Moshi Monsters is already a $100 million multi-platform children's game, toy and book franchise, and one of the Toys"R"Us hot toys of 2011, but I was skeptical about the company's "transmedia" ambitions. After all, every animated kiddie creation wants to model itself on Disney and branch out into everything from plush toys to television. Then I learned of the long entrepreneurial road that Mind Candy CEO Michael Acton Smith took to bring his game-turned-kids-toy to life, and realized he's a classic Innovation Agent.
Smith's first enterprise was a nerdtastic shopping site called Firebox that used to get a fair amount of coverage when I was at Gizmodo. Then I crossed paths with Smith when he was preparing to start an alternate reality game called Perplex City, in which players had to work together to solve puzzles across different kinds of media in order to win a $200,000 cash reward. "Commercially it was a bit disastrous," says Smith. But he learned a good deal about video games and social media in the process.
Through it all, Smith, 37, was doodling in his notebook, where a fantasy world of cute mutants with Pokemon-style powers was emerging. And instead of picking up his toys and going home after the previous failure, Smith reinvested all of his money in Moshi Monsters. It started with a web game and quickly evolved into music, toys, and beyond. Mind Candy is now being hailed as one possible model for the future of entertainment.
"If ever there is a moment to join or start up your own company, this is it," says Smith. "To be the little nimble startups that can run rings around the major corporations and move faster than them and be more innovative than them, the moment is now."
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