Episode Description

It is often said that the biggest risk in life is not taking any. Today'sguest is no stranger to taking risks.Napoleon Smithis a Founder and Managing Partner ofAtariHotelsthatpioneers a blend between the famed 80's video game and the hotel industrythrough game-centric hospitality that offers the full experience. He was alsothe executive producer for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie franchisethat innovated the way we now approach movie marketing. In this episode, Napoleontalks about the risks he took that paid off and how becoming an expert atfailing can lead to success. He also shares the inspiration behind Atari Hotelsand an inside look at the future of the hospitality industry in this era ofsocial media and technology.

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Episode Transcript

I'm here with Napoleon, one of my favorite people and one of the most creative people I've ever met. I want to go through quickly to some of his backgrounds because it's super unique. There are many cool things that I love about Napoleon. We've had crazy conversations mostly over drinks at night. My creative juices go nuts when talking to Napoleon. Some interesting things, Napoleon rebooted Ninja Turtles II. He’s one of the Partners and Founders of Atari Hotels, a cool project that he's been working on with Atari. I can go on and on about all his crazy projects. Another interesting thing is Captain Kangaroo that he’s working on with Mark Wahlberg. It’s all this crazy shit you have going on which is amazing. The creative ideas that you have like, “I want to buy Ninja Turtles IP, take it to market, and make a movie?” Who does that? How did you have the confidence to do that?

Throughout the years of failure, you start learning that it's not so bad if you fail. It hurts when it happens but Ninja Turtles was an interesting one because I had a kid's martial arts magazine named Kono. It was right before the big crash in ‘06 and I was about to lose a lot of investors’ money. I remember we interviewed the guy that owns Ninja Turtles and I have been a fan since I was a kid. My family owns martial arts schools back in Texas so I've been an avid Ninja Turtle fan. I'm like, "I'm about to be screwed here but maybe a Hail Mary." I went out and met the creator of Ninja Turtles and said, "You haven't done movies in years. I would like to buy the rights and bring it back in the movies.”

At first, he thought I was nuts but I kept coming back. I brought back the technology. I brought the producer that did Batman and Superman. They took me more seriously. I brought back the guy that did the last Ninja Turtles to show that because I know he liked that guy and that writer. Finally, after going back for 3 or 4 months and getting credit cards to keep going, he gave me a comic book and it was the first edition. I was like, "He's given this to me to sell because he knows I probably blew all my money. He knows that and it’s a parting gift.” He goes, “You’ve got to read this one. It’s special.” I was on the plane and by the third page, it said, “Let's make a movie.”

How long was this process?

The process was forever. To get the rights, I had to raise a couple of million dollars.

To do the movie?

No, just to get the rights and to pay him. I thought I got it and I was like, “I’ve got to figure out how to get the money.”

You went and got the rights and you didn't have the money?

No. I just acted as if I had the money. I assumed that I would get the money.

Being in business for many years, I've raised money for deals on a few occasions. I always thought you had to have the money before you negotiate the deal but that's not the case in almost every case I've seen, which is insane.

If you go to an investor and do not have the rights, they're going to look at you like, “Why are you wasting my time?” I went to the investor, Eric Crown, the Founder of Insight. I’m about to lose him a couple of millions of dollars on a magazine that he believed in with me. I was like, “I need you to double down now and teach me.” He’s like, “Are you out of your mind?” I got the rights. I showed him the model and what we were going to do. He goes, “This is pretty cool.” He was the sole investor and he doubled down. What was cool about it is, “The only way to get your money back from losing the magazine is if you double down on Ninja Turtles. You're going to make it back in that.” He made it back tenfold and the rest is history.

Throughout years, you start learning that it's not so bad if you fail. You can succeed by becoming an expert at failing.

The Ninja Turtle II movie did $1 billion or something.

They produced the last two movies with the ones that were Michael Bay movies. Those were ours. Eric and I were the executive producers. I don’t know what that means anymore but I was employee number one. The first one did $550 million and the second one did about $300 million, but they did over $1.2 billion in toys per movie.

I remember the toys were huge. That’s what I've learned in the entertainment business now. You make all the money on the action figure and the CPG product from this movie.

