Colorful Pants Day

Attention managers everywhere: the HUB Singapore has just announced their first colorful pants day. Conventional managers would probably dismiss this as a frivolous waste of time. Just another eccentricity of the startup world. But I think it’s a clever idea with relevance to the workplace at large.

A common criticism of telecommuting is the loss of water cooler talk, the kind of informal, spontaneous conversations that occur during the work day that foster support, camaraderie, and the exchange of ideas among employees. In reality, however, as anyone who has worked in a non-startup environment knows, many of these conversations are rants against co-workers, managers and the workload itself.

So anything that reduces stress and creates a more positive atmosphere should be a good thing, as long as it doesn’t cut into productivity. The question is why more companies and organizations don’t have colorful pants day, or anything that makes the work environment less stressful and shows workers their managers don’t think of them as cogs in a machine.

colorfulpants

Gamification in the broadest sense is about making life or work more fun, engaging and social. But solutions don’t always have to be sophisticated, expensive or even digital. Colorful pants day encourages staff to be creative, to have fun at work, and to notice one another. And as a manager, every minute your employees linger at the water cooler talking about their clothes is a minute they’re not complaining about you.

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This post was contributed by Mark Schreiber, guest writer
Mark Schreiber is a full time novelist since graduating high school at the age of 15. He also engineered his sister’s bestselling writing career and started and run several businesses, including a solo medical practice. He’s currently interested in technological entrepreneurship in Singapore and Silicon Valley.

PRESS RELEASE: Standing Sushi Bar acquires Gametize and ventures into gamification

P.S. Happy April Fool’s Day. We had fun with this one, going as far to Techcrunch. This makes us think seriously about Sushitize.. hmmmmm

Popular sushi chain in Singapore and Jakarta to become world’s first F&B company to acquire a technology startup, in a bold move to venture into gamification and mobile development. Gametize’s CEO will lead Standing Sushi Bar’s technology group while undergoing kitchen training. The company will also introduce a brand new concept bar, Sushitize, where anything from chicken rice to chilli crab, can be ‘sushitized’ to become a sushi.

SSB x Gametize

SINGAPORE, 1st April 2013 – After months of stealth discussions and negotiations, Gametize has accepted Standing Sushi Bar’s acquitision terms in an undisclosed eight digits deal.  The agreement underlines Standing Sushi Bar’s ambitions to diversify beyond food offerings towards the media technology and gamification industry. Gamification, the concept of infusing gaming psychology towards engagement with the target audience, is a fast growing industry estimated by M2 Research to reach USD$2.8 billion in 2016. GameMaki, Gametize’s cloud-based gamification platform, will continue to serve existing and new clients.

badge ssb

The acquisition will see Gametize’s former CEO Keith Ng as Standing Sushi Bar’s technology group head (Singapore), while CTO Damon Widjaja will manage the group’s Indonesian technology office. Both founders are set to undergo formal training as sushi chefs in a strategic measure to cross train and induct the management team. Jesslyn Teo and Brenda Nicole Tan, the other half of the founding team, will manage Sushitize, a new concept bar to introduce specialty sushi menus inspired by well-known dishes such as Chicken rice, Red chilli crab, and Confit de canard. Sushitize will introduce daily challenges such as ‘best photo challenges’ and quizzes for consumers to win rewards and discounts.

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Sushitize’s latest Chicken Rice Sushi creation

Howard Lo, CEO of Standing Sushi Bar and ex regional manager in Microsoft, remarks,

“Food rewards our customers the same way games activate the dopamine rush in the reward center of the brain. We are thrilled with our new family members and branching into the technology space, a familiar place for me. We strongly believe in the potentials of gamification and how Gametize’s technology and team can also enhance our food business and consumer engagements in Standing Sushi Bar, Tanuki, and Sushitize. I see sticky synergy in the branding of GameMaki, Gametize’s flagship product.”

“It is not always easy to find passionate and talented chefs like Keith and Damon, who might slip in a couple of badges into the sushis occasionally to delight their customers. We needed to expand aggressively and sushi chefs are the kingpins of our business”

Sushi-Platter-of-Standing-Sushi-Bar

Keith Ng adds,

“This is a wonderful opportunity to fulfil the team’s vision of turning life into a playground for everyone. I spent some good years in the F&B industry and it has always been a dream for me to return to it. I am looking forward to accepting the challenge of being a sushi chef over the weekends for Howard’s amazing outlets, which will be gamified gradually, and hopefully become the world’s most engaging and fun sushi chain.”

