”Actually, I started my first business when I was eight.”

29.03.2016

Santa Monica.

An endless number of cars are whizzing past us. Each of the cars carry people who all have a goal: They are on their way to pick up something, they have to catch a meeting or a flight, they must earn a living, they have dreams; perhaps even to change the world. The person we are going to meet, fall into the last category.

He is already on Newsweek’s list of 50 men who changed America, and he has seen opportunities in things others wouldn’t look twice at. He has earned a lot of money, and he has lost a lot of money. He has done many things he regrets, and he have not necessarily learned from his mistakes. He is a entrepreneur, a father, a CEO, and a husband.

I’m talking about Nolan Bushnell. Today he is CEO of BrainRush, but he has started, run and sold many companies before this. He has even been Steve Jobs’ boss, said no to shares in Apple, and owned two jets before this.

A younger Nolan.

A younger version of Nolan, who turned 73 a few days before we met him. Private photo.

The first meeting

We meet Nolan in BranRushs’ office in Santa Monica. On the way in we pas an empty store with large windows facing the street. It just lies there, waiting to be filled up with something new and exciting. The office of BrainRush, which is five floors above this, is, however, not empty. All the walls are painted in blackboard paint and it’s written with colorful chalk everywhere. New plans, ideas and thoughts fill every room in the otherwise modest premises.

By the front door, facing the black wall, is an anonymous desk. However, when we look a little closer we notice the treadmill that is located below it. And in the middle of the floor, a small training unit sits alone. It is the kind you can buy on TV shop, which promises slimmer waist and stronger legs. To our positive surprise, BrainRush has cleared some space for health and activity in the innovative office landscape.

“Hi. We are here to see Nolan. Is he in?”

”Oh… No, his not. Let me call him for you guys.”

We continue to look around, read on the walls and try to locate a place we can set up the cameras. We are slightly nervous. The chances of being star struck are definitely present.

Just a few minutes later Nolan enters the room, smiling. Casual dressed in a t-shirt and brown cotton blazer.

“Hi. So nice to meet you”, he says before he even have had the chance to shake our hands.

nolan2

He talks candidly about the office space, BrainRush and that he is trying to stay in shape by taking the stairs five floors every day. He also has two workout sessions a week with a personal trainer, and sees himself as in relatively good shape – and it is precisely because of fitness and health that we are in Los Angeles to meet Nolan.

We are starting an exercise program with him; a training program based on decades of research, that both heart patients and athletes make use of. We will help Nolan get in shape, at the age of 73 years. Age is in fact no obstacle, and we will prove just that.

An early start

“I only have until three o’clock. I have a meeting”, Nolan says as he sits down at the oval conference table. He is almost drowned out by the traffic outside the open windows.

We close them to block out the noise.

Nolan in 1962, when he discovered his love for video games.

Nolan in 1962, when he discovered his love for video games. Private photo.

“My wife always say: sit up straight, that way you look less fat”, Nolan says as the cameras are turned on. He straightens up while he laughs heartily.

The purpose of this first meeting with Nolan is to become a little better acquainted with him, his life, his training habits and his ambitions. And we film the interview with him, so anyone who doesn’t know who he is can get a little better acquainted with him as well.

We turn on the microphone and starts to talk about his first business.

“Actually, I started my first business when I was eight.”

When Nolan turned 11 he made a new career choice, and opened “Bushnell Repair”; a company that fueled his love for electronics.

Why this love for electronics?

“Curiosity, I think. And I was always tinkering with electronics and building stuff. I was a Ham Radio Operator, which is what you are when you’re a geek in the 50s.”

Atari

Nolan is perhaps best known for Atari, a company that produced arcade games and game consoles. He founded the company in 1972, which is especially known for the game Pong. In addition, several of the characteristics Atari had on their computers, are still used in current operating systems. In this way, Nolan was involved in shaping the development of the modern video game consoles and computers. This makes him a true innovator, and is one of the reasons why he is on Newsweek’s list.

Private photo.

Private photo.

Nolan’s technical skills and interests emerged at an early age when he began to repair Televisions, but when did arcade games enter into his life? Where did he find a love so great that he created a company that would prove to give him the title “One of the founding fathers of the video games”?

To sell a huge success

When Nolan started Atari he did not imagine that he would produce game consoles and arcade games. His plan was to work with the design part of the games.