The lesson I’m learning is how do you get your money from the studio. That's a whole other episode.

It’s a sharky world out there, isn’t it?

It can be a little sharky world when you're dealing at that level.

Isn't that the only way to learn, by getting your ass kicked and trying stuff?

Now I know the kind of attorneys you need and you need to own the IP. I try more and more to own the IP than just lease licensing it but sometimes, you can't. I definitely learned some lessons.

What's so interesting in nowaday’s world, Gary Vee talked about this, is the idea of old IP coming back. Everything recycles. One of the big insights I had was that I did a show with Todd Davis who started LifeLock. Todd told me it took him over $1 billion to build a brand in the United States and this was several years ago. It would cost you probably $2 billion in marketing support to build a brand that had a 60% or 70% recall rate in the US. What you're doing is fascinating to me at a point where you find this IP that is loved and known by people. You bring it back and in a way that is cool but harnesses the nostalgia. I don't know anyone that's doing that.

Ninja Turtles is a great example because I got the money to buy the rights, then we went to the studios. I made the assumption that every studio wanted to do this. Lionsgate took the meeting with me. That was my first one. Later I found out that they just wanted to take the meeting because they cut those as a joke. They’re like, “We're not doing Ninja Turtles from the rubber suits back in the ‘90s. You guys are crazy.” I was like, “How do they not see what I see?” You're dealing with a lot of these executives. They weren't born in that generation or they're in the in-between generations. They think that Ninja Turtles is a has-been but I know all these fans out there that if that movie existed, they'd be taking their kids in two seconds. You have the older fan base and these younger ones. They're going to be put in pajamas and buying all this stuff for their kids.

That's one of the things you learn when you buy these brands like LifeLock, you get the ability to turn the fans into your army and you're going to war. I have an army of millions. If you've got a new idea, you've got to put your money into marketing. With a great and cool brand that's nostalgic from our childhood, you use a lot of PR. We did a lot of publicity stunts. We made the Empire State Building green. That got a lot of attention. We did a tour with a Ninja Turtle bus to a ton of martial arts schools to awaken the fans. At Comic-Con, I met Megan Fox and she said, “You baked me into this deal. I'll go on Jay Leno and wear the Ninja Turtle. I'll say, ‘Don’t you want to see me be April O'Neil?’” After that happened, Paramount and Michael Bay called me. I was like, “What is this?” That’s all because there are fans and there was a celebrity. We unlocked the army.

We talked about PR. When television declined 15% a few years ago, every marketing conference was like, “It's all about relevancy,” which it is. You've unlocked these strategies that have existed over time that you continually go back to and it's this recipe for success. You talked about launching Captain Kangaroo with Mark Wahlberg standing on Ellen. You've figured out the recipe for success to relevancy almost.

My partners always call it, “You’re going PT Barnum.” I love that. Sometimes people are like, “PT Barnum was the coolest dude ever.” You see guys do it well. People won presidencies off that. If you can make something controversial or it's something so hip cool to nerds that people are going to do that water cooler talk, that's your marketing. I can't just make an announcement. It's got to be something cool and fun like what we did with Captain Kangaroo. Mark Wahlberg put the red jacket on Ellen DeGeneres and that was what popped it. You need a person like Mark Wahlberg to do that, but my deal was that's your partnership. Him doing that right there, Kangaroo now is relevant. That value of bringing a partner on who can do that and they're not using capital is invincible. It's amazing when you can pull that off.

Hotels need to accommodate the metaverse, the digital side ofhumans.

How do you have the balls to do all this stuff like talk to Walberg and get the rights to stuff? You’re just charging.

I need at least 2 or 3 other people to say, “Agree,” that know what they're doing. Quite honestly, if you depend on me doing it, we're in big trouble. My partners make fun in front of me about it all the time. It's the truth. You come up with a concept, you see the vision and you work backward. You know that in so many years, this thing's going to exist. Your job is to make sure and your employee number one. If I can infect two other people that know what they're doing and they can get it to the next level like with Atari, we have a whole board of directors. Some guys are from Nike, GoPro, two are from Activision. The founder of Atari looks like he’s coming on board. It's crazy the people who are coming on board because they've been infected. Once they're infected, then it's game over.

