Starting my own games business and appearing on Dragons’ Den

Hazel Reynolds, 33, is the CEO of Gamely Games, a company which aims to help people connect and have fun through the medium of games.

Hazel Reynolds, Gamely Games
Hazel

Before Gamely I worked at Which? Magazine in London for five years – first in the magazine team as a writer and investigative journalist, then later in the innovation team.

After moving to Brighton and getting married, I decided I wanted to start a family so would ideally like to work closer to home.

After a brief spell at a local charity, which wasn’t what I expected and really knocked my self-esteem, I decided to have a go at setting up my own company. Originally I was planning to try out setting up a business for four months and see how it went – I was fully prepared to have to look for another job afterwards! However, things really took off and relatively quickly I realised that Gamely could be something that I could actually do as a job.

Starting my own business

I’ve always loved coming up with ideas and creating new things – from writing and putting on my own plays in primary school to designing my own t-shirts and fancy dress costumes as a teenager. And I love problem-solving and devising plans to make my ideas come to life. But despite this, I never imagined I’d become an entrepreneur. I think I assumed that you had to be a ruthless workaholic to succeed in running your own business and it wasn’t until I set up my own company that I discovered an amazing community of purpose-driven entrepreneurs who showed me that you can do things very differently to the stereotype and still achieve success in all its various forms.

Creating games

I came up with my first game – Randomise – to lure my 12-year-old sister away from her iPad and help us reconnect. To my delight, she loved it! It wasn’t until a year later that I decided to turn it into a product and crowdfund it on Kickstarter. The campaign was a success and Randomise went on to become a bestseller on Amazon the following Christmas.

Since then my company, Gamely, has grown from a nugget of an idea into thriving business with a team of four and we now have seven games.

Appearing on Dragons’ Den

We were invited to apply by the production team after I was a finalist for ‘New Entrepreneur of the Year’ in the Lloyds Business Awards 2017. I was excited at the chance to put our business in front of the Dragons and see what they thought of it. I’m so passionate about the work we do and, if nothing else, I thought it might be a good opportunity to inspire more people to put down their smartphones and spend some quality time with their loved ones!

As for the actual experience, I really loved it! Although the Dragons did give me a good grilling, they were all really good-natured and entered into the spirit of Gamely, as you can see by Deborah Meaden playing Randomise! I made sure that I’d delved deep into the numbers beforehand, so I really knew my answers which probably helped, but ultimately I’m passionate about my business and I love talking about and introducing new people to our games – whether they are dragons or someone just looking for a fun game!

Saying no to the Dragons

In the end, we did get an offer, but I decided to turn it down as it wasn’t right for me or the company. It was absolutely a difficult decision and not one I took lightly – when someone with that much business experience makes you an offer you would be foolish not to consider it carefully. But the terms of the offer (including the two-year payback period) did not make sense for our business.

The Dragons were shown afterwards being shocked that I turned them down, but I haven’t regretted it so far! Although I’m sure the money and advice that comes with investment could have been useful, I feel much happier that I’m able to steer the company in a direction that feels right for us.

After Dragons’ Den

I kept building the business I wanted to see in the world. We renewed our focus on doing more good things – good things for our customers (including creating games they will love and surprising them with random acts of kindness and joy), good things for our team (we want to be one of the best companies to work for in the world) and good things for society (we give away 10% of profits to charity and give hundreds of games away each year to good causes).

We also launched two brand new games – Jibbergiggle and Frozen Unicorns – and added a fourth member to the team, which has been brilliant. In terms of pure numbers, we have gone from strength to strength, selling more than 130k games to date and turning over more than £1.3million in total.

We’ve had another two products coming out this year in new areas for us – Soundiculous Kids (a version of our bestseller Soundiculous that is specifically designed for younger children) and A Little More Conversation (a set of conversation starters that takes what we’ve learned from making games to help people connect on a deeper level).

Why I love running Gamely Games

On the most basic level, we’re a small group of friends making super fun games that will bring people together. We try to make our games really easy to pick up so everyone can get involved and all of them require you to communicate creatively – whether that’s, for example, by communicating the sound of a rollercoaster using only your mouth (Soundiculous), trying to do a mini-charade that communicates ‘Snowman’ without revealing too much (The Pretender) or trying to draw a Confused Octopus Eating Spaghetti (Randomise). To succeed you often have to think ‘out of the box’!

But perhaps most distinctively we really want Gamely to be the sort of company we want to see more of in the world. We give 10% of our profits to charity, give away hundreds of games each year to good causes, work really hard to make our games as environmentally friendly as possible and just generally try to bring joy and happiness to people. Of course, there’s always more than can be done, but bringing people together to have fun, and making the world a better place in the process feels like a great thing to be working towards every day – we feel very lucky to be doing it!

My advice to budding entrepreneurs

Be the company you want to see in the world. Your people and your culture are your most valuable things, so start how you mean to go on and spend time and energy nurturing them. And although it might sound counter intuitive – spend less time being super busy on your business! I think it’s the Pareto principle that says 80% of your success will come from 20% of your actions – so make sure you spend plenty of time identifying and prioritising these high-value actions. Work smarter when you are working, and do your best to switch off when you’re not. Most of my best ideas appear when I’m nowhere near the office, walking on the beach or swimming in the sea!

Believe in yourself

And finally, I would say believe in yourself. At the time I launched Gamely my confidence was at an all-time low. The thought of turning my idea into a business was scary, but I’m so glad I had people around me who encouraged me to go for it. Don’t focus too much on what you don’t have, or how you might not be perfectly suited to the task, really believe in yourself and give yourself permission to at least fully explore your ideas. There will always be ups and downs along the way but it’s so worth it.

Creating balance

First and foremost, it’s really important to work out what you want, both in work and in your personal life. For instance, if you run a business, do you want to grow it as big as possible, or do you want to run something that allows you to do other things that are important to you?

While I want to grow my business and share our games with as many people as possible, for me it’s really important that I don’t have to work all day every day – I want to have plenty of time to spend with my family and friends and doing other things I love (like swimming in the sea!). So this is a lens I use to assess the opportunities that come in – is this something that is going to serve my end goals, or is it going to distract me from it? You may receive opportunities that look good, but that would distract you from your main goals – so it’s really a case of weighing up the benefits against the costs, in terms of what is most important to you. Focus in on what success means to you, and identify those high impact actions and opportunities that will get you to where you want to be.

To find out more about Gamely Games, visit: gamelygames.com

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