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Alumna's start-up crowned Amazon's 'Small Business of the Year'

King’s 20 Accelerator Alumni, Hazel Reynolds, founder of Gamely Games, has been crowned Amazon’s ‘UK Small Business of the Year’ for her family card games.

The Brighton-based company was founded to help people put down their screens and spend quality time with family and friends through a range of fun and light-hearted family-friendly games. 

Despite being told she would regret turning down an investment from Jenny Campbell on Dragon’s Den a year ago, the company has gone from strength to strength, recognised in Amazon's award.

Hazel spent a year at King’s Entrepreneurship Institute on the King’s 20 Accelerator Scheme. With mentoring from David Walsh, she graduated with a stronger understanding of the world of business, a new confidence in her company and a huge sense of gratitude for the success she has had so far.

How did you develop Gamely Games from a concept to a successful business?

My first game, Randomise, started as a Christmas gift for my much younger sister - an attempt to lure her away from her iPad and a way for us to connect. Everyone who played it really loved it. Almost a year later, I found myself in a job that was not working for me and decided to take the plunge and launch Randomise via ‘Kickstarter’. 

Randomise got enough support for us to do the first print run and we've gone from there! I've learned as I've gone along, had some brilliant mentors and advice along the way, including some amazing mentors through the King’s 20 Accelerator at King’s Entrepreneurship Institute, and just tried to really focus on making great games, having fun and doing good. 

We've now got five games, so we’re a growing business. So many people have helped to make that happen and I feel extremely grateful to run the business that I do. 

A woman peers through a glass award

How did your nomination for Amazon ‘Small Business of the Year’ come about?

Someone we knew told us about the awards and we thought it was worth a shot. I knew the chances were slim, but we decided to give it a go and were genuinely delighted to be shortlisted from the hundreds of companies that entered. I like to think that our slightly different approach to business, where we put doing good and having fun first, shone through. 

The next stage was the public vote. I went to Amazon's London office to record a short interview talking about Gamely, which was so fun. I thought that could be the peak, as we are so small and were up against much bigger companies - but as it turned out, happily, that didn't seem to matter. 

What happened when you won?

I had just got out the shower when I got the call from Jade at Amazon. I really couldn’t believe it - I honestly just screamed for about two minutes! It felt all the more amazing to have been chosen by the public, and to know that our story really resonated with people. To know that so many people who we're not connected with are behind what we’re doing is really special. 

As part of the prize my colleague Dave and I got flown to Seattle to spend a few days at Amazon's HQ. It was a great few days, meeting some Amazon employees to hear about their latest developments, including their plans for Alexa, and visiting a robotic fulfilment centre. Seeing the scale and complexity of this robotic technology first-hand was truly mind blowing. Being able to meet some of the human faces behind the giant of Amazon was so helpful, and it was really inspiring to meet other award winners and hear their stories. 

How did the Entrepreneurship Institute help with setting up your business?

The year I spent at the Entrepreneurship Institute was transformative, really helping me clarify who we are and how we want to do business. The mentors are brilliant, and it was such a rare opportunity to get so many fascinating perspectives on our business. I also found the other entrepreneurs there to be hugely inspiring. 

There were also some amazing experiences; visiting 10 Downing Street to talk to the Government about increasing diversity in entrepreneurship, meeting the Queen at the Royal opening of Bush House, and learning leadership skills from the military are just a few. 

While these were certainly memorable, some of the very best moments were the one-on-one conversations with mentors and fellow entrepreneurs, where I had new realisations about what I’m doing and why.

What motivates you?

The thought that we're making games that help people connect is so rewarding and keeps me motivated to come up with new ideas. I also want to make the world a better place, which running a business gives me the opportunity to do. 

We give away ten percent of our profits to charity (or one percent of turnover - whichever is more), and try to make working for Gamely the best job anyone could ever have. We do this by looking after our team well, whilst staying conscious of things like packaging, how we manufacture our games and our environmental impact.

Royal Visit Bush House-58_crop

Above: Her Majesty the Queen introduced to the Entrepreneurship Institute at the opening of Bush House in March 2019.

What’s in store for the future?

In 2019 we launched two brand new games - Jibbergiggle and Frozen Unicorns, and have now sold more than 100,000 games in total. That's not to say that the year has been without challenges, there have been plenty. 

Ultimately, we're focusing on doing more good things for our customers, our team and the wider world, and on our own approach to business which starts with having fun and doing good. With that in mind, we're currently working on a brand-new product that helps bring people together on a deeper level, which I'm very excited about. It's still in development, but we're getting close to being able to share more about it, so watch this space! 

What would you say to someone with a fledgling idea?

Believe in yourself! When I launched Gamely my confidence was at an all-time low. Don't focus too much on what you don't have or how you might not be perfectly suited to the task, really believe in yourself and give yourself permission to at least fully explore your ideas. 

And don’t spend too long on making perfect prototypes or designs of your idea. Get something together as simply and cheaply as possible and get it out there for real life feedback - and be willing to accept those comments, take them on board and keep improving until you've got something you feel happy with. 

King's20 is a year-long Accelerator programme aimed at supporting the 20 brightest ventures from King's to reach their potential. Ventures can be at any stage of their development and the accelerator is open to all King's students, staff and alumni. Find out more here.

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