Below are useful hints, tips and more for those interested in starting a digital entertainment business in Utah. If you have additional resources to add please email us at [email protected] and we will be happy to include them here.
Checkout these UDEN meetings too:
There are many reasons why you might want to start your own digital entertainment business;
- You have a brilliant idea and you want to bring it to market;
- You believe you can do so much better than the place you work at right now;
- Maybe you can't find the right job where you want to live;
- You want to be your own boss;
- You would like Mark Zuckerberg's money;
- ...lots more possible reasons!
Whatever the reason, you should make sure to go into this with "eyes open". Don't rush it, understand what is involved.
A few of the initial considerations you should have will include:
How much money will you need before your new business is making money? (investment)
- You'll have bills to pay while you get your business started, while you build your first product - so how much do you think that is? Consider not only costs to build, but also launch costs - marketing, travel - and how long before the product actually generates revenue
Where will your initial investment come from?
- Bank loan?
- Severance payment from your last job?
- Your savings?
- Loan from family?
- Other colleagues joining your startup putting their own money in?
- Funding from an investor - these typically want a slice of your business (shares) and some control
- See this excellent post from JenJen Francis about bank loans
- "My startups have had great service from SmallBusinessBank - free checking, everything online" - Jon Dean
How many people do you need? How will you pay them?
- Investment can also come from not paying, or paying reduced amounts, in return for services. So your business partners might work for less money (or even no money) in return for a share of the business (sweat equity)
What type of business entity do you need?
- Your legal trading entity; is it an extension of you personally, or a separate entity all of its own? S-corp, C-corp, LLC, partnership? This has implications for taxes and also liabilities in the event something goes wrong, so choose carefully. You should discuss with an accountant and a lawyer; you can also study your options in a variety of books - e.g. Legal Guide to Starting & Running a Small Business
- You can register your company in Utah using this website: http://www.corporations.utah.gov; this guide will help: http://tax.utah.gov/forms/pubs/pub-38.pdf;
- You might consider incorporating in Delaware, even if the business will be located in Utah. Those advantages are outlined here: http://corplaw.delaware.gov/eng/why_delaware.shtml
- This is a helpful resource, particularly if you’re unfamiliar with the legal terms that tend to swirl around new startups: http://startuplawyer.com/startup-issues/if-i-launched-a-startup
- Unsure? Talk to a lawyer and an accountant. They'll save you time and money in the long run and make sure you're setup correctly from the beginning.
How can I choose a lawyer? What about an accountant?
- Perhaps you have heard horror stories of people being ripped off by 'professionals'? This isn't a reason to not use one!
- There are disreputable people in all industries - bad managers, sloppy programmers, lazy artists, untrustworthy directors - not everyone holds your high standards! So what do you do in your line of work? You interview, you check references, right? Do the same thing when choosing a lawyer or an accountant. It's no different than hiring a sub-contractor.
- Ask other people in the industry who they use - personal recommendations matter
- Ask a prospective lawyer or accountant how many people in your industry that they work with - and ask for contact details so you can get references
- There are many to choose from in Utah but choose carefully nonetheless
- These professionals have given their time to help UDEN, so if you need a starting point, here are a couple: but don't just take our word for it - take references to satisfy yourself with these or any other people you work with.
- Stephen Walter - Attorney, Shumway Van - http://www.shumwayvan.com/our-legal-team/stephen-p-walter/
- John Briggs - CPA, Incite Tax - http://www.incitetax.com/
- Our thanks to Chris Baker for this suggestion for a good option for new startups as well: https://stripe.com/atlas
- You'll need it. Don't overlook this; you falling ill is a key risk to the success of your business.
- There are many vendors who can sell you a range of packages. Utah's health insurance marketplace is designed for small businesses - http://www.avenueh.com
- A cost-effective route is to take out a good core package with a healthcare vendor, then add critical health insurance on top - meaning that if your core package won't pay in the event of a critical illness, the top-up insurance should.
- Whatever business you are in, you are required to carry a minimum level of business insurance. Your lawyer, or insurance agent can advise you on specific needs
- You'll need to put one together; this can feel overwhelming but it's actually quite straightforward and doing one will help you better understand what you're about to embark upon. You may not know all of these answers upfront, but getting down on paper what you do know and what you still need to figure out will be a huge help for you, your partners and any investors.
