Los Angeles game developer Giovanni Luis made the leap to entrepreneur after 20 years of working for Electronic Arts and Sony.
During a Money Talk radio interview he explained how he first stumbled upon game development after completing a degree program in industrial design at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
“I just happened to know a piece of software that they were using to develop a game called Nuclear Strike,” said Luis, calling the experience a “happy accident.” This resulted in a five-year run with Electronic Arts followed by 15 years of working for Sony’s gaming unit.
As his children began preschool, Luis began to explore the technology used by his school district. He felt that the software and apps available left a lot to be desired, both from the educational and visual perspective. Thus the gamification expert decided to leave the corporate world to start his own company with several like-minded associates. He’s now co-founder of MakeData and co-creator of the Papermals Pre-K app.
“Entrepreneurs are always looking forward,” the blog of Wichita, Kansas-based Equity Bank said. “They constantly try to find ways to improve themselves and their business. Whether it’s locating problems within their business and fixing them, or learning a new language later in life, the desire to improve is a strong sign that you might be an entrepreneur.”
This was the case for Luis: His work experience gave him the technical expertise and his parenting role gave him the motivation to move from creating blockbuster action games to making high-quality educational apps. “My corporate experience gave me the confidence to go out and create these games,” he said.
But it takes more than confidence to succeed as an entrepreneur. Exchanging the comfort, security and recurring paycheck for a role where you eat what you kill requires thoughtful planning.
“Very few people wake up one day and quit their job and start up their first company with no preparation,” wrote Heather Boggini on the blog Stilettos on the Glass Ceiling. “Think of starting your first business like running your first marathon. You wouldn’t just go out and run the marathon on race day, would you?” asked Boggini, the COO of women’s social network PSDNetwork.
“Previous job experience has been regarded as an important factor for entrepreneurial success,” management professor Suryadevara Ashok Kumar wrote in his book Entrepreneurial Success in Small And Medium Enterprises. “Experience in similar business and management skills were two useful factors gained from the previous job experience” when it came to “a majority of successful entrepreneurs.”
Luis has another advantage: his preschool and kindergarten-age children. Every day his kids rekindle his passion to develop meaningful apps. His goal is the highest level in edutainment. Luis strived to fashion age-appropriate educational lessons, such as instruction in numbers, sizes and coins.
During an interview Luis provided a few bits of advice for the newbie entrepreneur:
1. Aim to Exceed Expectations
While Luis’ education apps are less complex than the games he developed for Electronic Arts and Sony, he aimed to develop products that exceeded the ordinary and expected. He wanted his first app to have such a visually stunning interface that the pre-K crowd would adore it and that a high level of engagement would result in solid word-of-mouth referrals from parents and teachers.
2. Know the Business Landscape
An entrepreneur must be intimately familiar with the industry he’s operating in. Luis wished to market his app as not only a game but also as educational technology. This dual purpose could potentially improve the return on investment.
3. Produce for the Masses
Luis learned the importance of economies of scale while developing games at Sony. A single AAA-rated game could take as long as 18 months to develop and cost millions to produce. A large customer market is needed generate a return on investment.
In California alone thousands of new kindergartners arrive on the scene each year, Luis discovered. Papermals Pre-K has Spanish and Mandarin versions to capitalize on the growing Latino market in the States and the large Mandarin-speaking population abroad.
4. Score a Quick Win
Luis and his small band of fellow developers needed a quick win to serve as proof of his concept and keep the troops motivated and engaged — and eating! Rather than trying to create an app with an evolving technology like virtual reality, Luis and his team focused on the iOs and Android platforms, creating their first app in three months in the hopes of soon generating revenue.
5. Tap Into Influencers
Luis and his team develop apps for a market just out of diapers. This market does not carry a credit card or use mobile devices. So Luis cannot directly market his product to end users. Instead, he must find the individuals who can influence its purchase, such as teachers, school district administrators and parents.
One impressed teacher could recommend an app to dozens of parents. And impressed parents might engage in verbal and social-media-based word-of-mouth, prompting scores of purchases.