I was reading the news today, about how a billionaire by the name of Isaac Larian and a couple of other investors are pledging $200 million to try to save around 400 of the remaining Toys “R” Us stores. According to Larian, “This is an American icon that needs to be saved.” Apparently they have set up a GoFundMe page, which is here.
Larien is the CEO of MGA Entertainment, a successful toy making company behind such brands as Bratz dolls and Little Tike.
What struck me as interesting about this article was not just the act – which is pretty cool unto itself – but the drive and passion behind his decision to do this.
What caught my attention, however, was one of the comments that he made:
“During my life as an entrepreneur, I was often told that something couldn’t be done, that no doll could challenge Barbie. And we’d still get it done.”
That statement really, really hit close to home. I wish I could count the number of times I have been told that throughout my life. Myself being creative and driven, it was frustrating to me when I would present an amazing idea, and that idea would not be embraced, but instead would be shot down because either (a) the person didn’t think of it, (b) because they were afraid to rock the boat, or (c) they felt threatened.
I recall working for EDS (Electronic Data Systems) in the mid 90s. As a tech guy, I had been a contractor for some time and eventually they offered me a full time job. I ended up taking it, working as the sole employee reporting to a mid-level manager who was in charge of something called “Infocenter.” This was an internal electronic bulletin board system, that you could probably compare to AOL at the time, which allowed information and files to be shared across EDS’s tens of thousands of employees. It was actually pretty innovative at the time. I became the administrator of that system.
However, once I wrapped my arms around it, I was shocked as to how low tech that the system was actually being rolled out to the users. Instead of capitalizing on EDS’s state of the art intranet – a network that spanned the globe and connected all of the EDS offices – my superior had been distributing the software via diskette and then mailing it. I couldn’t believe it. This company was spending, or rather wasting, no doubt hundreds of thousands of dollars a year instead of just sending the required software digitally.
Well, being the disruptive and slightly rebellious but nevertheless innovative person that I am, I of course brought this to my boss, who was terrified of trying anything different. In fact, he had a complete meltdown after I showed him the amount of money the company could save. And when I mean meltdown, I mean bad. And, needless to say, I got the boot. It was a hard lesson learned, but I knew that I was right.
Fortunately, a later engagement at Sabre/American Airlines was better. I joined that company in 1998 or so, as a network engineer, helping to roll out the network they were building to airports and travel agencies. It was a significant job. During the course of my work, I discovered that the method in which they were accounting for TCP/IP addresses and really the entire methodologies for deployment was very manual and many processes were needlessly repeated. So, I took it upon myself, on my own time, to write and design a web-based application that I dubbed “Warped,” for “Wide Area Router Production and Design”.
This is where things started to change for me. Instead of being booted, my superiors at the time saw this benefit and not only blessed the system, but promoted me. After the ordeal at EDS I was shocked, but very happy about it obviously. And this is where my life completely changed.
One of my fellow engineers suggested that this system was so good, that I should take the invention, patent it, and go raise money. At first, that seemed lofty. As you can imagine, there were many folks telling me “you can’t do that.” Which of course pissed me off and motivated me to actually do it. So I took the idea to my director, and he actually thought it was a great idea. I ended up negotiating a deal with the company so that I could try and raise some money.
Although still a long shot, I decided to try it. I put together an investor deck, and when doing so, read an article in the Dallas Morning News about a venture capital fund based in Dallas called HO2. They had recently raised a fund and in the article were talking about how they were looking for innovative startup ideas. On a whim, I cold called them and sent them an email about my system, which basically automated the entire process of deploying Cisco and other types of routers and network equipment.
In a matter of days, I received a call, and was invited to present my idea to HO2 as well as an entire group of investors at a local incubator called StarTech. I was floored! Someone was actually listening to me!
I remember the day I arrived at StarTech to do my presentation. Nervous does not even begin to describe the feelings I had when I walked into a completely packed conference room to deliver my pitch. When I say packed, I mean there were maybe 12 chairs at the conference room table and probably 25 guys in the room.
Nervously, I gave my pitch, went through my slides, and did a quick live demo. Once the demo was over, I took questions. One of the first questions that I got was “Why hasn’t anyone else thought of this?” I thought for a second, and simply said “Because they haven’t. Someone had to come up with the idea, why not me?”
And the rest is history. Less than three weeks later, I had $600,000 in seed funding, and started to build a management team of guys who were 15 years my senior and some of whom had held executive positions in Fortune 500 companies. Three months later, and we closed a $12 million Series A venture capital round. And at that moment, my life changed. I had crossed over to what I call “the dark side,” never to return.
Although reference to the dark side of course is a joke, in reality what it means is that at that moment I became a full-on entrepreneur. A space where the words “you can’t do that,” serve only as motivation to actually go out and get it done.
That company, my first venture backed entity (Voyence, at first known as PowerUp Networks) was my catalyst to continue to pursue things that other people say can’t be done. If you speak to any entrepreneur, believe me, those words are an absolute driver for their motivation. That motivation is driven by passion. Passion for creation, or for positive change. Disruptive market ideas.
Since that first company, that I was told could not be done, I went on to start another tech company, Immediatek; took that company public; commercialized DiscLive; created the first “instant” DVD; sold that company to Mark Cuban; started more companies, two music venues, etc., and in every single instance, there were naysayers along the way in my ear saying whatever it was couldn’t be done for whatever reason. Um yea, whatever. Watch me.
So if you have something you want to do, just go out and try it. Don’t listen to the people that want to shoot your idea down. You’re probably going to get fired from a job or three, like I was. That’s because you are a leader and an innovator, not a follower, and you have real ideas, and others feel threatened by it. And in the days of social media, yep, you will no doubt get your “haters.” If you do, hey, that’s a sign you are doing it right! Wear it proud, as a badge of honor!
If you think there is a way it can be done, then push hard, stay focused, and prove it. That’s pretty much what has to be done if you want to be successful and cross over to the dark side. Because, if you want it bad enough, and for the right reasons, and you have the passion, then yes.
It CAN be done.