7 Lessons My Dad Taught Me About Entrepreneurship

This is a repost from my company blog, but I’d like to share these stories with you too. Thanks!

Yesterday was Father’s Day, so today I thought I’d share a few lessons my dad taught me over the years that I’ve tried to apply to Stonemaier Games. Dad is no longer with us–he passed away due to cancer in 2022–but he had a big impact on me.

  1. Face your fears. When Dad was in college, he was diagnosed with the type of cancer most people didn’t survive at that time. After he beat it (with the help of a lot of radiation), I think it impacted the way he approached his fears. In fact, if he was scared of anything, I rarely witnessed it. Even in his final months, his skin paper thin from chemo, I saw him rip a wasp’s nest off my parent’s house with his bare hands. It’s prudent to be wary, calculating, and risk-averse, but those fears are only meaningful if I actually face them.
  2. Listen more than you talk. Dad was the rare leader who was more interested in what others had to say than to hear his own voice. He spent his entire career working for Chesterfield County in Virginia, eventually becoming the county administrator of a 300,000-person area. Every week he led public sessions where anyone could share their opinions, and he’d come home every night to 3 kids with plenty of opinions of our own. I may write this blog and post videos on YouTube, but I’m doing that to start a conversation so I can hear your thoughts.
  3. It’s never too late to learn a new skill. I picked soccer as my primary sport at a young age, a very different game than Dad’s specialty (tennis). Not only did he volunteer as an assistant coach for my club team, but he also started to play. At first it was just in our team scrimmages and in our backyard, but then he joined some leagues and regular pickup games. I called home every week for 20 years, and one of my favorite parts of our calls was hearing him describe his favorite play from the most recent game. It’s a great reminder to me that it’s never too late to pick up a new skill or try something differently than the way I’ve always done it.
  4. Good things last if you take care of them. In a world where everything is disposable and few things are made to last more than a couple years, Dad would stretch the utility of anything simply through proper mainteinance. For example, whenever he’d get home from playing soccer, he would spend 20 minutes cleaning and rubbing oils into his cleats–I think he may have gone though only 2 pairs of cleats over 30 years of playing soccer. He was also a talented woodworker, and he would almost always build things out of wood he already had (scraps, leftovers, disassembled pieces from outdated furniture, etc). Whenever we went camping, he taught us to leave nature better than when we found it–if we wanted a walking stick for a long hike, it had to be a fallen branch, not a living tree. I’ve tried to apply some of these lessons to our environmental sustainability pursuits at Stonemaier Games.
  5. Precision and budgeting are the differences between surviving and thriving. Dad spent many years as the county’s budget director, and I tapped into his eye for financials many times during our weekly calls. He taught me to look at both the big picture (profit & loss statements) and the little details (profit per unit). Meanwhile, he was incredibly precise and detail-oriented in the workshop–you can’t just guestimate when you’re building a cabinet or table from scratch. The same applies to tabletop games: A great game can quickly become an afterthought if the rulebook is unusable, the graphic design is unintuitive, or the asymmetry is unbalanced.
  6. Follow through matters. Sometimes we learn from our parents’ weaknesses just as we learn from their strengths. After Dad retired, he’d often say things like, “I should really write a book,” “I should really run for governor,” or “I should really write a letter to the editor.” He did end up writing a few letters to the editor, but not the others. In hindsight, I think he was pretty darn happy with his life and didn’t actually want to do any of those things. It’s a good reminder to figure out what’s truly important to me and to Stonemaier Games vs fleeting ideas and fancies.
  7. Default to generosity. I called Mom yesterday to reminisce about Dad, and I brought up his generosity of time and money. He was always willing to meet with anyone to talk about their life and career; whenever I’d call him with a question, he’d drop whatever he was doing to listen, ask questions, and share his thoughts. When he was invited to join the board of directors for a historically black college in Virginia, he stepped up and took the opportunity quite seriously. He consistently donated to dozens of charities over the years. Dad is a big part of the reason we started our annual charity auction even when we were just a fledgling company back in 2013, though back then I wish I was more generous with donation requests for games to use in academic and after-school programs (something I’ve tried to make up for over the last few years, especially for those who are underrepresented and marginalized).

This wasn’t the easiest post to write. For most of my life, Dad was either just a few rooms away or on the other end of a call, and this list is a reminder that neither of those is an option anymore. As I told him on his final day in January 2022, I’m so grateful for him and I love him, and I appreciate the opportunity to share a little piece of him today with you.

Thanks to all the fathers and father figures out there who have taught us so much through example! What’s something you’ve learned from your father that has impacted your career?

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