I was watching Stranger Things and the kid had the Atari shirt on. It’s like, “We’ve got it,” because think about both generations now, the generation that watches Stranger Things at a massive level, and then the people that played Atari. Of the 350 million or 400 million people in the US, there are 100 million people that know Atari is and 30 million people that love Atari. Now, the hipsters and the new kids are like, “It's cool again.”

I was watching Stranger Things and I'm going to do a marathon. I'm going to run through season two. I’m going to rewatch that. I’ll rewatch season three. I love that nostalgia because it's the ‘80s, Stranger Thing.

The ‘80s are so big right now.

You're watching it and you see this curly-haired little kid with an Atari shirt on. I remember when I was a kid, I got an Atari. I couldn't even play until midnight even though that was my gift because my entire family was playing it. I remember my grandmother and my uncles were playing. Everybody was taking turns and fighting the play. We’re getting around the TV to watch a story. It’s the first time we got around the TV to be part of a story. That was a cool experience. I was there late at 2:00 AM. I was inspired, maybe with a cocktail in hand. I was like, "I missed when I had an Atari under my tree and knowing it's an Atari that I'm going to unwrap. Wouldn't it be freaking cool to have a Christmas tree under my Atari?” I’m an adult and I have adult toys.

I’m like, “What would be a Christmas tree in Atari?” A hotel. That's when I realized the brand has gone through so many iterations that now it's about nostalgia but it's the OG. It’s the Original Gamer. Gamers are so prolific now but Atari is the original. It created it all. I was like, “I got nailed by the two things I love in life.” I'm a big techie. I worked for Nokia for ten years. Lots of cool phones but then I'm also a big nostalgic 1980s dude. I thought about these two things, I get to have my techie side and I get to have my nostalgia. If I ever become broke one day, I’m going to have a deal to get that one room that's my place. You see that old man with the Atari roaming around the Atari Hotel. That's my retirement. It checked off the boxes and it resonated hard and I went full blast.

You're talking about doing a Hotel in Las Vegas and the buzz around that. Everything you've done, I'm not trying to kiss your ass. As a marketer, I love that. For the first time, I got to think that anything is possible. As younger people, we put limitations on ourselves. Creatively, we've limited ourselves. I've watched you having these successes in doing things that are strange and not supposed to be done and end up working, probably failing sometimes but working a lot of times. It unlocks your brain. Joe Rogan did a podcast and now ten million people listen to it every week or something. It’s crazy numbers. There are TikTokers that are nothing and all of a sudden, now have Super Bowl-sized audiences every day. I don't know if it's through schooling or where we had these limitations to our business potential, business success or creativity.

You’re right. Schooling does have a lot to do with it. When you go to college and everything, they try to put you in a mold.

Stop hanging out people that are limiting. You have to hang out with people that don’t do limitations.

You're not a realistic guy. It’s a good thing, you're not.

One of the big ones is I stopped hanging around with people that are limiting like that. I have friends and when I say something as crazy as, "Let's go do an Atari Hotel," they're like, “We should do Atari Hotel. It should be this big.” I was like, “I was thinking this. You're going bigger than I thought.” You have to hang out with guys that don't do limitations and it's weird because I have limited the group that I hang out with. I realized when I hang out with some of the other groups I used to like reunions and stuff and they're telling me about what they're doing. They’re like, “I’ve got this.” I’m like, “You have way more wealth and contacts than I do. What the heck are you talking about? You could go do what you said tomorrow if you wanted to.” They're scared to lose what they have. I've lost so many times what I've had that now I'm finally at a base where I'm not going to end up on somebody's couch anymore and it feels good.

You’ve got house money now. Now, the sky is the limit.

I'm playing with house money. That's exactly right. I go to speak sometimes at the Grand Canyon like you. The first thing I tell kids is to start failing now. The worst thing that could happen to you is you’re on a friend's couch or your mom's couch. You're going to be fine. The people that make fun of you, “That's why I didn't do it. Look at what happened to you.”

That's why people are more scared to fail. It’s being humiliated in some way by your friends. It's your friends saying you suck.

