Lessons of a Nine Year Old Founder: How Caine’s Arcade Won The Support of 100K+ Fans Around the World

Nine-year old Caine Monroy knows a thing or two about building products.  Last summer, the precocious boy founded a cardboard arcade he built from scratch inside his dad’s used auto parts store in East LA.  There was only one problem: he had no customers.

That all changed when a filmmaker stumbled upon the arcade and decided to organize a flashmob through Reddit and Facebook.  The resulting 10-minute video has since gone viral with over 5.5 million hits and over 100,000 Likes on Facebook and raised almost $200k in scholarship funding.

As a startup marketer, I see a lot of powerful lessons to be learned from Caine’s story. He’s more than a sweet kid doing what he loves.  He reflects an attitude of scrappiness and passion – or rather, obsession – that embodies the best of startup culture.  

Here’s what Caine’s story can remind us about approaching life and business with a startup mentality.

1. There’s no such thing as an overnight success.
There are no shortcuts.  The myth of the overnight success was put in place so that people can try once, fail once, feel bad about themselves, and wonder why everyone else was able to make it.  It took the mobile gaming company OMGPOP almost six years before becoming an overnight sensation with their Draw Something app.  Even the Dollar Shave Club was around for over a year before the viral video launched the company into fame.  Caine had a desire to build something great regardless of the level of work involved.

2. Learn everything you can about your topic.
According to his dad, “Caine does not pass by an arcade without stopping in.  He loves tickets, playing games, he loves prizes, so it was only natural for him to build his own arcade.”   Caine has a laser focus on the topic of arcades, which makes for tight positioning in the eyes of the customer.  The more specific you can get with carving out a well-defined niche, the more you can own your category and make competition irrelevant.

3. If you truly care about something, fight for it – and don’t take no for an answer.
Caine is willing to sit in front of his arcade without a single customer, pitch to people who are leaving his dad’s auto shop, and continue onward despite rejection.  There’s a point in the video that almost tests his dedication:  When his dad is driving home, he asks Caine, “Can we go home early today?” because there are no customers.  Caine’s reply?  "No.  No way.“  The kid doesn’t falter for a second – he’s dedicated to his craft and isn’t about to cut corners.  A minute later, they pull into the driveway and see the flashmob of arcade goers ready to surprise Caine.

Don’t do a startup – or anything, for that matter – because it’s the cool thing to do.  Do it because it’s what you believe in, it’s what moves you, and because you can’t imagine not doing it.

4. Better done than perfect.
Instead of waiting until his arcade was perfect, Caine started building little by little and adjusting as he went along.  When he needed prizes to give away, he used his old toy cars first.  When people said that his soccer ping-pong ball game was too easy, he adjusted it by adding toy soldiers as goalies.  He didn’t make excuses about his product not being good enough yet or about making a bad impression to early customers.  He was constantly building, shipping, and tweaking as he went along.

5. No funding? Get creative.
When Caine wanted to buy a claw machine for his arcade, his dad replied, "Why don’t you just build it?”  Creativity is bred from constraints and Caine’s dad knew this (or he knew that claw machines are probably very expensive).  Instead of whining about his lack of funding, Caine got scrappy: he found an “S” hook, attached it to some yarn, and cut a track into the top of a box to make his own claw machine.

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UncategorizedWes Kao