Unscripted: Starting Up
Welcome to Unscripted -- an easy-breezy off-the-cuff (too many hyphens?) Q&A series with Rose Gauntlet Entertainment founders and tabletop game designers Isaac Vega and Lindsey Rode. Perfect with a side of tea or coffee.
In this edition of Unscripted, we talk about what it took to start up Rose Gauntlet Entertainment, and what it takes to keep a company co-owned by two best friends going strong.
What made you decide to start Rose Gauntlet Entertainment?
Isaac: Lindsey and I had always wanted to work together. That was one of the things that we had consistently discussed pretty much every time we got together at a convention. We would say, "Oh, it'd be great to work together."
I had the opportunity to walk away from Plaid Hat games. I just really felt like it was time, it was time to go ahead and start a business. I had been saving, money for quite some time for whatever direction I planned to go, but I didn't quite know that I was gonna go ahead and jump straight into you starting a game company right after.
I didn't do that (start the company) right away because we had the pandemic hit, but it was that summer and I called up Lindsey and said, "Hey, let's finally do this thing." And she was like, "Yeah, the world's ending – why not?”
What was your experience like Lindsey?
Lindsey: I mean, it was pretty similar. I was working in the games industry too. I wasn't working on board games at that time. I was more working for companies that made high-end board game adjacent stuff. But one of the things that was always important to me as a designer was having control over my designs.
And even at the point, you know, I didn't make quite as much money on my designs. If I had signed my stuff to a bigger company maybe, but I preferred to work on designs on my own and then have my vision kind of come out with the art. I knew what style I wanted, I knew how I wanted it to look, and I knew what theme I really wanted it to be.
I also liked having control over the quality of the product. I think one of the big things for both of us was that we just wanted that freedom. To make games the way that we really wanted to and to do the themes and tell the stories that we felt were important to us and that we wanted told in the world.
And then just to have complete control over our art and the freedom that comes with that. And that was a big part of it as well.
Isaac: I mean, both of us having been at different stages of different sizes of companies, so we had the opportunity to kind of figure out what was gonna work best for us.
And really, I feel like starting our own company provided the best opportunity for growth in both of our lives. So, we just wanted to take the opportunity to see, “Hey, is our vision and being in control of our vision, is this the right time to do so?” And we felt like it was, so we decided to make that leap.
Lindsey: And if you get a chance of working with your best friend, you should. It's really fun.
Isaac: Yes. I really like that. As long as you both communicate well! Luckily, me and Lindsey do.
What were the biggest obstacles to starting up?
Isaac: I think number one was the state of the world. It was a very, very unstable time and all the rules that we had learned about the industry were kind of thrown out of the window, especially when it came to pricing on product, shipping, all that stuff. So, putting something new out there, we had no idea whether it would be able to sustain itself long term and whether a company would be able to sustain itself long term.
Luckily, the industry has shown that people were just as hungry for board games in the pandemic as they were before it. And companies, despite all the hardships that we were going through, were able to survive. And that wasn't any different for us. So, we were very, very lucky to be able to make the right decisions with our first product and be able to continue moving forward and being able to do things that were still in line with our vision.
I think the other thing that was hard, Not being able to see each other physically for a full year. That was hard because we're doing this entire thing digitally, and while both me and Lindsey are great working at home and on Zoom, it's not our preferred way to work together.
We would love to be in person, and we get so much stuff done when we're in person. So, I don't know if it really was a struggle at the beginning, but it certainly showed how valuable it was when we did have time together. Anything else that you can think of Lindsey?
Lindsey: Just COVID. COVID was really hard. I mean, there was interesting benefits and downsides to starting a company in COVID, but it was mostly downsides. And also just the difference of working. We have a 100% remote company with no central location, which is cool, but it's really different than any company I've ever worked at before. And while I like it, I will agree with Isaac. It gets a little lonely sometimes.
Isaac: Yeah, I think it’s still one of the most difficult things. Because of the state of the world and things kind of still slowly opening back up and people still being cautious, it's always gonna be harder to connect with people and fans in the same way that we did beforehand in a physical space.
Lindsey: Mm-hmm, although it makes it more special to connect now, like I appreciate and treasure it more than I did in the past because I remember when I couldn't do it, you know?
Can you speak on the financial hurdle of starting your own company?
Isaac: So, when we started off, we had saved money to invest into the beginning of the company. We both were able to commit full-time to this and we wouldn't have been able to do that if it wasn't for the fact that we had the funds and time set aside to make this work. So, I don't suggest anybody jump into this without any funding.
We were also very, very grateful to our fans who helped us fund our first crowdfunded project, Keystone: North America. That got us over that second hump of, “We have a company – what now?”
A lot of the money we saved was invested into the development of Keystone, so we were fortunate to see backers come out and support it, along with the pre-orders we received from our foreign partners.
We've been able to kind of put everything together to make it all work. But it's certainly hard to do and I wouldn't suggest people start a new game company today without at least somewhere in the range of $30 to $40k saved up, covering start-up costs, and the launching of your first crowdfunding campaign.