“Our enterprise clients in Singapore and Indonesia can now too tap onto our food discount and deals to reward their employees with sake and california maki”

For media enquiries, please contact Keith@gametize.com or Howard@standingsushibar.com.
Twitter: @StandingSushi @Gametize @Keizng @Damonwidjaja @Brendalogy @Jesslynteo

 

Being unique doesn’t make you money

It was a day packed with over 5 consecutive meetings, as I huffed and puffed towards my final destination, meeting up with the private banker of a tech entrepreneur whose achievement badges include his NASDAQ-listed gaming company. It would be a typical … Continue reading
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It was a day packed with over 5 consecutive meetings, as I huffed and puffed towards my final destination, meeting up with the private banker of a tech entrepreneur whose achievement badges include his NASDAQ-listed gaming company. It would be a typical investment pitch, like millions of other pitches I had done. The only difference was pitching to a private banker – a career I was going into until I got mesmerized by the tech world. Let’s call him Paul.

Paul was sharp, astute, and surprised me with his knowledge in the startup tech world. He certainly knew what he was dealing with. I sat intently, answering him patiently and factually whenever he had questions, at least, until the last quarter of the meeting when Paul asked, “So what is exactly unique about your business? There is no stopping anyone in China to copy whatever you have, in minutes”.

Now, a little background about Gametize: We are a gamification platform startup that helps companies engage their audience through game thinking and game design. Our gamification technology lets schools quickly create simple learning games out of their content, or enable e-commerce websites reward loyalty points to their consumers who answer quizzes, predictions, complete photo contests or make repeated purchases. Paul certainly believed that this technology can be replicated easily by a bunch of engineers. I don’t disagree, and this is what I answered:


“Yes, there is nothing unique in the technology. Anyone can copy us and do the same stuff. We did not raise enough to patent, and neither do I believe it is worth the effort to patent.”

Time stood still for a moment, while Paul and the other 2 counterparts looked at me with bemused expressions. I took a deep breath and continued, “But, being unique doesn’t make you moneyExecution, network, and a product that truly helps someone with their pain with as little friction, are what make the dough. Facebook wasn’t unique, and so were not Mailchimp, GMarket, Dropbox”.

These brands are all my favorite products which I paid good money for, and none of them were the first in the market. We are already familiar with how there was Friendster before Facebook, K Mart before Walmart, and even Big Boy before Mcdonald’s (credits to @MarkSchreiber07 for sharing these examples). These are some of the most successful brands in the world, but none of them could count as the the pioneers in their own respective industry.

If being unique isn’t a kingmaker, what then makes one? The iPhone I used to demo my app to Paul is arguably the most successful product in the 21st century, but it definitely wasn’t the first touch-based smartphone I have seen. I could use many S-words to describe it – “Special”, “Simple”, “Sexy”, and “Unique” it is not. Yet, its success is not easily replicated by many, mainly Chinese manufacturers who have “shanzai-ed” the device but not come close to Apple (except maybe Xiaomi). Apple’s success boils down to hundreds of reasons (brilliant marketing, brilliant people, brilliant choice of brand, brilliant ______________, etc). In summary, it is the fucking brilliance in execution.

funny-apple

There are MANY reasons why a brilliant execution can happen, and many wonderful outcomes and consequences which will follow. You as an entrepreneur and leader must be able to articulate and cultivate these building blocks. The hustling, the people you know, the culture, the strength of the leader, the management team, a focused vision/mission, and some even say luck (something which I don’t believe in – will blog later about it); juggle them all you must, instead of getting soaked on how fantastic and unique your idea is, because I can guarantee you someone out there has a better idea than you. It will be a tiring, frustrating roller coaster journey where you get interrogated by guys like Paul, but next time you bump into him, you know what to say, and if you’ve got some balls to deliver this #likeaboss, try what I did (in reference to the competition and what’s unique about Gametize):


“These guys don’t have this” (points to my head with a grin).

I’ll leave you with a video where Jason Nazar (founder of DocStoc) shares how to break out of the pack and be unique in execution.

