With an idea in mind, and both a specific short-term direction and a long-term vision, Jonathan and I embarked on making it real. The first steps were the foundational ones.
(This is the second part of a multi-part history of Vintrock Studios. Read the first part in Our Origin Story).
Some Necessary First Steps
Before this, I had never designed and built a game. Jonathan had a lot of experience around a concept called “gamification”, where you use gaming techniques to make apps more interesting and engaging. My first steps were to learn the technical aspects of building games for iOS, and that meant a lot of reading and building simple games from tutorials to learn the frameworks available.
I also had to come up to speed on games and game design (more reading!). It is tempting to think that, because you play a lot of games, you should be able to design one. It’s this kind of thinking that has wealthy people open restaurants when they don’t really know the first thing about them beyond ordering from the menu. There was some history and design theory that I had to come up to speed on.
Jonathan and I both knew that we would be growing the team, since we needed skills that neither of us had and didn’t have the time to develop. But before we could build a team, we needed a corporation to hold everything we were going to create. It would need all the usual accoutrements of a company in Alberta, like a GST number and bank accounts. Anyone we brought on board would either be contracted through, or employed by, this new company.
We Would Need A Name…
Getting a company in Alberta is trivial. You can walk into any registry and have a privately held limited liability corporation in about 20 minutes. However, by default you get a numbered company (something like 1234567 Alberta Ltd.). That’s not very appealing. Our company was going to need a name, and sometimes naming a company can be fraught with peril.
I’ve been through the “process” of naming companies many times now, an in many different forms and approaches. For the record, FarWest Software wasn’t my first choice (it was actually the third one on my list), so I knew that having alternatives was a good idea. But FarWest Software was easier, because at the time, it was me. The only person I had to satisfy was myself.
However, picking names when there are multiple people involved can be a challenge. It can involve a lot of disagreement, and outright argument. Some people put a lot of stock in the name of a company, and think that picking the “wrong name” can doom the company to failure.
Worse, people tend to use apocryphal stories about why bad names are fatal. My favourite is the one about the Chevrolet Nova, and how it was so poorly named that it was failed in Latin American countries. The thinking was that the Nova failed because the name meant “no go” or “no va”. The reality is that wasn’t true. First, “no va” isn’t proper Spanish, and “nova” (or “new”) is the Latin root for the Spanish word “nuevo”. On top of this, the Nova was one of Chevy’s best selling cars in Central and South America.
Naming Alberta Market Solutions involved some fractious discussions, and was kind-of “gifted” to us by one of our customers (they kept calling us “those Alberta guys” which came from part the numbered company name we started with). It wasn’t a brilliant name, but it wasn’t horrible either. Coming up with BIDS Trading took a few iterations (BIDS is an acronym for Block Interest Discovery Service), and the banks who invested in it didn’t seem to mind the name.
A Naming Nightmare To Learn From
Perhaps our toughest experience was naming what became bbotx Inc, an Internet of Things startup (now defunct) that began with Paul Hanson and me, which quickly expanded to include Curtis Bennett (for hardware), Brian Singh (branding and marketing), and Rhys Yarranton (software). This team would evolve over time. The name bbotx doesn’t stand for anything. How we ended up with it, though, is an epic journey.
We started with a detailed survey (favourite colours, objects we like, places we like, etc.) built by Brian Singh. We spent days going over our responses, trying to tease out some kind of name. We also brainstormed names, and covered a whiteboard in all manner of real and made-up words. None of this lead us to a name, or even the suggestion of what the name could be.
Brian then suggested we try using a formal naming company, specifically Identicor. There was, needless to say, a healthy degree of skepticism from some team members (me included), so between that and our a modest supply of cash, it meant we going to work with a limited budget. Identicor had to shortcut their usual process (which was, to my mind, long and drawn out, and meant to extract as much money from a customer as possible).
It was a disaster. It started with Roger Grant from Identicor explaining the truncated process we would follow. We then had on-on-one phone interviews, followed by a series of surveys gathering our first impressions of different words and word-like constructs. Then we had a group discussion. In the end, we ended up a few thousand dollars lighter, and with a list of random syllables. I so angry at the process that I built an app for iPad and iPhone that could create a name by jamming random 2-letter “syllables” together using a simple set of rules. My app came up with names that were about as good as what this multi-thousand dollar process created.
Frankly, we were overthinking it. Eventually, Paul and Brian started putting together somewhat-random 4-6 letter sequences to see what stuck. Eventually, “bbotx” seemed to grab everyone’s attention. It seemed, through reverse engineering, to combine the “bluetooth” element of the company’s initial product idea, and add “robotics” if only because it sounded cool.
Okay, so it wasn’t necessarily that great a name. No one knew how to pronounce it, which was great for starting conversations in some contexts, but just frustrating in others. The lower-case spelling caused some grief, and made using it at the start of a sentence hard. But it was “good enough” and not horrible. But it also taught us to stop overthinking this sort of thing.
With the experiences in naming a number of ventures as a guide, I came up with something very simple for Jonathan and I: a simple 2-page “survey” of some questions around interests and passions. The goal was to not overthink this thing. We both answered it separately, and then I took the results to review.
What I found was that we had overlap in a number of areas, and one was around progressive rock bands from the 1960’s and 1970’s. Chatting on Skype, we explored how we could maybe use that as the foundation for a name. We tossed around variations on “prog rock” and “vintage rock”, and the “vintage rock” idea had some resonance with both of us. But “Vintagerock” or “VintageRock” was rather long, and unsurprisingly, the company name on social media, as well domain name variations of it, were all taken.
After a little back-and-forth, Jonathan came up with the word “vintrock”. I checked, and the name was available for various domains, as well as variations available for social media. The next bit, which became “studios”, also had some discussion. We wanted something that was creative, but not so “out there” that the name couldn’t be used in other contexts without getting strange looks.
Name in hand, it was time to put together the pieces to make the company real. We incorporated Vintrock Studios Ltd. in Alberta on February 16, 2017. The first domain (vintrock.com) was registered immediately afterword, and hosting for this web site and email was set up with Dreamhost (I subsequently registered vintrock.ca and vint.rocks as well). We also got Vintrock set up with the Canadian government for various taxes and such.
The last pieces were some necessary paperwork to protect the company and its intellectual property. Using templates I had, we now had our IP assignments, non-disclosure agreements, and contracts for future contractors and employees. We were still working on our Unanimous Shareholder Agreement, but that could come later. We had a company and all the bits we needed to move forward formally.