My favorite quote is: "Startups don't fail because the product is bad. They fail because they run out of money." My pet peeve is: Shutting people down who are trying to come up with solutions
Bringing tabletop games to holographic life
BE BOLD AND RELENTLESS. Looking back, Jeri Ellsworth says the defining moments of her career were when she chose to be brave. Her character - "stubborn and a problem-solver," she says – has taken her on an untraditional career path littered with success stories. "I look back at the various things I've had success in over the years, and at any point, I could have just given up, but I just wanted to do it. To be an entrepreneur, you have to have extreme stubbornness."
Jeri's entrepreneurial journey began in her childhood when she asked her father, who owned an auto shop, to help her build a race car. Reluctant to help, she befriended local machinists, who taught her to weld and fabricate metal so she could create one herself. And when her eventual racing career got off to a slow start, she sought out mentors whose advice helped her become a huge success.
When she grew tired of the sport, she talked a tech-savvy high school friend into starting a computer shop that grew into a chain of five stores. By 2000, as the market faded, she taught herself computer chip design and moved to Silicon Valley. "I just boldly brute-forced my way into a bunch of startups, starting by doing small designs for various companies. Eventually, I got this reputation as the person you would call if you needed to assemble a team and solve a tough problem."
Jeri's work eventually led her into toy design, landing several runaway hits, notably the Commodore 64 Joystick. Valve Corporation later hired her to develop gaming software, but when they dropped their plans for their augmented reality projects, she bought the technology and founded her own company, Tilt Five.
TAKING GAME NIGHT TO THE NEXT LEVEL. The company has developed lightweight glasses and a 'magic wand' that allows users to play games that involve interacting with holograms – including video games, board games, and even a sandbox where users can draw and be creative. "Our emphasis is on group experiences. You can sit around the table with your friends, and this magical world spills out in front of you; it's wonderful."
Jeri's business is far from the farmhouse where she grew up in rural Oregon. Raised in a low-income family, she credits her father for helping her develop a thick skin, something that would help her when she came out as gay. "My father was very understanding, but it was a rough time. Where I lived made it even worse; at times, I was viciously attacked for just being who I am."
While the experience was undoubtedly challenging, Jeri says the effect on her life and career has been a double-edged sword. "Having that thick skin has been very helpful in my career because people always try to drag you down. I’ve always been very straightforward, and probably too blunt sometimes. On the other side, it's made me more compassionate - I think I'm a more empathetic leader. I have such respect from our team, and I think it's because of that."
Ultimately, Jeri says the aim of any of her work is to delight people. Having already enjoyed enormous success creating things that people want and connect with, she confesses she's now "addicted to that kind of product design." She also admits she had been scared to take on a CEO role in the past, but since launching Tilt Five, her outlook has changed. "What I like is creating a community around me of smart people that I admire, and they admire me. Being a CEO is not that hard because, let's be real, there's nothing scarier than getting in a race car."