As a part of my series about “Ideas That Can Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Alen Paul Silverrstieen. Alen recently founded Imagination Park Technologies, Inc, a MicroCap Public Company ((CSE:IP OTCQB: IPNFF), that has developed an enterprise cloud-based augmented reality platform that allows any company to launch an AR campaign without requiring any programmers in minutes. Prior to Imagination Park, he founded a USA and India a software company leveraging Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to optimize job candidate sourcing. Alen has represented one of the leading Indian Post-Production Studios and contracted over 60 major Hollywood movies in the past 5 years. Alen is also known as a pioneer of the North American pre-paid phone cards and has led his company public on NASDAQ within 3 years from his kitchen table. He has executed major license deals with MLB, Marvel, NHL, Led Zeppelin and many others.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
As a serial entrepreneur, I have many stories that might be considered unique by most people, such as moving to India for four years to launch a recruitment software company or personally witnessing 9/11 from a skyscraper one block away and immediately starting an anti-money laundering technology company. But the most interesting story is how buying Muhammed Ali memorabilia launched my prepaid phonecard company which IPO’d on NASDAQ within 36 months from starting it on my kitchen table.
In the early 90s, my baseball card wholesale company and latest start-up were hitting the wall and I was running out of money fast. With a large mortgage and overwhelming financial obligations, my entrepreneurial adrenaline was running like a hamster on a squeaky wheel. One early Saturday morning, my phone rang (no cell phone — yet) and a past associate heard through a friend that I was in the baseball card business and asked if I would handle “sports memorabilia”. With desperation of a soon to be empty bank account, again, I excitedly answered, “Yes”. He told me to bring money and meet a “guy” near where Malcom X was assassinated — 3940 Broadway in Washington Heights, NYC. Back then, it was far from the safest neighborhood to be strolling around by yourself with a pocketful of cash. The “guy” allegedly had “memorabilia” from Muhammed Ali. I had no clue what it was, but needed something to happen to generate cash fast with my mortgage payment due shortly.
I met the “guy”, a local drug dealer, who had a few buddies with him who looked like the defensive line of the NY Giants. We strolled a few blocks and then entered a dilapidated walk-up apartment. There was graffiti on the walls and people sleeping in the stairwells on the way up to the apartment. We came to a graffiti-covered steel door and the “guy” banged on it loudly. When the door opened, my possepushed me inside and followed behind me quickly. The room was dark and an elderly gentleman was sitting in a broken chair in the corner. My newfound group of “buddies” grabbed a chair and placed it directly in front of the old man and had me sit down in front of him knee to knee. The old man proceeded to tell stories about performing at the Apollo Theatre back in the day. Finally, I lost patience and tried to leave, but the group yelled at the elderly gentleman asking him to show me what he had to sell.
The old man slowly got up from his chair, moved it, opened a closet, and pulled out a large, dark garbage bag and dropped it at my feet. I opened it and slowly pulled out the original Muhammed Ali grey/white custom robe he wore for the infamous “Rumble in the Jungle” Zaire Fight against George Foremen. Amazing! Also, a second robe, which Ali wore during his second Jerry Quarry fight. I knew I had to buy it but wasn’t sure if I could even afford it.
After lengthy negotiations, and a subsequent trip to the bank, I purchased both robes and headed home with the garbage bag. Having emptied my bank account to $0, I had to find a way to sell them quickly. I bought a few boxing magazines in the Hudson News at Grand Central and called every boxing dealer/collector/writer I could find listed in the back of the magazine. One Friday night at 9pm, my home phone rang and it is Shelly Finkel. I never heard of him before but quickly learned he was the boxing manager for Heavyweight Boxing Champion Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker and Mark Breland. He was also one of the largest rock promoters in the Northeast. (Note: Shelly Finkel was recently voted into the Boxing Hall of Fame.)
Shelly Finkel purchased both Ali robes which allowed me to finance my newest entrepreneurial venture, an early stage prepaid phonecard company. Eventually, Shelly joined my company as the CEO and prime financier until we went public on NASDAQ within 36 months. The company became the largest, licensed phonecard company in the world, thanks to Shelly, and produced phonecards for the MLB, MLBPA, NHL, Marvel, Upper Deck, Led Zeppelin and many others.
If it wasn’t for the Muhammed Ali robe, I would have never met Shelly Finkel and launched my start-up onto NASDAQ. Shelly Finkel was truly an amazing mentor who greatly influenced my personal and professional life forever.
Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change the World”?
Mobile Augmented Reality (AR) is a gamechanger as a new digital communications channel, similar to when websites became popular a few decades ago. Our company, Imagination Park Technologies, a MicroCap public company (CSE:IP OTCQB: IPNFF), has developed a self-service AR enterprise platform, which allows any company to create an augmented reality campaign in minutes without the need for a programmer or technical team at an affordable price. These dynamic campaigns can include AR Stories (AR Scavenger Hunts), Sweepstakes and even Donations for Fundraising. Each AR engagement can reward consumers instantly with Trophy Cards, such as coupons, e-digital collectibles and unique content. Companies can drive new revenue opportunities while capturing consumer data with full analytic reporting.
With Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon spending hundreds of millions on AR research and products annually, our AR platform allows any company to easily afford to take advantage of this exploding digital communications channel and engage consumers with a minimal investment and no technical resources.
How do you think this will change the world?
AR is going to change the world of sports, education, fundraising, advertising, retail and much more. By leveraging a mobile phone to engage AR, which will eventually transition to wearable headsets, consumers will have the ability to interact and engage with digital information while exploring the world around them. Advertisers can gamify their consumer interactions with AR, capture the data and track the true ROI of campaigns targeting specific demographics. For example, in manufacturing, AR can be used to train workers to utilize machinery by providing overlays of graphics, videos and content in the field. At sports events, fans can interact with the digital signage and on-field markers to view statistics of players while watching the game and conduct in-stadium scavenger hunts for prizes as well.
AR will create a world similar to Tom Cruise in the movie Minority Report, where consumers will be served up personalize advertising, promotions and information as part of their daily life.
In the Black Mirror episode “Nosedive”, people can see each other’s social media score and profile as they went about their daily lives, eventually resulting in significant negative impact on the world as we know it — a scary consequence of integrating AR and facial recognition. Facial recognition results in the real-time delivery of personal information while encountering people in their daily life while looking thru wearable AR lenses. The San Francisco legislation just launched an initiative to ban facial recognition technology within the city. The negative implications of having access to personal information instantly as you interact with people could truly change the paradigm of human communications and society in a negative manner.
China recently announced its plans to set up a vast ranking system that will monitor the behavior of its enormous population and rank based on their “social credit.” Similar to your existing credit scores, a person’s social score will be dynamic and moves depending on their behavior. Negative infractions could include bad driving, smoking in non-smoking zones, jaywalking, not paying a court bill and playing your music too loud on the train. A tremendous amount of data is captured by the government and private companies with no privacy or protections for citizens which can be be used in subjective ways. If you are blacklisted, then what? Down the rabbit hole.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
When I initially experienced the Microsoft HoloLens prototype two years ago in our future software development partner’s offices in Southern California, I realized by creating a software platform leveraging AR could potentially be commercialized in the movie and content business. Imagination Park immediately entered into a joint venture to finance the development of the initial AR headset software platform prototypes in April 2017. In the Fall of 2017, I realized the significant market opportunity with mobile phones — not headsets — as Pokémon Go demonstrated the tremendous consumer potential of leveraging AR. We pivoted to mobile AR and continued to finance development of our new AR Mobile Enterprise Cloud Platform and launched mobile app products — XenoCloud™, XenoMark™ and XenoApp™ in the mobile app stores in October 2018. We successfully launched the Mall of America AR Holiday Experience this past December and are quickly executing new AR client opportunities in sports, retail and advertising in 2019.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon are committed to AR by investing huge amounts of money to build their AR products for the near-future.
“Simply put, we believe augmented reality is going to change the way we use technology forever,” Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, said. “We’re already seeing things that will transform the way you work, play, connect and learn.”
Imagination Park Technologies has developed a self-service AR platform that levels the playing field economically, allowing any company to create AR campaigns and experiences without the need for expensive programmers. Market education and awareness will be financed by several silicon technology giants and our company will be brought along as part of the AR revolution in the world focusing on sports, retail, advertising and fundraising. Market education will lead to wide-scale adoption.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1) You will never have enough time or money for your entrepreneurial venture.
I have not taken a single vacation day since I was hired as the CEO & president of Imagination Park Technologies on April 18, 2017, including weekends. Recently, my mom faced a life-threatening brain injury and both my wife and I lived at a NYC hospital for almost a month. But I did not miss a day of work as it was a critical transitional time for our AR business. As a small public company, investors give you their ultimate trust through personal financial investment and it is important to work tirelessly and endlessly to deliver value back to stockholders in the fastest timeframe possible. We are blessed to have very supportive investors as a microcap company in Canada (CSE:IP OTCQB: IPNFF) who believe in the future of AR and understand how our AR platform technology is industry-leading today.
2) Start-ups will consume you night and day to the point you are obsessed, sacrificing sleep and health while negatively impacting your personal life and relationships.
I have slept on the couch of many of my offices through the years, eating sandwiches and drinking endless cups of coffee. I have woken up in the middle of the night hundreds of times with solutions to solve business challenges and then spent hours obsessively at my computer typing up the ideas so I don’t forget them before trying to go back to sleep before the alarm rings. Entrepreneurship is a very lonely life, but having a very supportive spouse or partner is a major factor of achieving success.
3) Sucks to the be the boss. Nobody is ever happy, and you will NEVER get a pat on the back.
As the CEO of multiple public companies, delivering shareholder value is effectively measured only through an increase of the stock price as the sole measurement of success. If the stock price goes higher, stockholders still feel it never goes up high enough. If the stock price drops, you will receive endless angry emails and even have disparaging remarks posted about yourself on open web forums endlessly. At the end of the day, you must remain laser focused on your goal of company profitability and increasing stockholder value.
