From Atari to VC’s Future, Highlights From Madison’s Forward Festival

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the remaining employees took a pay cut, along with larger equity stakes in the company to keep them incentivized, Patel said.

He took over as CEO in 2010, and the company shifted from offering an array of consumer apps to an enterprise software provider. The pivot worked, and the company boosted its revenue and signed up big-name customers like telecommunications company Orange.

Locomatix’s story demonstrates that startups don’t necessarily fail because they run out of cash or can’t find customers, Patel said.

“Startups die when founders let go,” Patel said. “They die when the passion runs out.”

At the same time, Patel is a disciple of the school of thought that “it’s OK to fail, but fail fast.” “And never fail the same way twice,” he added.

The bigger question is deciding when to persevere and when to give up on a startup. Patel’s advice for entrepreneurs is to think back to why they started the company in the first place. If the company still has a distinguishing technology or service that people are willing to pay for, it’s probably worth pursuing.

—Atari co-founder Bushnell gave a long-winded (but never dull) talk before the Wisconsin Innovation Awards were announced. Bushnell was Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ first and only boss after hiring him at the pioneer video game company in the early 1970s. Bushnell was also a mentor to Jobs, he said. When Jobs started Apple, he gave Bushnell the chance to own one third of the company in exchange for $50,000.

Bushnell passed. Ouch.

Needless to say, he still regrets not investing what amounts to chump change in a company that went on to introduce groundbreaking gadgets and surpass a $600 billion market cap. I think everyone in the crowd felt sick for Bushnell.

But Bushnell is by no means a sob story. Besides co-founding one of the most influential video game companies ever, he also started Chuck E. Cheese’s (originally meant to be called Coyote Pizza); Catalyst Technologies, which he says was the first technology incubator; Etak, a pioneer in car navigation systems; and ByVideo, an online ordering system for kiosks.

Bushnell’s talk was chock full of zingers and pearls of wisdom, but this was my favorite:

“When you think about it, entrepreneurship is empowering. When you ask for a job, you’re giving your future over to somebody else.”

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Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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