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Innovators: Mark Wolfe, Co-Founder of RRKidz
Innovators. They come in many forms. They dream big but they aren’t just dreamers. They form raw ideas into cool products with disruptive business models. They shatter entire industries and leave established leviathans running scared with their tails between their legs. The Innovators interview series connects you with the most driven people on the planet. What makes them tick? What advice do they have for tech founders? What tools do they use to get the job done? Read on to find out.
Throughout his 27 year Hollywood career, Mark Wolfe has been a Producer or Executive on over 100 films, including such acclaimed and successful movies as Terminator 3, Kinsey, I♥Huckabees, and K-19: The Widowmaker. Shepherding over $1 Billion worth of movie projects through Hollywood, Mark managed to lose only one of the two things he attempted to maintain throughout his career: his sanity and his sense of humor. Having been all over the world making films, worked with some of the greatest actors, writers and directors, and watched a film he produced World Premiere from the Tsar of Russia’s private box in St. Petersburg, Wolfe has proven that film school was actually a good idea and is glad he didn’t try medical school after all. Mark produced two films in which LeVar Burton either directed or starred, leading to a friendship and business partnership in Burton/Wolfe Entertainment, a company founded on the principles of “doing well by doing good.” With Burton/Wolfe’s creation of RRKidz and the acquisition of Reading Rainbow, Wolfe now finds himself shuttling between LA and San Francisco pretending to understand technology despite his inability to successfully utilize a pencil sharpener.
What do you enjoy most about your work and why?
Right now, all over the world, thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people are enjoying some movie, TV show or project that I am responsible for. The knowledge that the work we do in Hollywood can entertain, enlighten and educate strangers I will never meet makes it all worthwhile. With Reading Rainbow and RRKIDZ, hearing our customers tell us how their children, never readers before, suddenly embrace and look forward to the stories we are telling makes “work” a true pleasure. Starting with nothing but an idea and a blank whiteboard and a year or so later seeing it become reality in homes all over the world, that’s the most enjoyable part of what I do.
Where does your passion come from? What drives you, inspires you, excites you?
Storytelling, whether professionally or just hanging with friends and talking, I am in love with stories. When you combine that passion with the ability through media to have your story heard, that’s what excites me.
Someone reading this wants to start a tech company. What’s your best advice for them?
Don’t : ) However if they still want to, my advice is the same advice as for someone wanting to start any business or create any product: know your audience… your consumer. What do they want and why is that thing you are making going to be something they want? If you create just for yourself, you run the risk of making something amazing that no one will ever see. Specifically for tech, I encourage everyone to make sure you combine in your senior management very tech savvy people with very product savvy people. One without the other is a recipe for failure. When my business partner LeVar Burton and I spoke to people in the Silicon Valley early on in RRKIDZ life, we heard a similar story. Many savvy people can create great tech but don’t have strengths in user experience, whereas Hollywood is all about user experience but often doesn’t spend enough time understanding the technology side. Combine the two: Tech and UX.
What are a few tech startups that you’re really excited about right now and why?
Ours and any others that are trying to bring education to children. Games are awesome and fun is an imperative part of human existence, but there are a million apps and companies out there making games. LeVar says “All technology is educational; the question is, what are we teaching?” I believe in that. Exciting start ups are the ones that help children learn and engage as well as be entertained.
What tech tools (websites, apps, gadgets, etc.) do you rely on both for work and in your down time?
My iPad is my portable life, both at work and at home and on the road. Its all in one – entertainment, productive, and practical. And MAPS of any kind. Without navigation programs and tools, I would be still looking for the Hollywood Sign somewhere driving through Atlanta. I use Pandora all the time for music everywhere. And Google. With Google, I can ask any question ever imagined and find out the answer instantly… how amazing is that? To have the sum of all human knowledge at your fingertips literally?