[Name]: Adam Archer
[Areas of Expertise]: Tech, Computer Science, Gaming, Charitable Giving, Cause Marketing, Sales
“I think I was always interested in technology, even as a young kid. I remember when I was really little, my dad brought home an IBM, I was probably eight. It just fascinated me that there was this machine that you could type on and do certain things, I wanted to understand how it worked, internally.”
But there’s another story worth telling. It’s the story of a young man from Brooklyn who dreamt of playing a game. Adam’s story starts as a child who wanted to grow up to be a professional baseball player.
“As a kid, I played a bunch of different sports,” he remembers. “But we played a lot of stickball. It’s like baseball but with a broomstick– we played down the street or in the schoolyard.”
From the streets of New York to Silicon Valley, Adam carried his childhood passion for games from the ball-field to the Internet. After graduating from Arizona State University with a degree in Computer Engineering, Adam was offered a job at Microsoft. He continued his westward journey and moved to California, land of the entrepreneurial engineers.
Of course, nothing happens in isolation. Adam tributes his interest in technology in part to a memorable moment back in New York, when his father brought home an IBM.
“I was probably eight years old. It just fascinated me that there was this machine that you could type on and do certain things, I wanted to understand how it worked, internally.”
Adam’s father ran a small furniture business, and was not in the technology field. But his intuition as a parent must have told him subconsciously that his children stood to benefit from being introduced to this fascinating new machine that would later launch his son to unimaginable success at the cutting edge of computer technology.
“I kept that computer in the back of my mind, so when it came time to go to college, I just figured, ‘might as well learn that,’ Adam recalls. “I was going to school during the dot com boom, so there was lots of talk about that.” Adam studied Computer Engineering, which was a combination of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. Whereas Computer Science is more programming, he explains, Electrical Engineering is more hardware, so Computer Engineering is a hybrid between the two.
“I found the hybrid of two different fields interesting,” he says. “It gives you more opportunity graduating, as you go into programming. And it was really challenging.”
In order to put himself through college, Adam worked as a bus-boy at a little placed in Tempe called Crocodile Cafe. “I met so many friends at that restaurant,” he reminisces. “At one point, I looked back and something like 70% of my friends worked there or were introduced to me by people who worked there!”
When Adam graduated college and left “The Croc” behind, he had no idea that one of his co-workers would later become the co-founder of Games that Give. “There was a lot of camaraderie at the restaurant. It provided a social scene and we had something in common– we had similar backgrounds and were putting ourselves through college. It was a really special time in my life.”
As an engineer for Hotmail, Adam had a chance to become immersed in the nation’s technology hub. His first memory is thinking “I’m going to work my tail off.”
“It was really exciting for me,” he says, “coming from NY, where technology was always on that other coast.”
Even though Microsoft’s physical headquarters were in Seattle, Adam felt excited to be the center of such a fast-paced stream of genius. “I remember thinking how smart and well-qualified everybody who worked there was.”
In particular, Adam looked up to his boss. Aside from having a phenomenal work ethic, Adam’s mentor was also a great friend. One thing he remembers learning from his Microsoft boss was a simple lesson in email etiquette. “One of the stressful things at work is when you send an email to somebody and no one responds,” Adam explains. “He would say, ‘just hit reply-all and write, ‘resending due to lack of response.’ I use it all the time now.”
Apple called, and Adam broke from Microsoft to work as an engineer on the Tiger and Leopard operating systems. He heard Steve Jobs speak at company meetings, and reveled in the creative and free-wheeling culture that Jobs brought about in the workplace. He learned code names for the newest technologies, helped the Mac OS catch up to Windows, and reveled in the buzz around the iPod— which at the time was all the rage.
“We started to see a lot of momentum in 2007 and 2008,” he recalls. “It was a really exciting time, and really fun to work on stuff other people didn’t know you were working on. Even people next door didn’t know what you were working on. And then all of the sudden someone makes an announcement… Apple was a great place to work.”
But Adam had always dreamt of starting his own business. “I always thought I’d be a good entrepreneur,” he admits. “After college, I backpacked for two years overseas. I went through big parts of South America, Asia, and Africa. I came back to the States and started to realize all the amazing opportunities we have here. I wanted to give back in a way.”
