Six of the Best

As part of our recent 6th birthday celebrations, Chris Bain shares some of his learnings from his most recent year as our founder & CEO

I regularly reach out to others (often former colleagues, friends or simply people in my network) to share my experiences when they start out on their own business journey. The learnings do pile up slowly over the years, but it needs a pause to be taken in the day-to-day to reflect on what these are. I felt out sixth birthday was a great opportunity to do this…

I’ve took some very pragmatic lessons from those last 12 months. I fact there were six separate reflections I wanted to highlight. When I shared these previously on Linked In in a series of posts,  I of course called it  “Six of the Best” 😉

The feedback was really positive at the time,  so I felt it should live here on our website too, as I think they will still be valid for many years to come!


Number 1

**Going from “One to Two” is hard, but ultimately rewarding for your business**

Five years of doing everything in your company yourself is difficult, but you do learn to manage and become comfortable with the rhythms & processes there. It creates a limit to growth however….everything Is dependent on your own availability, and nothing happens in parallel. To break out of this, and make the changes necessary to grow the business, you have to hire someone to help you. I took this step in June last year when I hired the superb Leonor Duarte fresh out of university as Player One Consulting employee # 2. The admin impact of becoming a “real” company” (HR, IT, payroll etc) felt significant, but equally making the company processes more predictable and giving Leonor a structured plan to work to required a lot of initial extra effort.

That meant a lot of working “ON the business, not IN the business” and it has really challenged me. We are coming out the other side of that now however and it genuinely has been a great experience. I personally love how we work as a team now and I feel the path to growth is now stretching out in front of us.

Once you’ve put in the energy to make it happen… 1+1 = 3 !

Number 2

**Being asked tough questions by outside specialists is essential to being your best**

As well as growing on a people side, Player One’s growth is dependent upon having a really strong value proposition for our clients, and having that proposition be professionally & clearly presented.

That is not easy.

Consulting can seem quite abstract, especially in an industry like gaming which despite its size and rate of growth is still (I’m gonna say it!) …quite immature as an industry.

We genuinely seem to be one of the few industries that doesn’t understand the value of bringing in external expertise, so a lot of what I share is showing potential clients how they could benefit from this strange new thing.

Our existing sales materials, website and copy was OK (I thought) but truth be told it didn’t really fit the bill. It didn’t really show exactly who we were for and what we could bring. Bringing in an agency (the excellent Grandad) was super useful here. In helping us to elevate the brand and redesign our website, they asked us tough questions that acted as a forcing factor to understand who we were, what we were about and how to communicate it. Those lovely new web pages needed to be filled with great content somehow!

Again, we had to take time out from client work to get ourselves in the best shape possible there, but it has been worth it. We now have a clear value proposition, great sales materials and a brilliant website that really meets our needs.

We are ready to go – but we’d have never got there just relying on our own knowledge and experience. Ironically, this is the message we want to get across to our clients, so we are well served by taking our own advice….

Expertise is out there….don’t be afraid of it…use it!

Number 3

**You gotta build a sales pipeline!**

For 5 years I was able to run a solid and sustainable business through pure word-of-mouth referral and recommendation. The focus on ensuring 100% client satisfaction and a “reputation over revenue” approach to key decisions ensured I had enough client work coming in to keep me busy and the business remaining profitable…

There was always an element of unpredictability about the volume of work however, and if not quite “feast or famine”, revenues could certainly vary significantly month to month. When the costs were only my time & expenses, this wasn’t an issue. To significantly grow the business however, I needed more consistent & predictable revenue. This meant building a proper structured sales pipeline, managed via CRM and filled up through *actual marketing* activities!

I kinda knew this for a while but kept pushing it off. It meant I was able to focus on delivery of course, but equally I wasn’t seeing the necessary growth.

Eventually realised that I had to take time out to do this properly and spend several months focusing on getting this right. It was really tough to do as it took a lot longer than I thought (months), it drove up my costs and it took some of my focus away from driving short term revenues for the business. Actually a lot more challenging than I thought!

I think we’ve pretty much got there now (at least with Plan A!) so I’m watching and waiting to see how things go in new financial year. Even if Plan A doesn’t work, we do now have that solid structure from which to run Plan B,C,D and whatever else is needed! The time and money was well spent, and I’m no longer kicking the growth can down the road….

I know what we need to do…and we’re getting busy doing it!

