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Team17's Debbie Bestwick on how to be a successful start-up

The head of the UK's fastest-growing games publisher delivers advice to indies at London Games Festival

Over the past five years, Team17 has become one of the biggest players in the indie games scene.

The firm re-entered the publishing world in 2013 following decades as 'that Worms developer' and has since launched a number of indie titles, including The Escapists, Overcooked and the upcoming Yooka-Laylee.

So CEO Debbie Bestwick was a natural choice to deliver a keynote address at today's Games Finance Market during London Games Festival.

The first half of her speech saw Bestwick take the audience through the history of Team17 - from its beginnings as a publisher, to the signing of Worms and the troubles it faced when it laid off a number of staff and almost lost the Worms IP. She then concluded by delivering some advice to indie developers and start-ups looking to make their way in the games business.

Here were her tips.

Don't be afraid to be the outlier in the room.

"I was the person in the corner of the room and I thought everyone else was brighter than me, but it wasn't true," Bestwick said. "I had a vision, but I didn't have the confidence. Confidence is an incredible thing and I have a team that sits besides me that has helped me find that confidence.

"If you disagree with everyone in the room, it might be because you have a vision."


Be brutally honest when pitching for investment or support, Bestwick says. "People are being unrealistic. A lot of people go in [to these meetings] over-selling their company.

"When I work with business partners I ask difficult questions, but that's ok because they should have the answers. Best case and worst case scenarios are the bare minimum. Sometimes I have a plan A, B, C, D... even an E and F. It's your job and duty to make sure you're planning your business properly."

Don't waste your energy on people who say 'no'.

Bestwick says that people that are quick to decline you and your business are simply not worth the effort. She adds that it's important not to be arrogant, and that at times it is worth persevering with an argument. She gave an example of the time Team17 challenged Sony to allow digital pre-orders via PSN, something that worked out for both parties. Yet it's also vital not to waste your time on things that are going nowhere. "Look after your time and spend it wisely," she says.

Prioritise skill gaps or weaknesses first, by hiring quickly.

Debbie Bestwick reminded the room of her mantra: "If you don't have common sense, then hire it."

"Now I have common sense, but I hate spreadsheets, so I need people around me that can handle that area. "I get bored talking about operational stuff, tax and HR, so I make sure I have those people around me who do that well. Don't hire anyone unless they are a value to your business. I've hired the wrong people, and if that happens, hold your hand up, admit your mistake and fix it."

Egos kill great companies

Don't get caught up with positive PR and awards, Bestwick says. She adds that developers that haven't done anything yet are currently 'nothing', and need to remember they have it all to prove - no matter what the media might be saying. "Be introspective and brave enough to be brutally honest about your business."

Don't forget the value people bring to your business

"People are what build success and sustainability," Bestwick concluded. "Hire the best, do your research, and for new start-ups... don't be greedy. Share that success. Your team is the most important part of what you do. When investors want to invest in you, it is probably the people they are investing in.

"Build your team wisely, and incentivise people."