Starting up 2.0

Gabby Dizon
You launch your first company, and you're confident. What could go wrong? As it turns out, in the startup world, plenty

Gabby DizonIt was September 15, 2005. I had just launched my first game development startup, and we were going to take over the world.

In a region where it was hard to find a great technical founder, I had two. One of them even worked on the Diablo franchise for Blizzard Entertainment as a programmer – one of the most successful companies in the history of video games. The other was a good friend of mine that I grew up with playing computer games, a very smart and capable programmer coming from the corporate world. We were prototyping a game with some very experienced AAA game developers in the US. Surely they would pick up a publisher to fund the game, and my company would do most of the outsourced work. We had raised family and friends money to give us some runway while our partner was in the hunt for a publisher.

As a 25-year-old CEO, I was completely confident. What could go wrong?

As it turns out in the startup world, plenty.

The partnership with the US team unravelled – they were unable to pick up a publisher for their game prototype, and were unable to self-fund development. (These were the days before the iOS App Store and million dollar MMO and console games were the dominant art form). We quickly tried to pivot and bring in some outsourced jobs by hiring an art team, but were only able to land small projects – barely enough to keep our cash flow going. My US partner was not able to sustain living in the Philippines on a meager startup salary, and after 9 months decided to go back to the US to take a job in the game industry and support his young family (he had married in the Philippines and his wife had just given birth to a baby boy). Disappointed but understanding his situation, we bid him farewell and continued the good fight.

We had some successes. We signed on with another up and coming game studio called Boomzap who were very scrappy and had started creating casual games for publishers in the US. We did the art for one of their casual games and got paid decent money for it. However, getting outsourcing projects was hit and miss. Our margins would dry up once a project ran late, and we were always on the verge of having too much work for our team or having no work at all to do. Cash flow started becoming an issue, and every few months we had to borrow additional money from our families in order to plug a hole in our payroll.

Weeks turned into months, and months turned into years. I had a very difficult time sleeping in those 4 years that I ran the company. I would doubt my own skill and ask my girlfriend, “You believe in me, right?” She always said yes. Two years later, still broke and haggard from running my company, we got married.

We started talking to some venture capitalists for some outside investment to help fund the company and lead it towards growth. I was getting tired of making parts of other people’s games. I really wanted to make my own games, and I felt trapped inside the company that I had created. Trapped, bleeding, and drowning in a growing amount of debt.

As it turned out, no one wanted to buy our company. The VC group was interested in hiring me to form a new company, but not in acquiring the current one. At the same time, we had finally run out of rope after filling the cash flow gaps with family money every few months.

At the same time, my old friends from Boomzap wanted to talk to me privately. The company was growing, and for the first time they wanted to hire someone to run business development for the company. They didn’t want to buy my company either, but they could see how difficult my situation was and were willing to pay me a good salary to work for them. I was faced with a hard decision – continue the business, close down the company and work for the VC, or join Boomzap.

My wife had given birth a few months before to my eldest child, and my primary concern at this point was to have enough money to support my wife and raise a family. We made the decision to close down the company, and I joined Boomzap the very next day.

It is now March 2014, and with 4 of the smartest co-founders that an entrepreneur can ever dream of having, I’m ready to start again. –

Gabby Dizon has been addicted to computer games since playing Hangman on cassette tapes on a Commodore Vic 20. He has been making games since 2003, and is fascinated about entrepreneurship and game development, especially in Southeast Asia.

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