Also, social media is tough. I've done some smaller projects and they fail like my cigar bar. I named it my name and it's been taken down. It’s embarrassing because then they write an article about it, “It came down and it wasn't even in business for a year.” I’m like, “It’s a year in three days.” It justifies to them why they didn't try something.

My favorite article on this is Sara Blakely from Spanx. She’s an amazing CEO. She’s one of my CEO crushes. She’s amazing. She had a hustle too. She was at Nordstrom. She would do what you and I would do like club promoter style. She’s putting Spanx next to the cash register so she'd have to turn the race to get more orders in Nordstrom. Her dad was interesting. Growing up, her dad would ask her every day what she failed at today. She had to tell him what she failed at. That changes your perspective so much.

Eventually, you can succeed by becoming an expert at failing.

That's how you learn. At least, that's how I learned. It’s like, “I screw that up. I screwed this up,” and the confidence that you have after that blew my mind.

When you learn younger at that age, all those things are so weird. The Atari is the one that resonated with me. All the things going into that are all the things that I've failed because I always thought of the Walt Disney thing, “I felt this, that and this. Holy cow. This is it." Atari is the amalgamation of all those things, your timing, your too young here, you didn't know enough there, you didn't have the timing and the market wasn't there, but all of those things, you didn't lose that money. It's all coming back. You didn't lose that time. You didn’t lose those relationships. They're all coming back. They're all coming to one thing.

We talked on the show about how I built this, about entrepreneurs. I saw that insight with the same entrepreneurs, whether it was Michael Dubin who started Dollar Shave Club and all these little experiences put together. He was working for SI so he knew how to make these micro websites. He was in New York and his hobby was the Citizens Brigade underground comedy, whatever. What's the comedy that you do when you make it up on the spot?

The ad-lib one. I know what you're talking about.

Why can’t I think of the name? I feel not smart right now on that.

Like an improv?

It was improv. It was a famous one. A lot of SNL people were on it. He sucked but he did it for ten years.

Think about the things he learned from doing that.

Today, everybody’s life is on this device. Their social life is on it,their businesses are on it, even their relationships to their families.

That's what he said. He said, “My Sports Illustrated for 5 to 10 years, and my comedy club stuff, I put everything together to make this brand launch video for Dollar Shave Club.” He had to hire the actors in and he made a hilarious video that raised him a ton of money. All of a sudden, he was the fastest unicorn company ever. Think about you and the studio. You were getting crushed by lawyers at studios and understanding that makes yourself a better business person because of what you've learned through that.

It's nice because you learned that lesson. With Ninja Turtles, that's a pretty big lesson to learn but I wouldn't want to learn that at building a hotel like Atari. This is way bigger stakes than a movie. A movie is around for this period of time. These hotels are going to be around for a long time. For me to learn that experience at that level, back then was terrible. I look back now and there are parts of me that's like, "It's cool that it happened. That lesson is cool. This other thing happening, that's not going to happen to me."

That's why the market bets on people. Even my mentor who I had on other podcasts, Ken McElroy said, “I used to invest in companies all the time. It would be the greatest company idea and I'd be all over it. Now I don't fall into that trap of investing in companies. I invest in people. The people will make companies successful. They take their life lessons and they optimize. It’s like a digital campaign. Companies fail all the time but the people that I invest in don't typically fail as much.”

You know who’s but to kick.

Even a good person running a great company, he'd rather have a great person that had a gut feeling.

There’s a guy that did Barstool.

The guy is killing it.

They ask him, “What is your process?” “Gut.” They’re like, “Is it all your key decisions now?” He goes, “We'll shift on a dime and we have a gut feeling. What's cool about that is if it doesn't work and we fail at it, we tried it. It was a gut feeling and it didn’t work. You move on because we literally drive our whole business off of gut feeling.”

They’re bigger than ESPN now. Things are happening so fast.

You have to go that way because when we were younger, everybody is building a business plan, “This is our year 2, year 3, year 4.” He was saying with the Barstool stuff, “I have a business plan and all of a sudden TikTok comes out. Now, I’ve got to readjust it.” That came out of nowhere. What am I supposed to do now? Coming out of the gut, when we started Atari Hotel, our first core investors came in with us letting them know, “Atari Hotel. I’m in.” There was no business plan.