- Summary - begin with a visionary statement about your business and the products you will make. Be sure to mention where this could end up - this is the think big moment! When you have finished the entire document, revisit this statement - make sure everything is aligned and consistent!
- What are you going to make? (product) – this should be the easy part! Describe what you’re offering! Service, product, movie – whatever!
- What do you need to be able to make it? (resources - time, people, equipment)
- How long will it take? (timeline) – in months, map out the key events/milestones you anticipate; i.e. start making the product, testing, final, approvals, launch, revisions, etc. Suggest you plan the period through launch plus 2 years.
How will you make money? (business model)
- Are you selling to consumers via a third-party - if so, how do you make money, how much money does your channel of distribution take from the sale? (example, app stores typically take 30%, a distributor or publisher can take upwards of 50%, a local movie theater might take a % of the proceeds after costs, etc.)
- Are you selling directly to consumers - perhaps you'll have an online store of your own, or maybe a retail storefront? What is the cost of the sale (example, credit card transactions attract a % fee per transaction, and your cost of the store itself has to be factored in somewhere)?
- How will you make money? (business model)
- Who are your customers? Where are they? (demographic) – you should be able to Google a bunch of free market data
- What is your distribution plan? (how do you get the product to your customers? E.g. app stores, movie theaters)
What is your product? How will customers know about it? (marketing)
- What makes your product unique? (unique selling points)
- Why will a customer want to buy it? (features)
- How does it compare to the other products in the market? (competitive analysis - side by side feature list, why is yours better?)
- What do small groups of potential customer think of it? (focus group feedback, any insights learned)
- How can you describe your product in as few words as possible in a way that helps the customer understand what you're selling (positioning statement)?
- How will potential customers know about your product when its ready? (advertising, social media, trade shows, consumer shows; maybe you'll hire a specialist company to handle this - if so, how will they get paid?)
- What is your product? How will customers know about it? (marketing)
- If you can balance a check book, you can create a cash flow
- Make a spreadsheet and list by month all of your expected outgoings (bills, expenses)
- Above this, add one or more lines that show what money you'll be bringing in and when (revenue)
- At the bottom, by month, subtract the expenses from the revenue - this is the profit
- Under that make a cumulative summary of the profit or loss by month - a running total; negative numbers will help you see the projected investment you'll need to fund each month
- Add totals at the end of each calendar year by each line item, including a grand total at the bottom
- Most spreadsheet programs have pre-existing templates for cash flows, each of which will give you a version of the above with varying levels of complexity - but the above is what you need to get started so don't be overwhelmed!
- Cash flow
- A few words about how you plan to finance your business (loans, find an investor, sweat equity etc.)
- Financing (investment)
- Of course your new business will be the most successful startup ever, Mr/Ms Zuckerberg! However, there is a very high probability of failure if you don't identify and keep an eye on the things that could de-rail your otherwise brilliant plan!
- Risks will be specific to your business, project, business model etc. but might include things like:
- Product takes longer to build than planned;
- A key relationship you were relying on went bad; perhaps a key employee died;
- A competitor beats you to market and you have to pivot on your plan;
- You can't hire the right people;
- Your product fails to meet regulatory or other necessary approvals;
- You get sued by someone who has trademarked the same name, has a patent on a process you're using; accuses you of plagiarism etc.;
- You always have risks in business - you need to quantify these, in writing, in terms of probability - anything high probability needs to have your fullest attention until it lessens or goes away.
- For every risk you should also identify a mitigation - if this happens, here is what the impact would be, here is what we would do if it did
Summary of opportunities -v- risks (SWOT analysis)
- Draw a 4 quadrant grid
- In one box, write 'Strengths' - and list the main strengths of your project and/or business
- In the adjacent box, write 'Weaknesses' - and list the main weaknesses you can think of
- Below strength, write 'Opportunities' - and list the areas that will open up for you as a result of building this business
- In the remaining quadrant, write 'Threats' - list the main things that could de-rail your plan
- Summary of opportunities -v- risks (SWOT analysis)
- This will cover anything that is not directly related to making your product - things like book keeping (accounts), employee regulations, contracts, other regulations. As a small business you can manage these yourself (it's a question of your time and expertise), but many will prefer to outsource this to a local provider for an agreed fee until such time as the business can afford someone full-time to handle it.
