Daniel Choi is the CEO of Sequoia Games, Inc., a ground-breaking game development studio that fuses the physical and digital worlds. Last Spring, Sequoia Games released its signature product, Flex NBA, a turn-based game which is played with hand-drawn collectible Flexagon tiles that feature built-in Augmented Reality (AR), 3D and 4K technology.
A Bay Area native, Choi is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley with degrees in economics and molecular cell biology-biochemistry. Upon graduating from Berkeley, Choi started his own company, Metropolitan Insider Corporation, which he ran for two years, before pivoting to spend the next 20 years as a regional executive and partner at several Fortune 300 companies. They included Ameriprise Financial Services, Guardian, and Wells Fargo. During that time, he led teams of upwards of 200 employees.
A long-time and passionate gamer who also was world-ranked with a popular TCG, Choi saw an opportunity in the gaming and collectibles space, and he left his successful career to build Sequoia Games with the goal of taking the technology of today and applying it to the explosive re-birth of old-school collectible gaming. It’s one of the best decisions he’s ever made. Today, Choi lives his dream of leading a company with the vision to infuse more fun into the world.
Choi, his wife Diana and their two sons now reside in Southern California. His passions are gaming and sports, along with spending time with his family and enjoying fine dining and cooking.
Where did the idea for Sequoia Games come from?
About five years ago, my then five- and seven-year-old sons were into Pokémon. I was spending probably $500-$1,000 a year on these cards, only to watch them throw away most of the ones that I was buying. One day, I went to a specialty game hobby shop, where they stocked games for almost every franchise you could imagine. I saw games for Star Wars, Marvel, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and many others. I asked if they had a game around sports and they said that unfortunately they didn’t have anything sports-themed. They had trading cards, but that was it. So, I went home and did some online research and came to learn that there was no TCG (Trading Card Game) for sports. I happened to be a world-ranked gamer with a popular TCG at the time, so I locked myself in my office for three weeks and built a game. I started playing with my kids and their friends to see how they liked it and they all did, so I got it patented. I then flew to New York to meet with the officials from the NBA to get their approval to license the game and the rest is history.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I always start my day by working out. After getting some exercise in, I’ll typically hold a series of meetings that I focus and give my full attention to. Once I’m done with that part of the day, I’ll spend time with my kids to help them with their schoolwork and get them to their sports practices. I try to make sure every day is productive by planning it out in advance, focusing and being intentional with my meetings, and balancing it out with family and personal commitments.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I think that the 3D, physical world we live in is behind what we envision in our minds. Everything that humans have created started as an idea in someone’s head. Every single thing started as a thought, so I just know that we all carry that inherent power of being able to create something out of nothing. In the gaming and collectibles world, we do that using technology and always staying ahead of where the world is at. The world is simple, it’s the movie screen on which our ideas are projected upon, and we direct the story that we want to tell.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The Atari is 40 years old. The original Nintendo is over 30 years old. Gaming consoles connected to TVs are going to become old tech very soon. The incorporation of digital and physical worlds excites me most. We may not even have TVs and monitors in the near future. We’ll be able to work, play and live in symbiosis with digital worlds, not separately or experienced through a device.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I always think it’s going to work out. You have to have a few screws loose to be a successful entrepreneur. You have to deny current reality and have the confidence to know that your will and drive will create a new reality. It’s required to make the impossible happen consistently.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t worry so much! You can’t mess up what’s meant for you. Be your best self and ride the wave of life like a surfer. You can’t control everything, so do your best work and pursue the best version of what you want. Worrying does absolutely nothing. It’s a mirage or false idol that your ego creates to make you feel like you can control outcomes. You can’t, but you can be your best self and the world will project back to you the vision you have for yourself.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
What I’d say here is too controversial to most people!
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Dream very big and live as if what you want is already happened. The world will catch up to what you see in your mind.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Pick a very high standard for the one aspect of your business that you stand behind and make no compromises around it. For Flex, it’s the quality of the Flexagons. I will never compromise or cheapen that. Everything else can show some wiggle room, but I want the quality of art, beauty, collectability and playability of each Flexagon to be front and center no matter what. Early on, some of my team members wanted to “cheapen” the Flexagon with alternate substrates, but I said keep the quality of the Flexagon and increase the price, and today we continue to sell out, even with the higher costs.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I wanted to control outcomes and I tried to “force” things to happen. Early on, I was completely ego-driven in a sense where ego is the part of the mind that isn’t your true self, it’s what the brain thinks you should be or need to be. Once I let that go, everything started to manifest itself faster and faster. I learned that life is about controlling effort, not results.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Someone should make an app where you can matchmake and play sports with random people, like a video game lobby, but instead of for video games, for basketball, tennis, golf, etc.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I bought the book The Power of Awareness by Neville Goddard.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
The app called Drafts. I take notes and journal in it constantly. I like how simple it is and it links to all my devices. The user interface is easy and looks nice.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Becoming Supernatural by Joe Dispenza. It changed the way I look at the power we each have within us. In short, it’s a great read about how we shortchange the ability each of us has to change the reality that lives inside every one of us.
What is your favorite quote?
“Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth…The ignorance which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: the moment that one definitely commits one’s self, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings And material assistance which no one could have dreamt would have come your way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
- Life and success or failure is about controlling effort, not results.
- Every one of us carries the inherent power of being able to create something out of nothing and to see your dreams fulfilled.
- It’s plausible that TVs and screens will become a thing of the past in the not too distant future and that people will work, play and live in symbiosis in a completely digital world.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.