Oregon web designBy Northwest Graphic
We couldn’t be more excited about returning to Washington schools next fall with the How to UnMake a Bully program, educating students in the stand against bullying.
Take a look at this clip of behind the scenes footage and the final cut PSA from Cashmere Middle School.
Each year, I honor my late husband Wesley on the anniversary of his double lung transplant in effort to bring awareness to organ transplant registration. This year, our son Hunter, wanted to help tell his dad’s story. Transplantation is one the most remarkable success stories in the history of medicine, but despite the advances in medicine, the need for organs is vastly greater than the number available for transplant. Please consider sharing this video with your friends and family. Thank for your consideration. —Lisa Bradshaw
by Lisa Bradshaw
Rocky and Rocky Balboa are two of my favorite movies. As much as I loved the first movie as a kid and remember getting a satin sweat suit for Christmas to wear when jogging around our neighborhood, imagining other kids and their dogs following me, it wasn’t until I became an adult that I fully appreciated all that Rocky and the movie represented beyond the beautifully written script and superbly directed film. Rocky as a character, we all know, is a formidable opponent and nearly always the underdog. I marvel at what he accomplished in that first movie—refusing to sell the script and insisting that he act in the film. Can you imagine what would have become of his story if he had not fought to be a part of that first Rocky film? It’s true, we could have done without Rocky V (and maybe Rocky IV ) but we almost needed to experience both to fully appreciate the very last film in the series Rocky Balboa.
The beauty of the Rocky story is how relatable it is. Whether you are an athlete in training or a video game guy with a dream, it’s about the fight and one’s willingness to get back up when being knocked down. It’s about taking punches in life and becoming stronger because of it.
We’ve all taken our punches and Todd Coleman, Vice President and Creative Director of KingsIsle Entertainment, is no different. He may not have been in a boxing ring for one of the most defining fights of his life, but he went a few rounds in the trenches to get where he is today.
LB: In May 2010 you were named the 15th most influential person in online gaming by Beckett Massive Gamer Magazine, a Beckett Media publication and in March 2011 you were named the #1 Most Influential person In the Massively Multiplayer Online game industry by the same publication. Many people will be surprised to know how you got here.
TC: It has been a tangled path… I guess it started back in college when my college roommate, Josef Hall, and I used to get in trouble with our professors at TCU (Texas Christian University) for constantly playing games and running games on the computer science lab computers. They wanted us to stop with the games and concentrate on stuff that could actually get us employed one day.
LB: Starting from the beginning, you were programming games and creating a place for yourself in the gaming business, and that was self taught, wasn’t it?
TC: Absolutely. We put in thousands of hours working on writing games in college when we probably should have been concentrating on our school work, but we did it because we loved it. There was no money to be made. This was back when the Internet was still primarily text based. There was an emerging gaming community around something called MUD (Multi User Dimensions)—basically multiplayer Internet games that ran off educational servers at colleges. There were no graphics at all—just text descriptions. It would say: You’re standing in a room, and there is a dragon near you. You would have to key in your actions, typing things like Attack dragon or Run away!
LB: As you and Josef dabbled in gaming, did you always imagine you would do this or did you think you would do what your professors told you to do and get a good paying job?
TC: We never seriously thought it could turn into a career. In fact, Josef and I went in different directions after college and got “real jobs,” but we always had it in the back of our minds, so when the opportunity presented itself—after I sold a technology company and made some money out of it—we decided to take the gamble and start a game company.
LB: How far off was your first gaming company, Wolfpack Studios, from what you envisioned it to be to what it ended up becoming—from a creative perspective not a financial one?
TC: It was a different world then. It was in 1999, and we took the name Wolfpack from this idea that we were going to be a smaller, leaner group of creative an engineers. We were going to be a pack of wolves that could self manage each other—as flat an organization as we could imagine. We wanted to turn the gaming world on it’s head, do something really unique and crazy, and we were full of the energy and passion that we needed to make that kind of leap. That was the positive side. The negative was that we has no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
LB: You were full speed ahead.
TC: Yes, and, remember, we jumped into it with only the experience of text games—where it would take us 20 minutes to create the scene with the words: You are in an enormous dark cave, and there is a dragon next to you. Making the transition into 3D was challenging because the same scene would require months and months of effort, requiring a team of concept artists, 3D modelers and animators, sound engineers, special effects artists, and level designers. Just to get the dragon in the room, it became this massive production, and we were totally unprepared for it. We didn’t have nearly enough experience or money.
LB: When you make the transition from the text line on the screen to the actual scene coming to fruition, I’m sure there is celebration, but then it’s time to produce the next line.
TC: Well, yes, then there’s that! (Laughs) These games require thousands of caves and castles, and cities, and swamps, and forests. It goes on and on.
LB: How did you get from one point to the next, and how much personal and professional loss and suffering was there along the way?
TC: It took about four years from having the idea to launching the game, following the traditional startup model of young, inexperienced entrepreneurs: time, talent, hopes, dreams and every penny we had. We borrowed from friends and family. We raised money where ever we could. We went without paychecks for months at a time. We slept under our desks when on deadlines. It was rough.
LB: What was most unique about your idea at the time?
TC: Creating a virtual world—the concept was fairly untapped, and we wanted to take it to a whole new level. Instead of a static world—like an amusement park—we want to make it a dynamic political simulator. In the game, players could build castles and raise armies and declare themselves a king. They could amass armies made up of other players, then march on the neighboring player kingdom, tearing down the castle walls in real time, so not only would the physical landscape change, but the political landscape—the player defined kingdoms and the rules that govern them—would be constantly changing as a result of player decisions with hundreds of thousands of players competing and cooperating with each other, in real time, to control this virtual environment. It was a very big concept, and it was a really cool idea, but unfortunately it always seemed to be one or two steps ahead of what we were able to execute.
