When Apple opened its App Store in 2008, the world didn’t quite know what to expect. Until then, the iPhone had come with little more than a dozen in-built apps, including Stocks, Notes and Calculator. Soon thousands of new programs were vying for a spot on the device’s home page. But one stood out.
iFart Mobile wasn’t the most sophisticated app to ever enter the App Store. It certainly wasn’t the most serious. But it was one of the most successful, remaining in the number one slot for three weeks. The app, which allowed users to make (digital) flatulence and even send the sounds to a friend, became a topic of conversation on late night chat shows, giggled over by stars as big as Robin Williams and George Clooney.
It revealed that what people wanted most from their expensive new pieces of technology was a reason to smile—and was also about the most fun that any business could have while earning giant streams of revenue.
Joel Comm was the owner of that business, and in his new book, The Fun Formula, he explains not just how to enjoy building a business but why fun should be a driving principle in creating a meaningful life.
Few people know more about putting fun into business than Joel Comm. iFart Mobile wasn’t his foray into the world of novelty applications. One of his earliest business ventures took place back in 1996 when Comm formed a partnership with a computer coder who had built an early online games site. Together, the pair developed and grew the games, bringing in additional players and increasing traffic until Yahoo bought the platform and turned the site into Yahoo! Games.
Comm describes that success in the book, as well as his experiences maximizing the use of Google’s AdSense and delivering talks to entrepreneurs and large corporations. But the focus isn’t on how to build a business. It’s on the most important lesson he learned while building those businesses: that the biggest successes comes with projects that are the most enjoyable, and that it’s worth swapping growth and size for meaning and fun.
It’s an approach that he has taken himself even when that meant making large sacrifices. At one point in Comm’s career, he owned a company that employed thirty-eight people. The pressure was telling. He had to meet payroll every month, manage the concerns of more than three dozen employees and keep the company on the right track. “I might have looked successful,” he writes. “I might have met the standard of success that so many others set for themselves. But I wasn’t having fun.”
It’s a situation with which many people can identify—and plenty of them make an appearance among the friends, entrepreneurs and business leaders quoted in the book. Few people, though, have the courage to do what Joel Comm did next: he shut the business. He downsized, took time off and even applied for a job in a local bookstore—a New York Times bestselling writer recommending books in a neighborhood Barnes and Noble.
He thought about what he enjoyed doing the most and as he eased himself back into working for himself, he stuck to those activities that brought him the greatest rewards: teaching others and helping people to reach their potential.
In that process, he came to a number of conclusions about the need to keep fun in your life, and about the nature of that fun. Quality of work is more important than the quantity, he notes. “If you’re focusing on the number of hours you’re punching on your time card, you’re in the wrong mind-set. It doesn’t bring happiness, it doesn’t bring results, and it’s not fun.”
And that fun needs to be more than the quick laugh that an app like iFart Mobile can bring. “It’s a way of life,” Comm says, “a way of approaching everything in our life holistically—whether it’s business or pleasure—following our hearts and our passions without forgetting the childlike curiosity that is still in all of us.”
Comm recommends creating a new approach to “adulting,” one that retains grown-up responsibilities but opens space to do the things that we enjoy the most. It allows us to explore the sense of wonder with which we’re all born and spend our lives and our work doing what makes us happy.
Comm notes that one good place to look for that fun is in hobbies, and he describes people who have managed to make a living training cats and even watching television. For anyone who has wondered whether they can turn their love of photography or painting into a career, it’s inspiring stuff.
But while Comm shows that it’s possible to move towards a lifestyle that emphasizes fun overgrowth, and smiling over hustling and grinding, he doesn’t dwell on the costs, especially in the short-term. Most of us have a dream career that we’re sure we’d love to do if we could just find the courage to downsize and take a break, but in the short-term, that often means a lower income with no guarantees of success. Not everyone starts with the kind of cushion that Comm had built up before he realized that he was no longer enjoying what he was doing.
Unlike most business books, The Fun Formula isn’t a success process. It won’t explain how to build a fun-based business from scratch or describe how to turn a pastime into a profit stream. But it does do something even more important. It explains why you should. And it persuades you that you can. The rest, as every entrepreneur knows, is up to you.