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Networking guilt and indie biz dev

By on July 18, 2013

This is a guest post from AJ Grand-Scrutton of Dlala Studios.

Someone has watched one of my awfully structured, poorly presented and foul mouth filled talks and asked me to put word to virtual paper and do a blog post. I am very grateful for this opportunity and I also apologise in advance for anyone who may be offended by any of these posts but I feel honesty is always the best policy. I’ve got a whole range of topics I’d like to talk about but I’m going to start off by discussing ‘networking’. Main motivation for this is that I’ve just got back from Brighton and the wonderful Develop Conference.

So a few little ‘disclaimers’:

  • I am not an expert at this, I’ve never had any real advice on this topic and I’ve always just figured out my own way. So please do not take what I say as gospel
  • There is no gospel. There is no one way to network perfectly and your ‘technique’ should be tailored to yourself and what makes you comfortable
  • That said, in my defence I’ve built a large chunk of the foundation of my company, Dlala Studios, on the back of a lot of networking so at least you know I have had some form of success with it.

So here we go I’m going to do my top tips in no order whatsoever. Hope this isn’t too painful:

Tip #1 – Speak At Every Chance You Get

So this one isn’t just limited to conferences, but for any type of event, really. Every chance you get to public speak you should take it, for two very good reasons. The first is to simply to get yourself out there. I was terrified of public speaking then around 9 months or so ago I got asked to do a talk at a TIGA event. I took it because Dlala had no money for marketing and a game coming out shortly so I needed to get word out there of both Janksy and the studio as a whole. This was one of the best things that could possibly happen. I’m lucky in the sense that I get away with telling the story of my career and how Dlala was formed and people seem interested.

Off the back of that talk I met a wealth of great people like Shahid at Sony and Debbie at Team17. Both of whom treated me as an equal and took me under the wings, along with the MS guys obviously. The really big impact meeting for me off the back of this was this awesome dude who just casually came up to me afterwards, handed me a business card and introduced himself as ‘Craig from Rare’. Looking at his business card and seeing “Studio Head of Rare” almost blew my mind. Anyone that knows me and Dlala knows that we’re a bunch of Rare fan boys. It usually only takes about 2 minutes for me to mention Battletoads when I meet someone and usually Goldeneye and Banjo Kazooie will come up on a daily basis at Dlala HQ.

Craig was super awesome, we chatted about games, our careers and the Seattle grunge scene from the 90’s. One other major thing we shared in common was this feeling of ‘networking guilt’. This is that feeling you get when you have a project to ship but you are out working the floor. This will probably happen to all of you at some point and it’s very important to remember that the networking part is just as important as being back at the studio working on a game.

As we parted ways Craig told me to stay in contact and let him know if I ever needed advice. You will hear this a lot when you meet great people in the industry and like me you will probably think ‘That’s a really nice thing to say but I understand they are going to be way too busy’. I was wrong; very wrong. Craig and I have stayed friends, I’ve seen him most times he comes up to London and he’s been a real supporter and help to Dlala throughout our short time of being a studio. He also let me bring my entire team up to Rare for a day for a tour to see the awesome things they are doing, tell us the history of the company and answer our questions.

For someone like Craig who is studio head to take the time out of his schedule to personally give me and my boys a tour of the studio and chat to us about our ideas and our thoughts on Rare’s stuff is mental. It’s people like him, Lee Schuneman (Lift London) and Shahid Kamal Ahmad (Sony) who have completely changed my perspective on the big players in games. All of this came off the back of me doing my very first talk – since then through talks I’ve made great relationships with the guys at Nokia, Dolby and made a hell of a lot of friends that I feel privileged to have in my life.

The second reason you should always talk at every opportunity you get is a very, very simple one. You get a free ticket. These conferences are incredibly expensive a lot of the time and studios like ours would struggle to send any of us to them. Last year I had to beg Develop for a student price ticket and they were lovely to let me. 99% of the time when you speak you will get a ticket for at least everything on the day you are speaking – Develop, though, are fantastic and give you full passes for main track speakers. This is something that is priceless you get free entry to places absolutely filled with people who can help your career and who you can pimp yourself out to (in a nice way).

Tip #2 – Don’t Be Fussy

This is a big one – don’t feel you need to only target conferences and events that are specific to your exact discipline or industry. I gave a talk at AppsWorld last year which is very much focussed on apps as opposed to games. Off of the back of that I met the guys from Nokia and a couple of potential investors. Don’t be fussy and get yourself out there!

