December 6, 2021

Thrive Insider

Exclusive stories of successful entrepreneurs

Brenna Noonan President & Co-Founder Quillsilver Studio

Who are you and what business did you start?

I am a game developer, marketer, and producer. In 2020 I co-founded Quillsilver Studio, a creative studio serving the tabletop games industry. We provide a range of services including game design and development, art and graphic design, creative direction, product design, marketing, 3D rendering, promotional videos, and production support.

What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

My educational background is in classical music – I have a Master’s in Music Composition – but the career options in that field are pretty limited. I learned a lot about marketing while promoting myself and my music, so in college I supported by myself by doing marketing work, mostly for arts nonprofits. I’ve also loved games my whole life, starting with video games, then later getting into tabletop role-playing games and board games. In 2017 I got my first job in the games industry with a board game publisher. I was able to put my marketing skills to good use, and also learned all the ins and outs of the board game industry. In 2020 I decided to strike out on my own and founded Quillsilver Studio with my husband, Dann May, and brother in law, Greg May. We felt like there was a hole in the industry for these sorts of services, so we saw an opportunity to fill it with our wide skill sets.

Describe the process of launching the business.

In my previous full-time job, I had become increasingly dissatisfied with the experience of working in a very corporate culture. In a lot of ways I think corporatization is the enemy of creativity, and as a creative person, I felt really stifled in that environment. I came to crave a fresh challenge and a more non-traditional work setting, so entrepreneurship really appealed to me. I knew that my partners Dann and Greg felt similarly, so once we decided to do it, we pretty much just jumped in feet first. The public launch was pretty easy actually, but there was a lot more work that went into it behind the scenes, like getting the company incorporated, hiring a lawyer to draft our contracts, and setting up payroll – all things that I pretty much had to learn to do on the fly, and that took a lot of administrative time.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

What has worked the best for us is really just upholding a good reputation. Word of mouth is powerful in our industry, so we have really just let our work speak ourselves. Projects we work on consistently attain great critical and commercial success, so that’s really the best endorsement of our company. We maintain a very strong portfolio of work. Part of being able to do that is being very selective with which projects we take on, as we are always looking for the games that we feel have the most potential for success.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Quillsilver is doing great today. We are fully booked up months in advance, which is great for our peace of mind. We are currently going through what I think a lot of young, small businesses go through, which is the decision to expand or not. It would be great to expand our capacity to be able to have more projects going simultaneously, but we are also wary of over-extending, and I don’t want to spend all my time managing employees rather than creating. I’m very cautious of that slow descent into corporatization!

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Starting a business really makes you learn a lot about yourself and what you’re cut out for. It exposed many of my strengths and weaknesses that I didn’t even fully know existed until I was in that position. It really takes a lot of drive, a certain degree of autonomy, and a willingness to be accountable to yourself. Undertaking this challenge gave me a ton of new insight into myself.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We use a variety of tools to keep us on track and in sync: Google Workspace for email communication; Dropbox for file storage; TidyCal for scheduling; Slack for team communication; ClickUp and Trello for project management; Adobe Creative Suite for visual work; and all the social media channels you’d expect.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Some books I’ve found to be really helpful are: Burn Bright by Charlene Rymsha, which really helped me recover from the burnout I experienced in my previous corporate job; The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, which helped me appreciate and recognize my fears to eventually move past them; and The Business Book from DK, which is simply a great, exhaustive resource for a new business owner. I’m also a fan of Carla Kopp’s and Geoff Engelstein’s blogs, which are very inspiring and explore interesting concepts in game design.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

I put aside several months of savings before I launched the company so I’d have a bit of a safety net if things didn’t work out. I’d highly recommend doing this, as it really allowed me to just focus and buckle down on the company in those early months without worrying about paying my bills. I’d also recommend examining your personal boundaries and limits. It’s really easy to lose yourself in the frenzy of a new company or bend to outside pressure, and while it is important to work very hard and be flexible when it’s warranted, it’s equally important to set aside time for yourself to just be a human outside of your work. As an entrepreneur the work/life balance can erode very quickly, so it is important to be vigilant against this and guard against burnout.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can learn more about Quillsilver Studio by going to www.quillsilver.com. You can learn more about me by following me on Twitter @brennanoonan.