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John Vitti: One Realization Away From Controlling His Own Destiny

John Vitti is the CEO of VersusGame, an online prediction money marketplace that allows anyone to play games that ask players to calculate which celebrity will be trending on social media, what business will have a higher stock price, or what cryptocurrency will be worth more. VersusGame’s goal is to allow everyone’s knowledge to be at play, opening up online betting platforms to everyone.

John was influenced as a child by watching his immigrant parents struggle for work. Once sharecroppers in Italy, John’s parents had difficulty finding employment after arriving in the United States. While unaware of it as a young child, the understanding of his parents’ trouble resonated with him through his formative years. Determined to find a better life, John found entrepreneurship and built a career that fulfills him. John has worked his way up through the startup world across multiple ventures through his resilience and know-how.

Find out more about VersusGame here: https://versusgame.com/app/game

Transcript:

BRYAN WISH: What would you like to tell us about your One Away moment?

JOHN VITTI: The One Away moment that really changed my core, my personality, my outlook would have to be  – I was a lot younger. When I was a kid, I saw my dad getting laid off at work, fired, looking for work, trying to ask friends for work. That really resonated with me. My parents were immigrants. They were born and raised on a farm in Italy. They were micro sharecropping farmers which means they farmed for trade not for profit. “I got some chicken with eggs. My son is sick. I got to go to the doctors.” You bring the doctor some eggs. “I’ve got wheat. You’ve got corn. Let’s trade so we can eat. Let’s do a little barter.” Pretty old school. No running water. No electricity. They came over in a boot. The usual immigrant story. No college education. I saw my dad struggling with that. No matter what he did, he was not in control of his destiny. Money happens to be something that’s really important. That affects you, your livelihood, your family, what you can do. It’s a real thing. I didn’t know it then. I just saw him and we were hanging out. I felt it. The frequency, the vibration hit me. When I grew up, I became a serial entrepreneur. I could never – I tried it once – working for somebody else in a corporate company. I couldn’t do it. Too much there from my childhood. I just wanted to go do it myself. 

BRYAN WISH: You said you felt the vibration and you felt very deeply this pain or lack of monetary resources for a livelihood. What did that feel like to you growing up?

JOHN VITTI: That’s the thing that’s interesting. When I was growing up, at a young age, I didn’t notice anything different. He was home sometimes and sometimes I didn’t see him at all. When he did get a job, I saw him on a Sunday because he was working seven days a week super early, busting the hours. When I saw him, he was just there all the time. That was one stage. Later on, I started getting wind, “Oh, it’s hard for him to get a job or keep the job.” It didn’t make me feel anything different towards him. It made me feel something towards the environment, the game, corporate America, all that kind of stuff. You have to fit a mold or you have to have this certain cover on your book to do this thing. That was the vibration that hit me. 

BRYAN WISH: Did you know, as a kid, you didn’t have necessary means to get by the way your neighbor might have had? 

JOHN VITTI: I always tell my friends – my neighbor, my best friend, always had the toys. The Star Wars. I never had any of that shit. I’d go over and play and he had everything. He had even the weirdest stuff like the ship that brought everyone over in Star Wars. He was always the coolest Halloween costume. I was like a ghost every year. The same bedsheet with the eyes cut out. I’d have my brothers’ hand-me-downs. I just thought that was normal. Only when you start aging up and aging out, then you’re like, “Oh, okay.” You don’t know anything different because you’re in a bubble. Then when you start experiencing and observing, stepping out, you’re like, “Oh, there’s differences.” I’ve seen both sides of it. 

BRYAN WISH: Just for cultural context, you grew up where?

JOHN VITTI: I grew up in Boston, Massachusetts.

BRYAN WISH: You clearly started to evolve in the bubble; maybe see the world a bit beyond home. Maybe your sense of identity to started to shift to something more aspirational. When did something hit you that said, “I want more for my life?” How did you know entrepreneurship was the vehicle to help you get there?

