Where Did Michael Whitehouse Come From?

Michael Whitehouse as the chair of Pi-Con in 2006.
That was me in 2006. More hair. Less gut. And running a sci fi convention.

For many people who know me, I sprang full formed out of the Earth in 2014 as a connector and master networker. At least that’s how it might seem. I built my network so rapidly, that my personal brand went straight from unknown to “guy who knows a guy”.

But before 2014, I walked this Earth for 34 years, and there’s a lot that happened in that time.

The first 22 years were relatively unremarkable. I grew up in a lower middle class family. My parents were divorced, and I lived in what people told me was an unusual joint custody situation.

During the course of a week, I would spend nights at my mother’s, my father’s, and both sets of grandparent’s houses. There was a predictable schedule, and I thought it was great.

The best part of being raised in four homes was that I was regularly exposed to four different sets of perspectives:
My father was a driven business owner who was more driven by mission than money.
My mother was an ex-hippy lesbian Wiccan who battled depression.
My father’s father was a methodist minister.
My mother’s father was a retired salesman and owner of seven radio stations.

I learned many lessons from all this family, and I can see reflections of each element of my family in the man I became.

Phoenix Games, Come Again Players, and Pi-Con

I liked to say that when I graduated college, I couldn’t find a job so I created one. It sounded good, but an older and wiser perspective is that I wasn’t willing to put the work into finding a job, and, in the arrogance of youth, I thought I was too good for just some job so I went my own way.

I launched Phoenix Games right out of college. Phoenix Games was a game store featuring board games, role playing games, collectible card games as well as a smattering of Renaissance garb and other geeky items throughout the years.

Phoenix Games Pirate Week
At Phoenix Games, we’d host all kinds of crazy events, like Pirate Week: a week full of pirate themed events and parties.

Phoenix Games was intended to be a profitable business, but it was also meant to be a center of community. In the second objective I was massively successful. The store developed an incredible and loyal community.

Lacking business experience and coaching, I was too naive to know how to properly balance those two competing needs, and I made decisions that compromised the profitability of the business.

During this time, I was co-founder of a Rocky Horror Picture Show Cast called the Come Again Players. A couple years later I was co-founder of a science fiction convention called Pi-Con.

Through these three organizations, I earned my education in the School of Hard Knocks. I learned how to run a business on a shoestring budget. I learned how to manage and inspire a team, as well as how not to manage and inspire a team. I learned how to promote an idea, concept, or event with a minimal budget.

Michael playing Eddie in a Rocky Horror Picture Show shadowcast performance.
Me playing as Eddie playing the “group sax” at one of our weekly performances.

I constantly find that this most nontraditional period of my life was foundational in giving me the problem solving, marketing, and networking skills that I have today.

We didn’t know what was impossible because we had no one to tell us what was impossible. There were no rules, so we made our own rules.

Of course, the rules of math still applied. When you make less than you spend, it can’t last forever. But we kept it running for five years, and even when the impossibility of the situation caught up with us, we refused to accept it.

They All Stepped Up

At one point, it became clear to me that I would need to get a job. The business was stable, but I couldn’t take a salary. Of course, if you have a store, someone has to be there all day every day or it can’t run.

For a brief moment when we first opened, we had a staff. Then it became quickly apparent that we could not afford them.

I called a meeting of the store community. At this point I was the only one who worked there.

I explained the situation, that the store was solvent but that I had to go to work to pay my own bills. I explained that the only way the store could possibly stay open was if people were willing to step up and volunteer to do everything it took to run a store. We’d need volunteers to run the register, stock the shelves, sweep the floors, organize the events, everything.

These volunteers wouldn’t be paid today, and there’s no prospect of them being paid any time in the future.

I wasn’t trying to create a volunteer run game store. I was trying to get myself an easy out where the community would give me permission to close the store and I wouldn’t feel like I was letting them down.

Instead, they all stepped up. Every single person in the room volunteered to help.

What came next was messy, disorganized, contentious, and beautiful.

I made every mistake in the book in this transition, and I regret that I lost some friends in this process, but it worked. We created something amazing.

Phoenix Games would run in this hybrid form for 3 more years before transitioning into an actually non-profit corporation which would continue to function for another decade!

It was in that experience that I truly learned that people will amaze you if you let them, as well as a dozen other lessons.

There’s Always More to The Story

My book, The Guy Who Knows A Guy, really starts in 2014, but so much of what made me who I am, and so much of what I have to teach, comes from the decade and half that came before that.

From both the knowledge I’ve gained since coming to Connecticut, but also from the very diverse experience of the previous decade, I bring a very unique set of perspectives and tools to the table when I support my clients.

In future articles, I’ll share more of my story. I’ll share my victories and failures, and the lessons I learned from both.

If you have question about my story, or there’s something you want me to share more about, please contact me and let me know.

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