LB: But you created the game. You found a way. Did it guarantee success at that point?
LB: How do you recover from losing your publisher?
TC: We had to find a new publisher, then another, and another.
LB: If finding a new publisher in the gaming business is anything like finding a new publisher in the book business, you had your work cut out for you before you even got to market.
TC: We scrambled. We sold the rights to North America, France, Germany, the UK, China, Japan, and Singapore. At one point I counted, and we had seven or eight different studios involved at once. It was a nightmare.
LB: Let’s talk about the tone of your first game, Shadowbane. I’ve known you for almost two decades now, so I remember being an outsider to the production of this game and what I remember most was my son being a young toddler at the time and you being very clear that this game was not family friendly.
TC: It was not family friendly at all. It was a hardcore game for hardcore gamers.
LB: Was that part of the problem with the game?
TC: It was a strength and a weakness. We took a very hard line attitude about it. We would say, “You know what? If you think this game not for you, then it’s probably not, so don’t play it. We don’t want your business.” We got some flak for that—telling people we didn’t want them as customers—but it was the right answer. And it had a surprisingly odd reverse-marketing effect. By telling people this wasn’t the game for them, a lot of people decided they absolutely had to play it.
LB: Did that cause additional pressure?
TC: Of course it did. It was exhausting. Not just the pressure from the external community but also from our publishing partners and from ourselves. We fell in love with this enormous, complicated, bigger-than-life vision of what the game could be—much larger than what we had the resources or the experience to create.
LB: In business terms, was it a failure?
TC: Well, we shipped the product, and it was a mixed bag. The coolest part of the vision—the dynamic, political system—worked, and it was extremely cool, but it was also as brutal as you can imagine. New players that came into the game were basically thrown to the wolves, if you’ll pardon the cliché, and that presented a real problem because online communities need a constant flow of new members to grow and thrive. Technically, we tried to do too much with too small a team, and the result was a buggy game, so while it sold well, the revenue stream wasn’t enough to sustain the ongoing development. Eventually, we were left with a choice that no entrepreneur wants to face: either liquidate and take whatever we could get for the technology and the assets, or try to get acquired to maintain as many jobs as possible for our team. We chose the latter because our team had pushed and pushed for us by giving up time with their families, gone without paychecks, doing everything we asked of them. They’d given all they could to help get this game out, so when push came to shove, our biggest priority was to find them a soft place to land.
LB: And what about the two of you? What about the dreams you and Josef had to let go when transitioning from your dream business to just trying to make sure people had jobs when the doors closed?
TC: It was crushing—all that work and all that energy—but it just didn’t work. It went to market and sold very well for, like, the first month! (Laughs)
LB: You can laugh about it now. (Laugh)
TC: Yeah, because, remember, the idea was really great, and we saw it through, so that is something I will always be proud of.
LB: At the end of Wolfpack, you and Josef did what? Did you decide to take a break from gaming or did you say never again?
TC: Somewhere between the two. Josef went to work with a software development firm here in Austin, doing intrusion detection systems. I didn’t do much, honestly. I read some books, watched some movies. (Laughter) I started writing again.
LB: You thought hard work and determination should have been enough to keep the dream alive.
TC: Of course I did! It’s part of our culture. We are all filled with this belief from a very young age that if you want something bad enough and you try hard enough, you will absolutely get it, right?
LB: Right. Did you feel like you were done trying?
TC: At the time, I didn’t know. I felt like I was in a Rocky movie and had been knocked down but hadn’t yet learned the lesson that I could get back up again.
LB: What was it that got you back up again?
TC: Time went by, and eventually Josef and I were talking again, and it started the same way as Wolfpack. We were joking and laughing, and then one of us had a thought, and asked a question that started with, “You know what would be cool?” That seems to be our pattern.
LB: So you still interacted that way after the close of Wolfpack?
TC: Yeah. When you are in the trenches with someone—when you go through a gut wrenching, painful experience like that—you learn who they really are. And Josef and I had learned that we could rely on each other. Eventually, though, we had to end up back where we started, with enough time and distance to remember what we both love about making games—that initial idea and having a vision that makes you just want to build it, so you can play it.
One day, it happened again. We were talking on the phone and said, “Hey, how come no one is doing games for families?” It was one of those moments, where a single idea can shoot you off into a new direction that shapes the next decade of your life. We turned completely away from hardcore gaming and found a new idea—a concept that wasn’t being done—and once the idea hit us, we couldn’t shake it loose.
LB: You still wanted to be in gaming on the Internet just in a new genre?
TC: Yeah, but it wasn’t even really a genre yet. The concept was really cool—the idea of these massive worlds where you have 20 to 40,000 people in the same game session. We thought families might be into this.
LB: Where did the inspiration come from?
TC: Everywhere. Books. Movies. Television. We’d seen companies like Pixar do something amazing: they figured out how to make a kids film that was just as entertaining for parents. They created great stories with deep characters and wrapped it in a way that would appeal to everyone.
LB: And your thought was that you could do it in the gaming world, too?
TC: That was sort of the genesis. Could we do that with an online game? The more we talked about it, the more we needed to answer the question. That’s where it started. The idea took root and got us back in the game.
LB: But at that point, you had probably used up all of your family and friends’ money.
TC: Yes, we had. (Laughs)
LB: And people probably were not too excited about giving you more money, I’m guessing.
TC: (More laughs) No. No. They absolutely were not.
LB: So how do you go from an idea over a telephone conversation to going back into business?
TC: Josef and I started telling everybody about our idea. When I get excited about something, I almost can’t stop talking about it. I’m sure you have realized that by now. (Laughs)
TC: Mostly, people thought we were crazy. Especially since we were known for two things: aspiring to create the ultimate hardcore game and the inability to really achieve that vision. Then, one day, I was leaving Dallas after a meeting and got a call from a venture capitalist friend who said, “Hey, are you going to be in Dallas any time soon? Because I know of an entrepreneur who just sold his company and wants to get into gaming. I told him about you, and he wants to meet.”