Vegas wasn't on your radar.

No. We had everything to do with the relationship. When we told them Atari and Hotel, they’re like, “Done.” Those things did it but if you have to be dependent on, “I need to see the whole projection,” we've done it and I've done these projections. Those exercises are great to determine where you should put your value in building something, but it should never be done for investors or anything. You and I know it’s bullshit. Every time you’re doing it, you’re like, “I know this is bullshit. Maybe I should take 10% down because it's too high.” I try not to do that. We always have a direction and a core but as far as a straight-out business plan, it's 3 and 5 years. Anybody can do a 3 to 5-year projection. Technology is shifting so quickly. What I mean by the technology is how the consumer and people are using it. I can understand that you could say, “Your cell phones could do this much more. We don't even know how people are going to be using things.” It's shifting so quickly. How could you predict? A few years ago, TikTok, Instagram, and all these other things that we're seeing were barely there.

Look at Elon Musk, Tesla stock and crypto. No one knows.

There’s this whole NFT thing. You didn’t see NFT nowhere and now everybody is like, “What are you going to do with NFTs and all this stuff?” I don't know. Is it going to be here?

Pop culture rules the world.

Maybe we'll try some. The way media consumption has changed so drastically has caught my attention. My biggest wonder is what's happening with influencers. We talked about content houses earlier before we started. What do you think the future holds? We joked about what makes Elon so great is he's a marketer futurist. That's what's so brilliant and he's got giant cojones so he goes after stuff. What do you think is up for the future?

You're right when you're talking about the influencer stuff. It's hard for us to grasp because we're still used to you build a brand, you get sponsors, and you get people to endorse your product. It's almost getting your consumer to be your endorser. It’s strange stuff. Our generation almost has no respect for influencers. You see this guy has two million followers. I don’t understand it but that gets right to your core market. You find that some of those influencers are literally 90% octane for you. You can find something else that’s a bigger celebrity but this guy is 90% octane. Everybody is following him. It’s your core consumer. That's what they get paid on so it's a more sniper way of doing things. There are two different mentalities. There are always some people that slow. They get the aim, the rifle, and they shoot. They got their target down, they notch it up, and bullseye. Something I'm used to doing is shotgun, “Did I hit something?”

That’s how we’ve been doing marketing for hundred years, which is called broadcast television.

You’re on CBS and NBC. We've been shotgunned. Now, you can be laser target focus. You have the technology. It’s almost like Iron Man where it takes all the targets down at the same time. It’s different, which is cool.

I believe in that. We are on our way to some personalization of marketing to an extreme level. Even if you think about the cookies, Facebook, Instagram and all that but there's still something great about a rallying campaign that everyone is on board with. When Nike came out with Just Do It or when a Super Bowl ad hits and we're all watching the Budweiser ad together or Geico. Something about a campaign that resonates with everyone at the same time and has captured that core essence and that emotional trigger. That's different for everyone but it's the same feeling that everyone gets behind. There's something magical about that but personalization is going to only increase.

Everything I've ever done is pop culture. I have one phrase and one phrase only. I always say, “Pop culture rules the world.” Especially now that you see social media and everything, the one thing that I've seen that stayed consistent is pop culture still rules.

It happens like it’s a random internet event. Barstool seems to capture and wreak havoc, which is amazing. You’re 100% right.

They guided it a little bit but they let that content flow. Those magic moments happened and they happened to be there to capture it. A lot of the stuff I've redone on what we do. I want to create some cool visuals for Atari but at the same time, we're doing a lot of fan base stuff just because it's being created daily. We're working on things and we will be able to talk about them soon. Atari is going to do daily streaming of content and coolness. In that way, we don't have to go run commercials and all these other things with these high costs and don't know if we hit or not. You let these fans and whatever resonates has taken off and cool, then you give juice more to that.

You're allowing the fans to customize the brand to the way they want.