Gamifying Education With Grand Theft Auto

Grand theft auto

Suggesting Grand Theft Auto as a model for gamifying education sounds like suggesting Satanic rituals to increase church attendance. But the other day I found my five-year-old son playing Grand Theft Auto III on our iPad. The Grand Theft Auto series, from Rockstar Games, is one of the most successful video game franchises in history, and probably the most controversial.

I heard news reports about its anti-heroes, prostitutes and cop-killers long before I played it. But my son, who speaks Spanish, wasn’t seeing the dark side of the game. He was simply driving cars through a detailed, open-world system until he crashed, then running until he found another car to drive. (Actually, he had to eject the drivers, but he didn’t comprehend this as stealing.)

What interested me, however, was that while he was driving a radio station was playing music, DJ banter and sarcastic ads. I realized if he drove around long enough he might learn some English. Maybe not the right kind of English. But what if the radio stations were teaching elementary vocabulary and grammar?

There’s hope in the gamification community, and within the progressive educational community, that gamification might be the magic bullet to rescue our abyssmal K-12 schools here in the U.S. But the record so far of educational gamification has been as disappointing as the New Math. While I do believe gamification will eventually become a natural component of most schools, we may also have to keep changing vehicles until we find one that doesn’t crash.

In fact schools have always relied strongly on one gamification element: grades. And grades are great motivators. The problem is they are also de-motivators. And if grades are such a great predictor of achievement, why are teachers opposed to being tested themselves?

Grand theft auto

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 left pretty much everyone behind except test companies. The imposition of national standardized testing has resulted in short-term cramming rather than long-term learning and, as Steven Levitt discovered in Freakonomics, to cheating by teachers and administrators worried about losing their jobs, or their schools. This is one of the worst examples of gamification in education. Gamification should increase student and teacher engagement and make teaching and learning more fun, rather than be a stressful distraction.

Children are both the easiest and hardest audience to capture. Easiest because their critical faculties are immature. Hardest because they have no patience. They aren’t going to give a video or a book or a class a chance – it has to grab them right away and hold them for the duration.

In terms of gamification children are stubbornly resistant to efforts to manipulate them. Adults will be patient or polite, but if kids don’t like what’s being offered them, they won’t participate, they’ll turn off.

The problem with most educational games is that they are produced by educators, not game designers. Or the game designers are hamstrung by the curriculum. So what you end up with are a few game elements superimposed on a boring course. Children see through this right away.

A better way to gamify education, I think, is to do it backwards. To design or appropriate first-rate games, then gamitize the educational component. In other words, create or license games that grab and hold a student’s attention, like Grand Theft Auto grabbed my son. Then look for ways to layer on the math or English or whatever you want to teach. They won’t even know they’re learning, which is often the best way to teach. Like the luckless pedestrians in Grand Theft Auto, these future students won’t know what hit them.

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This post was contributed by Mark Schreiber, guest writer
Mark Schreiber is a full time novelist since graduating high school at the age of 15. He also engineered his sister’s bestselling writing career and started and run several businesses, including a solo medical practice. He’s currently interested in technological entrepreneurship in Singapore and Silicon Valley.

2011 for GameMaki.

As the year comes to a close, I thought it would be cool to look back at GameMaki‘s happenings over the year. It started with a …

Concept (Jan – Feb 2011)
At the turn of the year, I informed the team (who was then, still working on FameMark, our gamified dating site) our acquisition of Lifegamed.com from Fernando, a client who is also now a dear friend. Lifegamed was a platform where anyone could make a game out of daily tasks. For e.g. a dad could start a game for his kids to receive points for completing a task, and perhaps earn a virtual item that can be used in a simulated fight online on the same platform with another sibling. The big idea was to make life a game, so it would be more interesting and fun.


Lifegamed … back in late 2010.

We wanted it because (1) We like the potential of gamification in motivating people to do things (2) We loved how disruptive and scalable the platform can be. At that point though, Lifegamed lacked a clear business model and more importantly, a clear problem and a solution. The dad, in the earlier example, had to first create a game, before he creates the tasks, pre-assigns points for specific tasks, and defines the unit of the points (e.g. cookies). These painful steps undermine the vision of making life more fun with all the hassle. Fundamentally, the branding wasn’t quite ideal (past-tense of ‘lifegame’).

