Hobbies Spur Creativity, Help Execs Make Serendipitous Connections

Hobbies Spur Creativity, Help Execs Make Serendipitous Connections

March 22, 2016, 09:01am EST

Pastimes offer more than a pleasant distraction. Those diversions can inspire and inform executives in unexpected ways. How dabbling pays off in business:

Strum. Joshua Keller’s sideline led to an essential business connection. Founder and CEO of digital marketing firm Union Square Media, he’s also a guitar player and singer.

“In 2006, I uploaded a video of me playing the acoustic guitar,” he told IBD.

Across the country, serial entrepreneur and guitar player Nick Matzorkis saw the video and made his own, riffing along with Keller’s song.

“We were jamming, but not in real time,” Keller said.

Amplify. Matzorkis’ video landed on YouTube’s front page, and the ensuing buzz got the attention of TV’s “Tyra Banks Show.”

The supermodel host invited the two guitarists to meet for the first time on her talk show to play a song.

“We became fast friends,” Keller said. “It was the music that brought us together in the first place.”

Harmonize. The two also connected over business. Keller was a bootstrapper, Matzorkis a serial entrepreneur.

“He’d been through everything I was going through,” Keller said.

“YouTube sent me a business mentor at the perfect time.”

The duo banded together to form venture capital fund and holding company Global Agora.

Two of its firms have risen — Matzorkis’ paddle board company SUP ATX, and Keller’s Union Square Media, which launched in 2010.

Play. David Baszucki’s idea of fun was tinkering with construction toys like Legos and erector sets, and later video games.

Back in 2004, his big idea for Roblox, a digital gaming platform that lets kids code and build virtual block worlds, seemed risky.

“I almost went down the traditional career path,” he said, rather than launch the gaming startup.

Good thing he didn’t. Roblox stacked up success. Last year, the company surpassed $50 million in revenue and attracted 15 million visitors a month.

“If you’re in a position in your life to take great risks, great things can happen,” he said.

Explore. Baszucki, CEO, is still playing — now by applying virtual reality tools like Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard to the Roblox platform.

“It’s unlike anything I’d ever done before,” he said. “It’s so much more tactile.”

The experience cements Baszucki’s belief that play is essential and offers serious returns.

“The limits of what we can do on the platform are going to keep unfolding,” he said.

Compete. Serial entrepreneur and PernixData CEO Poojan Kumar draws on a serious game from his youth — chess, which he started playing with his father.

“That was a bonding thing for us,” he said.

Kumar showed potential and ended up playing national-level competitive chess in India from age 12 to 15 — defeating more than 150 players, including top-ranked opponents.

The four- to six-hour matches taught Kumar focus and perseverance.

“All of that time is spent thinking,” he said. “You cannot undo any action.”

Maneuver. Kumar also took strategy and timing lessons from the board battles. Chess matches have three phases: opening, middle game and endgame.

“Leading a startup has a very similar process,” Kumar said. “You’ve got to put all these things together and get an outcome.”

PernixData aims to win the data storage war.

“We solve it with a software-centric architecture,” he said. “We make your apps faster from a storage perspective.”

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