Not Getting Early Investor Money Was the Best Thing That Happened to Us

When we started 7 Generation Games, we made some effort to interest angel investors. We had a few meetings with people who either:

  • Told us flat out they didn’t think our company had commercial potential, including one who said, and I quote, “No one is interested in Indians” and another, from New York City, who said he didn’t believe Native American kids were interested in learning about their culture.
  • Believed the market for games was saturated, or
  • Were interested only if we were willing to focus on a younger market, “because you’ll make more money selling to parents of young children”.

We have done our first two games without funding from angel investors and it has been great for us. Because we had to work on a limited budget, our pages for learning math initially looked like this.

Page with linksAs we have sold more games, we’ve been able to put the money back into development, including graphics, and now the math activities page looks like this:

new math activities page with graphics instead of linksAre our games better now? Absolutely!

Does the fact that they were not ready for prime-time at the beginning justify that some investors were not interested in our company? Absolutely, not! (They may have other valid reasons but that is certainly not one of them.) There was a great article in the Sunday New York Times called, “How to find your place in the world after graduation”. In it, Pam Druckerman gives two pieces of particularly sage advice for those who want to create anything.

  1. Your first draft of anything will be terrible.
  2. Stay in the room. It needn’t be an actual room. You can be alone in a busy cafe. I’ve gotten some of my best ideas while walking, or riding the Paris Metro … I’ve never gotten a good idea while checking Twitter or shopping.”

It’s a good thing we are not easily discouraged, because our first draft WAS terrible. Our second draft was better, and now at Spirit Lake version 5.0 – which you can buy right here, right now, it’s pretty darn good. It would have been easy to stop at stage 1 and say,

“No one wants to invest in us and they are probably right because our first draft isn’t very good.”

Fortunately, we didn’t think that at all. What we thought instead was,

“This is a damn good idea and we are going to make it happen. If no one will invest in us, then we will just quit our jobs, work on this full-time, learn anything we need to know and do it ourselves.”

And we did. This has turned out to be the best possible thing that could have happened to us, in too many ways to list, but here are some of them:

  • We have met some AMAZING people who were our alpha testers in the early days. We are in debt to the teachers at Tate Topa Tribal School, Warwick School, Ojibwa Indian School and Turtle Mountain Elementary School and will never, ever be able to repay them for their help and kindness. If I was a crying type, I would tear up right now. As it is, I sit here all warm and fuzzy with gratitude. We met people who really care about education and are willing to try innovative solutions, to be real partners in development, providing feedback that made our games much better.
  • All of our software development team made crazy improvements in their skills – and this is a bunch that didn’t start out slackers in the technical realm. I know so much more now than I did a few years ago. The same statement can be made by anyone on our team. Since we did not have someone else’s money to go out and hire an expert in C#, Unity 3D or JavaScript, we added those to our existing skill sets.
  • If we’d had the money to hire key development staff, we’d have to worry about the hole it would leave in our organization if one of them left for a better opportunity. Now, my biggest worry is that Dennis will drop dead. Not that he seems particularly likely to keel over in the next few years, it’s just that is the only circumstances under which I can see him leaving the company. (It would also hurt the company if I dropped dead, but since I’d be dead in that case, I don’t worry about it.)
  • Without a pile of money to attract them, the staff we have brought in, from graphic artists to junior developers to audio engineer have had to be people with a genuine interest in their work. People like that will only get better with time – and they have.
  • Because the money we are spending is our own, or federal grants designed to help small business, or backing from people on Kickstarter, who we don’t want to let down, we have minimized our operating costs. We held our Kickstarter kick-off in our office and our “catering” was what we bought from the store across the street. We do have a lot of events and they are pretty fun, thanks mostly to the amazing Jessica Bueler, who sets up most of them, and  the ever-helpful Marisol, who sets up the rest. However, free-flowing champagne and oyster bars, we are not. This model has made it possible for us to have a much longer run-way for development than many other firms with the same amount of ufnds.

This isn’t to say that if someone showed up tomorrow with $500,000 in unmarked bills that we wouldn’t take it (although we probably wouldn’t, because that sounds kind of sketchy).

What it I do mean to say is that if you don’t have a lot of outside money, then you need to build your business based on the things that money can’t buy. So far, that’s working out great for us.

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