4 ways to be a better founder

There is something magical about being the founder of a business. Building your studio from the ground up is something to take pride in. You’ve poured your energy, time, and money into creating something lasting.

As your studio grows, more people will contribute to your games. Each of them will feel a sense of ownership and pride in the project and the company.

The transition from founder to leader is tricky to navigate. It has tripped up many creatives in the video game industry and far beyond.

What kind of founder do you want to be?

You’ll have to find your own answers to difficult questions along the way:

  • How will you balance your own sense of creative ownership with that of your employees?
  • When is it time to loosen the reins and let others lead?
  • Are you comfortable letting someone else make creative decisions, even if they differ from your preferences?
  • Are you comfortable with taking criticism from the experts you hire?

The answers might seem simple in practice, but giving up some control is harder than it seems. Here are four tips for being a better leader of the organization you created:

Trust in your hiring process

Hiring and recruiting is an expensive and time consuming process. If you’re going to go through that effort to bring in an expert coder or brilliant animator, trust in their expertise. Give your creative employees the opportunity to stretch their artistic wings. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t have a creative vision, but find the balance between cohesive style and micromanagement.

Keep constructive criticism timely

As the leader, it’s your job to stay informed throughout the creative process. Instituting good protocols will make sure you have information flowing your way. It’s your responsibility to stay current on a project’s process. Falling behind and deciding much later that you don’t like a creative decision will result in wasted work. It will also leave subordinates feeling demoralized and undervalued.

Inspire through respect

You aren’t going to be happy with the people who work for you all the time. It’s important that you address those stumbles respectfully. Make course corrections in private, offer constructive feedback, and give subordinates opportunity to make changes.

Dressing down employees in front of peers or swooping in to fix things yourself creates a culture of fear. Employees will be hesitant to take creative risks or experiment with ways to improve the project. Leading through inspiration and respect creates an environment that rewards ingenuity and innovation.

Let people in on your plans

Most companies start with a small group of people. Maybe you’re going it alone.

It’s easy to get into the habit of hatching your ideas alone, forming them into plans, and executing with little assistance. As your studio grows, you’ll have more people involved in every project.

Some of those people need only be concerned with the tasks assigned to them. Department heads and team leads need to have a better sense of all the moving pieces, though.

If you keep your plans to yourself, you’ll be leaving subordinate managers guessing about your intent. The result will be elements that will likely miss the mark. The pieces coming from different departments won’t mesh with the overall vision.

Sharing your grand ideas, allowing others to offer feedback, and moving together as a cohesive team will offer better results. Not only will your managers make calls in line with the overall vision, but you’ll inspire ownership and pride.

You can read more about team leadership and avoiding the insidious “founder’s syndrome” in The GameDev Business Handbook.

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