On Saturday June 22nd, 2013 I had a vision.
My last vision was April 9th, 2008: the vision came to me between 72nd street and 59th street on the West Side Highway in New York City. I remember I was thinking about the fact that the first thing I read every morning is the New York Times Obituary section: I’m fascinated with how people have led their lives.
And suddenly, on that short section of highway in Manhattan, I had the vision: a Facebook-like place where families could archive and share memorabilia and remembrances of loved ones gone. No advertising, the site would maintain itself with tie-ins with pharmaceutical companies and florists. Your uncle died at 63 from cancer? What is the age range of people who died from cancer? How can you prevent it happening to you? The site would also have triggers that would let you know when someone with your last named died, or someone from your high school died, or from your home town. I saw descendants, a century from now, reading well wishes and remembrances by friends of the their great great grandparents. I came up with a domain name.
By the time I passed 59th street, I couldn’t wait to get to work to see if the domain name that sprung from my head was available. It wasn’t, but of course….after the vision, the work starts.
That night I was driving into my driveway on my way home from work when I got a call on my cell. A woman I’d never met was calling to tell me that my oldest friend, my roommate in college, had died of a heart attack the night before. Strangely, he had composed a list of people to contact in case of his death and I was number one or two on that list. The problem with Visions: they place themselves at the center of your world view and if the Vision is strong enough, your world begins to morph itself to accommodate it. More on this below.
Visions like this, if you are lucky enough to have them, are rare things. I spent the first half of my life pursuing the life of an artist - musician, painter, writer - so I had some experience with altered states from staring down a canvas and had a great deal of respect for all right brained activity. What separates entrepreneurs (and artists) from the other, sane section of the work a day world, that when we are afflicted with these visions, there is a deep burning desire to see them REALIZED!
To illustrate: my first real vision happened in my later 30’s at a time when CD-Rom games like 7th Guest and Myst were popular. At the time I was a lowly salesman selling 3D Animation workstations to special effects houses. My job put me in the path of most of the computer games trade shows, so I would bump up against some of the major players in the industry all the time. Then I had a vision: Dreamland! A puzzle based video game based on Dante’s Inferno.
The power of visions is that, unlike ideas, they come fully formed - of one piece - and that means they are much more powerful than a typical daydreaming session. My vision of Dreamland was such a powerful idea in my mind that people I talked to were just drawn to the idea. I ran into Matt Costello, the writer for 7th Guest and based on my enthusiasm agreed to help me, eventually introducing me to his agent and being on my board of advisors. Another person who lived in my apartment at the time was a scenic designer for the movies and he introduced me to Krisi Zea, an award winning production designer. I showed her a 5 second clip of some moody 3D trees on a barren landscape that I had talked the artists at the software company to make for me, and both she and our mutual friend were in.
Weeks after the vision, I had quit my job, I had an agent, a team, my first company (Quartet), an office I rented above a real estate office, verbal interest from Microsoft to distribute this game that didn’t exist yet except in my head, and effects house Digital Domain all set to do the production.
Eventually it failed but not because of the vision: somebody had a bigger vision. Dreamworks had just formed. Our final meeting with Microsoft was set to take place in Redmond where we were expecting to get initial funding. Our meeting was postponed because Spielberg, Geffen, and Katzenberg took our slot! At the end of their meeting, Microsoft had agreed to shut down their gaming division in exchange for being the sole distributor of Dreamworks Games: games, like mine, that didn’t exist yet.
Yet the power of Vision didn’t go away: it morphed. The fact that I was approaching 40 with 2 small children, a wife, and a house mortgage didn’t affect my decision to keep going. The end of DreamLand and Quartet drove me to get the Vision REALIZED some other way. 3D on the Web in the form of an open source technology called Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML). I started writing about VRML and creating games on the Web instead of on a CD. Eventually I was one of the leading tech writers on VRML which prompted SGI, who at the time was heavily invested in VRML, to hire me as their VRML evangelist.
My first order of business: I developed small 12k VRML Web banner ads. And with a group of similar minded technology companies from Macromedia, Intel, and Unicast, we introduced the world to Rich Media Advertising. The Vision was not the same Vision I had when I was dreaming of creating the next Myst, but it was the power of that initial inspiration that changed my life forever.
In retrospect I feel the development of Rich Media in Web advertising was the realization of that Vision I had a few years before. The vision morphed from a CD-Rom game project that would have probably died on the vine (the computer game industry imploded that year and took years to recover) but instead I was part of the ground floor of a brand new industry: The Web and Rich Media Advertising.
Stay tuned for Part Two of Visions.