LB: A game changing meeting.
TC: Yeah, it was. I turned the car around and met the guy for lunch. His name was Elie Akilian, and he had sold his company for $325m, and he wanted to get into gaming. We hit it off immediately—probably because Josef and I were pitching something that everyone else thought was crazy. That first meeting was in November of 2004. By January of 2005 we had incorporated the company, KingsIsle Entertainment, and by February both Josef and I were working full time.
LB: So now you have new ideas, experience, and financial backing—a fresh start.
TC: Yes, but that’s not all we had. We also had Elie, and he wasn’t just putting up the money. He was also working with us, on a daily basis, to build a great company. He was teaching us how to avoid some of the mistakes that we had made at Wolfpack, so just calling it a fresh start doesn’t do it justice. It was a do over.
TC: Over 35 million registered players for our first game Wizard101.
LB: That’s a mighty big dream.
TC: It’s big. Very big. Wizard101 is the seventieth (70) largest website in the U.S., in terms of raw internet traffic. That’s ranked higher than NBC, Nickelodeon, Instagram, or Forbes.
TC: It’s a new business model, but the concept is familiar: invite people in, let them try it for free, and if they like it, they’ll pay for it. There is no time limit, but the content is limited. Wizard101 is broken up into chapters, just like a book. The first chapter is free, but, if you want to keep playing, you have to buy additional chapters, which cost anywhere from a $1.50 to $3.00 each.
LB: How is this revenue concept unique to Wizard101?
TC: It’s not unique any more, although we were one of the first companies to embrace it. Our game is certainly unique. It’s a wizard school game, as the name implies, but with talking animals like Narnia or Shrek. The basic mechanics are simple—it’s a card game. Think of it as a cross between Harry Potter and Pokémon, remembering that it’s not just a game that you play online but is a fully immersive 3D world, and you are playing in the same game, at the same time, as thousands and thousands of other players. You can talk to them, adventure with them, fight them, invite them to your house for a party. It’s a thriving Internet environment, and the players are a large part of the draw—like Facebook or Pinterest.
LB: Is it advertising based?
TC: Nope, no ads. We just charge for content. As you are playing the game and meeting all these other players and going on adventures, you might say, “I would really like to have a wizard tower where I could go and hang my trophies.” That’s where we make our money. We sell wizard towers and magic wands, and hats, and pet dragons. We build the game to draw people into the universe, in the hopes that they will want to come back, and maybe buy some stuff while they are there. And many of them do.
LB: It seems like the family approach would lead to longevity and duplication.
TC: We certainly hope so, and it seems to be true! We have helped create the sort of digital-age version of family game night. The example I give of Pixar isn’t just an example, it’s a vision of what we endeavor to be. We want to create an online experience for the whole family, something that parents can enjoy while connecting with their children. Movies are fun, but they are passive. This is something parents can do with their child and enjoy together.
TC: Definitely. And it bridges families that are disconnected geographically. Grandparents in another city can play online with their grandchildren. Divorced parents can connect with their kids, even if they aren’t sleeping in the same household. It’s a very satisfying part of what we do, knowing that we help bring families closer together.
TC: It is so much bigger than what we ever expected it would become. Josef and I used to talk about our measure for success, and I think our best prediction was that we would reach about 120,000 players. I don’t know… It’s a bit surreal. Sometimes it’s hard to process.
LB: Does all of this progress and success leads you to the next game?
TC: Yes, Pirate101, our follow-up to Wizard, which we just launched in October. We’d been kicking around the idea of a game that would be set in the same universe as Wizard, so it would be building off the same base but one that would be a totally different game. When I try to explain it to someone, I say if Wizard101 is a traditional hero’s journey—think of it as the Luke Skywalker story—then Pirate101 is the flip side of that. It’s the story of Han Solo. You’re in the same universe and dealing with some of the same characters, but it’s a totally different experience—different areas, different skills, different challenges. It’s a new game but one that is familiar enough that Wizard101 players will feel right at home.
LB: You already have the audience.
TC: Exactly. We have the benefit of the existing Wizard101 community. Our hope was to appeal to these players but to also grow a separate fan base for the new game.
TC: Sure. This is something I’m very proud of because I think it is important to instill charitable work as part of your culture, no matter what size the company. I explained how we sell castles and wizard hats and anything else you can imagine in this game world. The prices for these items range from .50 cents to $20.00, so a few years ago, we thought, “What if we create one item and sell it for a local charity?” Out of the blue, we called Austin Children’s Shelter, a local organization that helps abused and neglected children, and we pitched them the idea. We wanted to sell a virtual item and send them the proceeds. They didn’t know about the game or what we were talking about but they are always open to donations, so they were amenable.
LB: What item did you create?
TC: It was a snow tiger—a creature called a “Meowmidon” that you could ride around on in the game. It ran through Christmas, and we hoped it would raise $15,000 to $20,000. We tallied it up at the end, and it raised just over $125,000!
LB: WOW! Really? WOW!
TC: (Laughs) I was floored by the generosity of our users and the impact it would have. We liked the idea of kids helping other kids and rewarding that generosity with something cool in the game.
LB: Have you kept it going?
TC: We have. We expanded it and now do it every year, splitting the funds between Austin’s Children’s Shelter and Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, where our corporate offices are located.
LB: Does the item change each year?
TC: Yes. It’s a limited run item that happens every year and the item is always different. Last year it was a Chrismoose—a moose with antlers that had lights on them and a Rudolph-inspired red nose.
LB: What about this year?
TC: This year is going to be a Fa-La-La-La Llama, basically a Llama with ice skates and a Santa hat. We are also doubling our donation this year since we can sell the item in both Wizard101 and Pirate101.
TC: Crazy, I know.
