Ian Anderson of Mead Hall Games on Human Interaction and Having Fun in Business

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Stubble: So what is the Mead Hall and how did it get started?
Ian: Mead Hall is a game and comic shop, but we also sell vinyl records and nerd apparel. It got started through a kind of funny set of circumstances. I opened a screenprinting shop a couple of years ago, but we needed a new location because we were just getting too big for our space. I found this space that Mead Hall is currently located in, but at that time it was kind of a scary dungeon-y basement, and we wanted to make it as bright and sunshine-y and warm and welcoming as possible. As we were doing that, we had a little extra space up front and my buddy Alex Bowes and I thought, “How cool would it be if we used this space to start our own little comic book store?”, which was kind of our excuse to get comics for really cheap. So we set about remodeling the whole space ourselves.

Once we were done, we started selling comics on the regular. It started to pick up and it actually got to the point where the business for Mead Hall — which is what we started to jokingly call it at first — began to outshine our screenprinting operation, so we decided to expand the comic book store and move the screenprinting shop to another location. Right before this last Christmas, the comic book store took over the whole space, and that’s kind of how we dub our actual opening date: Christmas 2012. It’s when we decided that we’ll actually be a thing.

From there, it’s been wonderful. There’s a really amazing community in this neighborhood, in Loring Park and downtown, where there was this sort of vacuum in need of a shop like this. We had no idea it existed until we opened. We’ve seen the really great people who live in this area come and hang out at our shop, and it’s been very rewarding.

Stubble: That’s what I noticed when I went and visited the shop. There were so many people just hanging out and playing Magic. It definitely seems like a community catalyst.
Ian: Yes, we’re very happy that we’re doing well and that the business exists in the first place, but the truly amazing thing that has happened is that  this strong social group has formed as a part of it. It’s been really wonderful to see, because it’s happened right in front of us. We’re the guys that own the shop, but the place has taken on an identity based upon the wonderful people that come here and hang out.

Stubble: How would you pitch gaming to someone who was not involved in that culture? What’s the draw?
Ian: There are two gateway drugs to gaming, and one of them is video gaming. Everyone has played a video game at one point or another, and those who sort of have the aptitute for video games get the sames kind of entertainment value in the games we offer in the sense that there is a kind of escapeism to it. You can lose yourself in a video game for countless hours. However, there is an unattainable social aspect you get out of gaming in a shop. Playing a board game with someone or a group of people is different because — it sounds bad to say — but you’re actually developing social skills. It forces you to interact with people face-to-face which is not what you get out of an Xbox all day. People, once they try it, they think “Oh god, I’m having a human interaction! This is why we were put on earth, to interact with one another. This is very rewarding.” Video games are very rewarding too, but in a different way. What the Mead Hall offers stimulates that need for community.

The other gateway drug is the people who have seen the Big Bang Theory. They think, “Oh, so this is what nerds do.” It’s 30% truth 70% hyperbole, but when meeting people who haven’t played games before, those are the two lightning rods.

Stubble: What does the future of the Mead Hall look like?
Ian: Actually, there are a lot of things we’re up to. The first step was taking over the whole space in the shop. However, now we are acquiring more units in the building we currently are in so we’ll be expanding further and further back into the building. We can fit 30-ish people comfortably playing games, but as a result we’re selling out most of our nights, and so we’re going to expand to accommodate closer to 70 as a first step. While we are doing that, we’re going to be remodeling extensively. We got hit with the flood from that big, huge storm a couple of weeks ago and so our floor has been decimated, sadly. We’re starting to put in a new floor tomorrow night and we’ll be remodeling a lot of the shop. Like I said, we do it all ourselves. Starting out we were pretty bad at it, and now having done it for a year, we’re seeing a lot of errors in our previous work that we’re going to fix.

