Every kid has big dreams. When I was growing up, my dream was just to be really, really good at something. Which I was: business, which I learned through gaming.
November 10, 2017
How a Video Game Made Me A Teenage Millionaire
StarCraft gave me the keys to growing a business
By Michael Cammarata
Schmidt’s Naturals Chief Global Strategy Officer and Angel Investor
I was also highly dyslexic. I was having trouble with reading and writing in school and needed to find a place where I could show my value and feel accepted.
For a while, that place was on the swim team at Cold Spring Harbor Beach Club in New York. I wasn't even into computers yet—I was too busy beating records in backstroke. When I was 11 years old we moved to Florida, and I started swimming at a new country club. I also befriended the IT manager there, a guy named Jeff Barrett, who told me about this incredible game called StarCraft. Naturally, as any kid would, I immediately told my mom I wanted to play. Jeff and his colleague Clint White came over to our house, built my first computer, and I started playing the game 40-plus hours a week.
Needless to say, I got really good at it. I was working my way up the ladders on battle.net, playing ranked games, and I caught the attention of a clan. In StarCraft, these are groups of recruited players with similar interests and skill levels, who engage in multiplayer games. The other members of my clan taught me not only how to program and build websites, but also about the values of a community. I had finally found the meaningful friendships and confidence that, as a result of my dyslexia, had previously eluded me.
Photo courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment
With their help and knowledge, I was able to build and monetize a network of gaming fan sites, including a site that created one of the first gaming music videos (later merging into Gamespy Network). To counteract mounting web-hosting fees, I then developed an automated hosting solution that made me a multi-millionaire at the age of 13. By this time I’d also hired some of my first employees—remember Jeff Barrett and Clint White? Soon my network reached nearly 10,000 sites and was, at its peak, the second-largest provider of advertising inventory to Advertising.com. At 17 I moved to Laguna Beach, California, where I started to invest into other online businesses and got involved in the entertainment industry. Today I am the Chief Global Strategy Officer at Schmidt’s Naturals and Angel Investor, while maintaining active involvement in a number of other companies.
I credit StarCraft, and the people I met playing it, with opening an entire digital world to me and teaching me the skills that enabled me to become the entrepreneur I am today. It was more than a game for me—it taught me about focus, emotional control, patience, persistence, networking, multitasking, micromanagement, teamwork, and above all, strategy. I discovered an ability to excel that the conventional education system could never have cultivated.
Here are the three main lessons StarCraft taught me:
Strategy and Focus
StarCraft is a real-time strategy game, and your success is entirely dependent on how you manage the resources in your possession. It’s not about having the best weapon or army, it’s about how much you have and keeping control of it. Distraction is the real enemy. If you don’t control your resources or have a clear sense of your priorities, you won’t have the ability to adapt throughout the game.
Same goes for business. It’s critical to be constantly anticipating not only your competitor’s next move, but also total market trends and opportunities. By thinking ahead and using educated guesses to predict what does not yet exist, you stay nimble and can continue to evolve.
Management and Multitasking
You’re managing an organization when you’re playing StarCraft. Only they’re called unit soliders, not employees.
Sometimes you have to make the choice between paying more attention to the maintenance of a specific unit, or handful of units, and your big picture battle strategy. Micromanaging ensures that you have total control and leaves almost nothing to chance, while macromanaging employs trust in your team and allows you to plan for future moves, developing more strategic maneuvering of your resources. Ultimately the game requires a balance between the two, just as any business does. Innovation is driven both by big-picture, strategic thinking and by maintaining a competent, empowered team to manage the things you can’t.
Networking and Teamwork
Plain and simple—if I hadn’t gotten good enough to join that original StarCraft clan, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Those were the people who introduced me to the technologies and opportunities that have formed every building block of my career since then. Even as I’ve navigated entirely new ventures (entertainment, natural consumer products), I still find myself calling on the same people I met in those early days. And my personal network just continues to grow.
Ironically enough, the only job I ever applied for in my life was at Blizzard, the company that makes StarCraft. I didn’t get the gig. Instead, I made my own and never looked back.