Networking Creates Lucky Paths

My name is Steve and I have always considered myself good at networking.

I was lucky to inherit that skill from my father who has been an entrepreneur since before I was born. My dad owns LA Art Exchange, a custom picture frame store and art gallery in Santa Monica. He is the picture framer to Hollywood and has many celebrity clients. You don’t get to that position without being able to schmooze with the best of them.

In 1996, the LAMG was holding their annual MacFair in Burbank and they had a spare booth. Because I led the Director Special Interest Group (SIG), the booth was offered to me at no charge to market my wares.

It was a lucky jackpot and one that required some planning.

Kevin and I thought about what we hated about going to trade shows. We both disliked the tedious walking around from booth to booth. And we recognized that after a while, all of the booths become noise at a trade show. So, we decided to create the “Shockwave Lounge.”

Lucky to sit in Steve Zehngut boothWe found a couple of grungy old couches and a coffee table and set up a makeshift living room in our booth. We had coffee and pastries. I set up a computer on the coffee table to show off our portfolio. We would tell passers by that they looked tired from the trade show and would then invite them to sit down and take a load off. Once they did, they would immediately ask what we did. Boom! We had a captive audience. Either Kevin or I would take a few minutes to show off the work we were doing, hoping it would result in more work. While everyone loved our work (and us), we had no solid leads. Needless to say we felt like our lucky FREE booth was being wasted… until the very end of the show.

We were about to shut down for the weekend when a woman walked over. Luckily, I stopped closing up shop and gave her our pitch.

At that moment, I met our first-ever paying client, Lynda Keeler. Lynda was working for an ad agency at the time and happened to be looking for developers to do exactly what we did – Shockwave games. Lynda was working on the website for the movie Multiplicity and had an idea for a mini arcade that would go viral. This was 1996 and she was a visionary.

She met with us the following week and hired us on the spot to create five games for the site. The Multiplicity team had ideas for 4 out of the 5 games and left the 5th one up to us. The games were designed as stress tests. At the end of each game, the test would determine that you are stressed and that you are in need of a clone. The movie was about cloning so that was the tie in.

We developed the first 4 games that were requested and at the end of the project, we were in need of a 5th game. We brainstormed for a while and came up with nothing. At the last moment, one of us blurted out “Punch the Clown!” The game displayed one of those large blow-up pear shaped clown dolls. The user controlled a boxing glove and when you click on the clown, it would punch him and he would rock backwards. He would roll back forward and the game would start again. That was all it was. We cranked the game out in just a few hours to meet our deadline. To us, it was a throw away.

Have I mentioned before that we were lucky?

That game became a huge viral hit!

Punch the Clown with Steve ZehngutPunch the Clown became bigger than the Multiplicity site. It got featured on Macromedia’s site and on several other “site of the day” type websites. We would go into meetings and show that we did the games for the Multiplicity site. Usually, someone would say, “You developed Punch the Clown?” Who knew that a game developed in just a couple hours time would become our identity. Zeek became known as the “Punch the Clown” guys. Go figure.

Succeeding in business takes some hard work and a little luck. But, you can create your own luck. In my case, luck came in the form of being in the right place at the right time on numerous occasions and from trusting my ability to network. If you’ve been down on your luck, know that it is possible to be lucky in business, and keep trying. Who knows, you may have a “Punch the Clown” moment just around the corner.

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