LB: You know the purpose of this interview is to bring it to The DON’T WAIT Project® website, and the whole idea behind the Project is to get people to do the things they would otherwise put off. It can be the big things or the small things, light or heavy, serious or funny. Whatever it is, everyone has their own DON’T WAIT®. In your experience, how much of this speaks to that idea of getting knocked down and getting back up again?
TC: I think it is absolutely true in my life, and I suspect it’s true in everyone else’s, that persistence is the key—the single most important trait that makes the difference between success and failure.
LB: And when you were knocked down, what did you do?
TC: I gave up! (Laughs) But not for long! There was a time after Wolfpack when I felt like I had failed and it was all my fault. I wanted to crawl into a hole and just stay there, but, even then, there was a little voice that wasn’t willing to let that be the end of my story. I had a choice: stay in the hole or get back up on my feet and go prove to the world—and to myself—that I could learn from my mistakes and do better. Be better. So I stood back up, shook myself off, and tried again.
LB: I think some of the greatest success, personally or professionally, I have had in my own life or witnessed in the lives of others has come after a hiatus—after having that little bit of silence with myself to figure out the next step from a place of reflection and even gratitude. That’s when the lessons come.
TC: There was a long span of time when Josef and I would look back at what we did and talk about the mistakes we made, analyze every misstep, talk about what we could have done better. It’s a necessary part of the process because that is, after all, how we learn. We asked ourselves the hard questions and made a conscious choice not to make the same mistakes again. From the very, very beginning, we put ourselves on a better path—a path that allowed us to be successful.
LB: You can’t second guess it.
TC: It’s easy to look back and second guess those choices, but they also made me who I am. Yes, I made mistakes, but our mistakes don’t define us. It’s what we do next that makes us who we are.
LB: And this time you are living the dream?
TC: (Laughs) I don’t know about that, but I love what I do, and I know that I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t been willing to try again.
So excited about the interview I recorded tonight for our holiday feature story. It’s an amazing story that has impacted more than 32 million people and most of them will be learning the whole story for the first time through our interview. We’ll keep you posted about the release date. It’ll be in November.
On another note: Just booked us on New Day in Seattle. We’ll be sharing the How to UnMake A Bully video series from Better Actions Now and the DON’T WAIT® to Stop Bullying campaign on a very popular morning TV show, spreading the word of our program to more Washington schools. Next stop: The Ellen Show!
Tune in Tuesday, November 6 @ 11 AM.
Friday, August 24, 2012
Nancy and I just finished an interview on FOX NEWS in Las Vegas. It was our first television appearance sharing the newly launched DON’T WAIT® to Stop Bullying campaign. With school starting throughout the country, we are eager to bring the How To UnMake A Bully PSA series to schools this quarter.
Please help us spread the word about the series. If you would like detailed information about the program and how to help, please visit our indiegogo.com fundraising effort.
by Lisa Bradshaw
The most relevant factor of success as an entrepreneur and inventor has little or nothing to do with luck and the big break can be a roller coaster of continued trial and error, ups and downs, and successes and failures. Add to it being a grossly bullied student with no self worth and a low IQ, and it’s a wonder Nancy Tedeschi accomplished anything at all. The most relevant factor of success is one’s willingness to endure the challenges and regroup, coming back stronger, more experienced, and more capable of adjusting to the times, the economy, the landscape of any particular industry, and, in Tedeschi’s case, to fight back against the labels that were placed on her since childhood. Tedeschi, a bullied and buck toothed child, is now a millionaire who fought her way to the top with a brilliant idea that came from a light bulb moment that changed the way screws will be made for decades to come.
NT: I was a horribly bullied as a child for having buck teeth, had low self esteem, an IQ of only 92, and even my teachers told my parents that I was stupid and that there was something wrong with me. I barely graduated from high school and was only allowed into community college years later if I agreed to take remedial courses. While working on my education with tutors and my mental health with a good therapist, I discovered there was nothing at all wrong with me. I was stifled as a student and could have been lost as an adult after being emotionally bullied in a brutal classroom setting. Instead, I received a 4.0 in college, set my sights on a stimulating career, and was retested with an IQ of 146—far from stupid.
LB: So there was nothing wrong with you at all.
NT: Absolutely nothing. I was stifled from the bullying.
LB: So how did you transition from a college student to a business woman?
NT: My transition into business came after a brief career in television production for NFL Films when I began working for a mortgage company in 1990. My first year I did 300 million dollars in mortgage sales. I received countless awards for my performance, all so my bosses could take me to a reserved Comfort Inn conference room and fire me in private—they could no longer afford to pay me. I thought my life was over. I was devastated by how quickly my success could turn to failure even though I was doing my job so well. That was the last time I ever worked for someone else. What I thought was one of the lowest points in my life became the greatest lesson because I was determined to work for myself.
LB: That way, you would succeed or fail on your own merit.
LB: So what was your next move?
NT: I purchased my own title company in 1993, knowing nothing about the title insurance industry but was well trained by the original owner over six months time. Again, I succeeded and did millions of dollars in sales. I was riding high in the mortgage industry, making millions and living the lifestyle that came with it, including expensive cars, lavish travel, and a mansion I called home. As the economy drastically turned, particularly in the real estate industry, I was once again faced with my own sense of failure, losing my home and millions of dollars. I had to start over and wasn’t sure how to do it.
LB: Did what you had been through before help propel you to the next professional phase?
NT: Yes, because I could at least recognize it as an opportunity for change and knew I had more to do. But the next professional phase of my life was least expected. I went from a real estate mogul to an inventor, which definitely does not have a smoothly paved road to success.
LB: Don’t many inventions of individual inventors happen by accident?
NT: That’s true. But an invention becoming a salable product on store shelves throughout the country is no accident at all. It is, by far, the most grueling professional experience I have endured. My idea was simple: a solution to fix a time consuming problem when repairing eye glasses. The determination to bring it to the global market is the difference between my product making it and the thousands of people whose ideas never leave the kitchen table napkin that they were sketched on.
