Congratulations to Michael Fergusson, CEO of Ayogo Games Inc., and the 2012 Pacific Region Social Entrepreneur of the Year.
One glimpse of Michael Fergusson and it’s obvious the CEO didn’t take the well-worn path to becoming top dog at his own business, Ayogo Games Inc. Even in the ultra-casual world of high-tech Gastown startups, Fergusson’s dreadlocked mane and pearl-buttoned western shirt suggest an individual who dances to his own beat. Fitting, since the Jamaican-born entrepreneur spent his youth drumming in a reggae band. “I’m what they used to call a self-made man – it sounds better than high school dropout,” he confesses in his Cordova Street office.
“It turned out I was better at managing people than playing my instrument,” he says. With his natural leadership skills and a certain tech-savvy gained from dealing with music gear, Fergusson seized on the rise of the Internet to start his first company in 2001. Although challenging, its mandate of commercializing patents for multi-user operating systems didn’t satisfy his urge to make a positive impact on the world. So in 2008 Fergusson joined forces with CTO Paul Prescod to form Ayogo, banking on the premise that injecting a little fun into an otherwise dour topic – chronic illness – could be both profitable and meaningful.
Four years later, the privately held company boasts 35 employees and has doubled profits year over year.
“Everyone has an interest in an eight-year-old child with Type 1 diabetes doing the right thing – testing their blood sugar at the right times,” Fergusson explains. “But the child’s own psychology, their biology, their cultural milieu work against them.”
Rewarding those kids with positive feedback through play has been an easy sell, Fergusson adds, not just to patients, who get his products for free, but also to the health authorities, government agencies and insurers who are Ayogo’s clientele.
Fergusson attributes Ayogo’s success to his belief that in business, as in life, happiness – not money – matters most. “Human beings are naturally joyful creatures and if you can give people moments of joy, you can really have a big impact on their lives,” he says.
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
I wanted to do something that mattered. I didn’t have any ambitions beyond that.
What was your first big break in your current business?
When we had the opportunity to work on our first significant project for diabetes. That was a great opportunity that really came to us through personal connections and it really changed the whole direction of the business.
Looking back, what’s one thing you would do differently, professionally speaking?
I would take more deep breaths. Especially when I was just starting to run companies and be in really important leadership positions, I think I was short-tempered. I wasn’t calm enough.
What book would you recommend for entrepreneurs starting out?
A Theory of Fun for Game Design, by Raph Koster and Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely. Both are not really about business, but about how human beings work.