Recently Brandon Wiele, GameTruck’s Chief operating officer asked me what I would say to someone considering joining the GameTruck franchise system. The timing of his question is interesting because I had just gone through my own exercise in discovering my [[My Immutable Laws]], the set of values that I tend to work from every day. At the top of that list is one word, and I realize that is the word that describes someone who can be successful in GameTruck. What is the magic word? Cares.
I have made many mistakes in my life, but at every juncture I cared about getting it right. Did I? No. But I got it right often enough to still be in business 15 years after I started this crazy enterprise and I believe it is that deep sense of caring that permeates the entire GameTruck system. I believe this is why top owner Erik Maxwell says, “We are GameTruck.” It’s not some piece of equipment or a thing we own. It is who we are.
Probably what separates long term success from an expensive life lesson is that simple word. People who think they are buying a thing or purchasing their way into the game industry rarely succeed, or achieve the kind of self-satisfaction they hope for when they start a business.
However, the people who strive to be dependable, who want to be the person you should call first because they are dependable and committed – those are the people who succeed. They are calm in a crisis – and while a birthday party may not sound like a crises, I assure you there are many small fires along the way that will spring up to try and prevent you from showing up in this industry. And the owners who care, who take it as a personal commitment to be dependable, the ones who are energized by being trustworthy and steadfast, those are the owners who succeed. They derive the satisfaction of delivering on their commitments and making people happy. The joy that springs from a child’s face when they are surrounded by friends, the laughter that comes naturally from workmates playing together, the smiles and sense of wonder that crosses the face of children stepping from a school yard into a game trailer – those are the payoffs, the affirmation, the confirmation that gives meaning to the hard work, the planning, the preparation, and the commitment to show up.
If you were to ask me, the one attributes that sets GameTruck owners apart, is that they care. They care about showing up on time. They care about delivering a great event. They care about making the hosts life easier. And they have to. Mothers and fathers trust us with their children. Principals and teachers trust us with their students. Managers and team leaders trust us to engage and entertain their employees. If you don’t care, you cannot consistently, year in and year out earn that kind of trust and keep it safe.
What makes someone a great GameTruck owner? In a word, They care.
One of the things my dad taught me at an early age was to be “solution oriented.” He didn’t want me to just sit there and be frustrated by a problem. I had to try to solve it. I think at its core, that attitude made him a great engineer. I can’t ever remember my dad running into a technical problem he couldn’t solve. Sure, plenty of problems stumped him for a while, but he would hunker down and grind his way through until he understood how to solve it. Later, he gave me the book, “Illusions” by Richard Bach. His favorite quote out of that book?
No problem comes to you without a gift in its hands. We seek problems because we need their gifts
My father tried to teach me to see problems as gifts. Yeah, he struggled with that too. I think everyone does. However, the point was that we can’t control the problems, but we can try to control our attitude and mindset about them. Recently, I came across the “Engineering Problem Solving Process”. Someone actually distilled the way engineers think down into a series of steps.
They go something like:
- Define the problem
- Describe the results you want
- Do some research (has this problem already been solved?)
- Think of solutions
- Choose the most promising
- Try it
- Evaluate the results
- Jump back to any of the previous steps if the results are unsatisfactory
I used this process when I started GameTruck. Many entrepreneurs (and artists) claim they had a crystal-clear vision of what they wanted to build. It wasn’t like that for me. I had this vague idea of putting video games in a truck, but every step of the way, I had to ask myself, “How would that actually work?” For example, I couldn’t imagine how the TV’s, players, and consoles would all fit in the trailer, so I decided I needed to build a prototype to find out. I set it up in my garage. Using two by fours and sheets of plywood, I constructed a “box” about the size of the inside of a trailer. Then I started testing out different kinds of seats, and TV’s until I found a configuration that would work reasonably well.
The final trailer design did not deviate much from my initial prototype, but I started working that problem without really knowing exactly how it would turn out. I basically ran through several “loops” of the problem solving until I arrived at a solution that I felt was ideal.
It turns out that basic layout was pretty good became it became the basis for virtually every single video game theater in the market. Up until that time, no one had created a gaming layout like it. All the prior art focused on “isolating” gamers – trying to distract them from being in the same small space. No one really focused on gamers sharing a common video game experience. Novelty rarely comes from doing things completely new; it often comes from combining things in new ways to produce affects or outcomes people had not anticipated before.
