Why I Decided to Do a Start Up
I woke up early this morning and haven’t been able to sleep and my mac is in the other room, so I thought I’d take some time to jot down some notes on why I decided to do a start up.
Three years ago, I was living in LA working at Insomniac Games. I was the Lead Gameplay Programmer on Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, the fifth game in the series and the third Ratchet and Clank game that I had worked on. There were some good things about the situation and some bad things. One of the most obvious bad things was having worked on sequel after sequel and being able to code up Ratchet gameplay mechanics in my sleep. Moving onto the PS3 made things a little bit more fresh, but not much. The up side wasn’t bad, though. I was making more money than I could possibly spend which convinced me into buying a fancy car and property, which currently looks like a disasterous move. I worked with a lot of talented people at Insomniac who really taught me so much in terms of technical ability as well as pure determination. However, with a team of over a hundred people working on the project, I had quite a flow of unpleasant human encounters. Back then, I used to refer to is at the jackass count.
When Luke and I started considering moving to London to work on LittleBigPlanet, one of the most attractive things was the team size. Going from a team of over 100 people to a team of 30 sounded absolutely amazing. I remember Luke saying, “There is a number of people that if the team grows above, and the number is lower than 40, I will have to quit.” For me, the formulation was slightly different. For me, it was, “If I have to deal with more than a certain number of jackasses daily, and the number is less then 7, I will have to quit.”
Looking back on it, though, jackass is definitely the wrong concept. I’ll admit, sometimes it was that people were simply jackasses–not necessarily absolute shit, but nowhere near as good as they acted like they were. However, in most situations, this was not the case. It was usually a consequence of infrastructure: too many tiers of management, too many meetings, gamable accountability, decision by committee, highly skilled workers being promoted to managers, and various other factors. The key is, though, it was far less often the case that there was a problematic individual than a problematic placement of an individual or a problematic process.
I decided that I wanted to get out on my own because I wanted to build the right team with the right infrastructure with the right culture. I knew that as long as it wasn’t my company, all I would ever be is another annoying voice in the ear of upper management. It’s not that I think I’m so brilliant that they should listen to everything I say. It’s the fact that I am an individual who is never satisfied with the way things are and will always want to know if things could be better. I want to try my ideas and see if they sink or swim. I want to stay fluid and really focus not on just finding the right people, but finding the right roles and environments for the right people.
To me, the worst thing is stagnation, and from my experience, without finding the exact right process for a company, it is the natural consequence of human endeavors. For every bad hire that isn’t fired and for every promotion that shouldn’t have been given, a company loses options. For every unnecessary policy or invalid internal metric, a company loses options. The more mistakes a company makes, the more it is forced down a certain path that makes making good decisions more difficult and more mistakes inevitable. For me, the key is having a culture where the perspective is more like the scientific method than a series of goals. Running a good company is about making and testing hypotheses, not about setting goals and succeeding or failing. When a hypothesis turns out to be false, you have learned something valuable and saved a lot of time because you need to go no further with it. When you fail, there is always the risk that an ego gets in the way and wants to hide it or present it as a success. Facts–true and false–are objective. Quality-success and fail–are not.
I am starting a company because I want to build something that is evaluated not by what it has done, but by how many doors have been left open and how much it still can actually do. I am starting a company because I want to find out how many other people share this passion for means over ends.