Working from home can be great to get started, but it isn’t ideal for teamwork or collaboration. Most landlords require big commitments for office space - multiple year leases and security deposits. You’re probably not ready for that right away, so consider an incubator (if you’ve seen Silicon Valley on HBO, this is the idea, but not someone’s house!).
There are a few local incubators where you can rent desks and facilities by the month, secured by a credit card. It’s a really cheap and effective way to get started. Other advantages include professional meeting rooms where you can meet investors or clients, high-speed internet, a real street address, business services plus there are other startups just like you with whom you can share or even collaborate.
Here are a few to consider; each has a slightly different mission and vibe, so check them all out to see who has space and which will be the best fit for your needs: (note - these were correct prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, so availability and terms may have changed)
- Access Salt Lake: https://www.accesssaltlake.com/
- Church & State: http://www.cs1893.com/
- Impact Hub: http://saltlake.impacthub.net/
- Sustainable Startups: http://www.sustainablestartups.org/
- Work Hive: http://workhiveslc.com/
- Miller Business Resource Center: https://www.mbrcslcc.com
- Salt Mine: https://www.meetatsaltmine.com/
- Funding a Game Company with Venture Capital - Clark Stacey
Please email us with any links you have found useful [email protected]
- Grow Utah has put together a useful directory of resources for startups, here: http://growutahventures.com/elink
Employee Timesheet Calculator
- Quickbooks have a free tool that "can allow entrepreneurs, start-ups, smaller businesses, and smaller scale non-profits stop calculating employee payroll by hand. The tool calculates weekly or bi-weekly employee timesheets with overtime and lunch breaks. The page, other than the tool, also includes a run-down on how to use the calculator, as well as common mistakes and issues that might occur during the payroll process." You can review the collection here: https://www.tsheets.com/resources/time-card-calculator
- Utah Digital Entertainment Network (UDEN) – Building a community of everyone involved in film, games, YouTube, VR etc. Regular networking meetings, guest speakers etc. (You are here!)
- Utah Games Guild – A local indie game dev support network
- Utah Game Devs Slack Channel – Semi-public Slack channel run by Utah Games Guild, with 100+ local game devs from the indie, studio, and student sectors
- Utah Indie Game Night – Discussion group and bi-monthly in-person meetups for local indies and hobbyists
- Salt Lake/Provo IGDA Chapter – Official IGDA chapter for the Salt Lake/Provo area
- Utah Unity Users Group – Official Unity users group for the Utah area; organizes quarterly meetups for technical presentations and discussion
- Hack Night SLC – group of programmers (mostly web programmers), often talking about job openings, good networking opportunity
The Entrepreneur Launch Pad (ELP) helps startups and small businesses on the Wasatch front. Free mentoring, education, resources for growth. These meetings in Sandy, Kaysville, and Orem. More info here:
- UDEN has a jobs board where you can add any open jobs you may have! Full-time or part-time, contract/1099 or W2
Life as an 'Indie' game developer
- Going Indie Full-Time – May 2014 Utah Indie Night presentation by Josh Sutphin
- Utah Games Guild’s Learn page – Links to various game dev resources, tools, communities, and education options
- Adapting to Unity – November 2015 Utah Unity Users Group presentation by Josh Sutphin, oriented toward experienced programmers looking to jump in to Unity
- How to Survive Your First Indie Game – Control Conference 2015 talk by Rami Ismail about the nitty-gritty of indie dev survival
- Gaming PR & Marketing - March 2013 Utah Indie Night presentation by Adam Ames, owner of True PC Gaming
- Pixel Prospector - The Indie Goldmine. All-in-one site containing links to tons of other resources useful for going indie and game development in general.
Getting advice from local experts
Unless you’ve done this before, it can be very helpful to have the advice of people who have. UDEN is a great resource for this. Here are a few UDEN members with experience founding companies in Utah that are willing to advise new startups: if you would like to be added to this list, please do let us know! [email protected]
- Clark Stacey - clarkstacey at me.com
- Jeff Peters - [email protected]
- Jon Dean - [email protected], www.guv1.com