And every once in a while, a solution lasts. This setup has entertained more than 10 million kids at GameTruck alone since our inception. And we don’t stop solving problems. We constantly ask. “What can we do to help people celebrate? What can we do to help people connect? What can we do to make mom a hero? What can we do to make it as easy for her as possible?” What can we do to improve our trustworthiness, so we’re more reliable and dependable, and the company you can count on to show up? It is a collection of many small things that make running a successful party business possible. It is our solution-oriented attitude that allows our system to do thousands upon thousands of parties each and every month and receive thousands of five-star reviews.
Constantly focusing on solutions, I think, keeps us relevant. I also think it is one of the highest values that we have as a company. Why? Because sometimes a problem might knock us back, but it never knocks us down. In almost any situation we have found ourselves in, from my experience, I can say that, while we may not be able to fix it right away, with some curiosity, creativity, and tenacity, we can think of solutions that make the situation better. This is why being solution oriented is one of our core values.
In the winter of 1976, my mother setup an amazing family vacation for us during spring break at Disney World. We were going to stay at the Polynesian Resort inside Disney World. We could ride the monorail to the park every day! I can’t tell you how excited my sister and I were for this trip. We were so excited we packed up the car the day before we were supposed to leave!
There was only one problem. That night Michigan was hit with a horrendous ice storm, and the tree in our front yard split in half under the pressure of all that ice. Half the trunk fell across the driveway pinning our station wagon in the carport.
My sister, mom, and I were devastated. No trip to Disney! Heck, we couldn’t even get out of our own driveway! Dad however, didn’t say a thing. He walked into the storage shed, grabbed his chain saw and walked out to the branch and started cutting. He wasn’t trying to remove the branch – there was no way he could do all of that by himself. But he could cut a slot just wide enough to back the car through. And that’s what he did. He told all of us to get in the car, “We’re going to Disney.”
Later in life, my dad would call this approach to certain problems his “dumb luck theory of travel.” While everyone else I knew planned carefully and made reservations, Dad just got in motion. His philosophy was simple.
- Set your intent
- Get in motion
- Pay attention
He had no real plan after he cut the tree trunk, he just knew he could take the next step, getting in motion. But later, on other occasions, like a wizard he would say things like, “Let’s go get Italian food.” I’d ask him if he knew of a good Italian restaurant. He’d say, “Nope. But I’m sure we’ll find one.” And sure enough, every time we did. When I asked him, “How did you do that?” He would reply, “Dumb luck.” After all, what else could it be?
I think Dad enjoyed playing those games with us, but at the core of his idea was that he never let uncertainty stop him from taking definite action. He was not afraid of making mistakes, and he often made discoveries that could only come from being in motion.
I don’t think GameTruck would exist if I had not absorbed some of Dad’s “let’s give it a try and see what works out.” Sure, I did some research, but some of the most important decisions that shaped the company came from getting in motion and working on the problem. Ideas sprang from experience with the first trailer, generators, and materials. I found solutions to problems I never could have planned for. For example, I didn’t know until I built it that the AC units would work better turned sideways than blowing down the center of the trailer. I had no idea what the first party would be like, or the second, or the third. It was my brother Chris who told me a party is better as a party than a sports practice (I was a little too controlling in the early days). And he was right. Sometimes what we think we know can be the biggest barrier to success. Getting in motion and paying attention can open you up to new possibilities you did not contemplate.
At each stage of starting GameTruck, Dad’s advice rung true. I had a clear intention of what I wanted to achieve; I just didn’t know how I was going to achieve it every step of the way. But I always managed to take the next step available to me. I also kept my eyes open to the possibility that something even better might be waiting for me, and frequently a better solution or opportunity presented itself.
It has is my experience that clear Intent, coupled with focused action, and a willing openness to possibilities make a powerful combination. While Dad called that combination – or more specifically the results of that practice, “dumb luck” – I think of it differently. Action without vision is a hobby. A vision without action is a dream. Action and vision without openness quickly becomes a tired rut. While intent and openness are important, it is my firm belief that the willingness to try, to take action in the face of uncertainty is essential.