LB: SnapIt Screw™, a stainless screw that comes with an extension that snaps off, is less than an inch long, can be twisted by hand and works from the top or bottom of the eye glasses, is the golden idea you had to see through, no matter the obstacles.
NT: My invention is so simple that I still can’t believe out of all the billions of people who have ever lived, no one thought to do this.
LB: Ideas come and go. How many times do we think of a great idea, then see it on a store shelf a few years later and wish we’d followed through and had done what it took to own the idea and the product?
NT: The problem is that the process of innovation in this country makes it nearly impossible to compete with the big companies that have millions of dollars invested in monopolizing store shelves and stream lining the process with ongoing relationships in the industry.
LB: How did you even know where to begin?
NT: It was important for me to gain an understanding of the market that my product idea would penetrate. In my case, setting up meetings with manufacturers who make eyeglass screws was the obvious place to start. I knew I had an idea that would make repairing eye glasses quicker and easier, and time is money in any business. This simple screw could save time and make money.
LB: I guess the real challenge was figuring out how to actually make money from your idea that was now a viable product.
NT: Licensing a product can be a lucrative and simpler approach when considering how to get a product to consumers with the least risk while still yielding returns on the investment, but I chose not to license SnapIt Screw™ and, instead, embarked on the long and often arduous process of bringing the screw to the optical industry and consumers.
LB: What made you go against the least complicated option?
NT: I’m not sure why I chose the path of most resistance, but I am pretty sure it had something to do with getting fired in that Comfort Inn conference room and deciding to never work for someone else again. If I licensed my product, someone else would be calling the shots and deciding for me how my product would be sold and where. Bringing my product to retail shelves myself, even though it was a nearly impossible process that I knew nothing about, left me in control of my own efforts, whether I succeeded or failed at it.
LB: What about your approach was most difficult?
NT: My greatest frustration when getting my product on store shelves was that there was no process in place for inventors who had made it that far. I have a remarkable product that can make life easier for millions of people who wear eyeglasses and need to repair them, but the success of my product had nothing to do with my hard work, tenacity, or willingness to do the work to get it in front of consumers.
LB: Archimedes (287-212 B.C.) invented the first screw which was originally used for irrigation in the Nile delta and for pumping out ships. SnapIt Screw™ is revolutionizing an idea that has been around for centuries.
NT: It makes me wonder what other ideas are out there waiting to be developed that may never see the light of day.
LB: Is that why you are so passionate about helping others through the process of innovation?
NT: Yes because nothing I did or didn’t do made a difference in the process because there is no process. There is nothing in place that makes it anything but nearly impossible for the great minds of this country, who have ideas that can change the way we live everyday, to succeed in innovation. While other countries are lightyears ahead of us, the United States inventor gets frustrated, runs out of money, or stops short during the patent process. Most inventors never get to the step of figuring out how to sell their invention in product form to retailers.
LB: How successful is SnapIt Screw™ today?
NT: Today my product is sold in major retail stores throughout the world. To date, my company, Eyeego, LLC, has sold over five million screws and 400,000 eye glass repair kits, which include the screw, to the consumer retail market.
LB: I’d say that it’s extremely successful.
NT: By all definitions, my product is a success. Through trial and errors, I cracked the code to being a successful inventor but I still know there is work to be done in the innovation industry, so I am trying to help pave the way for future inventors in this country.
LB: Do you think Thomas Edison would stand a chance inventing his light bulb and getting it sold in retail stores today?
NT: If Thomas Edison were trying to invent the lightbulb in today’s world, we might all still be living in darkness.
LB: What can say to encourage other inventors?
NT: I’m a successful business woman who started out as a stifled, bullied, and broken kid. I have had to fight the big guys in this industry to get anything done. Now my invention is making money on major retail shelves everyday. If I can accomplish that in the innovation process of today, then I know I can also have a hand in changing the way it gets done.
LB: You talk a lot about being bullied and how you had to overcome the odds of being a kid who felt worthless to become the success you are today. Beyond your passion for invention is your passion for bringing awareness to bullying with the DON’T WAIT® to Stop Bullying campaign.
LB: How to Unmake A Bully is a Public Service Announcement (PSA) Campaign that is geared toward creating real change by involving students in the process of production.
NT: Exactly. We go into schools and teach fourth graders how to write, direct, produce, film and act in a PSA, which is based on their own story idea according to their experiences with bullying in their schools. The product is the PSA but the result is the message the students learn through the process of producing it.
LB: I recently read that half the time a bully will retreat within 10 seconds if just one person tells the bully to stop.
NT: Yes, that’s true. The theme of the PSAs is getting the kids to stand together to end the bullying behavior. It’s overwhelming to think about changing school policy, fixing the home of a child who is bullying, or healing what is hurting in a child who is bullying. But peer influence and making bullying unacceptable can have an enormous impact on the playground, school bus, cafeteria, and even on Facebook and other social media outlets.
LB: Bullying takes place beyond school grounds with social media in place.
NT: It definitely does. But what would happen if there was a post on Facebook with a bullying tone and a few people stood up by deleting it from their feed, making a positive comment, or deleting the bullying “friend” from their Facebook page all together? Cyber bullying can’t be very satisfying if there isn’t anyone reading the negative comments being posted.
LB: Take away the audience and the show ends.
NT: Yes, the show ends!
LB: In addition to being an inventor by all definitions, you are also a philanthropist. You are committed to giving money to this cause and creating a safe space for kids to grow and prosper.
