John Robison ’85 has created more companies than most people have joined, and he doesn’t intend to slow down any time soon. His 25-year career entertainment content and technology has led to his current positions as chairman and CEO of Big PlayARÂ and PoliteView (PVtv), as well as AM2.IO (America 2.0), Hollywood Center Studios and Hollywood Movieworks /China Clicks 2, which has operations in China.
He shared some of his stories with a group of business honors students at Mays and encouraged them to be open to doing several jobs over the course of their lifetimes.
Robison learned about entrepreneurship from his mother, who supported three children after her husband died. Robison’s first business endeavor was as “the hubcap kid,” selling shiny wheel covers he found on the streets in his Houston neighborhood for $5 each. Soon, he was recruiting his friends to help him. “I had my friends out on bikes, picking up hubcaps, and all I had to do was buy them hot dogs. I was making about $100 a day in junior high basically selling trash I found on the side of the road.”
Some of Robison’s neighbors and mentors happened to be prominent business leaders including Houston Industries, BFI and Sysco Foods. During the time between junior high and the end of college, Robison learned about investing from them and invested some of his earnings in those and other stocks. By the time he was out of college, that 10 years later, those stocks had grown in value to exceed $1 million. “I didn’t have to have a job, so I took a different path, working for a mentor, Paul Meyer. But that also meant I was highly unemployable. By the time I was ready to go to work, I had to create my own jobs.”
He chose accounting and management as his majors, and as a hobby outside of school he and a few aspiring students, including Graham Weston ’86 (co-Founder of Rackspace), created The Society for Entrepreneurship and New Ventures (ENVE) and INVENT as well as Campus Entrepreneur Magazine. Robison said those organizations strengthened his ties to the business school. “We brought in experts to talk to the students, then the dean (William Mobley) offered to help us out if he could get a few minutes with these folks. It was a good partnership.”
Robison’s career has included holdings with his partners (including Bryan Cranston, John O’Hurley, Bryan Singer, Joe Sabatino and others) in multiple entertainment production companies that have produced hit TV shows, major movies and documentaries. His long-time friend, Mark Cuban (owner of Dallas Mavs), is also his partner and a co-founder of Big PlayAR.
His newest project is a concept he calls “America 2.0â€¦there’s an app for that,” which he is doing with an eclectic group of partners including Newt Gingrich to create a marketplace to “appify” government.
During college, Robison helped initiate the tradition of waving the 12th Man towels at football games. In 1984, as they were looking for ideas that were less expensive to produce than his popular “Hornbuster” sweatshirts, he and his business partners noticed the small Corps of Cadet hand towels in his grandfather’s 1931 A&M yearbook.
Robison and a couple of fellow ENVE members thought that in addition to being easier and cheaper to produce, the towels would complement the 12th Man program Coach Jackie Sherrill had introduced with the 12th Man kick-off team. They approached a then-tiny silk screening operation known as CC Creations to make the first batch, and that company still produces them today.
Sherrill deserves much of the credit for the towels’ popularity, Robison notes, because they weren’t selling well until Sherrill agreed to wave them during the next game. The towels sold out from then on.
Robison shared with the Mays students two of his favorite lessons from his mentors. One is a line that motivates him to work a little harder: “What you do from 9-5 will make you a livingâ€¦but what you do from 5 to 9 will make you wealthy.” The other is a set of questions he uses to measure his own progress, which he asks himself on his birthday each year:
- What do you want?
- Why do you want it?
- When do you want it?
- Why don’t you have it?
- Whose fault is it?
“You have to ask those questions at each step of your life, and you have to know the answers,” he said. “You have to be honest with yourself and do whatever you need to do about it.”
About Mays Business School
Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School educates more than 5,000 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students in accounting, finance, management, management information systems, marketing and supply chain management. Mays consistently ranks among the top public business schools in the country for its undergraduate and MBA programs, and for faculty research. The mission of Mays Business School is creating knowledge and developing ethical leaders for a global society.