Entrepreneurial Space Invaders – How to Start a Business Atari Style

Space Invaders was FunNolan Bushnel was the founder of Atari – the wildly famous video game developers from the 1970s and early 1980s perhaps best known for their block buster games like Pong, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, plus others. Mr. Bushnel is a serial entrepreneur and is also the founder of Pizza Time Theaters, Inc. (aka Chucky Cheese) among other enterprises.

It was a springtime afternoon while sitting in a packed auditorium during an Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs presentation that I first heard Mr. Bushnel speak about how to truly start a business.

Okay, so you want to start a business. Great. Here’s how you do it.

First you call your smartest accounting friend and say, Hey Joe, gotta great idea for a business that I want to share with you and a couple other prospective key people. Can you come over this Saturday morning at my place around 10AM and can you bring some donuts?

Then you call your smartest marketing friend, Hey Sharon, gotta great idea for a business that I want to share with you and a couple other prospective key people. Can you come over this Saturday morning around 10AM and can you bring some orange juice?

Then you call your smartest human resource friend, Hey Steve, gotta great idea for a business that I want to share with you and a couple other prospective key people. Can you come over this Saturday morning around 10AM and can you bring some coffee?

Then you call your smartest engineering friend, Hey Tim, gotta great idea … and can you bring some napkins and paper plates?

Then you call your smartest finance friend, Hey Linda, gotta great idea … and can you bring some cranberry juice and a couple bottles of water?

So then on Saturday morning all your smart friends show up and say, Okay Nolan. So what’s your big idea of this new business?

Now here’s the funny part, you can say almost anything like “A new car wash.”

And your smart friends will likely boo you and say stuff like, “You got us out of the house for this – a car wash, you gotta be kidding us. We thought you had a really great idea.”

But now here’s the killer part – you turn to your smart friends and say, “Come on, we’re all smart people, we like and respect each other, so what ideas do you have for starting a business.”

Worse case scenario, you got a free breakfast and planted some seeds with your friends. Best case scenario, the group brainstorms an option to pursue and away you go!

Later that evening I had the opportunity to ask Mr. Bushnel a follow-up question regarding business and action plans resulting from a Saturday morning planning session. I forgot his exact words but it went something like this – “Chuck – this is why you have your engineering friend bring the napkins. The action plan has to fit on one napkin otherwise the business will never get off the ground. You gotta keep it simple. Your marketing friends will go through too many napkins, your accounting friends will complain that the napkins don’t have ruled lines, but your engineering friends, they can help you produce a napkin of action steps that keeps your new team focused.”

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