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Handelabra Games: Humility vs. Moxie

(Originally posted here, September 2013)

As I move through the LaunchHouse Accelerator process, I’m finding myself in a familiar position, which my gut tells me any entrepreneur can relate to. You see, my industry is video games and it is likely the one thing I know way more about than just about anyone else who passes through here. I don’t actually need to guess about this; every time I’ve asked anyone from mentor to finance person, first timer to 5-time exit guru for help about the games industry, they all collectively throw up their hands and say “yeah, we don’t really do that in Cleveland.”

The irony is that almost all of the people will, right after telling me essentially not to trust them on this topic, proceed to explain what’s wrong with what we’re trying to do. It’s frustrating and it’s what tends to push me to the moxie side of the continuum. “This person admitted to complete confusion, but then attempted to pontificate anyway, why would I listen to anything they say?”

But one of the most important things I’ve been learning from the LaunchHouse process is that knowledge can come from anywhere. I’m constantly reminded that I need to swing back over to the humility side of things and stay out of my own way. But how do I make sure not to swing too far? The truth is, I do actually know quite a bit more about this industry than most of these people. How do I not discount that knowledge, while still maintaining an open mind? Luckily, a Monday session with Mo Wheeler gave me the name for this phenomenon - “Last person I talked to syndrome”.

The first iteration of Handelabra fell prey to this a LOT. It’s why we started 4 different major projects in the first year. Every time I would talk to someone who even seemed to know more than me about something, I would completely rewrite my plan to match this person’s view of reality. I spent a lot of my time assuming not only that I wasn’t the smartest person in the room (probably a good thing) but that I was in fact the dumbest (whoops). This is how I came to learn what my most important skill as an entrepreneur probably is: Filter.

I need to be a semi-permeable membrane that can assess any incoming information for it’s net worth, allow in that which is helpful, and keep out that which is not. Being able to sit, listen and assess with the humility to actually hear it, but to still have just enough moxie to ignore information that truly isn’t constructive is a hard skill to hone.

But I’m working on it.


Handelabra Games: Turning a passion for games into a business

(As part of the LaunchHouse Accelerator program, I'm blogging a bit over at This post was originally published there.)

I am an entrepreneur because of Steve Jobs. Yes, it's a horrible cliché, likely to get even more horrible as a pair of movies chronicling his life and work make their way into the mass consciousness, but as I like to say - I was into Apple way before it was cool.

Jobs was once quoted as saying, "Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you'll never be the same again."

It was when I first began learning the truth of this statement that I set out to start making my own apps. The old me would sit around and wait for someone else to do something. The new me chose to take the steps necessary to make those things happen. The trick is, this isn't a lesson one learns in one brilliant stroke, I continue learning it everyday. This is why it took 3 years and more than 10 apps to realize that I didn't want to be making just apps. I wanted to make games. 

My partner John and I love games. Board games, video games, mobile games, social games; you name it. This passion is what lead us to move away from making apps that "fix a problem" into games that entertain. We know games, and we know what's fun. We also know that there are tons of fun games that exist only on the tabletop and that our experience over the last 3 years has put us in a perfect position to bring these games to digital platforms, helping those companies get their games in front of a wider audience, make some money, and yes frankly, bring a little fun into the world.

We've been headquartered at the LaunchHouse for about a year now, pretty much ever since I knew it existed. The atmosphere of collaboration vs. competition was something I had heard vague stories about in mystical places like Silicon Valley but had never experienced firsthand in Cleveland. After seeing it in action watching the end of the last LaunchHouse accelerator class, I knew this was something I wanted Handelabra to be a part of.

While I'd spent several years learning how to effectively and efficiently build good software products, there was a certain special sauce missing. Some combination of networking, collaboration, finance connections, marketing acumen, et cetera, wasn't quite coming together for our products.

I'm hoping that the accelerator process can help me put the focus on the areas Handelabra needs help with.

We're only two weeks in but the first two topic areas, finance and storytelling, are already two major areas where I had lots to learn. The most important piece, that I mentioned I have to relearn everyday, is that this isn't rocket science. These sorts of things are learned by lots of people everyday, who are no smarter than me, and I can be one of those people shaping the world.