Aj Grand-Scrutton, co-founder of the Essex-based dev, reflects on his own journey

Growing from nothing: Dlala’s advice for start-ups

When I look back at all the crap we’ve been through over the last four years, I realise some of the things I’ve learnt whilst growing from two guys in a garage to 14 guys and gals in an office.

The tips below are some of the most important things for us as a studio. This isn’t one size fits all – this is how we did it.

Employees Come First

We are a completely employee-driven company. A large amount of our policies and procedures are based on the things Craig [Thomas, Dlala co-founder and CCO] and I wished we’d had as employees or ways in which we wish we had been treated better. 

I am a massive believer in Richard Branson’s saying: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” 

However, it’s important that you prepare for the worst. So whilst we have policies such as unlimited holiday, we still have everyone contractually on a set amount of holiday days. This means that if the processes are ever exploited, we have the ability to make changes. 

Hire Right, Not Fast

One of the scariest things I saw some of the big companies we’ve worked with do is just hire to fill a role within a timeframe. I understand that larger companies can have this pressure but this is terrifying to me. We’ve had three stages to our ‘ramping up’ in the last four years:

  • Stage 1: Hire awesome people we worked with previously
  • Stage 2: Hire awesome people we know personally
  • Stage 3: Hire strangers. Oh, shit… We have to hire strangers

Every step of the way was scary, Stage 1 had mixed results for us. We had some superstar signings like Ben [Waring, tech lead], Loudon [St. Hill, game designer], Chris [Rickett, game programmer] and Grant [Allen, game designer] but there were also bad hires along the way too. 

By the time we got to Stage 3, our hiring process had become reasonably long and for the right reasons.

Get A Good Accountant

I cannot say this one enough. The best money that we spend at Dlala is on our accountants. We use Cannon Moorcroft based out of High Wycombe and they have saved us more money then we have spent on them and by a very large per cent. Not only do they handle our payroll, end of year accounts, VAT returns and director’s end of year, but they also have helped us with our tax breaks and visa application processes.

At one point in the early days we were on the brink of having no money and they came through and helped us claim back on a project and we got enough money back to get us ticked over to the next project.

Trust Your Gut

We run this studio based on our gut feelings. If a deal or a partnership doesn’t feel right, we don’t go for it. Up until now, we’ve been lucky that we’ve not had to sign any deals we’re not comfortable with – and I hope we never have to. The only times we’ve not trusted our gut on hires or meetings we’ve always ended up regretting it. If your gut is saying no then your subconscious is trying to tell you something is up. No deal is more important than your studio and your team’s well-being – remember that.

I’ve never claimed to know what I’m doing, I simply fumble around, take advice where I can and try to do the best possible. With that in mind, I am not sitting here pretending to be a guru of running a studio, I simply wanted to give a few bits of insight into how we do things.

Aj Grand-Scrutton is co-founder of Dlala Studios and will be discussing his studio’s journey at Develop: Brighton. You can find out more at www.developconference.comArticle originally published in the May 2016 issue of Develop.

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