The team sat down, brainstormed for days on tackling the mentioned issues, before we carve out a new branding, new vision, new business models and new features. We scrapped the entire Lifegamed for reconstruction. GameMaki was born, and we officially pivoted from FameMark (we’ll be back).

Beta (March 2011)
GameMaki debuted in SXSW on 11th March 2011 as a web app with just two features: (1) Create and (2) Claim a challenge. You type a challenge, choose a category and off you go. Someone would then claim the challenge by just clicking “Claim me!” – Simple in, Simple out. The idea was to create a MVP worth a second glance.

Conceptualized in Jan, developed in Feb, rolled out in March and guided by the vision to help people discover great activities through game mechanics. We were pretty satisfied with the godspeed.

We got featured on VentureBeat (after an interview with Anthony Ha, who was nice). It also synced to New York Times. More crucially though, SXSW was very helpful to validate the market – some brands, agencies were interested to create their own challenge-based whitelabel game, but I had to inform them we lacked that meat. Gamification was a big theme in SXSW and many companies were exploring how they could ride on this bandwagon.


Fernando and I in action at SXSW.

Refining the app (April – Oct 2011)
Armed with some feedbacks from the Bay Area as well as SXSW, it was back to the drawing board. We toiled, sweated, and re-iterated over the next six months with our early adopter partners such as Standing Sushi Bar, Ascendas and SMU Prinsep Hostel. There were some pilot ‘partners’ (who really were uninterested but were just too nice to reject us) that cost us much time/effort. We had since learned to work only with the right people. All in all, it wasn’t always easy to find adventurous adopters in SG, but they do exist!

We kicked off our iPhone app development in October after spending two months learning the basics, while the web app underwent continuous changes based on feedback. We corrected some wrong assumptions (e.g. we didn’t think challenges need to be accepted before being claimed – not true), and we glorified the right ones (e.g. users do care about getting badges!). Sure, six months is a long time for any product to be improved, but we were adamant that we do not want to ‘cock up’ with a product nobody would use. I should also add that this was a fresh new concept with no successful competitor to refer to. Backend wise, we firmed it up with a lot more structure, implemented Lucene search engine and added analytic features. Admittedly, the dev team kept knocking onto walls figuring iOS, and we finally caved in and hired an external consultant to pair program (great idea btw).

There were other refreshing changes for the team. In August, we moved our office from an out-of-town industrial area in Toa Payoh, to the heart of Singapore – a beautiful shophouse at Chinatown. In the same month however, we also lost a bunch of people – tech guys Steve and Alex, and super interns Spencer, Jingxian, (and later) Fauzi and Linhui. But we also gained Minghui who did some amazing animations for us (pretty darn good for a business development guy, I must say!). We now have nice size of five. lovely five!


The team with TV news presenter Tung Soo Hua – we were featured in the local news in April 2011.

The Final Quarter (Oct – Dec 2011)
Saving the best for last, the final three months represent the most defining moments for the entire team.

We were caught out cold by an investor who retracted on an investment agreement that was ‘concluded’ half a year ago. Thank God I applied for credit cards from at least three different banks earlier, because we would later relied so heavily on balance transfer from all three banks. (At one point, it did feel like we are going to exhaust all banks in Singapore!). I could not stop blaming my naivety, and undertaking loans (a slightly obscene amount) believing that deal could tickle in anyway.

The same investor defaulted on his payments to the his office which we were using, and we had to pacify the landlord. Another company who also shared the office space, quite disappointingly, did not agree to keeping this office together and sharing the cost. We could not pay the bills and the PUB uncle came and threatened to cut electricity/water supply. We were advised to move out by some friends, an unfeasible plan IMO as this ain’t like moving peanuts. I decided we would gamble and hang on. It was a fight to quickly find alternative investments, secure quick revenue from external projects or from our own product, and to also juggle with development of GameMaki. All these, while ensuring the team remained united with minimal morale loss.

For two co-founders whose first job is being a, well, co-founder out of college with little savings, it was a bitter pill to swallow especially when we had to source for personal loans for the company. I flirted with depression because of the enormous guilt for the mess and letting down the team. Gratefully, we have a team who willingly bit the bullet and took pay cuts to ensure survivability. Resilience was also displayed when we switched momentarily to being a service company for external projects – from coaching, animations and offshoring work. We even met a loan shark who needed a website! (Okay, I exaggerated. He was more like a marketer for legalized moneylenders).

