On Thursday night, I had the opportunity to attend a Cojourneo event hosted by James Altucher and Jerry Colonna. I wasn’t familiar with Jerry, but it turns out that he was one of the founders of Geocities, and sold it to Yahoo for … a lot. (Full disclosure: I used Angelfire in the 1990s, not Geocities). James Altucher is the founder of stockpick.com, and I’ve been reading his blog for over 2 years. I discovered James’ blog right around the time I thought I was going to lose my job – in fact, I might have even Googled “what if I get fired today?” and found his writing. James has a ton of great opinions that I’ve since taken and passed off as my own, including what to do instead of college. In fact, whenever I start explaining to people why college doesn’t make sense, they start looking at me like I’m crazy – but I know that since James feels the same way, I’m not THAT crazy. The opinions he’s posted on why renting is better than owning always confirmed what I felt for years, but since many of our friends bought houses between 2005 – 2008 because everyone else was or because they got caught up in the “American Dream”, all those friends have made made different decisions than we would have. Still, it’s nice to find out that others feel the way you do, especially when they speak openly and honestly, along with having a sizable following.
So James and Jerry sat and talked for a while, and told some great stories. I should have taken notes, because they talked a lot about the fear that entrepreneurs experience – from the day to day worries and anxiety about payroll or losing clients, to the process of selling a business and all the heartache and turmoil that goes along with it. They spent a lot of time talking about the 90’s, which although I know has many parallels for 2012, I’m also tired of hearing about all the successes people had back then. I don’t feel sorry for people who made and then subsequently lost large amounts of money during the 80’s or the dot-com era, and when people like that keep talking about how much they made back then just seems to be unfair to those of us born too late to benefit from that time period. James, on the other hand, has made and lost numerous millions since the 90’s – and for that, I respect him. Losing money and getting it again shows a desire not to just live in the past and talk about how great (or how bad) it was, but rather to continue moving forward. Jerry has the same attitude, which I greatly admire.
Now, some details about me that I’ve never really posted on this site. I currently have a day job, working for a Fortune 100 company as a Product Analyst in the Healthcare industry. In fact, in the past 10 years, I’ve had 6 jobs. The first was for a telecom reseller working in mobile solutions and as a data technician, the second was for a Fortune 500 company selling technology solutions, the third was in a workout facility on Maui (a break from Corporate America!), the 4th was for a Customer Resource Management Software Reseller focused on selling to non-profits, the 5th was in the IT Department for a Logistics company, and the 6th is for a major healthcare provider working on their benefits website. I was raised watching my father work for the same company for nearly 30 years, and having a job for a large company with good benefits seemed to be the goal. Now that I work for the largest company I’ve ever worked for, I can say that the health benefits are the worst I’ve ever had, along with the highest deductible I’ve ever had. A Health Savings Account is barely health insurance, as far as I’m concerned – and with no other company-provided options, you begin to realize that maybe the benefits of working for a large company weren’t what they once were.
Having said that, I arrive at work about 8:45 AM, typically leave work at between 5 and 5:30 PM – and apart from any massive problems, give very little thought to work in the evenings or the weekends. The book of Ecclesiastes says “sweet is the sleep of the one serving”, something I’ve always found to be true. I don’t worry about any of the issues that business owners do, simply because I work for someone else. However, I do have an idea for a business.
And thus, I approached the microphone in front of Jerry and James that Thursday evening.
“I’ve heard you talk about all the difficulties entrepreneurs face, from the day to day difficulties to the insanity of selling a business. Why would someone like me, who has a 9 – 5 job in Corporate America working for a large company, choose that kind of stress?”
Now the answer didn’t go the way I expected it to. I wish I could recall word-for-word what the answer was, because we had an amazing discussion around this topic. Also, I was nervous and felt my leg twitching uncontrollably so I couldn’t focus that well. The short answer that came toward the end of the conversation was from Jerry, when he said that “entrepreneurs have ideas that eat away at them until they act upon them. They can’t focus on anything else until they have explored that idea or possibility to its completion.” That, in itself, is an AMAZING answer. Do I feel like that? The answer is “sometimes”. Not always.