JOHN VITTI: Kind of two questions in my mind. First of all, my parents gave me every opportunity. All the work they did, went into their kids. They never took any vacations, holidays, stuff like that. I owe everything to them. 100%, I’m only here because of them. Period. I’m very grateful for them and that experience. To answer your question, I think it started building up in middle school. I didn’t get invited to certain things. In high school, I was a nerd, loner, different. Then I started making some friends, sort of. Sometimes that core of friends were trying to get with the cooler people and they didn’t invite me along to those types of things or parties. You start seeing stuff like they have cars in high school. I started noticing it then. Then even bigger in college. It was hard to still connect the dots. It started compounding in college. Even high school, people  bought the cafeteria lunches and I brought mine from home. But you know what? Fuck those lunches. They’re boiled hamburgers. My mom is the bomb-ass Italian cook. She makes it better than anybody. I was like, “Whatever. You can keep that shit.” 

I think the entrepreneur side, it didn’t really hit me until – I took classes in school. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew that I hated school. I almost failed out twice. Talked my way back into it. I was good at talking to people and in college, making friends and talking and listening. I didn’t know it, but I was fine tuning this skill that was really important for business. Sales which is the same thing. Anything we do, sales is touching it unless you’re just on a beach fishing. Fish don’t care. Everyone else does. I didn’t know it then, but I was fine tuning that. Then I was working through high school and college. It was like food-related jobs like scooping ice cream. I got fired from that job because I’d eat it. I was a chubby, Italian kid. I worked at a grocery store and I was drinking the chocolate milk. I got fired from that. I was working at another grocery store making sandwiches and I got fired from that. Will never take a job with food again. I’d just get fired. 

BRYAN WISH: I remember seeing your Instagram one time and it said something about always getting fired. 

JOHN VITTI: I worked in a Jewish bakery once and got fired because the challah bread was delicious. Then I started working in college too. Eventually, graduated and I went to work at an anti-spam company. My first corporate gig. Polished up. Excited. I was really good at what I did. It was sales, marketing, and business development. I was young and stupid though and I thought I could do things better and different. I left, went off on my own, and I started a company. It was all that culmination of being the black sheep, never fitting in, always being fired. Even at the corporate job, I was good but I didn’t fit in. That was the tipping point. It was never one thing but it was an escalation of all of that. That one tipping point was like, “You know, this isn’t for me.” 

BRYAN WISH: I empathize. I grew up feeling very similar. A lot of entrepreneurs are the ones who don’t fit into the mold. Your story is unique. Where did your entrepreneurial path lead?

JOHN VITTI: You’re going to laugh. This is embarrassing. The first company I started was a pasta company. It was food related. It took me awhile to learn, I guess. I started this pasta manufacturing, wholesaling company. I make pasta. I don’t ever eat it out of the box. I’d make it. I didn’t eat it. I’d go and sell it to local grocery stores and restaurants. I found out I could never scale it because it was two hands making it, walking through it, selling it, taking a train and selling it, and go back. I couldn’t scale that product company with the means I had. That was a big lesson there. 

BRYAN WISH: You have to start somewhere. You did the pasta company. Just knowing you and your background, you’ve had some great wins under your belt. When did you start really building the skills and relationships that put you on a meaningful entrepreneurial path?

JOHN VITTI: It’s never just starting. There’s no fresh starting point but I know what you mean. All those things with the successes and failures and trials and phone calls with friends and failing out of college almost, all that builds that skillset. But the first company that was a success that I really had to hone in on because it was on me – it was the third company out. It was a product company. It was a consumer clothing company. Men’s contemporary clothing. A fashion company. Really hard. I started off doing the designing, sales, manufacturing. I didn’t sew it but I’d go to the local thread shops and get the fabric, deliver it, and they’d sew it up at the Garment District in San Francisco. I’d bring it back to my apartment, package it up, go to UPS/FedEx, put the label on, stick it together, and go with mounds of this stuff. I started working and getting bigger. I’d go get a team. I’d go get overseas distribution and a logistics shipping center, sales people and showrooms all over the world. We were in all the stores. Nieman’s , Saks, Rolo, Kitson. Everywhere. Asia, Dubai, Europe North America. It was great but it was really hard.

