Lane Merrifield, creator of club penguin, tells FQ business how he successfully juggled his internet revelation with becoming a father.
Where did the idea for Club Penguin come from?
Well, I had a son who was entering into that age group (Club Penguin is aimed at ages 6-14) and was beginning to use the computer, so we looked at what was out there. We spoke to kids who were entering into social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, to get their ideas. We wanted to create something that our own kids could use, and hope that others would take an interest as well.
I know that CP takes the safety aspect very seriously. How do you ensure that CP is safe for youngsters?
Obviously it starts with making sure our values and intentions are established around that. We also use sophisticated technology, which we build in-house, to ensure safety features are up to scratch. Beyond that, we add in a layer of human moderation, which is second to none – we have more moderators than any other company, because we value safety so much. As a result, we continue to be used as a very positive example in the US. We are very happy that we haven’t had any major instances against us in the five years we have been doing CP!
Is CP used all over the world, or just mainly in the US?
All over the world! It has grown a lot since it’s inception in 2005, and is now played in over 190 countries! It really is global! Obviously we have larger audiences in some countries than others, CP is extremely popular in the US, and has over 3 million active users in the UK. But we definitely pride ourselves upon CP being a really global phenomenon.
You must have been busy juggling the development of flash web-based games alongside fatherhood. Was time management an issue?
It was definitely an issue. There were times, especially in the early days, when we felt such a great responsibility, as CP was growing much faster than we could have expected. I mean, it’s a great problem to have, but it’s still a problem nonetheless. I’d often have trouble balancing my work life with my home life, getting calls from CP HQ at times when I was out with my family. It ended up being a bit of a twist because although you never want to disappoint your audience, you, of course, don’t want to disappoint your family. But I’m proud to say that I manage my time far better now than I ever have!
Did you try and find a routine to fit work around family?
Well, I told my PA that I don’t need breaks or down-time, just to stuff all my work into certain hours. This enabled me to do any emails in the evening, so I could spend time with my family. I want to be able to have breakfast and dinner with my kids, and I think that should always be possible for everyone. What I really didn’t want is for CP to take me away from my kids. I mean, it would be terrible to have my kids resenting me some day over something I built for them.
Did you find it advantageous to have the flexibility of owning your own company as a young father?
Yes and no. There are certain freedoms that come from owning your own company, and there are also certain freedoms that get lost in that. I mean you can’t call in sick when you have your own company! There are certain times when I would go to pick up my kids from school, but still have to be hammering away on email, trying to run the company. Basically, trying to fit my work in around my family life!
Which is more nerve wracking – birth or speaking to hundreds of people?!
I will say birth is the more nerve wracking for me! I have no problem speaking in front of a bunch of people, but having a family has a sense of permanence to it.
Obviously CP fits in quite well with you having young children. Do your own children use CP?
Yeah. My son plays a lot, but I have tried not to give him too many inside tips, because his friends will get jealous
Juggling CP and family life is hard, but do you have time for any hobbies?
There are some hobbies that I had to leave behind like golf, but instead I have got very much into dirtbiking, I love cars, reading, and of course technology. I try to do things which I can do with my kids, and so I am looking forward to getting my son on the dirtbike!
Can you explain the feeling of becoming a father for the first time?
Well, fatherhood is so rewarding. I feel like I didn’t understand it when I first became a dad, but now I’m all about my kids and my family, I try to put them before my work, and any professional success I have, I often put down to them. Despite having some pretty amazing experiences, there is nothing which compares to hearing my daughter teach me a song or anything like that.
Being a father who has a gaming background, your children must be great testers for CP?
Of course! But I have to make sure their ideas don’t take preference over the millions of others I get from other people. We receive up to 10,000 emails a day, and that gives us thousands of ideas on how to improve CP. People often ask us where do we get the creativity from – it is from the kids themselves.
What would your advice be to young fathers who are also entrepreneurs?
Firstly, make sure whatever you’re doing is something that you love doing. Not only do I feel that makes your life better, but I think you also end up becoming a better father. Secondly, I think finding the right work-life balance. Finding the perfect balance is key because, ultimately, the ability to raise beautiful, healthy children is infinitely more valuable than anything we might be able to contribute at the office.
Lane Merrifield was inspired by his children to create Club Penguin, a snow-covered, virtual world where kids play games and interact with friends www.clubpenguin.com
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