(Based on a story for a SUP Childrens book)
“Youth is wasted on the young”
– Oscar Wilde
“At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.”
– Salvador Dali
I was asked to write about my first ever entrepreneurial experience. I’m not exactly sure what that means but I think for a lot of people it means the first time they tried to make money. Money, while nice, has never really been the motivation for anything.
I don’t think I even knew what money was at that time. I didn’t understand it. My comprehension of money was something I could give to the canteen lady to get lunch sometimes. Even then it didn’t make sense. I remember thinking once after buying lunch with a coin that the canteen lady gave me more coins back than I gave her so I must have gotten it for free.
The first time I remember wanting money really badly was in primary school.
When I was about 10 years old I had an obsession with Yugioh cards. I loved everything about Yugioh, the cards, the TV show. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. But I also knew you couldn’t buy Yugioh cards if you didn’t have money. That’s how I learned about this thing called money. You needed to make more money to buy better Yugioh cards.
It wasn’t exactly the coolest thing to do on the playground but I loved it anyway. I bought my first deck of Yugioh cards with money I’d kept in my room from my birthday and it sucked. Immediately I started trading them to get better cards and trying to think of a good strategy with the cards I had.
My parents also never used to buy me lunches. They would always pack it in a small lunchbox. After a while I started using the Yugioh cards to play people for their lunches. That was how it started until one day a kid wanted to play for money instead. That’s when I realised the lunch is arbitrary. It could be money, it could be other cards. You could play someone for anything. A huge realisation.
Yugioh in a strange way taught me more about how the world worked then anything else. It was pretty much a crash course in business without even comprehending what you were doing. Thinking about all the little decisions and realising the repercussions of them in practice. After a set of rules is established, you can change anything inside it.
Countless hours spent arguing with other kids, making deals where you were simultaneously trying to get the upper hand while convincing them they had it. Arguing until you found common ground and both got what you wanted. How different cards would change the leverage.
So many times you’d see a card which would be really valuable in one deck but wouldn’t work at all in another deck. How cards would work with other cards to form a cohesive strategy. How combos worked and the interchangeability and interoperability of each piece in a kind of whole is greater than the sum of its parts kind of way. Each card is just a piece of a bigger picture. The cards don’t even work by themselves.
Sometimes when someone had a card I really wanted but they’d refuse to trade for it I’d challenge them to a game where if I lost they’d get to keep all my cards but If I won I’d only get their one card. It’s a pretty good offer and a significant risk. If I lost, I’d lose everything. But I never did.
Until this point I’d also never liked math. I hated math. It was boring. I remember a huge realisation was that you could work out things with my cards using math. You could manipulate an equation to work out how quickly I could get a card into my hand. Or how to get certain cards precisely when I needed them.
All of this could be worked out with math. So this was probably the most important realisation from childhood. That you can use math to work out real problems. You can construct equations that mean real things outside the realms of the paper you work it out on.
You knew that if your deck had 40 cards the odds of drawing a specific card would be better than if it had 60 cards so it would be easier to get the card you want but it meant getting rid of 20 good cards. If you did that, the 40 left would have to work together better to make up for not having the extra 20. The hundreds of small decisions that go into creating a good deck.
You learnt how to calibrate a deck to optimize the chance of drawing the right cards when you needed them. I remember starting to learn about probabilities and math to make my deck better. I remember trying to learn algebra.
You can’t use my favourite card, Gilford the Lightning in an equation but you can use X. So just by making it equal X is the difference between being able to use it or not. And it works in a great combination with a Cyber Jar which you could make to equal Y. But I’d have 3 Cyber Jars and only 2 Gilford the Lightnings.
You’d start to try and anticipate what the opponent would do before they had. Suddenly equations started to emerge which you could manipulate to do what you wanted. Without realising it at the time this was my first real foray into programming. A good Yugioh deck is just like a big program. Once all the gears and levers are in place, it was all just one giant optimisation problem.
One of the most insane revelations was that the entire game is decided before its even played when a deck is optimised and calibrated properly. So the most important part of the game is actually before its even being played.
By the end of that year I had such a good deck that I would start challenging people for money. Not huge amounts; a few dollars, $5 dollars. Some of the really rich kids would bring $20 to school and sometimes I’d play them for the entire amount.
As more and more people started playing Yugioh I’d start running tutoring sessions where I’d teach them how to play in exchange for a really good card. After we had enough people we started running tournaments during lunchtimes.
By the end of the year nearly a third of the school were playing Yugioh. Then I’d practice over the school holidays and the next year we’d start again. I would’ve been 11 at that point. By the end of that year nearly half the school were playing.
You could see Yugioh going from something just a few socially awkward kids played to something everyone wanted to do. It was incredible watching first hand as an 11 year old, something you’d done create almost like a school-wide culture shift.
The turning point was when some of the popular girls started playing, especially one girl, Rachel Tolliday, who I had a massive crush on asking me to teach her how to play.
After harassing the librarian I was allowed to run an “inter-school championship.” The entry fee was going to be $5 and we had 250 participants. Some of the money would be used to buy prizes but there was quite a bit left over. We even got minimal sponsorship, the local game shop gave us a few booster packs to give out. We booked out the whole library and all the tables in it. Even the teachers were a bit stunned as to what was happening. I remember during the day of the finals you’d walk out into the playground and there was nobody there.
I ended up getting right up to the final and then I lost. I still remember how too. For what it’s worth the other kid, Aaron, had a Legendary Fisherman with Umi and Tornado Wall on the field, the ultimate combo and I couldn’t beat it. I cried that night. It was horribly depressing. Losing right at the finals of a tournament I organised.
End of that year I graduated primary school and it was time for high school. It was time I stopped. The social stigma of playing Yugioh in high school would be unbearable. I packed up my deck and put it in my room. It’s still there to this day. Sometimes when I feel nostalgiac I look through them, split the deck in two and play a game. It reminds me of school.
By the end of the tournaments and after all those hours, I ended up with a few thousand dollars stashed away in my room in a piggy bank. My Yugioh deck was worth another thousand.
What I did with the money is kind of interesting. I put it all into a bank account. About 2 years later when I was 14 I fell in love with a painting and spent a large portion of the money buying it. The girl in the painting was my dream girl and whenever I meet her in real life is probably the person I’m going to be with. The painting says so much about her but it doesn’t show her face so I have no idea what she looks like. It’s still hanging in my room.