That’s where I cut my teeth the most on full entrepreneur, making it work, and grinding eight days a week. The biggest thing that I found in this success of being an entrepreneur, if I could boil it down to one thing, it’s like grinding and the team – all that is super important. But the biggest thing for me is overcoming an obstacle. There’s going to be an obstacle a day 20 some times. A big one, small one. If you can create solutions, turn everything into an opportunity, and you can save your ass, that’s where you’ll succeed where others fail. 

BRYAN WISH: Let’s lean into that. I’m a big believer in resilience and finding the way when others don’t see the way. Were there any moments in that first company that stick out to you where you’re on the last wire or things could have gone completely the other direction? 

JOHN VITTI: Small stuff that was big back then. There’s minimums involved with products. You need 10,000 units or you need to buy tons of rolls of fabric or cartons of stickers or whatever. It’s like, “Wow, we don’t have a budget for that.” You either shut down or find the money. We didn’t have the money but we didn’t want to shut down. You talk to people and negotiate and say, “Let’s split it up.” You befriend people. You have a real relationship and you can get over those things. Just digging in and asking questions and recreating a win for everybody instead of just going along with the norm. I hate norm. The norm will kill you. Whenever you see a menu, go off menu. 

BRYAN WISH: You talked about growing up and realizing maybe you didn’t have the access to money and privilege and things that became important to you. 

JOHN VITTI: The less money was the privilege though. It’s hard to see it back then but I have friends that were privileged. They had a bunch of money. They’re in a different position than me right now. I think being handed stuff, maybe that’s a privilege, maybe not. No one knows. I think it’s a privilege to see both sides. 

BRYAN WISH: I do think privileged definitely can hurt people. Did you see yourself coming into a new social class or means of being able to buy and appreciate things in a new way? Did you have any personal moments where you were like, “Wow, I am doing it and this is different. This is where I need to continue to reinvest my time.” 

JOHN VITTI: For sure. There were things like, “Hey, maybe I can have a dinner out tonight or I can afford a better apartment in a different neighborhood.” I still didn’t fit in. It wasn’t like I belong to this certain class now and these people accepted me. That hasn’t happened even today. I remember fundraising in this company that’s a rocket ship and people are like, “You don’t look like one of us. You didn’t go to Stanford. You don’t have blonde hair. You’re not as white with the crispy Polo shirt.” It’s that book cover they want to read. That’s that privileged book cover they want to read. It’s unfortunate there’s biases out there and people judge. 

BRYAN WISH: It’s neat that you have that perspective though where you can walk into a room and be different. It’s a continual process of overcoming. You had a couple successes along the way. A couple companies were acquired. From what I saw, it looks like you had a couple year period where you were trying to figure out your next step. Does that speak to you?

JOHN VITTI: Yeah, I sold my last two companies. I took some time off and traveled. I was putting together the thoughts and the plan and the team for this and doing some super small, private betas. But I’ve always had this idea for the last 15 years to something like VersusGame. A prediction game for the people, by the people, for the people. When you don’t have to be rich to make money. We’re the ones consuming all the stuff. We should be rewarded for it or get a piece of something that you love. All this water cooler talk. You think, “Google is going to do this. Zuckerberg is that. Justin Bieber is this.” You can’t get a piece of any of that stuff especially if you’re small like me. So, I took time off to figure it out.

BRYAN WISH: Tell us about VersusGame. You said you had the idea for 15 years. How did it all come together? What’s the vision behind it?

JOHN VITTI: VersusGame is a prediction game where you get paid if you’re right. We’re letting people predict the outcome of culture. That means different things to different people. It’s always changing. It could be what’s going on with Dogecoin or Tesla or Billboard Charts. Whatever you’re into. You can find those games on Versus. We’re a reflection of what’s trending in the universe as long as it’s a future event that you can predict something off of. There’s skill involved and you can play it. People are playing for fun. They’re for free. For cool prizes and cash prizes. The genesis behind it is that we consume so much content all day long. We naturally form opinions and predictions off that content. It’s that primal, reptilian part of our brain. We can’t stop. It’s fun. We’re wired to do this.

