4 Startup Lessons from Sim City

As an engineer, sometimes it's hard to know what I bring to entrepreneurship - versus what lessons I picked up from PC and video games. One thing I know is that iterating through games gave me preliminary insights into challenges I would face as a startup founder (and even as a full-time employee). Here are some of the big ones that just might convince you to feed Sim City to your kids - instead of plain ol' TV.

1. Just get started. An essential insight Maxis had for what really is a complex game is the need for a simple starting point. You fill in a couple fields (like city name) and then wham! Your city is growing and the papers are publishing all sorts of consumer sentiment. In a startup, you never know all the answers - and sometimes you miss gaping holes. After 20 Sim-years for example, I realized that my city needed utility lines and water pumps - but it wasn't too late to correct the mistakes and build a great first city. Having thousands of residents at that point also taught me that when your filling a need, your product can be missing complementary features, but could still attract loyal "customers."

2. You can't please everyone. Let's say crime is extremely low and there aren't any fires. Your Sim-izens will clamor for low taxes - and some will leave because of it. Yet, when you close the stations, and riots or fires break out, they'll beg for higher taxes - and many will leave for safer ground. When it comes to "selling" in business, I've heard that good sales people are eager to accept a NO and move on to the next prospect, because its the fastest way to a YES. Believe it or not, it's a hard concept for engineers - and for me, it took building many cities for it to make any sense. Now, I embrace any feedback from people who love/hate my Apps. It will help me make improvements faster!

3. Startups fail - so get up and try again. There is no amount of RTFM that can tell you everything that's needed to build a thriving city. You just have to try different things (all costing money!) to hopefully keep your citizens happy. Sometimes you get run out of town due to slow growth or runaway debt. It happens - and it doesn't matter how careful you are. After a few of those experiences, you learn that good things can happen, but the more likely outcome is failure. In Sim City as in life, it's thankfully never the end of the world. If you're still breathing, you can always start over. That lesson has helped me more than once in just the past decade - whether I was full-time employed or running a startup.

4. Anyone can do this. You would be amazed at how many people I've met with a rags to (middle-class) story. Each one provides a reason to be humble, while at the same time reminding me to stay focused. But even before getting started, it was Sim City that showed me that success was possible... eventually. As I kept building, learning and improving, I was rewarded with bigger and better structures - and eventually even my very own statue! That was cool, Maxis! In real life, I might never get the call from @Arrington I've been waiting for, but surely @Jason is keeping an eye on me - and one day, if I keep at it, they'll both be fighting to lead my A round.

If you've got a little one who needs a break from homework, I urge you to turn them onto Sim City. They will pick up relevant lessons that will outperform the few jokes they might miss from TV.

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