Friday, January 28, 2011

Q&A with Tony Havelka: Founder and CEO of Ameba TV

Happy Friday everyone and welcome to The DaddyYo Blog! I hope today finds you all well and ready for the weekend! At the end of this post I will be announcing the winner of the Ameba TV giveaway that has been running the last week. But first, it is my honor to introduce you to founder and CEO of Ameba TV, Tony Havelka. Tony is a dad of two, a thinker, and a visionary. Tony agreed to answer 10 questions about being a dad and about Ameba TV for the day I announce the winner of the Ameba TV set top box. Thank you so much Tony! It has been a pleasure reading your responses in preparation for this post, and learning a little more about the man behind Ameba TV. Without further delay, I give you Tony Havelka, in his own words.

1. Tell us a little about yourself and your family: Married with two children. Serial entrepreneur. Founded one of the first companies that manufactured commercially available Virtual Reality gear in the early 90’s. Founded a company that sold Virtual Reality and Wearable Computing gear from all vendors under “one roof” online. Hold a patent in Combat Identification technology used to reduce fratricide in the battlefield. Founded Ameba in 2008.

I learned, early on in my career, that achieving a work/life balance is critical. My first venture consumed most of my time. It was fun, I was young but the work/life balance was out. It was in my second venture that I started to slow down and focus on what meant more to me a business life or a family life. I wanted both so that balance shifted. In 2000 I sold the company, stayed on with the new company and became an employee and started a family. The new company was an ESOP – an employee owned company – and work/life balance was key to their success. In 2005, I purchased the company back and an even work/life balance became a cornerstone in our company. Today, a day on the road away from home is a banked day you can take anytime, no questions asked. All of our employees have young families so spending time with them is key
to having creative, happy people to help mold your future.

2. Share with us your favorite part of being a dad: Helping and watching my children learn and grow is the best part of being a dad. Everyday, they bring something new. I am always amazed at how much my children teach me about myself, the world and growing up. I only hope that I am giving as much back to them as they give to me.

3. Share with us your worst fear as a dad: Becoming too wrapped up in myself instead of focusing on my children: not being there when I should have been there. Missing a cue when I should have caught it. Underestimating the knowledge and abilities of my children. I shudder at the though of ever taking my family for granted.

4. With your job and what amount of time you spend with it, what do you miss the most when you are not at home? I am an introvert. Work requires me to be an extrovert so I spend a good portion of my day outside of my comfort zone. Home is comfortable. Home is sanctuary. All problems are solved with a Band-Aid, a kiss or a few good words of understanding and encouragement.

5. What led you to the founding of Ameba TV? It was December 2007. We were all watching an animated Christmas special on one of the networks. During the commercial break an ad for CSI came on. After the ad, my son, 7 at the time, turned to my wife and I and said “What’s a pedophile?” It was at that point I realized that something had to be done. We initially based the premise of Ameba on viewer safety and parental control because of that fateful night but realized that children’s content is about children and letting them be children. The oppressive connotations of control and safety go away when you dig deeper and focus on the viewer – the child, and deliver to them what they want all within the realm of parental approval. We created the Ameba catch phrase “Smart Kids TV” to embody our focus on children and the use of video media to empower, educate and entertain.

6. In the sense of education and entertainment, what kind of value do you look for in the programming you offer? Every family is different. Every parenting style is different. Ameba is about choice and giving the stakeholders, parents and children, the ability to make the Ameba media experience exactly what they want it to be. We make sure the content in the Ameba library comes from professional content producers. The vetting of the content that is added to library is done by the Ameba community. Parents check out the content to determine if it is right for their children and children watch and rate the content to give us, their parents, and content producers, feedback on how they liked it. Low rated shows get weeded out by community selection. High rated shows become popular based on children’s feedback.

7. Do your children play a role in helping decide what is offered? Ever just let them choose? Both my children are viewers of Ameba. As parents, my wife and I choose what goes on their Ameba set top box and they choose, from that list, what to watch. So yes, we let them choose what they want to watch all the time. The only sneak peek they might get on any show is when I come back from a tradeshow with a stack of DVDs from producers and they get to watch screeners with me.

8. What about Ameba do you think will drive its success? The people. The people who work at Ameba, the people who make their shows available on Ameba, the people who care enough about their children to subscribe to Ameba and the people who watch and enjoy the great content on Ameba. Without these people, Ameba is just another video service with a website. Traditional media seems to have lost its way. It’s commercial, it’s expensive, it’s violent - it caters to the lowest common denominator in society so that they can get the largest audience in order to get top dollar for their advertising rates.

The shift that is happening in media now is a reflection of a profound change that is occurring in
society. The old media model places the broadcaster and advertiser at the center of a circle and
everyone looks inward at them. They were the center of the universe. Now, the viewer is at the
center of the universe and they are looking outward. There is selection, there is diversity, there
is exactly what they want out there and they will find it. By listening and incorporating their
wants and needs into a product and service, with total disregard for the old way of doing things,
we can deliver a product that the “new market” wants.

9. As a parent, do you think that devices such as Ameba have the potential to become a mainstay
with televisions in this digital, wireless age? The concepts that Ameba is based upon are already deeply entrenched in the digital society. Ameba is just our embodiment of those concepts using today’s technology. Some of these concepts are:

1) Easy access to content. Don’t fragment the information base and make me hunt
around for content. I want it all in one, easy to use application.

2) Delivery of content on multiple platforms. We now have the ability to consume
content everywhere therefore it must be able to be delivered everywhere.

3) Choice. Let me chose when and what I want to watch. There is only one TV channel
that is important – “Channel Me.” Channel Me is unique and different for all of us.
Channel Me’s schedule is based on my schedule not on an artificial schedule designed
to aggregate viewers around a box in the living room. I know what is right for me and
my family. Let me be the programmer and I will fall in love with TV again.

4) Cost. Make access to the content affordable.

5) Community. Make me feel part of a community. Let me converse and share with like
minded individuals and give me the tools to share what I feel – good or bad. Also,
listen to what I have to say and incorporate it into your offering.

10. The last question I always ask in a Q&A: Drop us a knowledge bomb. Share your best piece of
advice for new or soon to be dads: Don’t be their friend, be their dad because a dad is more than a friend. Children need someone they can rely on, a heavy backstop when there are problems or issues that need to be resolved, a teacher, a guide. Show them love; they will give it back 100 fold. Give them knowledge; they will use it better than you ever have. Give them respect; they will become strong, self aware, individuals. Do everything your dad did for you and more.

Thanks again to Tony Havelka for taking the time to respond and sharing a little bit about himself and his company with all of us today. Now for the moment you have been waiting for. It is time to announce the winner of the Ameba TV set top box.

Ready... Set..... It's Deborah (@tradfoods)! Congratulations on winning this wonderful piece of technology to soon become an addition to your children's media library! Please contact me through the contact form here on the blog, or on Twitter to claim your prize! Thank you to everyone who entered and to the folks at Ameba TV for this fun opportunity!

And as always, thank you for stopping by The DaddyYo Blog today! Hope you all have a great Friday, and a terrific weekend! - The Dude Abides

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