We were just visiting Livia's family in Nashville. Her sister-in-law Barbara has a ten year old son named Reid and he's an intense gamer. I'm talking multiple consoles and hand-helds and a library of titles. When he has access to his step-dad's wireless laptop he has some favorite online games. Surprisingly, one of them is an educational game called Hot Shot Business. We played it and I got schooled.
The concept is to start a company and make it profitable in six weeks. Each week is a checkpoint. Reid's mom said he had to read a book for a half hour before he was allowed to play so I started a candy factory on my own. The first question: Take funding or bootstrap? I chose to use my own money (Reid later told me that this is the best way to go).
So I started off by renting a few different candy machines and placing them in my factory. Then I ran a cheap marketing campaign and tried to figure out how to keep up with this game. After three weeks I was hemorrhaging cash and placing dead last in the game.
Thankfully, Reid was now able to come help me out. He showed me how to take an overview of how my candy machines were performing with regard to consumer demand. Gummy bears and chocolate were killing but I was in the red on lollypops and taffy. We fired taffy and lollypops and doubled up on chocolate and gummies. We also tried chocolate milk.
With Reid on my advisory board business started picking up. Then two news stories broke. One was a scary piece on the health concerns of milk and the other told of a new schoolgirl fad: Crafting necklaces made with gummy candies. Out went the chocolate milk and we rented more gummy machines. Now were were filling orders like crazy and we spent money on a celebrity ad campaign to add to the momentum.
By week five we were mad profitable and in second place. Then Reid showed me how to earn extra points by keeping the factory clean between filling orders and advised against taking an opportunity to install vending machines in schools—that turned out to be a good call because a news story broke about shameless profiteering by some candy companies at the expense of kids' health.
The goal of the game was to earn $2,000 in six weeks. With Reid's expert guidance, Bizcandy, Inc made almost $12,000 and came in first place! I was really amazed that a ten year old boy has the patience to play a game that involves math, marketing, and choices like wether or not to take funding.
When Reid told me he always starts with his own money I joked that there are probably startups in the Bay Area taking millions in funding right now with less savvy than him. In fact, I think the next app TechCrunch launches should be a Web 2.0 version of Hot Shot Business. It could be a seriously helpful tool—and fun too.