NT: Most days, I feel burdened by this silly screw I invented, but then I have to remind myself that this silly screw is affording me the ability to bring real change to an epidemic in this country that is killing the spirit of children. Without healthy children, how can we ever expect to benefit from the ideas of healthy adults paving the way of our future? The bullying has to stop and it starts with the children.
by Lisa Bradshaw
There are a handful of actors whose movies I go see no matter what the movie is about because I trust the actor’s judgement, but I also have respect and adoration for the work some actors do outside of the business of making movies.
The word philanthropist was coined 2,500 years ago in ancient Greece and, by today’s definition, now takes many forms. Matthew McConaughey’s version of philanthropy is defined by filling a need in today’s youth based on his own interpretation of what is, for some, a last chance at making a good choice.
I recently spoke with McConaughey about his love of movies and the creative process, but first we talked about one of his most passionate real life roles which is, by all definitions, that of a timeless philanthropist.
LB: I respect your work as an actor, and I am a supporter of your films, but what stands out most to me about you is the way you have chosen to give back and how you decided on where you would focus your efforts. You have been very deliberate in how and who the foundation affects.
MM: The j.k. livin foundation (just keep livin’) is an after school program in Title I schools, which are the lower income schools. We formed a curriculum—it’s two hours, for high school students after school, voluntary, and the kids come to get exercise, learn about nutrition on a budget, they gather around and share a gratitude circle before they leave. We also have monthly quotes that are good analogies that help them with making healthy choices through the things they are experiencing.
LB: What made you decide to help high school students?
MM: The reason we ended up in high schools is because I, like many people, was looking for a place to start a foundation and put my efforts. There are millions of great ideas, but what I had to settle down on, and it took quite a few years to decide, is I said, “Kids. Okay, I want to help kids. Now what age?” I thought back about my own life, and I started looking at kids today, and I asked myself, “What’s that age when you are at the crossroads?” Meaning, you are just about to become an adult, but you are still sort of under the advisory of your parents and teachers and principals, and you are not necessarily called an adult yet but you are gaining independence. That’s why I settled on high school students because it just became obvious to me that this is the age when many of these kids might be at risk, or whether they are at risk or not, it’s down to the last couple years when a kid can make a bad decision and still get a second chance.
LB: You felt like it was the best age to make a difference before adulthood.
MM: Exactly. After you turn 18, you don’t get as many of those second chances, so we focused on these kids because we thought, “Okay, you’re about to become an adult. The consequences are going to be real as soon as you turn 18 and get out of school, so if you’re not on the right track, you’ve got a little bit of time to get on it. If you’re on the right track, let’s keep it up.”
“I’m still pleasantly surprised to hear during the gratitude circle the very simple things they are sincerely thankful for… A group of people they didn’t know, came here and decided to take their time, put their efforts and their money into giving them a place to go.”
LB: The program has grown from just a few schools to a few dozen in a short time.
MM: The curriculum is working. Now we’re now in fourteen schools in California, Texas and Louisiana. If it keeps working, which we hope it will do, our plan is to implement this curriculum in more Title I schools around the nation that need it.
LB: The thing that I love about this program is how it relates to many facets of life. I lost my husband when I was 32 and our son was only 5. I was so afraid of how I was going to teach my son all the things his dad would have taught him, so I bought a book about how to tie a slip knot, how to rig a fishing pole, and how to fly a kite because I didn’t know how is this wonderful boy was going to get to be who he is supposed to be without his dad on the Planet. I learned over time that it wasn’t just myself I had to rely on—It was my community, my peers, my friends, my friends’ husbands, his teachers, his principal, and so I like that idea that while some of these kids are not necessarily getting what they need at home, this is a place for them to get what they need—knowledge about healthy living that would otherwise be lost.
MM: It’s so true. The kids are getting information. Simple things like nutrition on a budget. How can you spend less than you would on a bag of burgers at a fast food joint and do something with a bag of rice and some vegetables? And the kids are now taking these ideas home to their own families and practicing it. A lot of the kids’ attendance rate is better at school. Some grades are going up.
LB: They can adapt what they are learning to their own lives, to fit their own needs.
MM: That’s right. And you know, when we talk about exercise, a lot of these kids have different goals. We have them set their own goals. It’s not about being on the cover of a magazine. For some of them it’s about wanting to fit in that prom dress and the prom is a month away. They figure out, “Boy, if I just lost ten pounds I could do it.” A little goal like that maybe. Kids are making sports teams that they couldn’t make the year before. Confidence is higher. They are also coming back saying they have less stress because they are able to break a sweat, and they had never done that before. They are also coming and saying that before they were coming to this after school program they were hanging out with the wrong crowd. They started coming here, and they are coming back. And they’re starting to tell their friends about it.
LB: The website is jklivinfoundation.org, and when I watched a video on the website, I was impressed with one girl who said she just started drinking more water and started jogging to lose weight and be a healthier person.
MM: Yeah. Yeah. It’s exciting stuff!
“We’ve been doing this a few years now, and it feels pretty solid.”
LB: These are things that they are taking home, and they are things that they just didn’t know to do. They’d never been taught to drink water for good health.
MM: Well, sometimes, it’s such a simple thing like that! Maybe they were just grabbing a soda pop that’s high in sugar because they were thirsty. They didn’t know any better. And now we say, “You know what, grab a water instead. Your body needs more water. It’s two-thirds water anyway.” And they never thought of that.
LB: My dad always said he wasn’t worried about my brother and me in school and the choices we were making, he was more worried about the kid sitting in front of or behind us in class or out on the playground who wasn’t getting the guidance that’s needed at home. Tell us about the mental and emotional strength the kids are gaining from the program. How much has that had an impact on their lives?
MM: I’m still pleasantly surprised to hear during the gratitude circle the very simple things they are sincerely thankful for. I hear it repeatedly each year. They tell us they’re just really glad that somebody they didn’t know personally, a group of people they didn’t know, came here and decided to take their time, put their efforts and their money into giving them a place to go. They say, “Why did ya’ll do this? You didn’t have to do that. Somebody is helping me out? And it’s not to their benefit, it’s to my benefit?” At first, they have a hard time believing it because it’s the first time that’s happened to a lot of them.