After traveling from Istanbul to Cape Town, and with valuable software experience under his belt, Adam started ruminating about connecting tech with charity. “I really wanted to leverage opportunities to help other people,” he says, “So I came up with the concept of Games that Give, where the more you play, the more money goes to charity.”
He was in the right place. Adam notes that Silicon Valley has been a breeding ground for a culture of constant and self-renewing entrepreneurial technology. “It’s Stanford and Berkeley,” he guesses. “They have very good tech programs.”
“If you look back over the past thirty years, at HP and Yahoo, the numbers of new companies are just endless. These companies start, hire a lot of smart engineers and business whiz-kids out of college, and then those people break off and do their own thing… Other places have it, Boston has a nice tech scene, a lot of cities are coming up, but nothing’s quite like Silicon Valley.”
At the time, several similar concepts were in existence. FreeRice.com, for example, donates ten grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program for every answer you get right to vocabulary or math questions that flash across the website. Adam, though, wanted to leverage corporate responsibility to get other companies to incentivize gamers to play for charity.
Adam fiddled around a bit with software, and ended up launching with flash browser games. Now, Games that Give has an impressive client base of advertisers that donate progressively to a select charity every time somebody plays one of their sponsored games. For example, Master Lock’s memory game generates donations for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, in an attempt to “unlock the cure.”
“It’s a way to integrate charitable giving with gaming,” Adam explains. “It engages people to play for longer, without feeling guilty.”
Though they’ve donated to over 100,000 charities, there are a few that speak directly to Adam’s heart. With a mother who survived lymphoma, and a sister who beat out breast cancer, Adam’s impetus for promoting charitable giving stems from personal experience. “Cancer research and prevention speaks strongly to me,” he says.
Adam also takes pride in advocating early childhood education. “There’s a great organization we support called JumpStart that teaches underprivileged children how to read,” he claims. “There are a lot of studies that show that if kids fall behind early, it’s exceptionally difficult to catch up. It’s really unfortunate, all kids should be given a level playing ground.”
Growing up, Adam loved to play Super Mario– (who didn’t?). Now, his favorites include Domino’s games, memory tile games, and Bubble Burst— a game similar to Snood. But Games that Give does not market to children. Though Adam enjoyed computer games as a kid, he admits:
“In general, I think children should not be playing video games. They should be playing outside. I think that’s healthy for kids– it’s what being a kid is all about.”
Finding a sustainable way to increase giving has allowed Games that Give to offer a win-win situation to clients.
“We’ve created a triangle of advertisers, charities, and users that play the games,” Adam comments. “It’s a win for everybody: users win because now they can play to give to charity, charities win because it increases their exposure, and advertisers love it because it’s a great branding tool– it shows the ways they’re supporting their communities.”
Despite recent success and attention, Games that Give keeps Adam continuously challenged. “You’re constantly learning,” he marvels. “This is my first company. I’m an engineer by trade, so there are a lot of things to learn in the realm of business and relationships.” For example, Adam never imagined that fundraising could present lessons that had to be learned by doing, not by being taught.
“Being a CEO means doing a lot of different things,” he says. “That’s fun because you don’t really get bored with one thing. There are some things I prefer to do over others. I’m an engineer so I love interacting with the product. I’m not really an accountant so doing econ and stuff is not really as fun for me as some of the other stuff… but that’s how it goes. Every day, I try to learn something new.”
Adam has learned some valuable lessons throughout the growth process. His best advice? Persistence. “Keep knocking on their door,” he urges. “I had to keep on top of my leads. I would say ‘Hey I have some really cool stuff I want to show you, I think you’ll like it.’ And a lot of times they really did like it and that’s how we got some of our big clients, but you have to get your foot in the door and keep it there.”
After chatting with Adam, I played a “Game that Gives,” just to see what it was all about. First, you choose your game. Next, you choose your charity. You’re redirected to Facebook, and finally, you are busting bricks and man it feels good! Play now , and send your congrats to Adam at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading!
Samantha, Your Hub Stories Correspondent
Samantha is a staff blogger for the Hub Bay Area. She designed and launched the Hub Stories Project in January of 2011 in an attempt to capture the unique narratives of Bay Area change-makers as they help to build a better world from within the Hub community. She also writes a travel blog and is currently based in Tel Aviv, Israel.