Number 4

**The games industry is currently facing a leadership challenge, and this offers a real opportunity to drive change**

Its an unpopular message for many but I’ve felt for a while now that the business leadership across the games industry isn’t quite where it needs to be. It was firstly seeing it from the perspective of having worked cross-industry for years, and then making the comparison with the games world – not always flattering on a strategic, operational or financial basis.

Then it was underlined by being at Xbox where although we were the “games people” there (and all the fun that entailed!) we were a still just small part of a massive enterprise focused corporation that demanded commercial focus & rigour…and there was no special dispensation given to miss our numbers “because games”. Somehow we found it was possible to be true to the games, the devs, the fans….and yet still run things in a commercially smart way.  By comparison, a lot of the people that floated into Xbox from the rest of the games industry at the time really seemed to lack that cutting edge, and they were often out again within months. Yes, games is a creative business, but that doesn’t mean that the management should be sub-standard. The frequent “flakiness” on the management side of the industry (as I saw it) was what prompted me to start Player One Consulting, to initiate a change in culture and raise the standard of professionalism.

It was tricky to get traction though, especially at the AAA level. So many businesses I spoke to seemed oblivious to the issues besetting their companies. “Everything is fine, its all under control” was a common retort, even from companies whose share price was in the toilet, who were shedding staff and who hadn’t seen a major hit in years.

The level of complacency across the industry was actually pretty shocking.

Well, in the last year I think that we are at last starting to see the flaws in that approach. The industry is beset by challenges, there continue to be massive layoffs every week and (based on my recent conversations) investors are becoming increasing unhappy with some of the decision making by leadership teams at studios & publishers.

I do believe however that with the right external guidance (as provided by Player One Consulting) there is a way out for many currently challenged games companies.

The next year is going to be extremely interesting.

Number 5

**There is a business world out there fascinated by the games industry – we need to welcome them in…and be their guide!**

Many of my most interesting clients in recent years have come to me from outside the games industry, and this seems to be increasing. We might not realise it as we look outwards, but our industry is actually making waves across the wider business world.

It still remains a bit of a mystery to many however. The cliché of “the 15-year old playing Call of Duty in his mum’s basement” is still alive out there – in fact that’s a verbatim quote from a CEO I met who was looking to get their company into games. Not saying this archetypal character doesn’t exist but we all know there is a lot more to it than that!

At Player One Consulting, we act as trusted guides for these “games-curious” companies….providing an unbiased overview of the industry landscape, the value chain, where the opportunities lie and how to best to take advantage of them.

There are a LOT of companies in adjacent business areas that could bring gaming into their overall strategy to their benefit – whether as a brand new revenue stream, a way to reach new audiences or as a source of great IP. I see film companies, telcos, toys, board games, media organisations and many more within this group and I feel we’ve only just scratched the surface.

We need to be more proactive as an industry however, and remove the barriers that we sometimes put up (e.g. impenetrable jargon to describe genres, our general annoyance about games being looked down upon for so long, our occasional lack of understanding of other industries’ priorities). There is so much potential, but clear-eyed guidance is required to make this happen.

The huge transmedia successes of The Last Of Us and Fallout are the big stories well documented elsewhere…but I believe there are major untapped opportunity at *all* levels of scale, and I’m looking forward to exploring it with our clients & partners over the next moths and years

P.S. Web3 folks – apologies for the meme btw – I love you really!*

(*If you ever show me a good business case!…)

Number 6

**Bringing together a team of industry experts has got me very excited about the future**

On this last day of this financial year, the final takeaway from the past 12 months is a very uplifting one.

Expanding Player One from a single-person advisory business into a fully-fledged consultancy with access to a wide variety of experience & skills has meant I have had to go looking for those talents across the industry.

Let’s be clear, the talent is definitely out there.

What is also clear is that so much of the business talent has been tied up into long-term roles (perhaps underutilised doing annual tweaks on a single franchise?), or cut adrift in a layoff with no way to effectively bring their knowledge to the (hiring-shy) companies out there.

This is why bringing so many of these incredibly effective people together under the Player One umbrella and focusing their various complementary talents on our clients’ challenges has already been so motivating, and gives me real excitement about the future.

We’re still really just getting started when it comes to what we can achieve as a team, and I’m already sure that by our 7th birthday as a company we’ll have taken another massive leap forward and have a lot more great stories to share!

More Insights