When I first asked my question, their initial response was an exploratory question to me: “what do you do?” I explained briefly, I think. And James and Jerry both admitted that they were jealous of my situations – having my evenings to spend with my wife, time to myself, and the ability to relax while mentally shutting off. However, James then asked me:
“If you had the ability to do anything you want to do for work, what would it be? What would you get up at 8AM Monday morning and do?”
The answer was not something I expressed well in that moment. Here’s a better answer.
Kids love video games. All they talk about is video games. When they grow up, they want to be paid to play video games, or if not play them full-time for money, at least make them. They have no idea how to make video games, because its hard. Most likely, their parents have no idea how to make video games. Their parents will tell them to work hard and get good grades so they can go to college and maybe learn how to make video games there, but that’s’ a long way off. Kids want an outlet for their creativity, and they want that outlet now. I’ve often asked kids “so, when are you coming over so we can make some video games?” and the look that comes over their faces is priceless. Finally, someone that knows what they want! (Full disclosure: I have no idea how to make a video game. However this seems to be a minor obstacle). Eventually I”d love to take this idea out on the road, to various educational groups, teaching others how to spark that same creativity in kids in their own areas. I’d love to become a conference speaker about what I learned from teaching kids, and how those lessons can be applied elsewhere.
But to start with, my idea is to focus on two particular groups – daycare centers (or other after school programs) and home-schooled kids. Daycare centers or after school programs already have a captive audience, and parents have disposable income. (You could argue that parents don’t have disposable income, but I see kids with iPhones with data plans constantly, so I know they do.) Home-schooled kids are only taught the basics of reading, writing, and math. They need real-world skills more than high-school educated kids, and they have much more free time.
Flash back to the event. James asked “If you had the ability to do anything you want to do for work, what would it be? What would you get up at 8AM Monday morning and do?”
My answer was “Get some inexpensive laptops. Get some kids from a daycare center or after school program that want to learn. Start teaching them how to make stuff.”
James’ next question was “why aren’t you doing that?” My answer was that I didn’t know, and that’s why I was there.
Really, it comes down to a catch 22. I need income and health benefits, but having them isn’t a great protection. Jerry flat out said “it’s that fear that holds you back”. And he’s right. I’m holding myself back.
So the question becomes “what’s next?” And the answer is:
1. Find some mechanism to teach kids that’s exciting and interesting. Ideally, it would be easy to follow and use, not require high-spec machines, graphical and exciting to look at, with a variety of customization options to allow free creativity. Also, it should have explosions and the ability to make things die. It should be easy to manipulate, using a familiar interface – like an XBOX 360 Controller instead of a keyboard and mouse. It should also have a community around it that can foster the creativity in kids by providing healthy encouragement and competition (look what this kid in another part of the country is making! How can I make something better?)
2. Once I find a platform that meets those requirements, I need to use it to make something that that kids would want to play. I don’t need to be an expert, but I’d like to make kids jealous.
3. Once I’m comfortable with the platform, I need to find some kids to test on. I need to explain right from the outset that MAKING a video games isn’t PLAYING a video game – it’ll be hard, but it will be rewarding. Also, I’ll need to get them to understand that they’ll need to stick with it, because you have to walk before you can run. They’ll start by building something basic, and get more complicated from there.
4. Then, I’ll need some more kids to teach. And a price plan. After that, I’m not sure. Eventually I’d want to expand into teaching kids video editing and web design.
I’ve done some research so far. There’s Alice, which is a 3D programming environment for teaching kids. After installing it, I realized how dated and boring it looked. Next, I looked at Kodu, created by Microsoft. It does fit some criteria that I was looking for – it has lesson plans, it’s programming logic is easy to follow, and supports the 360 Controller. But, it doesn’t allow you to make very exciting things, and failed to capture the interest of the kids I showed it to.
There are other alternatives I’ve come across that I need to investigate. YoYoGames has the Game Maker Studio, which supports converting programs into apps for iPhones and Android, something that kids definitely would be interested in.
If you have input or suggestions, please feel free to share in the comments, email me, or post to my Twitter feed. The more motivation I have to do this, the more likely I am to do it!