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This article was published on October 13, 2010

Lane Merrifield: Entrepreneurs Aren’t

Lane Merrifield: Entrepreneurs Aren’t
Tris Hussey
Story by

Tris Hussey

Author, speaker, teacher, & Internet rogue. Author of Create Your Own Blog, Using WordPress, & Teach Yourself Foursquare in 10 Minut Author, speaker, teacher, & Internet rogue. Author of Create Your Own Blog, Using WordPress, & Teach Yourself Foursquare in 10 Minutes.

Ever arrive at a keynote expecting one thing, but getting something entirely different? Yeah that would sum up last night’s CONNECT conference keynote. First off, it started at 8:15 PM (yes PM) and was supposed to end at 9:30 PM. I’m thinking to myself, wow that’s a long time for one guy to be up there speaking. Man I find that hard to do even when I’m teaching and have a full slate of stuff to teach. Well it turns out that the reason that the keynote was that long was because Lane wasn’t the only speaker. Ah.

Not to give short shrift to the only speakers, especially not to the student who has been a regional, Provincial, national, and international science fair participant, but I want to really focus on Lane’s keynote.

Lane Merrifield was one of the co-founders of Club Penguin which started in, and is still based in, Kelowna, BC that was later acquired by Disney. I think it’s safe to say that Lane has a good amount of street cred as far as the whole entrepreneur/startup person goes then. While Lane related one of his early startups, mowing lawns at 11, it was his “what isn’t” and “what is” an entrepreneur that gave the audience the most to chew on. Maybe it was crystalizing something that entrepreneurs inherently understand, but I think these parts of the talk seemed to resonate deeply with the audience.

From Lane, what an entrepreneur isn’t:

  • What you do, it’s who you are
  • About pride
  • About greed
  • About fundraising

In contrast being an entrepreneur is:

  • What (you do is what you love to do) and who (are you doing it for)

Lane emphasized that being an entrepreneur is about being and doing something bigger than yourself. Club Penguin, for example, was started to be something fourthree dads created for their kids. A website and game that was safe, ad-free, and fun for their kids. Of course, millions of other kids felt the same way. They never took outside funding, because they didn’t want the pressure and change that taking funding would have meant. If you “get funded”, everything changes. You have other responsibilities to manage. The investors want their money back and maybe the investors might steer you away from your original course.

Lane related the story of how they created the “white fur” mystery for Club Penguin. When the “white fur” was discovered, they didn’t have a plan for what it would be or would mean, they let the kids decide. In the end, the white fur belonged to a polar bear (now the arch nemesis in Club Penguin) and that was what the kids said would be cool and not what they said would be bad.

Huh, funny that, listening to your customers and doing what they want.

Listening. Listening is one thing that seems ingrained in Club Penguin. Lane told the audience that every email is answered by a real person. They feel that if a child takes the time to email to them, the child deserves the time and attention to get a good answer. Yeah, they get thousands of emails a day and they all get answered. From that though, they get they best insights in how to fix, change, and improve the game. The trade-off in time needed to answer emails pays off in being more customer-centric as a whole.

A couple last things that Lane talked about. Now he didn’t say this to brag, because it relates to how they work as a company, Club Penguin donates $4 million dollars a year to NGOs that help kids. A million of that money goes to the place the users/audience think it should go. Yes, Club Penguin makes sure that they give money so kids around the world can have a better life and go to school. The final comment on charity is what stuck with me the most:

“If you want to find and hire the best people, start giving away money to the things that matter.”

Yeah, I came to a keynote and got inspired to do more and better. Fair trade I think.

Headshot provided by Club Penguin, taken by Darren Hull