We’re wired to be on Spotify. I love this song. It’s a hit. This is going to be huge. When’s the last time you made money off that new Drake song or that Cardi B song? Probably never. That’s kind of crazy. Our mission is simple. Knowledge should be rewarded. When you go to the stock market, it’s cool but kind of crazy and antique still where my bank account, my wallet is directly tied to the market, the free market, AKA the masses. Millions of people. That’s crazy because it’s a hype game. It’s all crazy. If Elon Musk does a tweet and all of a sudden things move around, then I’m affected. I want my bank account, my wallet to be tied to this, my brain. My knowledge only. That’s a bit piece of this as well. 

BRYAN WISH: You say knowledge should be rewarded. How are different bets or predictions created? Are they user generated? Are they generated top down from the platform? 

JOHN VITTI: User generated games. It’s all self-served. One of our investors is Roblox and they’re like, “Build it and get out of your own way.” We’re doing like a manual approach like customer service, success thing. I’ll build this game for you. We couldn’t keep up with it. We were like, let’s build a self-serve model. Content is king and queen and everything in between. Then people can go do it themselves. They can go and create the game, the content, and share it with their audience. People come and play and have fun. 

BRYAN WISH: How are you building your user base?

JOHN VITTI: Human nature is our biggest user acquisition channel. Word of mouth and referrals. I’m a huge studier of human behavior. When someone has an idea, a thought, a prediction, they have to go tell an opinion. They have to go tell people. Hence, the birth of Facebook. That’s social media. I want to go same something. We injected money into that. Then bam, that’s a perfectly designed loop. Now, I’m normally motivated by human behavior but extra motivated financially and economically to go tell people, “Here’s my game. Here’s my thought. I think this person is going to do this. I’m playing a game and going to pick side A. I know my friend always likes side B. I’m going to beat him. I’m going to go send it to him too and share it.” It’s always the sharing aspect. 

BRYAN WISH: That’s really cool. Thinking back to the college days with friends and all the fantasy sports I did but never stuck to. It was very competitive and fun. It was communal over a shared vision and passion. When it’s done in that shared group, it’s fun. I totally get it. You’re doing it on a cultural level for many things. I think that’s what’s so interesting. It’s beyond sports. It’s beyond music. Where do you see this going at the end of the day?

JOHN VITTI: I want this to be a household name where we’re putting real money in real people’s pockets. That’s the goal. I want to get people paid. It stems back to my childhood. It’s all connected. 

BRYAN WISH: I wish you the best. I’m sure you’re going to have a good outcome. You still have some work to do and I’m excited for you. It seems you’ve studied the ego a lot, about removing the ego. However, you have a platform where you’ve been able to attain. You’re giving people a platform to attain more. When we think about dissolving the ego and stripping that away, how does that come into effect when you have a platform that’s helping people accumulate more?

JOHN VITTI: This is deep. It really stems from my childhood. I still understand that money is important to eat, to put shelter, to provide to your family. I know that stuff is still important. I think there’s a balance. I think all the way one way is too extreme. I think a balance is good. It’s the cards that we’re dealt unless you’re just fishing and farming. I think it’s a balance. I want to provide money for people and give them a way that their bank account is attached to their brains. That’s the board game. We’re all here. That’s the universe. I want more people to be able to play that couldn’t play before. I think sometimes you have to get to the other side of the money thing to understand ego and this is actually not important. If you’re struggling, you don’t even know how to get rid of ego. It’s all about that. That’s overwhelming and stressful. It’s like give them some and maybe they can figure it out. 

BRYAN WISH: Where can people find you?

JOHN VITTI: VersusGame.com on iOS or any mobile browser. We’re a mobile game. On Instagram, go to VersusGame. 

BRYAN WISH: We’ll send people your way. We’ll put it in all the links. Give people a place to download everything. I’m excited to show this.

One Away Podcast
Bryan Wish

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