All this hassle and trouble meant we could barely focus on GameMaki for the final quarter (slowing down our progress tremendously), but there are positivities: Tough times establish true men (and women) of valor in the company, and we all reaffirmed our faith and belief in GameMaki.

Brenda became a co-founder in the company after we witnessed her dedications. (Jesslyn was offered too, but she declined our humble offer due to personal reasons). In myself, I have learnt a good lesson in risk management, certainly an unforgettable one.


Post Angel’s Gate.

Today, I’m happy to share that we are up and running again, with a potential investment deal closing soon which promises a new lease of life for us working with some really smart and fantastic folks (this is record-breaking time for closing a deal afaik). We also scored our first commissioned project utilizing GameMaki‘s API, while we continue to work on increasing our pool of partners from brands, F&B merchants, institutions, corporations and charities. Our beta iPhone app is on track to be launched in early Feb, and we have some fun ideas on integrations with Twitter (watch out for it!). I’m also grateful to veterans like Eddie Chau (Brandtology) whose words of wisdom to me rang in my ears again and again: “Survive first, Fight later”.

We found true friends who stood by us. Special shoutouts to Jimmy from iAxil who continuously supported us and paid for some of my coffee (and beer), and Clement who offered me a personal loan from his pockets (which I politely declined but yes bro, I remembered that :)) To other friends like Melissa and Anne, you have been wonderful too in your encouragements. I also thank the inDividuals who made things Difficult and almost Destructive; because without you, this journey wouldn’t be a story. Oh yes, I should add this – I still have a lot of respect and gratitude for the same investor who couldn’t fulfill the deal. He believed in us at a time when no one else did, and his passions for entrepreneurship are undeniable. I pray he would resolve his problems soon 🙂

In the last two months, we received a surprise positive review from MakeUseOf (without any interview :), while we also participated in Angel’s Gate (which was fun!). My mouth got duct-taped re. the show, but I could whisper we did our best and we are proud of our efforts. I heard from Jimmy a story of a founder who sold off his screen protector to buy lunch, and also how the company had to ration for lunch at $2 each for everyone who went without pay. I’m glad we didn’t have to do this – so yes, we count ourselves blessed. Even though my two bank advice slips (pinned on my board) show balances enough for two Starbucks latte grande sized, at least I had my piggy coin bank! We would probably be a damned good service company if we wanted to be one, but making products remained a key passion for everyone, and for now I’m just relieved we did not fall into that comfy trap (yet). Our new investor joked I could start a site comparing cheapest rates/fees for personal loans and balance transfers, since I have these data all in my head (sure…. but I hope no one ever had to visit it).

Niet, GameMaki isn’t successful yet, but I think it is fair to summarize this year as a micro-success in a nutshell. In fact, without this saga, we probably would not be forced to find revenue and charge via our own products. There were many challenges thrown in our path, and we claimed them wholeheartedly along the way with all our might and fight. I’m proud of the team for what we have been through, and it has been a real honor to serve beside each and everyone one of you – Minghui, Jesslyn, Brenda and of course my buddy who recently became a proud father, Damon. The main takeaway of 2011: Don’t sweat the small stuff. On hindsight, it wasn’t too difficult for us – because we chose to think otherwise. Life is a game, you just gotta learn make fun out of it (; #shamelessplug


Our first DnD ever at Singapore Flyer, June 24th with alumnus, partners and friends. (The team size is really just 5). This event was entirely funded by an insurance claim for my delayed flight back from Austin to Singapore :))

Merry X’mas and have a great 2012! Remember to also thank the very people who have made a difference to you and your life!

 

* Edit 20th Dec 2011* I missed out on sharing our plans going forward in 2012. We will continue to focus on our vision of making the real life a lot more fun through GameMaki –  a social app that lets anyone start real world challenges (and games out of challenges) to be claimed for points and rewards. The key objective in the next two months is to ensure a natural experience with minimal user education in GameMaki’s web app and iPhone app. Currently, we are helping our client to develop their gamified social network via GameMaki’s API and we are pretty excited about it too (;