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Starting up a game business: Decision Making

Blog post about decision making over founding a game company by Epic Owl Ltd's CEO Juha Vainio.

This article is originally published in Epic Owl Ltd's blog.

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This is my first blog posting in what I hope to be a series of writings about things I encounter while taking my first steps as a CEO in the blooming games industry in Helsinki, Finland. I will be blatantly subjective in these writings and the topics I imagine covering here will range from learnings in the games startup world to insights in management and leadership.

This first posting is about decision making and how I approached the decision of leaving my comfort zone for a path in the Unknown. I’ve been told to be a fair decision maker so I hope you will find this interesting. Here goes, enjoy!

 

When Risto [Holmström, CCO/Epic Owl] first approached me with the idea of founding our own game company, about 100 things went through my mind within the next few milliseconds. Wow! Such great! Much game! Cool! Crazy! Insane! Stupid! Madness! Epic! The decision in the end was an easy one but due to its size it took quite a bit of analysing and evaluation to be able to make it. I will first go through a couple of tools I use in decision making, move on to things I considered in this particular case and conclude with how I actually made the decision.

How to decide #1: Avoiding Bad Decisions

One thing standing in the way of making a decision is the fear of making a bad decision. In hindsight it is easy to evaluate if a decision has been a wrong one, but has it necessarily been a bad one? I’ve agreed with myself that I never make bad decisions.

I make decisions in a way that I never need to look back and say I shouldn’t have made them. I gather enough information, I think things through from multiple angles and I make sure I understand what happens if the decision is a right one or a wrong one. I need to be able to tell myself that given the information at hand, the decision I made was the best possible one. Thus, it might turn out to be the wrong one but it won’t be a bad one. Personally I have never seen hindsight constructive.

What this doesn’t mean is that I don’t think about my past decisions and practice my share of what-ifs. I do. Analysing your decisions, the wrong ones and especially the right ones, helps you learn and fine-tune your decision-making process. I seldom have regrets, only learnings.

How to decide #2: Intuition

Another thing that is not always self-evident in decision making is utilizing your intuition and subconscious mind. Some might say that it goes against my nature of being very precise and number-oriented and they might be right, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to trust my gut more and more. This also means I never make any big decisions without sleeping on them. It’s not just a meaningless phrase, sleep gives the subconscious mind an opportunity to assess the question at hand properly from all the angles and in the morning, the answer is usually obvious.

So, what about The Decision at hand?

What did I actually consider when making the decision to leave my employment and start a business of my own? Among about a dozen things I considered a few key things stood out:

Family

Getting a steady salary check is more important when you have people financially depending on you. If you take care of only yourself, you don’t need that much. This was the toughest one for me and to be honest, without the full support from my wife and kids, I wouldn’t have done it. But they did support me and gave me confidence that come what may, we’ll be ok.

The situation at the employer

Leaving my employer would mean leaving my great co-workers, my great studio and my great boss, which would be painful. On the other hand, my two pet projects that I was especially passionate about had just been canceled and I was assigned to a project that I didn’t fully believe to be a true game-changer. Also, the company strategy was going back to the direction I had tried to steer away from for the past two years.

Epic Owl people

You can’t start a business with just anyone. When starting small, you need to have people who can wear multiple hats at any given time. You also need the people to be passionate, willing to go the extra mile to make sure things are awesome instead of just great. Luckily, the Epic Owl people were a 100% match, both skill and passion-wise!

Conclusion

Now you know how I approach decisions and what I considered when thinking about this particular case. So what was the key thing?

While mulling the decision in my mind during the weeks, I had a zen-like moment of illumination. This wisdom came to me then: When facing a decision that will define your future path, make one that results in the best story.

Continue in the position that you’ve already been in while others are calling all the shots?

or

Start a new business, make your own calls, do your own thing, be a part of something that in a year or two will change the industry?

As I said earlier, in the end it was an easy decision.
 
 
– Juha

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