☝️ Surround yourself with truth-tellers

“There was a man who loved his dog so much that when the vet told him he needed to cut the dog’s tail off, he couldn’t do it all at once, so he did it an inch at a time.” — Russian anecdote.

The one thing I’m missing with many of the startups that I work with is that the founders haven’t recruited truth-tellers as advisors or mentors.Truth-telling is tricky because we want to sound cheerful, and above all, we want to feel like we are involved in endeavors that we have validated, making it hard to have a critical eye.

Truth-telling is hard for people when they don’t have all the context. They haven’t built game studios. They haven’t shipped games. They don’t know the design that a successful game requires. I’ve seen investors sit on company boards and give advice that shouts a lack of context.

Ray Dalio says in Principles, “People can’t appreciate what they can’t see. A person who can’t identify patterns and synthesize doesn’t know what it’s like to see patterns and synthesize any more than a color-blind person knows what it’s like to see color.”

As a startup founder, what is really hard? Requesting criticism.

There are common characteristics that I’ve seen in early-stage game studios, where telling the truth is more than needed.

An apparent first-time founder blunder is to keep working as if you were still employed by a big game studio, without the realization that you are now responsible for everything. This materializes in a lack of velocity, tinkering with minutia, and not having a sense of urgency. I ask for a projection of when the money will run out. The founders haven’t updated the forecast in months and are startled by the revelation of an insufficient runway.

In this case, as a truth-teller, I’d seek to set up a project management regimen, with weekly reviews of plans and projections, to see if things are on track. Some questions that I ask are, “Is the project going as planned?”, “Do we want to hire someone to get these things done on time?”, “Are we on track to reach our next milestone, to eventually raise our next round of funding?”

The second problem, or more like an area of problems, is that first-time founders are walking in uncharted territory for themselves. They don’t know how they should operate in all conditions and circumstances. The truth-teller can approach these situations as a question-asker or a devil’s advocate.

Here are a few ways:

(1) Sequoia partner Roelof Botha shares his most significant lessons learned from talking straight to founders:

“You’ve got to be very careful with what you say. Even an off-hand comment or maybe a joke can be misinterpreted. I’ll often say, Listen, I know I don’t know as much as you do about this particular aspect for this particular decision. I’m trying to ask a question in the spirit off being a devil’s advocate or trying to set up the question in a way that makes it clear that I’m not secretly trying to guide it to a particular outcome. But I truly am asking the question, so I try to get out of my way to do that.”

(2) In Culture Map, author Erin Meyer talks about how things get done across cultures. In the books, she talks about asking questions to get to the bottom of things:

“After inadvertently creating some awkward scenes in American meetings with his straightforward, French-style disagreements, Eric devised a solution: I learned a very simple trick, perhaps obvious to someone who is British or American but not a bit obvious to me. Before expressing disagreement, I now always explain, ‘Let me play devil’s advocate, so we can explore both sides.’ Most groups seem happy to do this, as long as I am clear about what I am doing and why I am doing it.”

(3) To take the more explicit route of stating what you think is wrong can work when done right. In Principles, Ray Dalio talks about “tough love,” which is about being honest for everybody’s sake. Dalio tells the story of NFL coach Vince Lombardi: “Lombardi loved his players, and he pushed them to be great. I admired and still admire how uncompromising his standards were. His players, their fans, and he himself all benefited from his approach. I wish Lombardi had written out his principles for me to read.”

(4) In Think Again, Adam Grant talks about disagreeable givers, who “give critical feedback we might not want to hear, but need to hear.”

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The final component to a productive relationship with a truth-teller is to create psychological safety tied to accountability. Adam Grant says that “when psychological safety exists without accountability, people tend to stay within their comfort zone, and when there’s accountability but not safety, people tend to stay silent in an anxiety zone. When we combine the two, we create a learning zone.”

As a founder on the receiving end, it won’t solely enable momentum to propel the company forward, but the founders will learn and evolve. They will become more independent, which is what they wanted with their startup, with more smarts in the previously weak areas.

(Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash)


All those five-star reviews can’t be wrong 🙂 Get my book, “Long Term Game: How to build a video games company” from Amazon. Available on Kindle, audiobook and paperback.Check it out


🎮 Ask Me Anything #6 — Finding Co-Founders

In this week’s podcast, I doing my sixth Ask Me Anything episode, where I answer listener questions, ranging from gaming startups, to free-to-play game design, to fundraising and to co-founder hiring.

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These are the questions that I cover in this episode:

  • How do you see the Metaverse taking a bigger % of the games industry?
  • How will publishers and publishing evolve in mobile games?
  • How can I start hiring people in Eastern Europe?
  • How can I find a co-founder?
  • How did you “try out” your co-founders when you were just starting?
  • What do you think of the NFT space?

Listen to the full episode by going here.

📝 In Case You Missed It

📃 Articles worth reading

+ PMF is the Founder’s Marshmallow Test — “Founders face a very significant marshmallow test very early in their companies. Many many founders find good market traction with an idea. Very very few keep experimenting until they find insatiable demand and true product market fit. My quantitative definition of that is 20% MoM growth and 80% organic leads for new users.”

+ Play-to-earn: How gaming’s revolutionary new business model works — “In the past few decades, we have witnessed seismic changes within the video game industry, most notably the arrival of completely new business models. Where pay-to-play once held dominion, the landscape was transformed by the free-to-play phenomenon, and now we have play-to-earn.”

+ MVP Store Design — “I often use these articles to efficiently answer common questions we get from our clients. While the previous two articles focused on how to make individual offers more effective, this article’s F2P MVP Store Design addresses a lot of common IAP monetization questions with a single, coherent design solution, plus F.A.Q.”

💬 Quote that I’ve been thinking about

People who change their minds because they learned something are the winners, whereas those who stubbornly refuse to learn are the losers.

— Ray Dalio


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I hope you have a great weekend!

Joakim