Last week I posted about how the book and movie Moneyball provided great lessons for the social game industry (Lessons from Moneyball for the social game industry post). I just came across a post on the Business 2 Community blog (Game Change: Moneyball and the Reality of Social Business)that did a great job of showing how the lessons from Moneyball and the rise of Billy Beane is so similar to what happens in social businesses (including social gaming). It really makes some great points about hiring, arguably your most important task. I definitely recommend you take a look at the post.
Sometimes, a few things happen concurrently that drives home a point, and last week I had one of those moments. Last week, I taught several sections of a marketing class at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, focusing on new product launches. One question that came up repeatedly was how Apple was so successful despite not following many of the principles I was outlining, particularly on involving customers in the product development phase.
Then, over the weekend, one of my favorite blogs (Both Sides of the Table by Mark Suster) wrote about why you should not try to replicate Instagram’s $500 million raise (read the post, Don’t Try to “Pull an Instagram.” Here’s Why …). Continue reading
We are currently recruiting for multiple positions. If you or any associates are interested in joining one of the fastest-growing social game companies, please have them check out our Resumator Job Board.
Given that many readers of this blog are in leadership positions at social game companies, I wanted to pass on the key lessons from an article in the MIT Sloan Management Review on How to Become a Better Leader. The gist of the article is that while great leaders make their work look natural, the reality is that most work very hard to manage or compensate potentially career limiting traits. Even Richard Branson, who seems like one of the most natural and gifted leaders, said he was “shy and retiring” before starting Virgin Airways.
The article points out that there are five traits commonly accepted by researchers in leadership to describe leaders. Below, I will summarize these five traits and how leaders control these traits to become great and hopefully ways you can apply them to create a great social game company. Continue reading
I have been lucky enough to be invited to speak at the Social Gaming Summit in Berlin next month. If you are going to be at the show, please let me know if you would like to get together; I will be joined by our CRO and VP Operations.
I finally watched Moneyball on DVD and it reminded me how applicable it was to the social game industry. I read the book when it was first published and immediately felt it was applicable to my company, Merscom, as a way for us to gain a competitive advantage despite not having raised as much VC as our competitors. We even asked all new hires to read it. Despite my affinity for Moneyball, I could not bring myself to see the movie as I assumed it would not do justice to the underlying concepts.
After seeing the movie, I realized even more that the lessons from Moneyball were directly applicable to the game industry. The scene where scouts sit around in a room and evaluating free agents was almost a carbon copy of many greenlight meetings I have sat through. In those meetings, arrogant game executives and creatives “pontificate” and yell until they decide what games to spend millions developing and marketing. They always argue that there many years of experience and intuition will lead to hits, and they generally end up with multiple failures for every hit.
One of my first takeaways from the movie was how important it is to overcome the old way of thinking in the game industry despite institutional resistance. The old timers are going to want to do things their way and are going to look down on making decisions via analytics. To succeed, you are going to need to push analytic solutions and potentially replace people who cannot accept this new way of doing things.
Another takeaway came from the Art Howe example, where Beane could not get Howe to make line-up decisions based on analytics so he ended up trading his starting first baseman (Carlos Pena) to force Howe to play the guy with a higher on-base percentage (Scott Hatteberg). The lesson here is that if you cannot get your organization to embrace analytics immediately, you may need to make other moves to prompt your team to take the right path.
A final lesson came from the epilogue, where the Boston Red Sox followed the A’s path in embracing analytics and ended up winning the World Series, while the A’s have largely floundered. Although not covered in the film, what largely happened in baseball is that as many team’s embraced analytics, then the A’s advantage over competitors evaporated. In the social game space, obviously most companies use analytics to improve a game’s performance, largely focusing on monetization, engagement and virality. I have argued in other blog posts how important it is to use analytics in all parts of your business, not just game development. I think the experiences in baseball show even more that the only way to sustain a competitive advantage through analytics is to expand their use into ways your competitors do not.
The championship game last night got me thinking about the similarities between building a title team and a great social game company. Although there seem to be a million books on how you can use lessons from sports in the business world, one topic that seems quite neglected is recruiting. Since I did not really care who won last night (thanks Lehigh), I took the opportunity to put together a few lessons we can learn from college recruiting to make our game companies stronger.
Do not underestimate the impact one person can have
One person can be the difference between success and failure, and that person does not necessarily have to be the high profile rock star. A good example from sports (going from the NCAA to the NBA) is Jeremy Lin (you knew I would get a Linsanity mention into this post). He turned the Knicks from a team that probably would not have made the playoffs into a team that had potential to do very interesting things (until he subsequently got injured). Just as a point guard can turn a basketball team around, a great BI analyst or Producer can have a huge impact on a social game company. They can be the difference between a game failing and a game being a runaway success (and for the impact one successful game has, please see Omgpop). Lesson: The lesson here is that you should treat all open positions (spots on your roster) as a potential game changer, make the effort to select great people for all positions and then do everything possible to bring them into the organization.
Recruiting can make up for many shortcomings
As Roy Williams has shown repeatedly, having great talent can make up for a lot of other weaknesses. Even if a coach is not great in creating a game plan or building a strong system, if they can bring in top talent they will at least usually be in the mix for a championship. Lesson: Even if it turns out there are holes in your business plan or executive team, bringing in great people can still lead to a success.
Avoid transfers, be honest
One of the things that most disrupts a team is having many players transfer to other schools. Losing players causes issues with team cohesiveness, planning and creating gameplans (as they leverage your talent) and cause coaches to spend large amounts of time to replace players rather than finding other pieces to the puzzle. Usually, players transfer because what they expected from the program (for example, starting or playing time) was not the reality. Other times, the style of play the coach implemented was not how the player wanted to develop their skills. Lesson: Be very open with candidates about what their role will be and what the environment is overall, so that when people start their expectations equal the reality. Also, measure and track how many new hires you lose in the first six months as a metric for how well you are setting expectations.
You are always recruiting
Although there are official recruiting periods, the great coaches are recruiting 365 days/year, 7 days/week, 24 hours/day. Recruiting is not limited to the official visits (the interviews) but should be looked at holistically. The top coaches have radio shows (Coach K is Sirius), they might coach the Olympic team, they may even appear on Letterman. All of this activity makes them top of mind when they or their assistants have the formal meeting (interview). Lesson: Do not limit your recruiting to interviewing candidates, a lot of a social game company’s executive time should be devoted to activity that will make your company more attractive to potential candidates and put you over the finish line if the interview goes well.
Everyone is recruiting
Coach K, Roy Williams, John Calipari are not the only touch points for recruits. All the coaches, current players, alumni are all involved in the recruiting process. It is not coincidence that Grant Hill and Jay Williams are back for big Duke games, they are big parts of the recruiting process and the reason the rich keep getting richer. Lesson: Everyone in your organization and tied to your organization should be part of your recruiting process. It is not an HR function or the responsibility of the hiring manager, a great social game company will engage all its people to help find and attract the best talent. And it is not only in the organization, but investors, Board members and other stakeholders need to be encouraged to be actively involved in recruitment.
You are always selling
Although the top basketball programs only have a limited number of scholarships available, they do not know who will end up committing, who may get injured and who might transfer. They are thus actively recruiting a large number of potential players until they have filled all of their slots and not rejecting players until they have to (unless they are not interested). Lesson: Until the final decision has been made on a candidate, you and your team should always be trying to convince him to join your company. The candidate should leave every interview excited about the opportunity.
Know the competition
Coaches are not recruiting in a vacuum. They will understand what other programs a player is considering and highlight the advantages of their program. Lesson: It is important to determine what other options your candidate is considering and explain to them the benefits you offer.