4) People’s lives depend upon you and you put their financial needs before yours. I cannot count the amount of times I have paid the employees first and had to wait weeks and even months for money to come in from clients or investors to pay myself.
Your employees believe in your mission and yourself, so you need to make sure they are paid first and foremost before vendors and most certainly yourself. During the early days of the phonecard company, I skipped or missed many paychecks. Luckily, our sole financer was hands on with the business as we began to grow quickly and always made sure everyone was paid on time.
5) You never end up the business model you thought you would be in by the time you start growing revenue quickly.
This has happened with every business I started since each of their inception. With the phonecard company, GTS, I originally started walking the streets of Jackson Heights in Queens, NY trying to sell phonecards to small retailers for their customers who didn’t have home phones. Nobody knew what a phonecard was at that time and wouldn’t trust paying cash upfront for a plastic card with an 800 number and pin code to make calls on payphones. I had to give the phonecards on consignment to retail stores and come back each week to collect cash and provide new phonecard inventory. When Shelly Finkel joined and financed GTS, we were able to leverage his vast sports network relationships to secure phonecard licenses at that time for the NHL, MLB, Marvel, 1980 Olympic Team, the ’69 Mets Anniversary and many others. We no longer were selling commodity phonecards on the streets to retailers but much higher priced and profitable phonecard collectibles, which led to an IPO on NASDAQ.
The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?
We all hear the rumblings that intelligent machines will take over the world and displace millions of people in the labor force. Unfortunately, this will happen as companies compete against each other to gain market share, lower costs and increase stockholder value. Self-service kiosks and leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already growing globally.
I believe the ability to communicate is the key foundation to be a successful entrepreneur and “future proof” your career. It is important to learn how to write effectively, be comfortable with public speaking and always be open to learning new things by reading and communicating. Many people prefer to text or email only and assume they can build a business or be successful while staring at a screen. Yes — that does happen, but rarely. A real successful person can communicate their vision and strategy to their team, investors, co-workers, clients and ultimately the world!
People should take advantage of the opportunity to speak at conferences, company meetings and networking opportunities. You will learn the essence of effective communications and further improve sales and team leadership. Employees don’t report or talk to a screen — people drive business and ultimately the revenue and success of any company.
Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?
Obviously, I would invest the full million dollars in Imagination Park Technologies (CSE:IP OTCQB: IPNFF) as we continue to further develop our AR platform, file patents and secure new deals in our target vertical markets. We feel the company is currently significantly undervalued and are positioned to take advantage of the emerging AR digital communications channel worldwide. We have a committed team and board of directors who agree with our vision to become the AR platform standard for any company to implement AR campaigns within minutes at a low cost to drive new revenue.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
1) Be transparent, open and honest and maintain the highest integrity and ethics. There are no easy shortcuts or tricks to achieving success. The adage, “If it looks too good to be true, it always is” holds true.
2) Maintain a sense of humor and don’t take yourself to seriously. Laughter will help you get through some of the most challenging times in your life, both personally and professionally.
3) Success depends upon a model of process, structure and methodology. Your company should be able to achieve maturity so that it runs successfully even if you aren’t involved daily.
4) Truly try to maintain a work/life balance. At the end of the day, it is your family, your spouse or partner that truly matter. There will be no pockets for cash in your casket.
5) Be open to change and always keep learning.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
As someone who has been a serial entrepreneur for decades, experienced the highs and lows, I would consider the following key rules of success habits.
1) Find a mentor early in your career. Preferably one with some grey hair who has lived through many battles and won a couple of wars in their career. Leverage their knowledge and experience to guide your decision-making and business strategy.
2) You will face many bleak days and challenges which look insurmountable when you launch your entrepreneurial venture. Don’t get discouraged and focus on your network and personal relationships to provide support and ideas to help get you over the hurdle. But not money.
3) When you ask for money, you will always get advice. When you ask for advice, you have a much better chance of getting money. You have heard it before — it is true! Talk but don’t ever beg.
4) If you don’t ask, you don’t get. It is ALWAYS “No” until you ask.
5) Having a supportive wife or partner is a major reason for achieving true success in this world. They will always look out for you, have the best intentions for your success, truly understand when you are depressed and need mental support and celebrate the small victories with you as well.
6) Be ready to work seven days a week, lose sleep and eat crappy food. Your investors and competition don’t care about your personal life. Fight to win in business but try not sacrifice your health. You need to live to fight another day as it is a marathon and not a sprint.
7) Business is all about strategy, execution and never-ending optimism on even your darkest days.
Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Imagination Park Technologies has a self-service augmented reality cloud-based enterprise mobile platform providing any business the ability to create engaging AR campaigns in minutes for consumers and capture the activation data to further develop and grow the relationship to drive revenue. We are at the forefront of the next digital revolution and positioned to become a leader in this future market.
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