The Well-Rounded Rebel
Divisional Vice President of Cloud Gaming, GameStop
In the late 1970s, long before home computers and gaming systems became prevalent, David Wilson’s older brother managed to gain access to a computer lab at a nearby university.
“I don’t know how he happened to get his hands on it, but we used to sneak in there and play Star Trek games on the mainframe computer,” he said. “Computers felt like black magic to me. I didn’t really understand them, but they fascinated me.”
Wilson found a way to channel that fascination into a double major at Baylor, in Economics and Computer Information Systems. But he still wasn’t sure of his career path.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do until I was about 30,” he said.
After graduation, Wilson worked on information systems for a few oil and gas companies as a consultant at Andersen Consulting, and while he was successful, he wasn’t satisfied.
“It was tech, but it was mundane. And I had to wear wool suits to work in Houston in the summer. I like to wear shorts and sneakers to work,” he said. “I realized this wasn’t me, but I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. So I stalled by going to get my MBA.”
That’s when he discovered product management, and his career really got started.
“What appealed to me is that I got to do different things all throughout every day,” Wilson said. “What I did touched every area of the company: product development, finance, sales, marketing. I found that very attractive.”
He returned to Texas, and he went to work for a company that sold high-end professional graphics programs to consumers, “back when software came packaged in big boxes,” he said.
“Ink jet printers were becoming affordable at that point, and people could suddenly print high quality stuff at home,” Wilson said. “So we started wondering how to leverage that with our expertise in graphics.”
What they came up with was working with Hallmark to sell software to print greeting cards at home and with Crayola to sell kids’ art software.
“We had fun building that into a pretty big business very quickly,” Wilson said.
As technology evolved, so did his career. Wilson attended a conference focused on the Internet in 1995, where he got hooked on the next big thing.
“I remember knowing very viscerally that the Internet was going to change everything,” he said. “I got the bug, and I just had to do something in the Internet space.”
Wilson became the vice president of marketing for the Austin-based Usenet discussion site Deja News, and helped them to build a top 20 website.
“We had a blast, but after we sold Deja to Google and eBay in the teeth of the crash [the dot com bust of the early 2000s], everything changed again. There were no more instant millionaires,” he said. “After that, I took the approach that I wanted to build companies in a more capital-efficient way. So now I do whatever I want. I do things that spark my interest and are big ideas.”
Wilson’s latest venture was serving as President & CEO of Spawn Labs, which was recently acquired by GameStop, the world’s largest multichannel video game retailer.
“Cloud gaming runs games on high-end hardware in data centers and streams the video and audio of the game to a variety of devices – TVs, computers, tablets, and so on,” he said. “No one thought this would work, but we’re doing it. We’re doing for gaming what Netflix has done for streaming TV shows and movies.”
As for the next big thing?
“The beauty of technology is that there are constantly opportunities for major innovation,” he said. “It’s always fun to see what’s next.”