Tip #3 – Business Cards, Business Cards, Business Cards

As strange as it sounds in such a digital age business cards are so important. Nearly every single time I’ve met someone we’ve exchanged business cards. I have a box full of people’s cards next to me on my desk and every time I’m about to take a new step for Dlala I go through the cards to see if there is anyone there appropriate to contact for advice or involvement.
Business cards are a very effective tool for networking and also for brand recognition. You should see your business cards as an extension of your studios brand, even if you are a one man studio. I cannot rave enough about – you can get fucking awesome looking business cards for 20 quid.

The amount of great feedback we’ve had from our business cards is ridiculous and it is such a little thing. There is a phrase in business I always hated which is ‘dress for the job you want not the job you have’. Obviously the reason I hate that is because for a lot of my working life I’ve worn baggy shirts and sweatpants. I am more a believer of selling yourself right and a good and often quirky looking business card can help. With moo you can buy 50 cards for 20 quid and you can have a variety of different designs on the back.

So with Dlala’s when we get our cards we have four different background colours behind the logo and I always ask people to pick what card they want. There are probably a lot of you reading this thinking “that’s fucking stupid” but it’s a funny, silly little personal touch that people like. It’s very easy to get your cards looking nice and a lot of the websites have some good predefined designs. We were very lucky that one of my oldest friends Dan Maslanka ([email protected]) put together an absolute kick ass design for us.

Once you have the cards there are two approaches. There is the ‘give a card to everyone I meet’ approach, which is often the approach I take nowadays or there is the ‘strategic distribution’ or as I like to call it – ‘I’m broke so I need to be careful’. Don’t be afraid if you are running low on cards to ask someone for their card and then just instantly drop them an e-mail so they have details.

Tip #4 – Don’t Ask, Don’t Get

Now this one is something I’ve lived my entire life by and something that my dad is the king of. I’ve always said that when I go to buy my house I’m going to take my dad there for the negotiations because he’ll probably buy the carpet and get the house chucked in for free.

When you meet people don’t be afraid to ask them for advice and to see how they can help you on your journey. A lot of the time you won’t have to if you have a good ‘story’ (I’ll talk about this in Tip #5), but either way you shouldn’t be scared to ask people if they can point you in the right direction. Never be ashamed to call out the fact that you are clueless about something. A lot of our best business advice in Dlala has come off the back of me and Craig (Thomas, Dlala CCO) putting our hands up and saying we don’t have a clue when it comes to the business side. 99% of the people I’ve met at events etc… have been lovely and have wanted to help. If you ask and they say no or they can’t offer any help you are not in a worst situation so you have nothing to lose. Don’t Ask, Don’t Get.

Tip #5 – If You’ve Got A Story, Tell It

With Dlala a lot of people became involved because they liked the story, a story our team are fed up of hearing now. Our story is the tale of how Craig and I left our secure, well-paid jobs, moved into the parents’ garages to start our studio with no money, and then 6 months later were working with Microsoft.

Lots of our friends have great stories – the guys in Utopian World Of Sandwiches left their jobs and took a gamble on their XBLA and PC title ‘Chompy Chomp Chomp’, Nicoll Hunt got crowd funded through Kickstarter for his game ‘Fist Of Awesome’ and ‘Imp Paired’ creator Nick Lister left his career in architecture after one day rediscovering his passion for games.
If you have a story – however big or little it is – don’t be afraid to tell people about it. I love hearing about how companies and developers got to where they are. Plus, it’s a lot more interesting then hearing someone basically reading off their CV!

Aj (Who Doesn’t Really Know Anything)’s Top Tip – BE YOURSELF

If any of my tips put you in a position where you think ‘This isn’t me or something I would do’ then don’t do them. You have to be yourself. It would have been very easy for me to cut my hair, shave my beard, put on a suit and pretend to be a real business guy – I’ve blagged my way a lot through life but I didn’t want to do that.

I want Dlala to be pure and the result of honesty. It’s something we actually pride ourselves on that we are always completely honest with everyone we deal with. Sometimes you will rub people the wrong way but the reality is you don’t want to be working with, associated with people that you have to tread on thin ice with. When I go to conferences I always dress the same I would anywhere, I speak how I would and I even embrace my Essex dialect with pride (Dlala Studios does not endorse not associate itself with ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ in any way). In all seriousness though you have to be comfortable with everything you do when you are networking – people can tell when you are being fake and putting on a front is just unneeded stress.
So that’s my top tips for networking. I’m sorry that it was just some random hairy guy rambling on at you for over 2000 words but I hope that at least some of it was useful to you guys.

Hopefully see you next time!




About Aj Grand-Scrutton

AJ is the founder of Dlala Studios, a young indie studio based in the UK. Dlala Studios has one simple idea; to make games that are fun, games that the team building those games will want to play themselves.