This Entrepreneur Gets Inspiration From His Childhood Inventions
As a kid, I helped my father reformat computers for a lab he started at Ontario’s University of Guelph. I unscrewed cases of old clone computers to upgrade memory slots and graphics cards, or added a 56k modem to the board. He could have done it faster without me; I know that now. But he was allowing me to see how things worked.
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This was only the beginning of his message to me: First, understand. Then, create. He is an inventor and inspired the way I think. Like so many kids, I had a healthy imagination and came up with all sorts of ideas. Whenever I’d share one at the dinner table, my dad would drill deep, asking me questions that helped shape my vision. I conceived of a toaster that was preloaded with bread, a fridge that could make its own grocery list, a robot lawn mower, a remote control that could never get lost. (I even built a prototype for that last one, which you see above; we hit every RadioShack in town to get radio transmitters and receivers, resistors, diodes, buttons and LEDs.) Our conversations would always end with him asking me to draft what he called “a poor man’s patent.” We didn’t have money back then, so I’d write the idea on paper and mail it to myself so the postal service stamp officially dated the idea -- proof I had it first.
Today I have a better sense of business. I’ve created eight startups -- including media companies, apps, a restaurant menu aggregator, an analytics platform for restaurants and, most recently, an AI music service for cars called Houdini. But I rely on the instincts I honed as a kid. I still have those letters to myself. They’re scattered around -- some in a box of childhood things I’ve kept, and others among my business files, as seeds of ideas I might one day return to. They blur the lines between my childhood and my adult ideation.
My old inventions also continually remind me of the lessons from my father. He insisted that my ideas were worth pursuing, and he taught me that discipline and commitment were required to turn them into real-life solutions. I remember him becoming stern when I’d blurt out an idea as if I had already solved the problem. To have an idea and then not do anything with it was simply not allowed in our house. That was for good reason, I’ve come to learn: The real distance between an idea and a solution is in the rigor and the commitment and the passion to actually bring it to life. That’s what continues to drive me.