Chris, ahead of last year's Entrepreneurial Scotland Summit
As the Fast 50 celebrates its 20th anniversary, Chris van der Kuyl, owner and chairman of the BAFTA award-winning 4J Studios offers his thoughts and advice to other entrepreneurs.
In many ways, the early 1990’s acted as a testing ground for Scottish entrepreneurialism in the technology sector. When I founded VIS Entertainment at the age of 21, we and others like us were the first wave of technology companies to have emerged out of Scotland. Today, the start-up scene is more fertile. Tech incubators like Edinburgh’s Codebase, the UK’s largest start-up hub (which is currently home to more than 100 technology companies) did not exist.
At the same time, today’s entrepreneurs face a more competitive market when it comes to finding and securing funding for their ideas and products. Although the start-up scene has transformed significantly since my journey began, I still sincerely believe the principles that applied to successful entrepreneurialism back when I started out are equally relevant today. If I could offer some advice to anyone starting out today, it would be:
Talk and network, lots
Get yourself out there. Ask for help. You won’t have all the answers, but someone will. Get out there and talk to people who have been there before. Learn from them and do not be afraid to ask questions, no matter how basic. One thing you will notice is that people will want to help you based on their own experiences.
I would not be where I am today if I’d taken a meeker approach to networking. For example, when I picked up the phone to Ian Ritchie, one of Scotland’s leading technology entrepreneurs and asked him for help he did not know me from Adam. When Ian agreed to meet me for a coffee everything changed; his guidance has been invaluable. We worked together closely and eventually, he became the chairperson of VIS Entertainment.
Make failures positive
Business is an unpredictable beast that works in cycles. Sometimes you will be on top, sometimes you will not. Some ideas will work, some will fall completely flat and you’ll wonder what on earth you were thinking. There will be bumps along the way which you simply could not have anticipated. You’ll only get better if you get out there and experience the business world for yourself.
Every business goes through peaks and troughs, something any young entrepreneur would do well to remember and any experienced entrepreneur will tell you. Learn from your mistakes, realise they are not failings and turn them into something positive. Keep going. It sounds like something that is easier said than done, but it is true. Persistence is key.
Focus is everything
When I founded the business, we had a team of five people operating out of an office in Dundee. By the time we were ready to sell in the early noughties, we had grown into one of the biggest games developers in the UK, with a number one game (State of Emergency), around 250 staff, and studios all over Britain.
Managing this amount of sheer brainpower and creativity during this period taught me one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned to date – how to focus. Focus must sit at the centre of your strategy, your resourcing, and your day to day operations. Entrepreneurs have a lot of ideas, some good, some less so. Rationalising these and committing to a small number at any one time is critical to making progress.
The future for tech entrepreneurs that steer their business models toward the right kind of technology is bright. I genuinely believe that in ten to 15 years, people will find salaried, full-time professional jobs working within online multiplatform gaming environments.
The unification of the physical and virtual world is no longer inconceivable. Whether it is mining, collecting, trading, or growing, the possibilities are virtually endless in the truest sense of the word. It is going to be incredible, transformational, and completely bizarre to anyone who doesn’t have an interest in that world.
For me, this suggests there could be no better time for young, intelligent entrepreneurs in Scotland to make their mark. The evidence is there. Look at Rockstar, a company born in Dundee that has gone on to build one of the world’s the most successful video game franchises, Grand Theft Auto.
My journey over the last 20 or so years has been an incredible one and I am hugely grateful to all the people that have been part of it. Video games are now the biggest entertainment platform in the world - and we are only just beginning.