Lucky Lucky Lucky–My Career in a Nutshell

Everybody works hard.  But some folks also get lucky.  And I consider myself one very lucky guy!

I am lucky to have been born at a great time. As a kid growing up, I got to play with these weird electronic boxes my Dad would bring home.  You could even play games on them.  And play I did!  Over the years, I also got to see those computers connect to something called the internet.  And I got to see those computers get really small and fit in my hand, and still connect to the internet!  And I got to see some of those devices created with the sole purpose of playing games…with your friends…on the internet!  Good times indeed.

I am lucky to have been born into a stable, supportive, loving family. My family encouraged me to explore the world and follow my passions.  They passed along a hard-earned work ethic that taught me the direct relationship between success in an endeavor and the amount of effort, time and devotion that you put into it.  Those lessons paid off in high school basketball and musical performances, in the grueling lifestyle and intense pace of management consulting, in launching new products, and in growing online businesses.  Hard work pays off.

I am lucky to have ridden three huge waves in the evolution of online business. The first wave was the 90s bricks-to-clicks gold rush.  Every business on the planet started to think about how to take advantage of the internet, and I had a catbird’s seat at McKinsey & Co., where I worked with a range of clients big and small.  “Fire. Aim. Ready.” was the lesson of the era, which is where I learned the importance of iteration as the key to learning, adapting, and keeping pace with relentless innovation.

The second wave was gaming’s evolution from offline, single-player to online, multi-player.  This shift not only brought the social magic of LAN parties mainstream, but also created countless new game forms (co-op, MMO) and business opportunities (e.g., downloadable content, free-to-play, advertising).  Gaming can now be a real business beyond Black Friday retail units.  But games were also no longer the realm of the single savant programmer.  They now take a village to build, distribute, and play.

The third wave was the advent of targeting and personalization.  With limitless choice online, today’s business challenge is to capture the user’s attention and quickly direct it to the one choice that’s best for them.  With an increasingly fickle and quick-trigger audience, the goal is to present them with the right offer at the right time.  Doing this well requires a lot of data about the user, an intelligent scheme that maps that data to your product offers, and, most importantly, a trusted relationship with the user so you can use their data for their benefit, and yours.

I am lucky to have had not one, but two, 8+ year gigs. While working for only two companies may seem boring, this continuity also provided me the opportunity to work on countless projects, for dozens of clients and partners, and with hundreds of exceptionally talented team members.

I am lucky that my first stop out of college was with McKinsey & Co. Exposure to lots of industries?  Check.  Exposure to lots of functions and business problems?  Check.  Exposure to top executives of Fortune 50 companies?  Check.  Global travel?  Check.  An expense account?  Are you kidding me?!?  McKinsey was a fabulous opportunity to learn from the best and sort out the kind of work I wanted to do with my career.

I am lucky that my first “real job” was with Microsoft.  At McKinsey I learned two crucial things: 1) my passion is in high-tech, consumer oriented products and services, and 2) companies with 70% profit margins probably know what they’re doing.  So I loaded up the family, bought a lot of rain gear, and headed for Seattle to lead bizdev & strategy for the Microsoft Office Division.  The strategy was pretty simple: launch a bunch of cool new products like OneNote, SharePoint & LiveMeeting, and prepare for a world of software services instead of shrink-wrapped packages.  But since no one in Microsoft knew anything about running a service for profit, I convinced folks to let me go give it a try over at Xbox.

I am lucky that my first business leadership role was with Xbox Live. I joined the Xbox team in the year leading up to the launch of Xbox 360.  There was a cool vision and high hopes for what Live could be, but not much else.  The attach rate to the console was dismal, Live related features were already getting cut from 360 launch titles, and the retail execution, especially around the world, was non-existent.  If it were doing better, someone like me with no industry gaming cred probably would never have gotten on the team, much less been given the opportunity to lead the initiative towards launch.  But the luckiest part of all was the amazing team of true believers and technical savants that I got to work with and learn from.  Like any good multiplayer frag fest, you’re toast if you try to run and gun alone.  It’s the team that works together and fills all the gaps that comes out on top.  And the Xbox Live team certainly came out on top!

I am lucky that I learned the art of online advertising from some of the pioneers of the field.  In building out the Xbox Live business, we had a subscription business model, we added a transactional business model, and we started dabbling in an advertising business model.  For all three, I realized that to grow those businesses you need to do a top-notch job of profiling, targeting, and personalizing the offer for each customer.  Since no one in Xbox knew that field, I joined Microsoft Advertising, which just acquired aQuantive, one of the pioneers of online advertising.  They knew a LOT about serving the right web content to the right person at the right time.  And they wanted to push the envelope further, which sounded like a great next challenge.   But many other challenges soon followed, along with corresponding re-orgs, and I continued to learn from each one until…

I am lucky that I got the opportunity to turn around Massive. Since I was part of the decision to acquire Massive when I was in Xbox and I knew the space, I felt an obligation to try to turn it around when given the chance.  No one likes to cut a team in half, but there’s upside in getting to pick the half you keep.  And much like my experience at Xbox Live, I was humbled by how the new Massive team responded to the challenge.  They were amazing, and so were the results.  Unfortunately, this story didn’t have the happy ending it deserved.  Because when big companies shift gears strategically, the results of minor subsidiaries are just rounding errors.  So, at the end of the day, Massive turned around into a dead-end.  Oh well, you can’t be lucky all the time.  But you do learn and move on.

I am lucky that I got the opportunity to launch MOGA. As the smartphone and tablet installed base exploded, so did mobile games.  But the limits of glass controls limited the genres and complexity of the games themselves.  The most immersive and engaging games on consoles were simply unplayable with simple swipes on glass.  Enter the MOGA controller, and now the industry’s best games could be playable on the world’s fastest growing gaming devices.

So, what’s next? If my luck holds, I’ll stick to my passions.  Like the old saying goes, “Throw your heart over the wall, and your body will follow.”  For me, that’s driving new trends, working with online consumer businesses, incorporating social and gamification concepts into those businesses, and making the world a better place to game.

And lastly, I’m not only a very lucky guy, but a very grateful one.  So to all those I worked for, with and across from, thanks!    And to the coolest kids and most wonderful wife who have had to put up with all my hours away at work and on the road, and then have to hear about it all over when I get home, I love you!

And now I’ll shut up.  Could someone please put away the soap box?  I’m finished with it.

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