Andrew Bell is the founder and CEO of Big Run Studios - a company which makes mobile games for traditionally underserved audiences. Big Run Studios has created Blackout Bingo, Big Run Solitaire, and Big Hearts. In his interview, Bell shares his favorite thing about running his own company, why he surrounds himself with successful people, and much more!
Can you share a little about your story and how you got to where you are today?
My career had a lucky start. I was at NYU studying to be an actor when I realized that wasn't the life for me. It was a super stressful time. Then I met a man named Dave DePaulis, who was then the Marketing person at 2K Sports. He told me about the gaming industry and how many people get their start in Quality Assurance (QA). It was then that I realized my dream to become a video game producer. I moved to my Father's farm, bought his old Buick LeSabre, and drove across the country to the Bay Area in California to become a videogame tester.
From then on I had somewhat of a singular focus. I spent years cutting my teeth and making friends at 2K Sports in their QA department - many stories there alone. Then I spent years at LucasArts working on the LEGO franchise, Battlefront, and 1313. I jumped to Zynga where I spent my time working on FarmVille and in the Casino division, before going to WB where I built the team from scratch and launched Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. It was during launch when I made the jump to start Big Run Studios in May of 2019. Since then we've shipped four games, grown the team, and have lots of exciting projects to come.
What do you wish you knew before you first started Big Run Studios?
I wish I knew that Big Run Studios would have early success and that the people we needed to be successful would be there. Starting a company is a scary prospect. Most people never do it. It is still amazing to me all of the talented people that join the team and the fantastic and creative things they've done to get us where we are today in such a short time. If you've got the right vision, values, and relationships you'll find help at every turn.
Can you describe your average day?
One of the best things about running your own startup is the variety of work you get to do. This is very similar to the job of Producer. One day you are talking about fixing a bug on a feature for a specific game, the next day you are negotiating a deal. It's fabulous. Generally my days start off with reading news and catching up on emails. Then the day gets started, checking in with the leaders on my team, talking to partners to help grow or support Big Run, and of course putting out a fire or two.
What has been the largest obstacle you have had to overcome and how did you overcome it?
The main obstacles we've hit were from our own making. When you have a quick success like Blackout Bingo, it's easy to forget what you make the company for, where you are going, or choose easy paths that take you away from your core company vision. Like most problems, the key is surrounding yourselves with talented people and listening to them. They can help ground you in what really can be done, remind you of where you are going, and help you get there.
What has been the highlight of your career?
Hard to say, but I think I'm living it right now. Raising a round of funding to help us build out the company of our dreams... hard to beat that. Looking forward to doing so.
What has been the hardest part of adjusting to covid-19?
I'm a super social guy so not being with friends, making new ones, travelling for work, getting the whole family together. That stuff has been really tough. From a company perspective, we built the team to be remote from the ground up so there wasn't much impact there. That said, we all need to take care of one another right now. It can be lonely, tiring, stressful for folks. We all need to step up our humanity at this time and help our neighbors and co-workers.
What do you think has been the “key” to your success this far?
This is going to be a theme. People. The people around me, the relationships I've made. Game making is a team sport and with the right team you can do anything.
How has failure helped you later in life? Can you share any specific lessons you have learned?
DEFINITELY. I've had failures throughout my life. Each one led to huge opportunities. I dropped out of college which led me to games. I struggled to get leadership roles later in my career until I made one for myself. I've had to make jumps, changes, to get here. The key is to keep moving forward. Try a different approach. Someone not see your potential, find another leader. Can't find a leader? Do it yourself. Don't know how to do it? Learn as much as you can or make a friend who can!
What is some of the best advice you ever received? Some of the worst?
Best: Take the job no one wants. The work that people avoid. It'll be hard, maybe boring, but people will know you are a hard worker willing to do what it takes to help the team.
Worst: "Don't try to be people's friend. You are their boss, they need to respect you not like you. In fact they should probably fear you." It's true you can't be people's friends all the time, and when you get into leadership you don't get to be "on the team" anymore if you want people to have freedom and growth in what they do, but I think that working with people you like, even being friends with the people around you has been nothing but a benefit in my career. (Be careful of excluding others or trying to be a people pleaser if you take my route)
What is some advice you can give to an aspiring high school entrepreneur?
#1 thing, I can't stress this enough. You are not what you do. You may think you know what you are today, but that can change. Be open to what motivates you. If that changes, that's ok. Be passionate, focused on the thing that keeps you engaged, motivated, and ideally happy. The rest works itself out.