The first 18 years of my life, while being unique to me, are certainly not out of the ordinary and could be considered a typical upbringing for a child in Australia. I was born in Brisbane on the 19th of July 1979 to my mother, Zahava Starak and my father, Yaro Starak (Snr) who had recently arrived in Australia having immigrated from Canada the previous year.
I was an extremely shy child and as such did not have many friends growing up. My mother is quite unorthodox in her lifestyle, often referred to as a hippy, or as I prefer to say, she has “hippy-like behaviours and beliefs”. Consequently my first years of schooling were at independent schools because my mother did not think I was ready for a state schooling system.
I spent my first five years of schooling at two different independent schools. The first was very unstructured and while I have little memory of it I do recall having complete freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted. The second school had more structure but was certainly not formalised in the way a state school is. There were a lot of freedoms, a relaxed classroom environment and less structured curriculum compared to the public schooling system.
I certainly appreciated the freedom, though I knew no other way at the time so maybe I took it for granted somewhat. Perhaps because of the freedom I enjoyed early in life I have gone on to seek similar lifestyle freedom as an adult.
By grade six I entered the state schooling system to much shock and dismay (and quite a few tears!) but after a few weeks I had adapted and continued in the system until graduating grade 12 in 1997.
I look back on my school years as a period of tremendous growth. While I remained quite shy throughout school (boy did I dread oral presentations!) I left more confident and sure of myself. It was by no means a 100% happy time of my life and often was quite traumatic for me, but a necessary growth and development period. I often wonder what it would be like to return to those years with the confidence and experience I have now but of course the confidence would not exist without the experiences of school.
My Parent’s Influence
During this period my father was teaching at the University of Queensland as a social work lecturer and my mother went through various vocations. My parents separated when I was 6 or 7 years old but both remained in Brisbane and have stayed close friends. As an only child I rarely had to fight for what I wanted, within limit of course. This usually constituted the latest Lego or GI-Joe toys, then later Nintendo and Sega games.
My father had a typical academic career which suited him fine. He had job security, a reasonably pleasant working environment and for six months of every two years he could head overseas on paid sabbatical leave. The latter perk certainly was the benefit he enjoyed the most.
My mother on the other hand has rarely stayed long in a job, let alone an industry, for much more than five years at a time. At one point she supported her household by selling crafts at markets in Brisbane. During this period I experienced first hand what it’s like to work in retail at the point where the retail industry started – street markets. I learnt that this style of “being your own boss” was not for me. The hours worked were long and the margins were only sufficient to just get by for most stall holders. It might be a good way to test a product and gain experience, but that was not a line of work I would want to rely on for my income.
Overall I perceived two very contrasting working lifestyles from monitoring my parents. I noted what I liked and disliked about what my parents did for a living but I was also accutely aware of thier personalities and what was driving the choices they made in their careers. Consequently I believe I learnt what aspects I personally valued and have searched for these in the work that I undertake.
In 1998 I started a business management degree at the University of Queensland, the “prestigious” and classical university in Brisbane. I left highschool not knowing really want I wanted to do but at least starting to get a picture of what I did not enjoy – working for other people. Based on the few jobs I had held up to this point I had learnt that I did not appreciate having to be somewhere unless it was for something I enjoyed, not just for monetary incentives. A business degree was the closest fit I could find to my future aspirations and past interests but really like most highschool grads I was well and truly lost and the next few years would be spent finding myself more than studying. The label of “university student” is just a convenient monicker to apply that gives you some semblance of direction during this period.
Of way more significance for me at the start of university was my introduction to the Internet. I was provided with a free Internet account and student email address. The doors opened and my love affair with ms www began. It was also at this time that I was heavily involved with a card game called Magic: The Gathering. My first website was a hobby fan page devoted to the card game created using the WYSIWYG editor provided by pre-Yahoo owned Geocities.com. While I struggled to get through university classes, complete assignments and pass exams I had no problem spending hours upon hours playing with the web and my website.
I attribute my first real business experience to my early days buying and selling toys and video games through the local trading post newspaper (a classifieds paper) and then selling and trading cards at local markets and tournaments. However it wasn’t until the Internet became prominent as a commerce tool that I really started down the path of e-business.
