Former ER doctor and co-founder/CEO of BioWare proves he's more than what meets the eye
Dr. Ray Muzyka is always searching for opportunities to provide mentorship. The founder and CEO of Threshold Impact began inspiring MacEwan University business students with his story of going from medicine to video games to social entrepreneurship and impact investing when he spoke at the NextUp Speaker Series in October 2016.
In January, Ray began his role as the university's Allard Chair in Business for 2017.
RELATED: Learn more about the Allard Chair in Business.
"I really enjoy working with young entrepreneurs and students," he says. "As an investor, I enjoy advising the smart, passionate teams that I am privileged to work with, living vicariously through their experiences." As Ray begins his year as the Allard Chair, here are four things about him that you might not have known.
1. Ray was a rural emergency room medical doctor before he was an entrepreneur
Video games had long been a hobby for Ray and BioWare co-founder Dr. Greg Zeschuk. As medical students, they developed medical simulation programs along with the third co-founder of BioWare, Dr. Aug Yip, who retired back to full-time medical practice a year or two into the company, with Ray and Greg remaining as joint CEOs.
“The three of us liked business and developing software, but medical simulation programming at that time was a very tough market,” says Ray. “We would meet all these people to try to sell our software. Everybody would say, ‘I really want it, but can you get this other person to pay for it?’ No one was buying and eventually we would give up and go for lunch.”
It was at one of these lunches that Ray and Greg decided to take a chance. “We said, ‘We know these great programmers, artists and designers, and we’re passionate and knowledgeable about video games—why don't we take everything we’re saved up as medical doctors, form a video game company and go for it?’”
Ray says it never quite occurred to them that they could fail. “We were incredibly lucky to be able to work with an amazing, passionate, smart team, and we were very fortunate that our second product, Baldur’s Gate, was a big hit globally—it sold something like five million units worldwide, which was a lot for a PC game in the ’90s. We continued to build on that legacy one product at a time, and BioWare continued to grow at a rapid pace with new locations, new platforms and business models over the following two decades until we were acquired by Electronic Arts in 2008.”
2. Ray is in his third career
"When I first changed careers everybody thought I was a bit crazy,” says Ray. Even as BioWare grew, Ray continued practicing rural ER and family medicine part-time over the following decade—but medical practice had transitioned from a career into a hobby.
"The idea of going from medicine—a very stable, respected, high-income profession—to an unknown future in entrepreneurship in entertainment technology was definitely unusual at the time, particularly in Alberta, but now changing career paths is much more common and I think it can be a good way to refresh and reinvigorate. It's incredibly energizing and stimulating to apply what you’ve learned in past career chapters to try something totally different."
Now in his third career chapter, Ray mentors and invests in technology, new media, medical innovations and social enterprise as an angel investor via ThresholdImpact.
3. Ray is an avid poker player and photographer
"Poker is a microcosm of business for me—it has statistics, social interaction, reading people, probabilities, risk mitigation and game theory. And because the game continues to evolve over time, you have to always be improving your skillset to succeed.”
To help develop those skills, Ray continually reads books on entrepreneurship, investing and poker, and has taken courses on detecting lies and reading people, which he says is relevant in both business and poker. “In negotiations, for example, it’s helpful to understand the shades of truth in the way people answer.”
Traveling the world with his wife in the pursuit of wildlife and street photography has become another passion over the past few years. “I’ve found that our passion for adventure travel and photography has led us to explore more of the world, which aligns well with the goals we have for social impact investing and global philanthropy.”
RELATED: View Ray and his wife Leona’s photography on Flickr at www.flickr.com/raymuzyka.
4. Ray likes mitigating risk
Ray admits he has jumped into new ventures at times without fully understanding what he was getting into, but from that experience, he has come to realize he doesn’t blindly chase risk. Rather, he’s seeking to help the teams he works with simplify and resolve complex problems, maximizing returns and mitigating downside risk.
“People who aren’t entrepreneurs sometimes say to me that as an entrepreneur, as an angel investor, as a poker player and as a former rural ER doc, I must really like taking risks. There’s a common thread in all of these pursuits, for sure, but I actually don’t like risk—actually I hate taking unnecessary risks! But I love helping the teams I work with to mitigate and resolve risks. That’s incredibly satisfying.”
On March 7, Ray Muzyka will be speaking at the Dr. Charles Allard Chair in Business Reception at MacEwan University. Register to attend.
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