As co-founder of product design studios, ustwo, and investor in early-stage creative companies, my role has always been about motivating and inspiring people to do the best work of their lives. Being a motivator doesn’t mean donning a neon unitard, though you wouldn’t need to ask me twice! I’ve spent my life not taking things too seriously—and that includes running a business and leading a team.
Ustwo has had its fair share of ups and downs. In our first six years, we launched 16 digital products—none of which worked. But this didn’t mean we stopped: stopped work, stopped being passionate about what we do, stopped having fun, stopped being productive.
I liken ustwo’s success to one of my endurance marathons—it’s been long, and we’ve had many struggles along the way, but it was only with these failures we were able to recognise what was going wrong. We never made the same mistake twice. We learned above all that we needed to focus the team more by shielding them from distractions and enabling them to do their best work. And even when things weren’t going our way, we still let them take risks. One of the biggest risks? Investing over £1 million to develop a mobile puzzle game called Monument Valley.
Being a cheerleader
Through our ups and downs, I’ve never stopped believing in the team and cheering them on from the sidelines. I was literally their biggest fan and tried to help to keep them on track. Every business needs a team leader who is dedicated to motivating and encouraging others, so that each member of the team believes that they are capable of great things and knows that they can also ask for help when they need it. If your team likes and believes in what they are doing, they’re able to filter out all the noise and be far more productive.
As lead encourager, you also need to build hype—not only for the press and your clients, but for your team. When we were working on Monument Valley, we were being told all the time by the outside world that the type of game we were making could never succeed. So I wrote an email to the team—with lots of capital letters and exclamation marks—as a reminder not to fear the doubters and that, if we stayed on course, we were going to create a multi-award winning game that could be played by even non-gamers. I said that it must make me say, “I wish ustwo had made that”. And it worked. We pulled it off. The game had over 200 million downloads and I’ve never been prouder than when we won an Apple Design Award (and two BAFTAs) for Monument Valley in 2014. Standing on the stage at Apple’s HQ in Cupertino meant the world to me.
Building a family
Another Mills-ism for you—“fampany”. I’m passionate about building a team of people who have genuine friendships, bond over their work and have utmost loyalty to each other and the company. You need to create an environment where you would want to work and would feel completely at ease—only then will you get the most out of the people you’ve chosen and trusted to be part of your fampany.