Utopian Entrepreneur: genius or oxymoron?

Brenda Laurel’s oxymoronically-titled Utopian Entrepreneur (MIT Press, $14.95) reveals too much about why this charismatic entrepreneur’s software company burned bright and then flopped. Purple Moon was a noble venture that produced eight computer games for girls. They featured Rockett, a spunky character whose challenges were found more in fitting in at a new school than in toppling a time-traveling gun-toting monster. On paper, and actually on disk, the games made perfect sense. (Just ask my daughter, for one.) And the book nicely describes how such high ideals can be channeled into a company. "The story I learned about work when I was growing up was that the idea was to create value. The goal was to make things that would make people’s lives better," writes Laurel. Unfortunately, being good doesn’t necessarily translate into profits in the long term. Purple Moon produced computer games for girls with more intellectual fiber and content than most, yet one wishes Laurel could have applied the same passion and wisdom towards creating an enduringly great company. Her memoir seems to reflect some of the company’s strengths and weaknesses. Laurel digresses smartly into the relation of narrative and story-telling to gender and the creation of identity, yet she barely conceals a slight disdain for the nitty-gritty of business details. We like talking about values and gender construction too—but hey, what about distribution and licensing? The lesson here: first, build a great product. But learn to love creating a great company as well.

Posted by tom at April 25, 2002 11:26 AM
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