Michael is a designer, entrepreneur, and speaker, currently working on his gaming company Northplay.
Davis Baer: What’s your background, and what are you working on?
Michael Flarup: I’m a designer, and I have been working with visual design for about 15 years. Studied computer science at university and found out I was the worst programmer ever. My design career has allowed me to do a lot of different stuff today, working with video, game and product design, giving talks and running and advising companies. I still go with ‘designer’ or that ‘I make things’ because that is what is easiest to explain, but like many others I’m all over the place as a maker. I’m currently working on several things: Games with my company Northplay (both for-hire and our own IP). We worked on the very popular Conduct-franchise and currently we’re working on Norse an action RPG for mobile. We make Apple TV solutions for a range of companies through our new framework axiom. I work on my own resource website Apply Pixels, I do some freelancing through Pixelresort, I’m touring with a few talks and then I’m working on a book about Icons. I’m sure I’m forgetting something.
It seems like you have a ton of projects. How do you decide where to spend your time?
I thrive on being involved in multiple projects. Staying busy and juggling multiple challenges fuels my creativity. Most of my time these days go towards building things with my entertainment studio Northplay and when I’m not doing that I work on projects in my own little Pixelresort. Layered on top of that I run a co-working space in Copenhagen and I sometimes get to collaborate on awesome projects with people outside of these constructs. In terms of how I decide where to spend my time I usually follow what I preach when I give talks of trying to ‘do what is fun’. There’s obviously a lot of commitments when you run companies and not all of the work is fun, but I try, to the best of my abilities, to steer most days towards projects or activities that I enjoy. This has been crucial to my career as I have found that is has a reinforcing effect. When I do something I enjoy doing, the universe have a way of presenting more opportunities of that kind. So when deciding to spend my time somewhere it needs to align with this thinking. It needs to be fun.
Are you monetizing any of your products?
Absolutely. At Northplay we’ve tried many things for our entertainment products ranging from premium games like Conduct AR! to free-with-ads and IAPs in Conduct THIS!. At my resource platform Apply Pixels I use a subscription based model where people pay every month (or every year) to gain access to up-to-date design resources. Previously we’ve run Kickstarter campaigns, sold Hardware and been involved in a lot of different app-based models.
How do you typically get your first few users for a new product you’re working on?
Our network and extended family and friends. People who follow my work at @flarup is usually the first to try out the stuff we’re building.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome?
After building things for 10 years that list is very long. One of the recent biggest difficulties I faced was trying to start a game company and make it profitable from nothing. In the process I learned a lot about the game industry (still learning), game metrics and all the tools involved in making sustainable entertainment products.
What books, podcasts, or other resources have you found most influential?
I have a lot of favourite sources of inspiration, but the book ‘Masters of Doom’ really stuck with me. Dan Carlin and his Hardcore History podcast is also a source of escape for me.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
A guiding light of my career has been a childlike pursuit of creative work that I genuinely think is fun. It sounds so obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many people don’t do this. We become what we work on, and when we work on something we’re consequently presented with more opportunities of that nature. It catches us in a loop that either reinforces the things we truly want to do or brings us further from them. Some aspect of the ‘do-what-you-think-is-fun’ mantra always makes it into my talks, and I usually present two circles to the audience.
One I call ‘The Circle of Fun,’ where I demonstrate how positive reinforcement of side projects and work that you find interesting helps you generate more work of that nature. On the next slide, I unfortunately present ‘The Circle of Boring,’ which shows how the type of work we’re doing, even if we find it uninteresting, has a similar reinforcement. Most people think that the ‘good projects’ are just around the corner, but that’s not how it works. If you’re just starting out make sure that you’re working on something that places you in the right circle.
What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?
I suspect that most people who follow my work, know me as this visual designer– particularly of icons. But the truth is that I have been making games since I was a 12. It’s a little more obvious now that I’m running a game studio, but for the longest time my game-design interests was mostly visible as an inspiration in my design work, always pulling in that video-gamey direction.