What Can We Learn From the Founder of Chuck E. Cheese?

by / ⠀Entrepreneurship / December 6, 2013

Think back to your childhood birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese.  Reminisce about the waitress telling you, “Be careful, your pizza is really hot,” as if a five-year-old doesn’t understand such a concept.  Bask in the glow of the animatronic, cruise-ship-worthy puppet performances while you eat.  Feel the euphoric joy of jumping in the ball pit.

Now, imagine Chuck E. Cheese calling Tim Cook a pansy.

chuck e cheese

It may come as a shock to many, that the founder of Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theater is also the founder of Atari, Nolan Bushnell.  Though this fact seems preposterous at first, it starts to make sense once you consider that in the 1970s–when video games were still competing with pinball machines–Bushnell needed a reliable place to distribute his products.

In a word, the man is a visionary.

He doesn’t seem to think the same, however, of Apple’s Tim Cook, who hasn’t been doing as much for the company as his predecessor.  Bushnell describes Steve Jobs as having the idealism and, sometimes, arrogance of a teenager when the two met during Atari’s startup years.

“Jobs loved kind of seeing the world as it could be, as opposed to what it is,” he says.

Just by appearance alone, one could see a contrast between Jobs’ turtleneck and round-lensed glasses with Cook’s—dare I say–IBM attire.  Jobs was an innovative risk-taker.  Cook is a play-it-safe square.  True, Apple is doing just fine for now, with record sales for the iPhone 5s.  But business is more than just keeping the ship afloat.

For the 5s, many of its improvements are not noticeable by consumers.  The A7 chip, M7 processor, and revamped iSight camera are all laudable achievements.  But when the average buyer compares features with Apple’s competitors, there isn’t much competition.  Fingerprint scanners have been used on PC laptops for years.  Users will only marvel at the seamless aluminum bevels on the phone’s body for so long before they begin to ask for some actual features.  At the moment, there still isn’t a significant game changer.

Tim Cook also hasn’t really introduced any new devices.  The iPad Mini and Macbook Pro with Retina display barely raised eyebrows.  The iPhone 5c is little more than using an older version of the iPhone to expand sales overseas.  When is there going to be an iWatch?  When is Apple going to realize that people don’t really want an iWatch in the first place, and develop something that will actually change our culture the way iTunes and the App Store did?

According to Bushnell, Cook “probably thinks he’s innovating, when in fact it’s just micro-evolution.”

It could be that he was chosen merely as an acting CEO, a filler, while the company contemplates how to go forward from here. Perhaps Bushnell is simply showing off and condescending to someone with less chutzpah.  Mr. Atari does, after all, have his own website–where, on the front page, he calls himself a “technology pioneer.”  Still, it would be wise for any business to think ahead of the curve, rather than constantly play catch-up with the followers.

By Jeremy Rappaport

Fueled is New York’s award winning mobile app development company.

About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on Under30CEO.com, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.