been hard at work, preparing for this announcement over the last few months, I've gone on a bit of a journey and learned a lot!

Here are three lessons that I want to share from this experience:

1. Naming things is hard

No seriously. In our announcement about Broken Door, we didn't mention the fact that it was something like the 20th name I came up with. Some early rejects include Gator Bite Games, King's Crown Games, and Sorcerers by the Shore (actually this was just a joke suggestion, but what if?).

I recently started watching Invincible, the animated superhero show on Amazon Prime that's based on the comic by the same name. As the main character, Mark, is coming into his powers and looking to live up to his father's legacy and become a hero himself, he has a hard time coming up with his hero identity during the first episode. He goes to his father's super suit tailor and says he wants something that's iconic, and the tailor tells him to come up with a name first.

There's so much that a name is supposed to convey. The spirit of the thing. The purpose of the thing. It's a lot of pressure and a lot of weight put on a few simple words. We settled on Broken Door Entertainment for a couple of reasons. First, it's kind of an aspirational thing as we start this new venture, we want to kick the door down and make space for ourselves where previously there was none. But it's also aspirational in a different way - much of my career has been made possible because people opened doors for me along the way. While I've worked hard and done consistently good work, I would be remiss not to call out the ways in which other people have paved the path for me and given me a hand up at critical moments. In that way, broken doors are aspirational in that we hope to pave the path for future generations of game designers, writers, artists, and even more broadly, gamers. We'd like to leave the industry in a better, more accessible place than when we found it.

2. There was way more paperwork than I expected

Every step of the way, from filing the initial form with the state, to developing a business plan, paying invoices, tracking expenses, signing contracts, and so on and so forth, it's all paperwork. I have a folder on my desktop with more than a dozen documents that have been signed and need to be stored for my records. Honestly, managing the paperwork feels like a part-time job all by itself. It's worth it to be organized and not have a massive headache tracking down receipts come tax season, but I'm waist-deep in paperwork.

Jokes aside, there is a lot more organization required to run a business than what I expected, even from my experience with freelancing. This is more organization than I've ever had to do producing an actual play, publishing supplements on the DM's Guild, or in any other creative endeavor I've done. It's like doing your taxes once a month. So far, we are on-schedule and slightly under-budget, but we've still got a lot of work before we'll be ready to launch our first Kickstarter later this year.

3. The secret piece of the project leadership puzzle

In every meeting I've had with collaborators on our team, there has been a light switch moment. I've seen it in their eyes where the vision for the project makes sense, and it never gets old for me.

I've studied leadership as a topic for many years. When I worked in healthcare and was a team lead, the company paid for me to attend monthly seminars about leadership, project management, etc., but even prior to that, I took an interest in reading about great leaders from history. Many of them were flawed people, but they were able to create a shared sense of belonging and of purpose with the people who followed them.

Granted, it's different leading a game development project, than say, leading an army to war, or leading a country through an economic crisis, but something that has finally clicked for me in this process is how important it is to bring the team in so they can see the end goal. There is a nostalgia factor to this game that we're working on, and every time I talk about the inspirations and what excites me about creating a game inspired by that source material, I see the folks that we're working with have an external reaction that reads something like, "Wait that sounds so fun. Oh my goodness and then I could do..."

I'm sure there will be times where we need to adjust our approach and times where tough feedback may need to be given, but one of the fun things about leading a game project where the team has bought-in on the pursuit of fun as part of the vision is that I'm confident we'll be able to handle those difficult conversations easily, because we're all on the same page for what our destination is.

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