The Most Underrated Rule in Business: Have a Backup Plan

Posted on Posted in Dev Diary

Dev Diary posts are made to teach game development through specific examples from my latest project: Highways & BywaysJust here for Highways & Byways updates? Click here.

In 1519, Hernán Cortés and his 600 man crew washed up on the shores of Mexico. He had colonization on his mind, and he wanted to take over the Yucatan Peninsula. He was outgunned and outmanned, so he did the sensible thing: he ordered his troops to burn the boats.

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This story may or may not be true, but the myth persists. It’s often used as an allegory in business seminars about the importance of commitment to your strategy. After all, if you have no ability to turn back, your only two options are to fight for victory or die. The people who run these seminars say Cortés is a leadership genius.

That’s stupid.

Commitment and persistence are absolutely critical elements to succeeding in anything, especially trying to create a business. I could bring up dozens of stories of famous people who failed over and over again until they were finally successful. This is beyond cliche, though.

The most underrated rule in business is “have a backup plan in mind.” If you do something risky, there is a chance of failure. Don’t set your sights on one particular outcome, set your sights on a particular direction you want to go in. It’s so important to be flexible in the face of failure.

Pursuing your creative passions, building a business, or even generally just trying to be your best self requires a series of course corrections. If you have no backup plan in mind when you do something risky, you make it that much harder to get up when you fall. And you will fall. If you’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, you will fall at some point.

What brings this up? Running a Kickstarter campaign has put me in touch with a lot of others doing the same thing. I’ve met people who have quit their jobs to run campaigns. I’ve met people who have their heart set on one particular game. I’ve met people who have sunk tens of thousands of dollars into games instead of putting money into their retirement accounts.

For those of you who read my blog looking for a place to get started, I have some advice for you. This will help you to have a backup plan in case things don’t go how you want them to:

  • Never spend more money than you’re willing to lose.
  • Never get your heart set on one game. (I was guilty of this in 2016.)
  • Always have another design.
  • Keep your day job. (Jamey Stegmaier said it too.)

Let me tell you some things about my personal situation that might help you understand how I’m approaching the board game industry.

I work a full-time job. I will not quit that until board games make more cash than that job. That’s going to take some serious cash, because I work in IT and I have an MBA. I require the ability to pay bills, save aggressively for retirement, and keep a healthcare plan. This is just straight-up reality of living.

I don’t write this blog to promise you a million dollars or whatever. That’s just nonsense. I write this blog to capture the moment. I feel like a lot of people just need someone two years ahead of them in what they’re trying to do. That’s what I’m trying to with the board game industry. That’s why most of my tutorials are for really specific subjects too.

I have multiple designs in mind if Highways & Byways bombs on Kickstarter. On top of that, I’ve got a pretty extensive network behind the scenes through my Discord server. I can collaborate with others far, far more easily than I could at the start of the Highways & Byways development process.

The amount of money I spend on my retirement account outpaces the amount of money I spend on board games by a factor of 3 to 1. This will not change until Pangea Games starts making returns that exceed the returns I get from a Vanguard index fund.

Don’t fall for the cutesy crap online that tells you all you need is passion and commitment. You need to be smart about your approach to your projects, too. You need to have a Plan B.

I believe whole-heartedly that you can make a living making board games. I believe whole-heartedly that you can do creative things, have fun, and make a life out of it. I believe it’s a repeatable process, too. I believe you don’t have to be some incredibly rare sort of person. I believe that most people who try for long enough can make it work. It just takes a lot of time, a lot of dedication, and the ability to change as needed.

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