I will always have a fond place in my heart for MTGParadise. com and the community that exists there. My first Geocities hosted website titled Magic in Brisbane was a pure hobby site devoted to my favourite pastime, collecting, trading and competing in Magic: The Gathering tournaments. For the first two years of university I spent more time either playing this game, trading cards online and at tournaments or working on my site devoted to the game. Eventually I grew frustrated with the tools available to build my site with Geocities so I went out and purchased a book to teach myself HTML. It was amazing how easilyI absorbed HTML compared to any of the topics I was studying at university at the time (so much so that it prompted a brief dip into a computer science degree for a semester thinking that my calling might be in IT – how wrong I was! – I failed introductory computer programming in Java and ran away as fast I could).
I later expanded my Magic site to focus on all of Australia (titled Magic in Australia) and then finally converted it to MTGParadise.com with proper hosting. Things were getting serious.
I never considered MTGParadise.com to be a business however much of my Internet business training was gained from this site. I picked up a hell of a lot of technical and online marketing skills as a result of striving to make MTGParadise.com a larger site. I was pouring a tonne of time into the design of the site, adding new features, writing content, conducting link exchanges with other sites, submitting to search engines, installing new software packages and hiring writers and other staff. I had an inherit, inuititve understanding of how websites became popular, I knew my market and I had ample time to play. I always enjoyed marketing and MTGParadise.com provided an opportunity to test all kinds of different online marketing methods which would later form the foundation of my online marketing knowledge base which I would draw on for other web projects.
One day I installed a discussion forum. Over the next few months driven by this one feature MTGParadise.com transformed from a small but successful ezine style site to a fully fledged community. Traffic started to really take off as people came to trade cards from all over Australia and even the world. It went from about 100 unique visitors to 500 unique visitors per day and word of mouth was booming. I was not doing any more work then I was before and the community was self governing thanks to a great team of volunteer moderators and staff contributors. Magic players from all over were telling each other that in Australia if you wanted to trade cards online you went to MTGParadise.com.
A brief sojourn as a web journalist
Over the final years of my university studies I grew tired of playing Magic and I stopped actively competing in tournaments. Keeping up with the game itself as a player was no longer interesting to me but I still loved the community, in no small part because my site was such an important part of the Australian Magic community. Due to my position as the webmaster of the prominent Australian Magic site I had contacts with some of the staff that worked for the company that produces Magic, Wizards of the Coast (Wizards). It was through these contacts that I was offered the opportunity to do web coverage of some of the larger tournaments held in the Asia-Pacific area. MTGParadise.com was not actually the source site for the coverage because Wizards has an official tournament coverage magazine and website. I was to be one of the journalists for this site.
When I was first offered the position I was absolutely beeming with joy. This meant a free trip to another country to write about the game I loved plus I was to be paid in special promotional cards which could easily be sold for cash. I would end up making between $1000-$2000 per trip and have all my expenses paid in exchange for writing articles and feature match reports at the tournament. I had already experienced international Magic tournaments, once as a member of team Australia at the Magic World Championships that year in Seattle USA and another time as a player at the Asia Pacific Championships in Singapore. I was seriously looking forward to the opportunity.
Unfortunately as was always the case during this period of my life, university got in the way of my fun. More often than not tournaments occured around the time when I had papers to write or exams to sit so I would have a lot of stress leading up to my trip overseas and then more when I returned.
My first assignment was Sapporo Japan which was a gruelling long weekend of little sleep, extreme conditions and a lot of work. I was the only reporter covering the tournament and it was with Japanese cards with mostly Japanese players which added a unique element to my match reports – I had to figure out which cards were which based on pictures, not the text. I made it through the weekend with a wealth of new experiences but perhaps my joyous impression of being a tournament journalist had changed since I knew what was involved in tournament coverage. I later went on to do coverage of the Brisbane and Sydney Grand Prix tournaments and was offered to cover Taiwan and Hiroshima, however I had to turn down both, first because of university commitments and then because I just didn’t want to go back to Japan for a repeat of my Sapporo experience. That was the end of my tournament journalist days.