When I was 17 years old, I was one of the highest ranked World of Warcraft players in North America (I wrote a memoir about it too).
When I turned 27 years old, I launched my first company, Digital Press.
Couldn't tell you a single thing I learned in math class between 1st grade and 12th grade, but I can tell you exactly how to arbitrage Linen Cloth on the Auction House to make a fortune.
The similarities between the two journeys are striking, to say the least.
And I'm not the only one who thinks so. In fact, since publishing my book and admitting to the world that my number one priority as a teenager was in fact not to get a girlfriend, but to master the art of playing a Mage, I have connected with an astounding number of entrepreneurs who attribute their success in entrepreneurship to their early gaming days.
I was recently at a dinner where I met Erik Huberman, Founder and CEO of Hawke Media ("Your Outsourced CMO"). Near the end of the night he turned to me and said, "So you played World of Warcraft as a teenager? I was the guild leader of the first guild to clear Molten Core."
Only us gamers realize leading 40 raiders through a dungeon and leading a company utilizes very similar skill sets.
Another example: I was recently chatting with Wayne Chang, Founder of Crashlytics, talking about how to build a successful company.
"It's just like a video game. You're given a finite amount of resources at the beginning," he said, "and depending on your build order, and how to use those resources, that's the difference between incremental and exponential growth."
You would be surprised how many entrepreneurs I talk to who have gaming backgrounds.
It's because entrepreneurship and gaming are essentially the same thing.
Here's what they have in common:
1. A conference call is a raid, just with less screaming.
Waiting for 40 players to log on for a raid is exactly the same as waiting on a conference line for attendees to join. These are your "party members," and there's almost always someone with a broken microphone.
2. Slack channels are your guild chat.
Guild chat is where people hang out. Where people talk for hours and hours. Where people share ideas, or ask for help. My co-founder and I live in Slack, operating from two different cities. The whole experience is hauntingly similar to my teenage years spent talking to guild members on the Internet.
3. People judge you based on your Internet presence.
I became a personal branding expert at 17 years old when I learned that who you are online is your "character," and what you choose to show people determines the idea they have of you in their mind.
4. You don't know what grinding is until you've had stale Skittles for breakfast.
Entrepreneurs are notorious for bragging about how "hard they grind" and how little they sleep. But I'll be honest, you don't know what a real "grind" is until you've loaded up on coffee and gluten free/dairy free microwaveable mac and cheese (I have food allergies) and farmed Runecloth for 48 hours straight. Once you've done that, a product launch is a piece of cake.
5. You can't win by yourself.
Part of what makes an MMORPG so enthralling is that it cannot be played individually. Even the most modest of challenges require a group of some sort--and with groups come friendships, camaraderie, and competition. Entrepreneurship is no different. You can only play for so long before you need to enlist the help of others. And that's what makes the game so much fun.
6. Bad players judge based off gear. Wise players judge based off skill.
Most players (in the gaming world and the real world) measure success based on material value. People assume that better gear, nicer clothes, and more expensive cars means better talent. I learned at a very young age that is a faulty mentality to have. Being able to accurately judge who you're going up against, who you're partnering with, or spotting the next great player is all about looking beyond the material. You have to see the person, not the player's gear--and a lot of people can't do that.
7. There is no "point" to the game.
When I first started playing World of Warcraft, the kid at my school who introduced me to the game said, "I can't wait to hit level 60. That's when the real game begins." I didn't understand what he meant until I hit the level cap too, and realized there was no end to the things you could do in the World of Warcraft--just like there is no end to the things you can do here on earth. The real game starts once you're out of the starting area and old enough to realize you are the captain of your own ship. You can create your own quests, and you define your own measures for success. Your purpose is yours to create.
8. Gold doesn't make you a player better.
I had a mentor in the World of Warcraft. I deliberately sought him out because I wanted to learn how to play the game like him. For the three years we played together, he was poor. Constantly asking other people to borrow gold. He was also one of the most talented gamers I'd ever played with. When I would ask him why he wouldn't spend more time farming gold, he'd say, "Gold isn't going to make me a better player. I'd rather practice." That was my first introduction to the idea that money, in itself, doesn't make you a better player (or person).
9. Some people are raiders. Some are PvPers. And some are explorers.
In the World of Warcraft, you can do a lot of different things. You can round up 40 people to go defeat a raid boss. You can form a small team and compete 3v3. Or you can travel around the world on your Kodo mount and explore. The game is yours to play, however you wish to play it--just like life. Which means you can't compare your experience and your "achievements" to someone else who prefers to spend their time differently. They aren't 1:1.
10. Friendships are made during the pursuit of a goal.
Some of the people I played World of Warcraft with as a teenager became my closest friends--friends I still talk to today (just last week I had dinner with my guild leader from a decade ago).
Those friendships are the result of working together toward a common goal, and I see the same thing unfolding as I build my first company. How often my co-founder and I bounce strategies and ideas in a day is eerily reminiscent of my climb to Gladiator with my 2v2 partner. The hires we make are our new guild members. Our Slack channel is our guild chat. Our weekly conference calls are our raids, and our competitors are all the other guilds who are trying to defeat the same bosses we are.
As a teenager, I became one of the most competitive gamers in the country.
And I'll be the first to admit that I treat entrepreneurship with the exact same intensity.