They know it better than we do. They’ve been fans more than I have been of Atari and all the stuff we're doing in gaming. What I'm learning is that in the gaming world, they’re sticklers and you can't fake it to them. We built a hotel that was not with their input. They make fun of it. They get in there and they're like, “This is a joke. Who created this place?” That has been our biggest fear. One of those nerd podcast guys goes, “How are you going to get me off of my couch?” I'm like, “We're going to do this and this way.” He’s like, “That sounds cool but seriously, how do you get me off my couch?”

I’ve got all my game stuff here. I couldn't sleep for months. I’m like, “How am I going to get him off this? He’s right.” We started treating the rooms as ready players stay. At his house, he doesn't have this microfiber that gives him this low latency speed. He doesn’t have this screen that does this. He doesn't have 24-hour room service to give him some hot pockets from 2:00 AM to 3:00 AM. He's got to go down with a local Circle K.

We treat it as he's a little fisher. With us, if he wants to go big sea deep fishing, we have those assets. We have the assets that in his games, the only way you can get them in that game is if you stay in a specific room. We are going to give them out things that they do that are hospitality in their digital world. A lot of what they're doing, they care more about what's going on in their digital world than their real world. We're like, "The hotel has to adjust for that." We can't be a physical hotel. We have to be a hotel that synchronizes with the digital side because half their brains are on the digital side so we're hospitality for both.

You have to learn basic tools to be able to create something,otherwise you’re dependent on other people.

That's what's so interesting and that's where you nailed it with Atari. The nostalgia is cool but you have to be relevant in nowadays’ world and this eGaming world that I've been trying to understand in the last few years, I've talked to some of the biggest gamers in history. In fact, I'm going to have one of my friends who's part of FaZe Clan.

Everyone's a part of Faze Clan. That company is so massive. They’re huge.

You’re telling me that Faze Clan is worth $500 million. Jerry Colangelo sold the Suns for $350 million. It blows my mind so I've been trying to understand it. You've captured this insane market that needs customization and innovation. You and I were walking down the strip in Vegas. You walked down and it’s like, “This hotel is 15 to 20 years old.”

They're not prepped. I’m going to do a little trial. I'm not even a gamer. I went and bought a Switch. I'm a gamer in the form of the old game. I love the nostalgia.

You’re a Mario Kart guy.

I'm a Comic-Coner. They're both in the same world. I went to five different hotels. I went to San Francisco.

You did like Virgin.

I love Virgin. Virgin was one of the three or there are two of the five that you could connect. I couldn't connect on most of them because these systems are a part of the hotel. It wouldn't let me connect to the USB port. When I tried to connect to the USB port, then I could connect to this.

Are you logging into this big gaming thing around?

All gamers log their stuff. All of a sudden, I didn't have the speeds that I needed. If you're a gamer, that’s a huge part of the population. It’s part of your lifestyle. Your friends are in there. That’s who you would hang out with. You don't say okay, “I will see you in a week.” They're not going to travel.

You can get on the headset and see him tomorrow. Why would you get off your couch?

If you're going to get them to come to these different cities because people still need to travel and all that, these hotels need to accommodate the metaverse. The digital side of humans. Even though I'm not a gamer, I take a lot of content. I love watching a ton of movies and TV. It's always on. I love it all. When you go to these hotels, I can't connect to all my stuff. I have my stuff personalized. I’ve got my Netflix and all this stuff. I can't connect to any of these things half the time. If you can, it's a pain in the butt. I’ve got to put in my codes. This doesn't make any sense. The connectivity, they don't even care and don’t get it. It seems like they don't even want you in your room pretty much anyways. With us, the room is an escape. We want the rooms to be where we get your digital side and we're going to enhance it here.

How would they go to play slot machines so the hotel makes money?

One thing you're going to see that's cool, and this is a good answer to that one, is I've been going to Comic-Cons for many years. The one in San Diego sells out in 30 minutes.

I had to admit this but I’ve never been.

It takes over the entire city. A lot of people can’t get into Comic-Con but they go to San Diego because they get to hang out with people like them. They get to have these nerd conversations about Superman that you cannot have in normal life but there, that's common. I realized, that experience where you want to be with like people, that is the Atari. We're at Comic-Con in E3. We’re like the North Pole for Christmas 365 days a year. We give you that experience every day. Why are you going to go to Comic-Con dude? Come to us. We're the same deal.

