Ten years ago, when Dominique Brown founded Beenox, a video game developer, he liked to boast that it would become the top studio in the world.
"I was 21 and working out of my apartment with six guys, so I sounded completely crazy, but I've always stayed focused on that," says Mr. Brown. "I try to make sure that the people around me understand that vision and always shoot for it."
It's a dream that Mr. Brown, the oldest of eight children, has had since he was 11, when he announced to his mom that he planned to run his own video game company.
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But he didn't just play games; he was always interested in what was behind the programs. By the time he hit high school, he had taught himself how to write programming and was creating his own games on the Internet. Passionate about becoming an entrepreneur, he got his business license when he turned 16 and incorporated before his 18th birthday.
Dominique Brown Passion and vision are key for self-starters
Beenox, entirely based in Quebec City, has grown from those first six guys to more than 430 employees in two studios, one focused on original game development and the other on quality assurance and game testing. The company was bought by Activision Blizzard, a U.S.-based interactive entertainment giant, in 2005, a move that kept the Beenox studio culture intact with Mr. Brown continuing on as CEO. Beenox's game releases include such international hits as Guitar Hero, Quantum of Solace, Spider-Man 3, Bee Movie and Monsters vs. Aliens.
"If you have a winning formula, they want to keep it," Mr. Brown says about Activision Blizzard. "I needed a partner to really make my products shine and to bring those products to an international market. It's a really good partnership that allows me to realize the initial business."
The road to success for Mr. Brown yielded a lot of bumps along the way, starting after high school when he enrolled in a computer science program (at Cégep de Sainte-Foy, Quebec City). While he excelled in his personal projects, he had no interest in "stuff about databases and IT," and when his grades dropped, the school kicked him out.
"It's funny because years and years later after I founded my company, I went back to that school and helped start a program specializing in video games," says Mr. Brown. "Everything, I guess, is for a reason."
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After a short stint working at Megatoon, a video game maker in Quebec City, he was ready to head out on his own, but the overconfident Mr. Brown was in for a shock. The banks that he approached for funding said no.
"I was turned away for many reasons - my age, basically everything," says Mr. Brown, who also found he was expected to bring cash to the table. His father lent him money, and Mr. Brown took advantage of a provincial program that offered a 75-per-cent guarantee to bankers for a loan for those who were starting a business. Eventually a bank gave him a loan after he put a package together.
"That gave me a kind of irrational fear toward the banking system," says Mr. Brown. "In the years after, I planned all my expansions so I would never have to go back to the bank or anybody to ask for money because it had been so hard to get it initially when I was sure I would get it right away. But that was a good thing because we self-financed all our operations."
Mr. Brown believes that passion and vision are key to success as a self-starter: vision to tell you where you want to go and passion as your fuel to get there. And you need a lot of passion because the road isn't going to be easy. Entrepreneurs have to believe in their ideas, but they should also realize that they're going to fail at some point.
"Before I finally succeeded at Beenox, I had a lot of failures," says Mr. Brown. "So accept failure, believe in your original idea and work toward that. As long as you have passion, you can pretty much achieve anything."