The team behind Grendel Games develops socially relevant serious games that contribute to better healthcare, education and sustainability thanks to smart entertainment value. Co-founder and commercial director Tim Laning feels like an "entrepreneur against his will," but has found a mode with associate and operations director Jan-Jaap Severs that greatly benefits the company. 'We hire people who are smarter and better than us.'
Growth at Grendel Games is primarily about content development, innovation and scalable products, because Tim and his associate have never aspired to be a large company. 'We very consciously choose a team of no more than 20 people,' says the commercial director, who actually likes nothing more than to satisfy his creative hunger. 'The way we work at Grendel is hard to sustain with a company of fifty or a hundred people. Our team has grown very organically. That allowed Jan-Jaap and I to move along fairly easily and pick up additional tasks that suited us naturally. He in the operational processes, I on the commercial side.'
Close to the core
At Grendel, everything is about creativity, technical ingenuity and craftsmanship. The company breathes whatever the founders breathe. 'We are all intrinsically motivated and hungry to take what we are good at to an ever higher level. That's why we like to hire people who are smarter and better than us,' laughs Tim. 'Combining creativity and technology is truly a privilege, especially when it comes to products that are socially significant. As commercial director, I always work from that sense of creative hunger and enthusiasm. I want to stay close to that, because that is the core of Grendel.'
Tim found the biggest challenge was finding an appropriate business form for all the good ideas. 'In the very beginning we worked mostly on commission, but then there was too little room to really develop ourselves and to grow innovatively. Now at Grendel, we only make products in an equal partnership with partners. Through trial and error, we have learned to find appropriate revenue models. It starts with thoughtful acquisition. I really had to build that up. What helped me was sparring with the right people. With entrepreneurs from the international game industry, but also purposefully with other sectors. Then you get new perspectives.'
Incentives and cross-pollination
New perspectives are essential to the "seriously entertaining games" that Grendel develops and in which Tim continues to play an active role. 'To network, I fly all over the world anyway. I want to get as many stimuli as possible and discover what is going on in the sectors we develop for. I do that by talking to the right people and reading a lot, but also by visiting trade fairs and conferences. It is part of being on top of technological developments, although for us it is mainly about cross-fertilization: how creative are you in using certain possibilities to achieve a totally different goal. Then you get the special products we make.
'Psychology and sociology play an important role in our work. Ensuring that our target groups - from top surgeons to difficult-to-learn children - enjoy playing our serious games so much that they continue to learn and develop effortlessly. We are strong in the combination of game, content and (work) culture, partly thanks to our global network of domain specialists. That's how you get that unique combination of creativity, technology and content. Especially in health care, this has already taken us far. What started with the development of a game for surgical skills on the Nintendo Wii commissioned by the UMCG eventually led to collaboration with a world leader in robotic surgery, with whom we have been working on a groundbreaking - still secret - new product for several years.'
Scalability is the secret
Tim is proud that a small company in Leeuwarden is capable of making great world-class products. 'The secret is focus and scalability. We don't have to work with a hundred people on many different assignments. We use our creativity and qualities in a very targeted way, so that with a modest team of enthusiastic professionals we make products that will be used by tens of thousands of users worldwide. Even though the size of our company is small, this approach requires scalable entrepreneurship. One of my biggest challenges in recent years has been to grow with the level of our partners. From regional parties to international top players: that really requires different goals, requirements, qualities, processes and ways of negotiating.'
'Working with a certain type of clients is an important development school for me; that's where I sharpen my skills. Jan-Jaap is now doing an MBA course, while I mainly learn from my network and my sparring partners. For example, I am part of an international group with top people from the game and VR industry, whom I consider mentors. We present each other with specific challenges in game design, share the solutions provided and then discuss them. The beauty of this is that you look at things from different perspectives and also learn from each other's thought processes. That's how I continue to develop myself as a creative entrepreneur and how we can create top-level products with Grendel.