It's cooler stuff and consistency.

You go to E3 and then you’re like, “This is all cool,” and then you go to La Quinta. You and your two buddies are in a damn little room trying to connect your thing. Are you out of your mind? That’s not right.

I heard a comedian say one time, “What is La Quinta? It’s Spanish for behind Denny’s.” Hoteliers have made a ton of money on these box hotels that haven't innovated shit.

I went up to Meow Wolf. Meow Wolf killed this experiential thing in Santa Fe. They asked me to come to check it out. You get the consumer, the other fan or whoever they are. You charge them $50. They're there for about 1.5 to 2 hours. They want to be part of your world. They love it.

It’s a tribe. It’s similar to music. It’s like, “I like Slightly Stoopid. You like Slightly Stoopid too.”

They like traveling with Grateful Dead. They'll travel but the Grateful Dead is brilliant. They made an experience. They’re camping out there for 3 to 4 days and you're around the lifestyle. We saw this with Meow Wolf for $60. It was a great experience and we’re having fun. After that, we go to Marriott.

I don’t get the Meow Wolf. What is it?

You’ll like it and they're great guys. They're killing it because people want experiential. They want to be part of this different world. All my argument is you are going to have people trekking across the country to come to check out your awesomeness instead of them being part of your awesomeness for 1 or 2 hours. I want you to be part of that awesomeness for two days. I want your rooms and restaurants in there like it, the whole experience. Our hotel is really the city of Atari.

Are people ready for the type of innovation you're going to bring to the hotel business?

I think so. Mark my words, in the future, you're going to see hotels having a little thing on it saying, “Game Ready.” In other words, they’re ready, player, stay because that's such a massive demographic. You also have streamers now. You have the people that make their money in business remotely in this gig economy thing. They all need high-end access. These hotels are not providing that at all, the specs they need, the looks they need or anything. You're going to see a huge shift in hotels because our brains are going more and more into the metaverse and it’s a thing that's happening. You’ve got to accommodate for it.

In so many ways, it is going that way and most commercial properties aren't ready for that.

Even apartments, condos and a lot of things. You have to understand how people are making their money.

Technology doubles every five years or something. The pace is going faster and faster. We can't even comprehend.

I remember in my Nokia days, the biggest thing that people weren't ready for is the reception. Everybody had to go around. There are big companies going like, “We need better reception.” All we're doing back then was making phone calls, text messages, and playing Snake. Now everybody's life is on this device. Their social life, businesses, relationships and families are on this. That can't be just on a handset anymore. We put everything into the handset on the TV but it's doing the opposite. It's now spreading out into devices, especially during COVID. We saw a lot of that. We saw that the whole house has to be embedded with this fun and cool technology and it's part of their world. We're finally going Jetsons.

We’re there. My son's favorite show is a YouTuber that plays Minecraft. He has a watch that calls me. My kids wouldn't even understand why we aren't FaceTiming. Why aren't we Jetsoning?

You don't like FaceTime. I like FaceTime.

I hate FaceTime but people love FaceTime. It's a crazy world. You and I could talk about this for five hours and stimulate ourselves. It's incredible. Look at Amazon, Tesla, some of these stocks and futurists, how they are thinking about enhancing a community of people that believe in them, and it is marketing. We talk about that. I think it's cool. I get this question a lot in this show because it's important. I wish I had what I knew now when I was 25. What should somebody who is 25 or 30 be thinking about? They already know the technology side. They could probably be a futurist better than you and me. What's something that you've taken away from your career that you wish you could have told a 25-year-old Napoleon?

One more thing I would have done back then that I had learned and I didn't realize until I was older what I was doing. I got into cigars in my twenties. People who smoke cigars are old, successful, rich people, apparently. I liked cigars and what's cool about it is when you're smoking a cigar with somebody, it takes you 1 or 2 hours to smoke a cigar. You are surrounded by some people that know smart people. There's such a shift in technology that a lot of kids in their twenties don't think that people in their 40s, 50s or 60s know anything because they think that this world has gone beyond you.