LB: You only have them for a short time after school each week, what words of encouragement do you try to send them away with each time they leave?
MM: We have thoughts for the month, and its as simple as sayings like remain curious. Don’t be afraid to fail. You’ve got to shoot to score. Watch how much you gossip. Little things like that. I try to share advice I’ve learned through my practical living, along with the life choices of a lot of people who I respect, and we all agree that these are the kinds of things that helped us remain happy, remain healthy, and get through harder times. And when the kids share their own thoughts in the gratitude circle, Lisa, it’s amazing. My favorite thing is the gratitude circle.
LB: What is the gratitude circle?
MM: The first time we had them all sit down in a circle and said, “All right, now we’re all going to say what we’re thankful for.” All the kids mumbled and whispered and had little to say and were so shy. Then it became evident that to say you’re thankful for something in high school is not cool.
LB: Sad, but true.
MM: It’s just not cool. It’s like opening up your diary or something. So we went a couple months, and I wondered how to break through the silence. So then one time when we gathered in our circle I said, “Man, I’ve got a party coming up this weekend. We’ve got some friends coming over, and we’re going to cook and have a good time. I’m thankful for a party this weekend with my friends.”
MM: So I threw a very fun thing out there that wasn’t precious or heavy and all the sudden, it helped the kids say, “Man, I’m thankful halloween is coming because I’m gonna get candy.” Or “I’m thankful I got a kiss from my girlfriend last week,” and all the kids started laughing and understood that you can be thankful for something that’s not serious. You can be thankful for laughing at something today. Then they all started to really open up and share different things, and what they shared let the others students know that, “Hey, I’m in the same boat as you. I’m concerned about the same thing in my life, too. I thought it was only me, but now I know it’s not just me.” They started to become a team.
LB: You’re passionate about these kids and their own possibilities in life.
MM: We’re off to a good start. We’ve been doing this for a few years now, and it feels pretty solid. The infrastructure is there, and we’re starting to see results.
Editor’s Note: Soon after my interview with Matthew McConaughey, I had the opportunity to visit the j.k. livin after school program in Los Angeles, CA. and was overwhelmed by the positive nature of the students and their gratitude for the opportunities brought to them through their participation in the program. For more information, visit www.jklivinfoundation.org —LB
Lisa Bradshaw is founder of The DON’T WAIT Project® (DWP) and host of The Life with Lisa Show. The DWP is the epilogue of her new book Big Shoes: A Young Widowed Mother’s Memoir.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Where would you go if you’d never been away from home? What would you do if you didn’t have much time left? DARIUS WENT WEST! Meet 15-year-old Darius Weems from Athens, Georgia, who was born with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), the most common fatal genetic disorder to affect children worldwide. In 1999, he watched his beloved older brother, Mario, pass away from the same disease at age 19. Soon after, Darius lost use of the muscles in his legs and had to begin using a wheelchair.
A group of Darius’ college-age friends decided there was no need for his quality of life to disintegrate along with his muscles. In the summer of 2005, they rented a wheelchair-accessible RV and took Darius, who had never seen mountains, the ocean or even crossed a state line, on the adventure of a lifetime. The ultimate goal of their 7,000-mile cross-country journey was to reach Los Angeles and convince MTV’s hit show “Pimp My Ride” to customize Darius’ wheelchair. Along the way, they evaluated wheelchair accessibility in America, celebrated the 15th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and raised awareness of DMD—particularly among a generation not familiar with Jerry Lewis. They also found joy, brotherhood and the knowledge that life, even when imperfect, is always worth the ride.
The Philosophy Behind this Film
This documentary is designed to entertain as well as educate the masses about DMD by telling a story through the lens of friendship. In addition to hilarious footage from this all-male road trip, Darius Goes West features personal stories from two other families affected by DMD, as well as an in-depth interview with a medical expert discussing promising new research that offers hope for treatment and possibly even a cure.
This film focuses on ability, not disability. Darius Weems is no DMD poster child. He’s a typical teenager who wakes up grouchy and curses on occasion. But audiences love his sense of humor and his megawatt smile. And instead of feeling sorry for Darius because he is terminally ill, viewers share his excitement as he discovers America.We know—and Darius knows—that DMD won’t be cured in his lifetime. Nevertheless, Darius took a road trip to raise awareness of his disease in hopes of benefiting those with DMD who follow in his footsteps—and to prove that life has no limits, even for those in a wheelchair.
Darius Goes West is a nonprofit film. We are a 501(c)(3) and a charitable subsidiary of Charley’s Fund, a nonprofit foundation that funds medical research into a treatment or cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. DMD. is the most common and aggressive form of muscular dystrophy. Charley’s Fund has spent more than $12 million on medical research. For the first time in the history of the disease, human clinical trials have begun.
Earlier this year, Darius signed a record deal with New South Entertainment and recently released three inspirational rap songs oniTunes geared to his core crowd of young and impressionable youth. And once again, he is taking to the road to raise awareness of his disease (Duchenne muscular dystrophy) and inspire and connect with students and educators across the Northeast.
Come back for more with Darius when he talks with Lisa Bradshaw about how far he’s come and shares his story of making a film that made him a hero—a hero championing against DMD as he raps his way to the top.
Saturday, April 28, 2012
When I left Birmingham, Alabama on Easter Sunday, April 11, 2004, I never expected to return. Wesley died on Easter Sunday and I never thought I would return to where so much was lost and left behind.
Sometime last year, soon after I finished writing Big Shoes and founding The DON’T WAIT Project®, I started considering what I was asking of others. Through the voice of the DWP®, I was asking people to face their fears, raise their expectations, and chart a new path for their lives. This got me thinking about my own fears, my own unfinished business, and my own path. Through the process of digging deep within myself, it became obvious to me that I needed to return to the University of Alabama Hospital as part of my own growth and progress. It seemed a necessary stop along the ongoing path to greatness many of us strive to achieve.
