Former marketing professional Merrifield fled the rat race of Silicon Valley to the wilds of Kelowna, British Columbia, to raise his family — a “terrifying” personal decision that left him feeling he’d traded away the chance to make a business impact for the higher calling of fatherhood.

But the small family-oriented project Merrifield began there in 2005, an avatar-based virtual world for kids called Club Penguin, exploded into a youth sensation with nearly 12 million users, and which Disney bought for $700 million last year.

“There’s stuff we’ve been dreaming about for years, and now we’re on the cusp of being able to do it,” he says, hinting at potential consumer product and theme-park tie-ins. “The last thing we wanted to do is throw our brand on a bunch of stuff.”

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