There are some true fundamentals because we still are a society that's built off of relationships and society. They're losing those skills. You don't get those through social media and online stuff. The one that I take is I do more of that, connecting with smart older people that have done things. I've had two incredible mentors in my life and there's no way I would have made it without them. When I mean mentors, when you screw up, even if they're a mentor and they invested in you, they don't hold it against you. One of my mentors, I was like, “Why didn’t you tell me not to do that cigar bar?” He was like, “I told you but you weren’t listening. I've made the same mistake. Do you remember that restaurant at the Crown room?” “What happened to that?” “That's my failure. That's one of them.”

Good for the Crowns. They’ve invested in my buddy's company. What they've done for Phoenix with the tech community with investors, I don't know if they'll ever get the credit for how they built Phoenix into an actual real powerhouse.

They always looked down at youth. When I was 29, he invested a couple of million dollars in my company. That's insane. I'm thinking back now. I don't know if I would invest that with anybody. That's one of them, the mentor thing. You’ve got to find these mentors. The second one that’s hard for me now is at my age, it's harder to learn new things. I wish I had learned graphic design and programming. These things now are like learning English. It’s learning how to write. These things are the new language. When you’re learning how to write and do all these things from back in the day, that's how you communicate it to other humans. You write them a letter. Now, everything else is going to be easily done with AI and all this.

How you communicate to people is you have to be able to communicate an idea. I'm always dependent on a graphic designer. A graphic designer has to create my vision. Also, he's a partner or whatever and it’s not exactly what I want. It’s the same with legal. I wish I got my law degree or something. If you can learn these skills, you wouldn't have to be dependent on others to express your vision. To me, that’s what I wish I did because the biggest challenge that slows you down is you have to get these people that know these skillsets that you should technically be able to know yourself.

If I'm 25, I'm probably a video editor and content creator because anything I want to do can be communicated like that and distributed globally. That's why there are so many content creators. The content creator is like it doesn't matter what your product is. You can create content that's cool that people are consuming, whatever product you want. As television is declining, we're going to be in a content shortage.

Those are the skills you need. You don't necessarily need college anymore. It was fun. If you were waiting on the sideline for four years in college, you should be doing something else in there too. You’ve got to learn these skills and tools. We’re not past where we don’t need any of these tools. You have to learn some basic tools to be able to create something, otherwise, you're dependent on other people. You better be a good talker or something.

I've had so many partnerships and even businesses that failed but I've seen those guys with businesses now and they’re successful. That's what interesting about having the tools to be relying on yourself to do stuff.

Lawyers sometimes don't go to school for what they like. I wouldn't like going to school for law. That sounds boring but I wish I had my law degree because a lot of the time when you're trying to protect your ideas or yourself, it's all about legal. When you're dependent on another human being to do that for you, it's not good sometimes. Graphic design is the same way. If I had those two things, I can only imagine.

I couldn't agree more. We have a ton of amazing creators but I can't design anything. It annoys me. You and I have talked about legal. It’s probably the biggest business mistake I've made in my life is on a legal contract that I did not know what I was dealing with.

That's doesn’t mean you do your own legal but you’ve got to know these fundamentals, “I don't like this, creatively or legally.” You’ve got to know this stuff. I've been learning through all the money that I’ve lost or spend on these people.

I can't even imagine dealing with the studios and all that stuff. I’m going to have Napoleon again. There's so much knowledge that people can gain in how Napoleon thinks and gets your mind creatively thinking about where we are going in the future. How can you take advantage of it as an entrepreneur or a business person? Take some risks, fail and hang it out there. Good things will happen. Napoleon is proof of that. Watch out for what's going on with Atari Hotels. I know there's some other IP coming out that you can’t talk about.

We’ll talk about it soon.

I'm excited about that. A good Phoenix boy here in the studio. It’s good to have you, Napoleon and we'll talk to you soon.


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Scott Harkey

Entrepreneur & Podcaster

Scott leads a stable of marketing agencies and services offering the world's biggest brands speed, value and results. OH is an independent agency built to serve today's brands through consumer-centric marketing and strategy.