I did not know in what capacity I would return. It did not make sense to me to just show up and walk the fifth floor where Wesley had died. It did not make sense to say hello to the nurses and doctors still working at UAB in the transplant unit, then say good bye just as quickly. I wanted my return to mean something. I wanted it to somehow make a difference. More than anything else, I wanted it to honor Wesley.
About that time, Jody White, the nurse manager of the heart and lung transplant unit at UAB, heard about Big Shoes and the DWP®. He called and reintroduced himself to me (he was at UAB the day Wesley died), and we quickly discussed my return and how it would best serve the hospital, and its providers and patients. Soon after we talked, I was invited to partner with Wesley’s critical care physician Dr. Keith Wille, MD, and present Wesley’s case as part of a Schwartz Center Rounds®.
Within a few months, I found myself sitting in an airport on my way to Birmingham, AL. For a moment, just before boarding the plane, I tearfully questioned why I had put such pressure on myself to return and wondered if helping others at my own excruciating expense was worth it. Did I really need to go back to the place that took me eight years to truly leave behind? Did I need to shake the hands of the people who had tried to save Wesley, see the room where he had died, and see the picture the staff had placed on the wall of the conference room in his honor? Did I need to do all of this? Hadn’t I done enough? Been through enough?
I landed in Birmingham from Houston (my four-day stop along the way) an hour later, and after a bumpy flight and a bumpy start to what I feared might level me all over again, I felt steady. I felt certain that good could come from my return, and I could leave there knowing I had done the right thing by going. I decided to take the time to revisit and recollect the time we had spent there.
I drove by the apartment where we had lived—the apartment where we had received the phone call from the transplant coordinator that there was a donor lung match for Wesley just three days after he was listed for transplant.
I gasped at the sight of the back door—the door I had rushed through to be by his side when, more than once, a nurse had called to say he had quickly become critical when just hours before he had been doing well enough for me to leave the hospital to spend time with our confused and struggling five-year-old son.
I walked the fifth floor of the transplant unit, saw the corner of the hallway where I many times stood silently staring at the wall while trying to compose myself and gather the strength to fight for Wesley another moment, another hour, another day.
I quietly excused myself after Wesley’s nurse Allyson and I discussed the details of the last moments of his life and it became too much to bear. I retreated to a different corner near the auditorium where I would soon join Dr. Wille and share Wesley’s story with a room full of healthcare providers who might be changed by what we had endured and become better doctors and nurses because of my willingness to return to UAB and share his story.
I cried silent tears as I stood in the doorway of the room where Wesley had died. As I briefly stood in the empty room, I considered how far I had come, how much time had passed, and the work I had done to heal our lives—Hunter’s and my life. As I looked at the clock on the wall and as the second hand slowly moved from one short, black line to the next, I thought about the passing of time and how it’s inevitable. We have no control over it. Time is going to pass no matter how we are using that time, and without doing the work it takes to truly heal our lives and survive what seems impossible to endure, we just have a compilation of days, month, and years. No progress. No healing. No greatness.
Returning to Alabama was a lesson in perseverance for me. It clarified the progress I have made and the work that is still ahead. I poured my heart out in that auditorium, and I left there stronger than when I had arrived. It was a full circle experience if I have ever had one.
It’s my hope that The DON’T WAIT Project® will bring others to a similar gateway to progress and healing on their desired path to greatness.
FRIDAY, APRIL 20 – 10:33 AM
The live in the most peaceful, beautiful, inviting town I have ever visited. That’s why I bought a house the week we arrived for our visit and left the city I had called home for more than a decade. I took a chance that my gut feeling about this lovely town was the answer to only one of the one million questions that were racing through my mind at the time. I trusted myself in a time when there wasn’t much left of me. All I had left, it felt at times, was our son, and that was surely worth everything to me and to finding true happiness again. Little by little, day by day, year by year.
It’s been nearly eight years and it just feels like time to return to my home away from home because even though Wesley died and that changed every thing I ever thought or felt about the life we once shared there, it isn’t true that you can’t go home again. You can go home again.
Houston is my favorite city in the world. I know. The weather, the cement, the Bush’s (depending on your political preference)—the many things that Houston lacks that many cities in the world have in abundance does not sway me from the parts of the city that have meant the most to me. The first time I was shown the skyline, it was a beautiful night after a weekend in Galveston at Mardi Gras. Wesley was like a kid in a candy store, wanting to show me all the city had to offer and the parts of it he loved the most. He was my tour guide and my realtor, showing me where we could live, what we could become, where we would call home, if only I would trust my gut and answer only one of the one millions questions that were racing through my mind at the time.
I made one of the single most important and pivotal decisions of my life: I chose Wesley. I chose him above reason. Above geography. Above my parents. Above my education. I chose him because I knew everything else would work itself out if only we followed our hearts and took the same leap, at the same time, toward the same place.
Every time I have landed in Houston since Wesley died, I have felt like he is there waiting for me. Ready to show me around again, to look at what’s changed, to drive me past the house we shared together—where Hunter was born—and to remind me of everything I moved there for in the first place in 1992—20 years ago.
I don’t like to leave my lovely little town or the wonderful family I now have, but it’s time to go back to where it started and ended for us, to honor Wesley and life we shared and fought for, and honestly, to just relax and visit my friends and family who I have missed so much. Wesley will be there when the plane lands and guide me as he did during my first visit more than two decades ago to show me what I’ve missed. Only this time, I think I will show him a few things as well: I’ll show him how far I’ve come and the work I have done in his honor. I’ll go to Houston and to UAB, share our story, then return to my lovely town and my wonderful family strengthened by the experience.
All of this, he’d dig beyond just about anything else.