Although still in college, the UL Lafayette student has already formed a company that is about to go nationwide with a video game.
Whether you are a deal maker looking to drive sales and revenue or a technician producing a better product or service; finding the right balance of time, talent and technology is key to making your business work well. Now imagine you are a full-time student launching a new video game company but there is one small issue: You do not know how to write code.
Enter Nicholas Laborde, a senior management student at UL Lafayette, a member of LEDA’s Opportunity Machine and a product of AcceleRagin’, the B.I. Moody III College of Business initiative that is driving student participation in startups, specialized training and professional networking.
Laborde has built a video game company that will release its game, Close Order, this year. He has built a team of coders, composers, designers and stage builders. He has secured investment for the company. He’s built all of this through hard work, team collaboration and a shared vision — with very few dollars.
As a successful, emerging entrepreneur and someone who is leading the charge at a young age, Laborde has a lot to share regarding his experiences as an entrepreneur and the lessons he has learned.
Tell us a little about you and the business.
Raconteur Games is an independent video game development company founded upon a single goal: Tell better stories.
After all, our name literally means “storyteller games.” I’ve known since I was 4 years old that I wanted to make games, and for me, pursuing my dream was the only acceptable path in life. When I was 15, I formed my first team, and ever since then the group has evolved into what is now Raconteur and our first project for market, Close Order.
What is the most important talent you bring to your company?
My entrepreneurial spirit and mindset — my passion for the game industry, business and constant learning — is what I bring to Raconteur. Often in the video game industry, people with highly technical skillsets (programmers, 3D artists, etc.) come together and make some really fantastic stuff, but many times it falls through due to a lack of business knowledge when making major decisions. That’s what sets us apart as I am a business student who knows the industry really well.
Gaming is a lucrative and competitive environment. How do you plan to differentiate yourself?
Internally, we have assembled a truly fantastic team that’s doing things I can only describe as revolutionary. We have a talented development team with a business-minded person at the helm, so we think a bit differently than most other game startups. Externally, we’re creating a truly unique product unlike anything on the market. Our goal with everything we create at Raconteur is to pair fresh narrative ideas with innovative gameplay experiences, and our game Close Order is a perfect embodiment of that.
What is the toughest decision you had to make in the last few months?
That’s a tough one, because making a video game in and of itself is a Herculean effort. I think the toughest decision we made was to seek out an investor rather than pushing through with the limited resources we had. I’m lean and straightforward. I don’t mind pursuing the path of doing it without spending a cent, even if it takes longer. However, it’s not always that simple. I’m incredibly glad that we now have funds to make things a little easier on ourselves and to help us reach milestones more quickly.
Tell us about a time when you had to “push through” a tough moment or decision. How did you get through it?
Last year, we had some team members amicably depart, which put us in a giant hole. We lost a lot of our programming muscle, and when you’re in the early days of video game development, the last thing you want is to lose any programmers. I had intended to sell the game by the end of 2014, but overnight, everything grinded to a halt and we had to triple efforts on all fronts to get us back up to speed. I saw the challenge that lay ahead and was so reinvigorated and inspired that I could hardly sleep at night. I got through that time by looking for the good in the situation, and always knowing that the status quo is never permanent.
Tell us about a time you fell short of a major goal and how you use the lessons from it to better your business today.
When we decided to find an investor, I participated in the OM’s Rapid Pitch event last November. However, the investor we connected with decided to pass and it was incredibly disappointing for me. We had a great working product, a business plan, a confident and competent team and a goal. From there, I pursued another investor who turned out to be an even bigger defeat. When I got off of the phone with him, I went through the typical questions you go through in that situation: “Why am I doing this?” “What if it doesn’t work out?” “What if I lose team members because we take too long to complete the product?”
But something really funny happened. I realized that while I was questioning what was happening, not a single thought in that entire moment was about me not being able to do this. I got really mad at myself because I know that nothing is impossible. The very next day, I made a phone call, and just like that I had an investor. The mindset that nothing is impossible has changed my life in many ways, and it never ceases to amaze me how that belief sets you free.
What is the one resource you feel all entrepreneurs should have access to?
Knowledge. Nothing else is more important. At the end of the day, money and possessions can be taken away from you; knowledge is forever. The right knowledge in the right situation changes the world.
As a student and an entrepreneur, what habits do you enact to assure you stay focused and productive in all your key areas?
There are a few. One is that I hold myself accountable for everything. If I say I’ll have something done by a certain time, I do everything possible to make sure it’s done by that time and without a single excuse — whether that’s business, school or personal. It’s incredible how much you can accomplish with self-discipline. I also make a point of devoting time each day to learning about the industry — where it’s been, what’s going on now and where it will be. I like to stay current on business practices at successful companies as well, such as delegation, autonomy, etc. You are your brain, and everything you can do to empower it and yourself is a valuable step toward success.
It’s also about being better than yourself. What I mean by that is recognizing your flaws and making serious attempts to overcome them. For example, due to balancing school and Raconteur, I have so many things coming at me that things slip through the cracks occasionally. The remedy for this? Writing down my to-dos and putting them at my desk, because it’s the one place that I’m guaranteed to see it and not miss it (versus my phone or a calendar). Simple, but effective. Know your strengths, but know your weaknesses just as well.
What aspect of success excites you most as an entrepreneur?
Quite honestly, there are two reasons I wish to be successful. First, I want to be known in my industry and be able to speak at conferences (I love public speaking), make more connections within the industry and befriend my heroes. Second, and much more humbly, I look forward to paying my own bills and giving my parents a break after two decades.
What is the most challenging situation you have had with Raconteur Games?
The most challenging situation, by far, has been finding the right people for the job. It’s not just a skillset match; it goes beyond that. When you’re following your dreams, you can’t afford to just have people who can do the job. You need people who believe what you believe, and that can be very difficult to achieve. We finally have a team that can accomplish our vision and change the world through amazing stories.
How will you know when you have “made it”?
I often joke to friends that I’ll know I’ve made it when I buy a pair of Ray- Bans with a Lamborghini, because I refuse to spend more than a few dollars on sunglasses. In all seriousness, having someone simply say that one of our games impacted their life will be the ultimate sign of “making it.”
What would you most like to learn through the OM that would help you in the future?
Working with an interdisciplinary group of people. When you put a bunch of highly creative people together incredible things can happen. Being able to communicate across disciplines — especially those that you don’t fully comprehend — is an effective tool not only in tech, but in business and life as a whole.
How do we get access to you and the game?
Close Order is tentatively set for a summer 2015 release through the digital distribution platform for PC known as Steam. We hope to publicly submit the game through Steam’s Greenlight service in late March or early April, so stay tuned for more. You can find out more through our website (raconteurgames. com) and social media (@RaconteurDev on Twitter and facebook.com/raconteur games). I can be reached at nlaborde@ raconteurgames.com.
Zachary Barker is executive director of the Opportunity Machine, a LEDA-backed initiative that focuses on cultivating Lafayette’s entrepreneurial and technology-based industries. Barker is also president and owner of Acadiana Sports Leagues and active in the705, a local young leaders group.
Contact him at zach@opportunitymachine. org.