During his career, Nolan started more than 20 companies, and Atari is one of those who have been most lucrative.

“I remember telling my friend that: all I need is a million dollars, and I never have to work again. Cause in those days I lived on 2000 dollars a month, and I hadn’t precede myself as a multi millionaire. And it was surprising when it happened”, Nolan says with a big smile on his face.

However, the money would not last forever.

Private photo.

Private photo.

Although Atari sold a lot for a long time, and Nolan earned a great deal of money on the firm, he came to a point where he had to take a difficult choice. He needed to launch Atari VCS, a game console that didn’t have built-in games, but that had games on cassettes.

“I needed a huge amount of cash.”

On the operator side

To sell Atari is one of many things Nolan says he regrets in life.

“Oh yeah. I have hundreds, no thousands, of regrets”. Nolan’s look fade into the air, as if he is thinking back and wondering how life would have been if he could have done over some of his regrets.

However, even though he has many regrets, it hasn’t stopped him from chasing his dream of changing the world. Nolan has an eye for opportunities and today he has a long list of projects he sees a great potential in. I don’t know if he had a list on the day he left Atari, but at least he had a plan, and it was to continue in the gaming industry.

nolan-playing-tank-1975

Private photo.

“At Atari we were selling arcade games for 2000 dollars a piece, but during their lifetime they were earning 40 000 dollars. I said: I am on the wrong side. I should be on the operator side of this.“

And then he opened the family restaurant Chuck E. Cheese.

“Chuck E. Cheese was a desire to create a big arcade, with a draw all over the nation. It was aimed at families because we knew that kids loved our games. We also knew they were only to be found a few places in the States. I knew if I had a venue that was acceptable for kids and their families, that I’d have a constant flow of traffic. It turned out to be right.”

BrainRush

We look at the ticking clock. We only have 30 minutes to Nolan have to leave for another meeting, and we don’t have time to talk about all the companies he has started. We skip to the one he currently runs: BrainRush.

“At BrainRush our mission is to unleash the genius in each of us with smarter learning, fostering a passion for discovery and an optimism for life”, it says on Brain Rush’s Facebook page.

Nolan gestures his arms as he eagerly tells about the American educational system:

“It’s horrible. It’s bureaucratic, it’s process driven, and everybody is fumbling around bumping into each other – and they don’t want to change. You cant even get tablets in to most schools. I was expecting, kind of naively, that by 2016 all the schools would have tablets for everybody. Do you know how many tablets there is per students in California right now?”

We shake our head.

“Less than one percent! Stupid! It’s just criminal! “, he says before he apologize all the gesticulating and hope he doesn’t destroy the video.

Other priorities

Nolan is definitely a passionate man, and he sits on an enormous amount of knowledge within various industries and the US market. We try to absorb everything he shares, to take some new knowledge home with us. Our goal is to establish an office in America and provide training solutions to Americans, and the things Nolan share is golden.

Nolan explains that a person is unable to concentrate for more than 15 minutes, given that the things you concentrate on doesn’t involve you in the learning process to a greater extent. In our case, in this situation, it’s not right. After one hour we are still in deep concentration.

Nolan has even sold robots during his career, and that is one of the things he regrets. He lost a lot of money to his robotics company. Private photo.

Nolan has even sold robots during his career, and that is one of the things he regrets. He lost a lot of money to his robotics company. Private photo.

Despite Nolan’s many successes he has also faced some adversity, and he has received many “no’s” during his career. We ask him how he has kept the motivation through everything.

“Well, I have always believed that most people are stupider than I am, and the fact that they didn’t believe in my ideas were their problem, not mine. Somebody would probably call that intellectual arrogance.”

What do you call it?

“Self confidence.”

Love it and be passionate about it

Before we take down our three cameras and our new knowledge, we had to ask Nolan for some last advice: If he could share some advice based on his many years as an entrepreneur, what would he say?

“Alright, should we wrap this up? Cause it’s telling me I need to stand”, Nolan says pointing to his smart watch.

Everybody gets up and shakes their legs and arms a bit.

We get a demonstration of the treadmill desk before he pats us on the shoulder and run down the stairs to the empty shop premises and the ever-congested street.

We were definitely a little star struck.

 

To be continued…

Stay tuned for the next “episode”. It’s about our training project with Nolan and the developments he has had since he started training with Myworkout.