On March 8, 2013, Dennis Ai walked away with $10,000, awarded by PHA Honorary Vice Chair and Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker, to invest in JiveHealth, a video game that teaches kids about healthy eating, empowering and encouraging them to adopt healthy behaviors. Ai will also have the opportunity to consult with executives at Edelman, McKinsey & Company and Startup Health and use their expert advice to help him expand upon his initial idea.
After the event, we asked Dennis a few questions about his experience during the End Childhood Obesity Innovation Challenge and his future aspirations:
A: Instead of doing a traditional internship the summer of my junior year, I decided to fly out to San Francisco to pursue my own startup, Mavenize. To make a long story short, Mavenize failed before I left, and I found myself at home in Edison, New Jersey without anything to do. So to pass the time, I started playing video games again, and I found myself addicted to one called Diablo III. One day, I was talking to my friend about how so many issues in healthcare could be tackled if people simply ate right, and that’s when it hit me that we could use games to influence eating behavior, especially among kids.
Since then, we’ve been through three or four iterations of the game idea, and the game that we have today is a remarkable evolution of what our first concept was back in August 2012.
Q: What has been the greatest obstacle you have faced so far in getting your business up and off the ground?
A: Finding the right people. Building a startup is hard for so many reasons, and finding the people with both the skills and the passion is chief among them. When I first started out, all we literally had was an idea. We didn’t have a game designer or artist, and basically had no way of actually turning the idea into a reality.
So equipped with idea in hand and zero cash to pay anyone, I went out and started recruiting, at networking events and at schools in the Chicago area. Six months later, we have a great team of game designers, artists, and marketers who are committed to our vision, and that’s what gives me great confidence going forward.
Q: How do you think Edelman, McKinsey & Company and StartUp Health can each help you expand your business?
A: There are two major challenges that we face upfront: building a great game and then actually getting it into the hands of kids everywhere. StartupHealth has been and will continue to be a great resource for helping us learn and stick to lean product development processes that will help us build the best possible game. With Edelman’s help, we will hopefully be able to create a significant amount of buzz around our launch and give us the traction we need to let the game flourish.
Finally, our long-term vision is to help build the Tony the Tiger for fruits and vegetables, and that’s where McKinsey’s business acumen and expertise can help us identify the right partners and customers that will ultimately help us achieve that goal.
Q: What do you see as the next steps for JiveHealth?
A: We are actually doing a Kickstarter to raise additional money to pay for the software licenses we need to fully develop the game. In terms of the game itself, we are currently building out the iPhone version of the game for launch in the App Store in June. Finally, we are speaking with several potential partners to help promote the game, and are always interested in finding ways to work together with new partners to help our kids build healthier and happier lives.
Q: If you could give young entrepreneurs a few words of advice, what would they be?
A: Talk, observe, and listen to your customers (or potential ones if you don’t have any yet). One of the easiest traps to fall into is to think that you know the problem and the solution without ever speaking to the people that will buy or use your product. We went to South by Southwest for Steve Blank’s NEXT Program, and one of the key insights that we found was that kids tell each other about games by text messaging their friends. We would never have discovered that if we hadn’t taken the time to actually talk to our customers.
I would also read the book: “The Law of Success” by Napoleon Hill. It’s a great book on the mentality you need to have to succeed.
To find out more about the End Childhood Obesity Innovation Challenge click here