Expanding and remodeling is going to be the next six months of my life, but also, we’re going to finally launch our ultra amazing website. I’ve been working on it with this great group of people for pretty much close to a year, and we’re getting close to it being done. When companies say “We’re launching our website!” usually they just mean a WordPress blog, but that’s not really what we’re doing. We’re trying to actually build a high-powered, industry-leading website in the world of Magic.

Stubble: What kind of things will this new website do?
Ian: Magic is a huge thrid party market worldwide. It’s kind of amazing. There are 7 million registered Magic players in the world — 7 million, that’s crazy! These are people who are registered, who go out to tournament, and play to win points. It’s an amazing subculture that exists. There are online retailers who sell cards to these people, however every single one that’s out there is lame and so we’re trying to be the one not-lame place. It’s been a huge undertaking.

Stubble: When do you expect to launch?
Ian: I’ll never tell! We’d like it to be perfect before we launch, but I will say that if it’s not by Christmas, I’m going to lose my mind.

Stubble: When you say that Mead Hall focuses on comics, do you mean local ‘zines as well?
Ian: Absolutely. The real reason we started the shop we wanted to be the local comic book provider mecca. We had Kevin Cannon do our logo and he’s kind of our local celebrity in the comic world here in Minneapolis. It’s been hard to get the word out in that regard because we’re still so new, but local ‘zines and local comics is what we wanted to do in the first place. The local focus is why we are here.

Stubble: And you happen to be the Ian Anderson of Afternoon record fame?
Ian: Yup, that’s me.

Stubble: What’s it like being a serial entertainment entrepreneur? (One who MPR calls “… a squeaky clean, Disney sort of a kid who happens to be an extreme over-achiever.“)
Ian: Hah, It’s become like a problem, I think. I can’t go like 18 months without starting a company. I started a handful of comapnies since I got out of high school and luckiliy most of them have worked. It allows me to employ my friends which has been very rewarding because it means that the success of these companies can kind of stay within the family, which also provides the opporutnity for me to hangout with friends all day. It’s a great situation and I’ve been very proud of how things have gone and all the people that have worked at these companies. None of these companies would be nearly as cool if not for the awesome people that make it happen. On a million levels, it’s a very fun thing.

Stubble: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
Ian: I would say my advice would be, don’t do anything that isn’t fun. In my early 20s I was in a band that toured North American and Europe a bunch and meanwhile I was managing bands and working on my label, and at one point in there I had actually grown pretty bummed out. I was just working constantly and didn’t have a good perspective on how to be happy other than just work all the time. I came to the realization that I wasn’t having any fun with the things I was doing, so I just stopped doing them. I was about 24/25 when I realized that, and from that point on, I pretty much don’t do anything that isn’t fun, and as a result things have really gone well. The companies I’ve started since then have all pretty much only been fun. I want to create soemthing that people will enjoy. As a result, the positive energy has sort of flowed into the companies and they’ve gone well. If it’s not fun, you can probably think of something that’s more fun.

Stubble: And now you get free comic books out of the deal.
Ian: Yes, and now I get free comic books. I mean, let’s say you and I went into business together and we started a donut shop. I love donuts, do you love donuts?

Stubble: Yes, I do love donuts.
Ian: I think I’d have to have them gluten free, so let’s make our donuts gluten free donuts. If you and I love donuts and it’s fun and we both put on 50 pounds from eating donuts, then if the company tanks and we lose all of our money, at least we had an insane amount of fun making donuts. If something you don’t like fails, then it’s just lame all around. That’s my advice, my long-winded piece of advice.

Stubble: Any final thoughts on the Mead Hall?
Ian: I’m excited for what’s to come with the Mead Hall. It’s been really great, but it sort of pales in comparison to what I and my staff have in mind for it. In two years I think we’re finally going to hit the point of what we’d like to achieve in terms of how the place looks and how we do business. I’m just very excited for the future.

Ian Anderson runs the Afternoon Company which runs Mead Hall Games which is located in a basement in Loring Park.

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