The Creation of Atari and Finding The Next Steve Jobs with Nolan Bushnell

  • At the age of 10, I started a TV repair business: Other businesses charged $5. I charged 50 cents. I made my money by buying the tubes [the part of the TV that burned out] wholesale and marking them up. That gave me the idea to not work for somebody else. Figure it out and work for yourself. 

  • In college I created a printed version of the calendar of events on campus: I gave it away for free and sold advertising around it. I expanded to 4 other universities. It would cost me $500 to make. I’d sell $3,000-$4,000 in advertising for each one.

  • I got a job at an amusement park so I wouldn’t spend money: I figured if I kept busy I would save money instead of spending the money I was making. This job gave me a real passion for games. It gave me an understanding of the economics of an arcade. This was useful later when founding Chuck E. Cheese.

  • If there is one thing I’m blessed with is I am really curious: I’m thirsty to understand how things work. I wanted to understand the knowledge of mankind.

  • Credentials are becoming less important: Right now if you are curious and passionate, school is unnecessary. I wonder if schools need to fundamentally reinvent themselves in this world where all knowledge is at your fingertips. They should focus on how to keep students passionate and curious as opposed to dogmatically lecturing. 

  • A love of science fiction has helped me identify opportunities: I’ve always got one foot in a world of a possible future. I notice disconnects between the way the world is today and the probable way the world will be in the future. This helps identify opportunities that are available because no one has done them yet.

  • Traits that are helpful for entrepreneurs: Drive, passion, enthusiasm, self-confidence. Entrepreneurship is hard. You have a lot of people telling you that you can’t do it. Without self-confidence and passion, you can be dissuaded. You will have hard times. You have to punch through adversity.

  • The hardest part of building Atari was figuring out how to grow the company without investment: Atari was started with $250. Even when we were doing $20-$30 million in sales we couldn’t get investors. We financed it by getting 30 to 60-day terms on parts. We’d turn the parts into a game in 2 or 3 days and then ship the game for cash. It was always a struggle.

  • If you want to start a company start small: Some of these businesses that look tiny from the outset actually grow to be massive. Right-sizing is something people need to think more about. The rule is if you need to raise money from other people then the idea is too big.

  • Nolan likes Walt Disney’s answer to the question What do you do Mr. Disney?: I’m like a honeybee who takes ideas from one place to another.

  • Full podcast here.