Lindsey: Yeah. And to that, I'll just add that it is normal to try and fail and then try again. That is totally okay. It's okay to save up money, and to put your game out there and maybe it doesn't quite make the money back. You learn a lot, and you save up again, and you do it again. That is a totally normal part of the process too.
We worked with other companies before we launched this one, so we gained a ton of experience and developed industry contacts that are so important. So yea, you build that experience and those relationships by working with other companies who are gonna show you the process and how to avoid the mistakes, who to talk to, how to reach them.
Also, it's okay to work your full-time job and then put out a game while you're working that full-time job, and then just slowly go through that process until you're at the point where you can hire yourself. There is no shame in doing it that way. There's a ton of people that have been very successful that started that way.
Isaac: And, and that barrier to entry will be adjusted based on the type of project that you want to create. Like we started off with Keystone: North America, which obviously had a lot of unique pieces of art and required a specific amount of funding to make that art happen so we could get the artists paid.
There was a lot of different graphic design assets that we needed, so we needed a graphic designer on board. We also had just other costs such as like setting up the website, designing our logo, developing brand assets – things like that we had to invest in and get moving.
So, it really depends on what you're trying to achieve. If your game is smaller, doesn't have as many art needs, or you're trying something different that you're able to do in a more cost-effective way, there might be different avenues for you as well, so you don't have to save up quite as much either.
Lindsey: Mm-hmm. And people will always play an amazing game, even if the components are not the best quality. If it's really good, they will not care. If your game is really good, the game community will find out about it and talk about it and be excited about it. So, focus more on having a great product than anything else.
What have you found most rewarding in launching your own company?
Lindsey: The number one thing that I have found most rewarding about starting this company is watching my relationship with Isaac really change and develop and becoming super close. That has been the coolest part. We've been through a lot at this point, and I just feel so close to Isaac and he's my best friend, even more so than when we started. Yeah, that's, that's my most rewarding part of this company. I love it so much. I love you Isaac.
Isaac: I love you too. And I one hundred percent agree that has the number one highlight about starting this company. The very fact that we had wanted to work together for so many years and just showing that it was totally the right thing to do. We've had so much fun along the way, working together and being able to grow with each other and push each other to be better which has been fantastic.
And also, just the community of people that have come around us and cheered us on and being able to meet with them and get to know them. Basically, being able to develop this cool little family. I know that a lot of companies say that, and I don't wanna sound like some sort of corporate weirdo…
Lindsey: That's cool though and I know what you're saying. When everyone around you is really enjoying themselves and you know that you facilitated that joy. Yeah. It feels really cool.
Isaac:. Yeah. And you know, we've been working in this industry for awhile and we know just how many amazing human beings exist within it. It constantly astounds me the amount of wonderful people we continue to meet and continue to come around us and what we're trying to do.
And that is a gift that keeps on giving. I just love that we're continuously open to not only bringing people in, but also like fostering them and helping them become better in the ways that they wanna become better and just seeing them grow and seeing our relationships grow because of it.
Final bonus question. What's the secret to working with a close friend and remaining close friends? How do you find that balance between friendship and business?
Isaac: I think the thing that me and Lindsey both benefit from is that we have worked with a lot of different people in this industry. A lot of different people become your friends. We understand what that relationship looks like, and we had a conversation at the beginning that our friendship comes first. We wanna make sure that we're supporting each other.
The entire reason that this company exists is to be able to be closer together and be able to enjoy each other and be able to build a foundation which we can live our lives in a fun and exciting and awesome way and be able to support and grow in all of that.
We continuously keep checking in with each other, making sure that we're not overstepping certain bounds or not offending each other. One of the things that we adopted early on in our relationship that was great is that after every meeting, after every discussion, after every public appearance, we do a check-in and it's like, “Hey, did you like what I said to that other person? Did you like the direction we were going with? Was there something that was off? Was there something that I could have done better?”
We just talk through that stuff and make sure we're both on the same page because as much as people sometimes think that they are on the same page, if you don't talk it out and understand that and make that clear with the other person, I just don't think you actually can be sure without making assumptions.
Even if it's a work meeting and we're trying to accomplish something we remember that we're friends first and the work will get done because we both trust in each other, and we both believe in each other.
But we also wanna make sure that it doesn't overstep the relationship that we had prior to this and the relationship that we wanna continue to have for the rest of our lives.
Lindsey: Yea, some of those after meeting conversations are my favorite because we'll have the meeting or interview or whatever, and then afterwards we'll turn to each other and just burst out laughing because of something ridiculous that one of us said, like, “What were you talking about?”
I think the secret to all great relationships is communication. Like Isaac said, having good communication is so important. But the other thing too is not letting the business take over your friendship.
We still text each other about movies that we like or say, “Hey, here's a really dumb Instagram video that means nothing.” You can't let the talk about business or what's going on in the business take over every aspect of your communication and friendship. It's really important to still talk about shows and movies and video games that you're playing, what you wanna do when you're hanging out, and what restaurants you wanna go to. Basically, just being excited about the other parts of your life that aren't revolving around the business. I think Isaac and I do a really good job at that. If I can pat ourselves on the back, we do a fantastic job of making sure that we still have things to talk about beyond Rose Gauntlet.