Nearly every Entrepreneur lives with failure. Not in some abstract notion of failure, but real, house on the line, in your face, everything-everyone-told-you-would-go-wrong-does kind of failure. As an entrepreneur, you have the same chances of being a Zuckerberg right out of the gate as you do being born the Prince of Wales. Chances are you are going to rack up some mighty big failures. Cataclysmic failures.
Here is one of mine:
It was 1994 and the computer games Myst and Seventh Guest were hits. These were no ordinary shoot-em-up games like Doom. These games hosted beautiful graphics, puzzles instead of battles, hypnotic music, and story lines! It was a time when people believed there was about to be a merger of Hollywood and Silicon Valley: Sillywood.
I was working for SoftImage, developers of the 3D Animation software used in Jurassic Park. I had recently moved from being the “demo guy” to doing sales myself. A week after I joined SoftImage it was acquired and thus started my short career working for Microsoft, who had purchased SoftImage in order to move people away from SGI computers over to their own workstation platform.
I became obsessed with these games. Now THIS was something I could see myself doing. I started memorizing the names of everyone involved in the production of my favorite games. My position at SoftImage put me at every gaming conference and computer graphics trade show around the country. And I came up with an idea: Dreamland! A computer game based on Dante’s Inferno.
A thing that surprises many new entrepreneurs is that, in general, investors invest in the team, not the idea. Pulling the right people on board is critical, especially when you, yourself, have no track record. I certainly had no track record. I was just a salesman working for a software company who had just turned 40. I had never developed anything in my life, let alone a game. But I had a skill that I didn’t know I had until I reached 40: I could pitch! And I was a good sales guy.
First up, I needed something to show someone . The first people I pitched were the talented animators that did my software demo. In a week, I had this very cool 10 second animation of a desolate landscape with an ancient withered tree that the camera circled. It was Dreamland!
You got to Accentuate the Positive
20 years ago, I was a middle aged software sales guy with no track record and no experience. But I had something few others had: I was in the 3D industry, which was THE cool thing at the time. I had a Game Idea at a time when game developers were on the cover of Wired Magazine, and I had something to show: a very cool 3D animation at a time when 3D was shiny and new. To the outside world, it all looked pretty cool and cutting edge. And something they wanted to get in on.
I was their way in.
The Art of having Children as a Career Move.
I wonder if a study has ever been done on the importance of children in connecting adults who otherwise would never know each other. I had met Tim Galvin and his wife because our children played together in the playground, and we became friends. Tim had been the art director for films like Silence of the Lambs and A League of their Own. And he was my very next pitch.
After I showed him my video, he told me, “You have to meet my friend Kristi Zea.“ Kristi had been the Production designer on Goodfellas as well as Silence of the Lambs. And she was interested in projects that would keep her closer to home. And so, now I had two top film people agreeing to be part of the project.
A forth member also joined by way of the “kid connection”. Paul Schwartz, whose son was friends with my son, was not only a very talented composer, he had conducted Phantom of the Opera on Broadway and he was also the son of Arthur Schwartz, the composer of That’s Entertainment and the half brother of Jonathan Schwartz, a local radio legend Together, the four of us created Quartet, my very first company.
The Art of the Pitch
Every company needs that big break and mine came as a result of memorizing all those names of people who created the games that I loved. I am at a trade show and I notice a curly haired hipster type coming down the aisle and I see his badge: Matt Costello! Matt Costello was the writer for Seventh Guest and had developed all the games.
One of the things that would be entrepreneurs are told is to develop a good elevator pitch: the idea is to distill your dream into a pitch that explains the dream in a way that the person “groks” what you are saying and gets excited by it. It should last as long as it would take to talk to someone in a hotel elevator.
The trick to a good elevator pitch is to pitch it A LOT. And every time you pitch it, listen to the feedback you get and then incorporate that back into your pitch. Pitch, feedback, incorporate, repeat. Over and over again. And eventually you have a pitch that is perfect.
I had a perfect pitch, I was prepared, and standing in front of me was the guy who could help me unlock the door. I pitched him: Dreamland, Hollywood, Broadway, 3D Animation! And he bought it hook, line, and sinker. Matt agreed to be on our “advisory board” and introduced us to his agent, the top Games Agent at that time who worked at Writers House. She also liked the idea of working with Hollywood and Broadway types.
We were in.
Success Breeds Success
When you are on a roll, everyone knows it and wants to be part of it. Somehow I met up with some young VC’s at a trade show in Las Vegas. They loved the idea of Dreamland and the team I had put together. And they wanted in somehow.
At dinner they offered me a deal, work for them part time developing a project for six months and they would pay me half salary. What they didn’t know was that half salary to them was more than my full salary at the time.
The next thing that I know, my agent was calling with some exciting news. Microsoft wanted to produce Dreamland and special effects house Digital Domain wanted to do the graphics.
And so, in 1994 I had my first company, a development deal with Microsoft, the top special effects house in Hollywood signed on to do the production and a dream team to create it, the top games agent as my agent, and the top games writer on my advisory board. I also had 6 months guaranteed income to make it happen.
I quit my job right then. We rented an office in town and printed Tshirts with our logo.
Eight months later my life would be in ruins and I would reach the lowest point in my life. But for now, the world was my oyster.