I was doing an interview for an upcoming article about women and the challenges they face when it comes to getting funding, when the interviewer mentioned how investors, VCs and all around tech startup folks love to throw around the word “rock star.” They want to invest in “rock star” founders. The tech world is looking for “rock star” developers. His point was how it’s not only a very subjective term, but a very gendered one as well. After all, generally when people think about rock stars, the first images that come to mind are guys. In many ways, that is true. Maybe it was hearing the phrase “rock star” for the umpteen millionth time, but as he was talking, something in me snapped. (Not at him, mind you.) Maybe it was the fact that whenever people use this phrase there’s an implication that whatever the definition of “rock star” is we don’t fit it. But I realized that at 7 Generation Games, we are rock stars.
I will explain:
AnnMaria is has a PhD, an MBA, a MA and a BSBA. That’s four degrees. In fact, she enrolled in college at 16 and had her bachelors at 19 and MBA by 21.
7 Generation Games is her fourth business venture – and all of her previous companies have been successful consulting small businesses that she ultimately wound down to start another company doing something else. This was on top of being a professor at various universities and a statistician.
She’s published tons of research in various academic journals. So much so that on a recent grant, she told our research associate who was assisting with the lit review, “I’m sure there’s a bunch of research published on this topic.” And when our associate searched the literature, she found that, yes, dozens of articles had been published. Oh, and you know who three of the top 10 most-referenced academic articles on the topic were by? AnnMaria. She could have published tons more but she has reached the rock star-level of being able to say, “They don’t pay me to publish academic articles, so I’m just not really going to do this anymore because I don’t need to.”
She’s one of our two lead developers at 7 Generation Games, making her one of our two technical founders. Or as a consultant who didn’t end up getting a project with us learned when he suggested that maybe he “should speak to our tech guy,” she is “our tech guy.”
She accomplished all of this while raising four kids (for several years, raising three as a widowed, single mother) – including a tech executive, a middle school teacher at an inner city school, a women’s sports pioneer and a college soccer player. And in all the free time that the aforementioned leaves a person, she won the WORLD judo championships. Not like the over-40, world judo championships. Not like the locally, organized, we’ll-call-it-world-championships championships. Like the best in the world at a sport world championships. And she was the first American to do that.
That right there is pretty rock star. (And what is a rock star without fans? She’s got over 25,000 Instagram followers!)
Then we’ve got Dennis.
Dennis is our other lead developer, responsible for the 3D virtual worlds you see in Fish Lake and Spirit Lake. The reason the current in the river in Fish Lake moves like a realistic current when you’re canoeing is because Dennis thought the physics of that part would be fun to program. The reason that the trajectory of the arrows is exactly how it would be real life is because Dennis liked getting into the physics of that. The reason there are so many snakes to jump over, well, Dennis likes snakes.
Before working for us, Dennis worked for a defense company on projects that were classified so he couldn’t talk about them, but it wouldn’t matter because no one would understand anyway. He was the person that when no one could figure out a problem, they’d call in Dennis and he’d look at what they’d been working to solve for two weeks and go, “Oh, you just need to do this and this.”
Dennis taught himself to read at 4, from reading the text on TV commercials. The summer before 8th grade, he taught himself Calculus because he “just wanted to learn it.” Once we were at the science museum, Dennis saw a shirt that looked something like this:
And he said, “Well, this doesn’t make sense, because this is the equation for (something) and this is the equation for (something else) and you would never divide this by this…” At which point, AnnMaria said, “Well, Dennis, then clearly the answer to ‘What part don’t you understand?’ is ‘You understand all of it.’”
Dennis is such a rock star that every time we say he is a rocket scientist, he counters that he’s not actually a rocket scientist, he’s just a scientist who worked on software that went into rockets.
Dennis has undergraduate degrees in math and physics, a masters in physics and is ABD (all but dissertation) as far as a PhD in physics which is only because – completely unrelated to anything to do with him – the grant that was funding his research ended and he wasn’t that interested in starting all over again.
Oh, and do you know when he opted to study particle physics over nuclear physics? And I quote, “Because nuclear physics was too easy.”
This leaves me. In my defense, my resume is shorter than theirs because they have 25 years on me. But I’m not going to let that stop me. (Humility as my mother has told me is highly overrated.)
I am an amazing writer. I feel no hesitation in saying that as I have a body of work to back it up – just like Usain Bolt feels confident saying he’s fast. I graduated from NYU in three and half years, while being on the track team, working every semester and interning. I spent a decade in news media before founding 7 Generation Games, with my work published by leading global news outlets, including ESPN, Fox and the Associated Press. I wrote articles in two languages (English and Spanish). ESPN.com asked me to write a college soccer column when I was 23, and I was tapped as their first social media columnist six years later.
I was named the National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ Emerging Journalist of the Year at 24. When Newspapers in Education named 33 Latinos who would change the world, I was one of three journalists they picked. I was selected by the Fulbright Commission to travel to Germany and learn about media there through the Berlin Capital Program.
By 27, I was a visiting lecturer at Tufts University, and a year later, I was an adjunct professor at at Emerson College.
I was involved in helping found another tech startup – that is still around.
Then I co-wrote a New York Times bestseller. In fact, it was a New York Times, Sunday Times, Toronto Star and whatever the list is in Australia bestseller. The book was translated in something like nine languages to date (I keep losing track), sold the film rights and went on to be named Sport Book of the Year in the UK.
And while I was doing all of this over the last decade, I also had three children – one of whom is so far ahead that she skipped third grade, one of whom decided at 4 that she wants to make instructional yoga videos and a toddler who is right up there with his sisters.
This is, of course, not even factoring in 7 Generation Games, which I co-founded and co-run and for which I was invited by the White House to speak on entrepreneurship at the same event as Oprah and Gloria Steinem (they deservedly had higher billing at the event).
And since I’m 34, I still have five-plus years to make those 40 under 40 lists.
Are we perfect? No. (But take two seconds to Google rock stars and you’ll find that being perfect is certainly NOT part of the description.) Are we amazing and talented? Without question. So I’m not going to accept that idea that “rock star” is this intangible label under which we as founders do not fall. If anything, we embody it. We are smart, talented, hardworking, standouts who have succeeded at literally the world’s highest level in multiple arenas.
Look, I get it. Everyone in the startup world is looking for “rock stars.” Well, we’ve got three of them right here.