Taking a professional risk – going from Huge to Tiny

If you had asked me about a year ago if I could ever see myself working in a small startup I would almost certainly have said “no”. Almost my entire professional career I have worked for big, or at least well established, companies, most notably the many years I spent with Electronic Arts, and the short, but exciting, stint I had with Microsoft at Lionhead Studios.

As a “grown up”, with a family, and a mortgage, the cliche of the startup as a place of living from hand to mouth, sleeping under desks, and burning the midnight oil 7 days a week is a less than exciting one, let alone a realisable one.

When Microsoft closed Lionhead Studios, I made the decision to leave the games industry for good. There were a number of reasons for that, but mostly it was because the time was right for a real change. The natural choice for me, given my background, was to look to the Big Ones; like Facebook, and Google.

I could easily see myself working for one of these companies, with their armies of talented developers, the millions (and billions) of users of their products, and worldwide reach. I was fully ready to step into their world, although knowing that the move into London would be a heavy burden on my family and my ability to see my two children.

Then, out of the blue, Adam Billyard contacted me.

I had worked with Adam at Criterion Renderware years before, and we had kept losely in touch since then so I had an idea of what he was up to, but as he asked for a chat I had no thought in mind about it being anything other than a catch up.

It turned out that Adam had started up a new company, Polystream, together with another industry veteran; Bruce Grove. Now they were expanding and Adam wanted to talk to be about coming on board to help build their engineering organisation.

My plans, and my understanding of where I was and where I wanted to go, instantly changed; here was an opportunity not only to work on some of the most exciting technology I had ever seen, but also to be part of building a company from the start.

But the risk, what about the risk? This was a startup, and it was the smallest company I would ever have worked for, and, exciting technology or not, it was largely unproven. Should I really abandon the safe harbours that had been opened up before me, to brave the waves in such a small boat?

In the end I did, and a number of factors influenced that decision; I knew and respected Adam from before I and *knew* that what he was developing, was unique and would work. Bruce, with his experience from Silicon Valley, outlined the vision of a company that, despite being a startup, was a reflection of years of big industry best practices; this was no “pot-noodle and pizza” outfit, this was microcosmic version of the Facebooks and the Googles of the world! The offices, literally minutes away from home, nurseries, and schools, in Guildford provided the final weight on the scales from me, and I turned away from my opportunities in London to become the first employee at Polystream.

These last eight months have been incredibly exciting; We have grown the team, and are still growing, we have made enormous progress and proven our technology, and we have generated an overwhelming amount of interest. We are a startup, we work hard and we work a lot, but we are also pragmatic and flexible, and we can live our lives and be there for our families while developing something truly amazing.

All the fears I had about going to a startup, all the things I had prepared myself to give up, the risks I thought impossible to take, they were all unfounded. I took a decision to step into the unknown and I have not regretted it for a moment since.

Sometimes you’ve just got to jump; what’s the worst that can happen?

Follow Jarl on Twitter @psjarlo