Many sorrows can fuel the fear of failure for a startup founder, with each year of work that the founder puts into building their company. With each funding round, they raise funding from investors, each time giving away a part of the company, hoping that the funding can take the company to the next level.
Sometimes, when raising funding for the second, third, or fourth time, you’re not raising it for growth, but the existing investors are putting more money into the company to reach some growth milestones finally. Grow, grow, grow. All those sleepless nights. What if you don’t get the game out in time? And when you do, what if it doesn’t work out the way you planned? Maybe the metrics suck.
In hindsight, my 15 years of being a founder in VC backed games companies was the best experience I ever had and would never trade it away. If I had a time machine, I would make some adjustments on the mindset side.
The practical advice that I’m going to be talking about here is a founder side project. This revelation came to me at the Slush conference in 2019. I was talking to a former board member of Next Games on my burnout recovery. He asked if I had any hobbies or side projects outside of my work at Next Games. I noticed that I didn’t have anything besides my work at Next Games, to keep my mind on.
I admire Miska Katkoff and his efforts on Deconstructor of Fun, which continues to grow and evolve. DoF is partly a hobby for him, but also a side project, that can take Miska’s mind off of his daily work, first at Rovio and now at his unannounced startup.
Founders should look into these kinds of side projects, as they can take the founder’s mindshare off of the startup craze, and to something that is not tied in any shape or form to their primary business, be it a startup or a well paying day job.
The six reasons for a side project
Let’s expand on this and why I should have started Elite Game Developers fifteen years ago. Here are six reasons why founders should have side projects.
Everybody should write online. You might think that blogging and writing online don’t serve a purpose anymore. Actually, it’s never been a better time to take over a niche in gaming and start being the expert in that niche. You only need a Substack account, and you can writing weekly and sending the content to subscribers. Substack also acts like Medium, so your content is hosted on a webpage (e.g., joakim.substack.com) that can be shared to social media.
Personal brand building When you are in a startup, you are heads-down, building your startup. You can’t often talk about what you are making before you launch it. And then the work speaks for itself. Perhaps it’s a game that you and the team have built. That gives you a title and recognition. But when you have a site like Deconstructor of Fun or Elite Game Developers, you can express your knowledge through writing, podcasts, and videos. Become known as the “deconstruct” or “data science” person. Writing in public is the best and most effortless way to build your network. When you share your work, it will attract like-minded people to you.
Niches are the way. My niche is at the intersection of gaming startups and products. With Mobile Dev Memo, Eric Seufert is at the intersection of brand marketing and mobile user acquisition. My ex-colleague from Next Games, Pascal Debroek, has a site called PXHub, where he shares articles on player experience and player support. Since my niche is gaming startups and products, I won’t be taking on people who specialize in marketing, and it likely that a marketing writer won’t spill over to startups.
Find your niche. If you are a 3D game artist, talk about your experience, curate what others are doing in the field of 3D game art. If you are a game programmer who’s been using Unreal for years, start writing about Unreal. But what if you’re not in a startup as a founder? You can still benefit from building your own brand on the side. Write articles, collect subscribers to a newsletter, and in a few years, you’ll have a valuable side business in your hands. “The total addressable market for profitable niches on the Internet numbers in the millions.” — David Perell
Alleviate the fear of failing If you are a founder of a startup, with investors and staff, you will never get rid of the fear of failing. Even when you’re doing well with your games, you’ll have that fear in the back of your mind that “this could fail.” When you create a side project that lives a life of its own, it can be a backup. I worked for six years on my first startup until it failed after our games stopped making enough revenue. I had to start from scratch. If I’d had the side project, I could have rejoiced from the fact that I’d been building something on the side that had grown and wasn’t tied to the VC backed dream that I was work on as a day time job.
It’s more acceptable to have side projects. It used to be the case that investors might not look favorable at founders who were building a side project, a blog, etc. They would say that its a distraction, something that the founder shouldn’t be doing, as their mind should be 100% on their startup. As an angel investor, I’m encouraging founders to write online, built their brand. There are so many positive effects of writing online, the startup, and the founder’s mental well-being.
I think that when you write online, you accelerate your learning. Most often, when you write about what you are working on or what you’ve experienced, you start getting feedback from people, and you can use that feedback to learn. I want to share some tools to take a look at.
Note-taking is essential for creating articles and blog posts. For note-taking, I use
- Instapaper, for reading and highlighting articles
- Evernote, to capture notes
- Roam Research, to curate my notes into a second brain
For publishing my content, I use
- WordPress based website
- ConvertKit for collecting emails and sending the newsletter
- If I’d start now, I’d go for Substack, since it provides blogging and newsletter systems, tailored for sharing articles
Here are some awesome side projects:
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