Have you been ‘wiped’ out? Learning from Failures [Losing is winning]

[Guest article by Alok Kejriwal, Founder of Games2Win. ]

Losing is winning.

In the upper Himalayas, an ancient Tibetan monastery follows a secret Zen tradition. Newly ordained monks perform their daily rituals of chanting, meditation, cooking and cleaning and in the evening paint colorful patterns on the floor (Rangoli in India) using dry powder paint. Initially they draw basic patterns and then graduate to complex designs.

In the second year of their stay, they are inducted into a very sacred ritual. The Master priest gives each monk an extremely intricate and complicated design to replicate as their Rangoli. This pattern is so complex that it takes 5 years of  part time work in the evening to complete. The monks are made to vow to keep their pattern secret and not show their work in progress to anyone. Their reward for this mammoth effort is to have their complete painting examined by the head Sensei (Priest) of the monastery.  If the divine Sensei is pleased, he can bless the monk.

After 5 long years of working on one painting, the examination day arrives and the monks tremble with trepidation as they take their master and Sensei to their room for the final review. The Sensei wears heavy robes, with the long overflowing sleeves that reach the ground.

Just as the painting is being shown, the Sensei calls out to the monk, looks him in the eye, and in one strong, swift motion, wipes clean the painting with his robe’s sleeves without even looking at it. The act is sudden, swift and brutal – executed with a benevolent smile.

It is said that the act of seeing 5 years of your hard labor being wiped out in a stroke creates a moment of ‘blankness’ in the minds of the well-trained monks, and that blankness produces nirvana (enlightenment). If not immediately ‘enlightened’, the monks begin weeping with joy at the realization that nothing lasts forever and everything must go.

Entrepreneurs I know shiver from the word ‘failure’. What they must realize is that one venture or a business is just like a Rangoli – the act of it disappearing ‘may’ create the enlightenment of success in you.

Celebrate failure!

Do you really have a problem?

In 2008, my partner Mahesh and I were convinced that players were discovering flash games on the web in a chaotic way. Consumers had to go to portals and then play the games the portals featured there. If I wanted to say play only ping-pong games, I could not discover all ping-pong games in one place. Google would give me some links, but also of the videos and images of the real ping pong game, etc.

We felt that there had to be a single destination to search and discover flash games, and if executed well, we could be the first movers in that space.

When we presented the concept of ‘gamecurry.com’ to our board, the investors were puzzled. Why were we getting into the search business? Did this make sense? Wouldn’t this distract us from our day to day business. How would we make revenue? I still remember Sumant Mandal of Clearstone Venture Partners telling me ‘Alok, the ads revenue arbitrage in just letting consumers discover content via search is dead. Why would you want to pursue this’?

Despite all these doubts, Mahesh and I went gung-ho creating gamecurry.com. We spent a good amount of time, energy and resources putting the site together and allocating armies of teams to search, index and tag global games.

The site launched in mid 2008 and we promoted the service extensively using our own network, etc.

The concept was a massive failure. Nobody seemed to return after using the site once and there was no viral traffic being built up. The worst part was that a service intended to help consumers was being spurned so badly. Much later we figured out that kids don’t search for games on search sites – they like to ‘stumble upon’ them.

We failed at this project but learnt an important lesson all entrepreneurs must imbibe – Even before you create an amazing solution, ask your consumers if they even want it? Your consumers will not use something made ‘easy’ if they never had a problem in the first place!

Why do everything the old fashioned way?

In mid 2007 I had this brainwave that if so many young people liked to play ‘dumb-charades’ (charades in the USA), why shouldn’t they play it online?  It would take away the pain of assembling people in a room and the web idea of a traditional game could infinitely expand the universe of players to millions.

I convinced the contests2win team (a company I am on the board of) to create youcharades.com. The idea was to host a set of 200+ quality ‘charades’ that consumers all over the world would log in to watch, and then predict which movie was being enacted. Players could also shoot their charades and send them in!

Contests2win hired a foreign crew of actors and models in Mumbai and shot very slick videos. They invested in a video player backend that integrated with flash technology. There was extensive work done on the site and they even created a Myspace application for the same.

On launch day, I dreamt of instant nirvana (like the monks). By mid week, there was little pick up. By the end of the month the site and the idea was in the weeds.

What I had failed to indentify was that it was not the game of dumb charades that youngsters liked so much – it was more the act of getting together with friends and family and really prancing around and making fun of each other in the process of playing out a movie title.

While youcharades.com was erased in an instant, I learnt 2 very crucial lessons:

  • People like to do certain things not for the act of that activity but for the pleasure of engaging others while doing it.
  • Everything in life cannot be ‘technologized’.

Who needs human intervention – get it automated!

Advergaming (or integrating advertising and online games) has been a business we as a group pioneered globally (circa 1998). While the concept is very interesting and rewarding, there is huge pain involved in meeting clients, getting briefs, meeting repeatedly to present work in progress, making changes to the game and convincing the client that the game is indeed ‘perfect’. It frustrates the most hardened of servicing people and creates massive friction between internal teams.

After a success lasting 10 years and 1000 advergames, I was convinced that an ‘automated’ solution was the answer. I hammered the contests2win management to create a one stop ‘do it your self’ advergaming destination called gamewok.com. The site allows potential clients to ‘order’ their advergames and toss up (like a wok) options of game type, look and feel, budget, etc,  that clients can choose and mix and match.

A year later, we still haven’t received a single order via gamewok.com. The site is a disaster. The verdict is simple – a hands on, meeting of the ‘hearts and minds’ process that results in business being won can never be automated.

Lesson – don’t try and automate what pains you. The pain is what brings the profits.

I dedicate this post to all those entrepreneurs out there who have had hits and misses. The important thing to remember is what a famous man said – ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’. Who cares if the first step begins with a sprained ankle?

» Read Alok’s Entrepreneurial Experience here.

[Reproduced from Alok’s blog. Follow Alok on facebook. Interact with Alok on Pi.]

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