Auckland women says starting SchilMil Games business was just an accident and it's been a big learning curve.
Amanda Milne and Julia Schiller are the founders of SchilMil Games, an Auckland business that designs, publishes and distributes board and card games.
Why and how did you come to form a partnership in business?
Schiller: It all started in February 2011. Both of us were at loose ends of sorts. Amanda's work at the University of Auckland was winding down and I was recovering from a few personal setbacks when we started meeting socially to play games. In short order, we took up my challenge to try to invent some of our own games, and we soon had prototypes for a board and a card game up and running.
I tend to have lots of ideas and am a big-picture thinker, whereas Julia likes to thrash out the details and finesse things. We mostly agree on game design aspects, but we do disagree a lot on how the business is run.
At first, we played the games with friends and family, and as we moved on to testing them with strangers at board-gaming events, we realised they could be commercially viable products. We founded
in June that year and by December we were sending artwork to a manufacturer to print our first games, Komodo and Raid the Pantry.
Milne: As Julia said, it was quite accidental. When I was made redundant in 2012 it became a more or less full-time job for me.
What's the division of labour?
Schiller: Developing games is actually the easy, fun and visible part of what I'd describe as a large iceberg of work. Amanda tends to come up with more of the ideas whereas I consider myself more of a tweaker. We work pretty well together and have an effective play-testing process in place.
On a day-to-day basis, Amanda handles the finances and I liaise with our retailers and many of our other contacts. We've learned and developed many new skills, ranging from clear-cutting images in PhotoShop to using email and contacts-managing software to filing GST returns.
Since we are both directors with an equal share in the company - as well as people with strong opinions who like to have their input into many aspects of the business - we do lock horns on occasion.
Milne: Until we started having sessions with a business mentor - which was about a year-and-a-half after we started - we hadn't really formalised the division of labour or put together a RASCI matrix [a tool for defining roles and determining tasks] - and that sort of thing. We now have quarterly product development meetings, where we think about where we are going rather than focusing on the daily business.
What do you think makes your partnership work?
Schiller: I think our biggest strength is how we are able to co-operate to develop games. I haven't heard of another design team in this industry led by two women; the board-gaming world is still pretty much a masculine bastion, so I think we're both motivated to prove ourselves in that arena.
We both also have incredibly supportive life partners, who have expertise in IT, publishing and retail that we've been fortunate to tap. I've also got a teenage son so devoted he went headfirst into a dumpster so we could get a picture to illustrate Raid the Pantry's Dumpster Dive card. Running a fledgling small business is time-consuming and stressful; I don't think it would be possible without the support of family and friends.
I think our biggest strength is how we are able to co-operate to develop games. I haven't heard of another design team in this industry led by two women; the board-gaming world is still pretty much a masculine bastion, so I think we're both motivated to prove ourselves in that arena.
Milne: I tend to have lots of ideas and am a big-picture thinker, whereas Julia likes to thrash out the details and finesse things. We mostly agree on game design aspects, but we do disagree a lot on how the business is run.
How do you work through those types of disagreements?
Schiller: It's an ongoing process. Amanda is an English Baby Boomer and I am an American Gen-Xer. Skills you need to manage any personal relationship also apply in business: to remember you're on the same team, to express appreciation for contributions and to try to repair after disagreements.
Milne: Sometimes, stepping away and not having any contact for a few days is the best way to let the steam subside after a heated disagreement.
What advice would you have for others looking to go into small business partnership?
Schiller: Whatever investment in time and money you think you'll need to make, it is likely too small. And when you've invested so much of yourself in an enterprise, it's often impossible to leave it behind at 5pm; I always smirk when I hear people be advised to "start their own business" when it is no panacea. Take advantage of low-cost business mentoring.
Milne: Working from home on your own business is a novelty at first. But there is a huge amount of work. I wouldn't recommend it unless you have a real passion for your business.
Until April 3, SchilMil Games is running a Kickstarter campaign to fund its latest board game, Manifest.
Coming up in Small Business: The end of the financial year is drawing near. It's often a time when small business owners are busy looking back to get their affairs in order, but do you also use it as an opportunity to look forward and set some goals for the year ahead? If you have an end-of-financial-year story to share, drop me a note at: firstname.lastname@example.org.