So, let’s start with the basics… While many people might struggle to define exactly what an entrepreneur does, most have a pretty good idea of what one should look like – think of a rock star mix of Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerberg, with perhaps a dash of Simon Cowell thrown in for good measure.
Michael Acton Smith, founder of Mind Candy and father of Moshi Monsters (if you don’t know what they are, just ask any 6-11 year old in the country) looks like the archetypal entrepreneur. With his snakeskin boots, primary coloured jackets and Geldof-esque hairstyle, he certainly stands out from the crowd. And so he should: Mind Candy is valued at over $200 million; Moshi Monsters has more than 70 million registered users and has leapt from the internet onto magazine stands (the most popular children’s magazine in the UK in 2012); toy shop shelves and now the music industry.
I had the pleasure of meeting him at one of the always excellent Business Connections events hosted by the Evening Standard last night. In his speech on the ‘Making of a Moshi Monster’ and subsequent Q&A, Michael provided his personal insight into what it takes, and what it means to be an entrepreneur.
Several things struck me about his speech. Undoubtedly he is a consummate public speaker, completely at ease at the lectern and in the Q&A. These skills can be taught and honed. But what can’t be taught is the genuine and infectious enthusiasm that animates everything he seems to do. The guy loves his job, loves being creative and loves turning a big success into what is rapidly becoming a global phenomenon. When discussing the all-important question ‘how do we encourage investment’ he reiterated a very important point he made at a recent Coalition for the Digital Economy (Coadec) event – UK investors should not be so frightened of previous failure. In the States, entrepreneurs wear their failures like battlescars – so long as you learn from the experience, and fail quickly rather than over a prolonged period of time – your next big idea need not be undermined by past events. Another key insight was a point he made about not selling your success too soon – ‘double down, don’t cash in’. Moshi Monsters is a perfect example of this – he could easily cash in now, but he has a vision of ensuring his creation stays the course, like ‘Lego’ or ‘Barbie’ and becomes truly global.
Of course, the real highlight of the evening was getting Michael’s autograph (complete with mini-Moshi monster drawing) for my seven-year-old daughter, who along with her younger sister, and it seems every other child in the country, absolutely adores the fantastic virtual world and it inhabitants he has created. Thank you Michael and keep on moshi-ing.