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EGD News #132 — Right people on the bus

EGD News #132 — Right people on the bus

Sent on April 29th, 2021.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about this chapter in Jim Collins’ Good to Great, called “First who … then what,” where he talks about having the right people on the bus (bus being the company) before you start driving the bus. When you have the right people on the bus, those people will know where to drive the bus. They’ll want to be on the bus, not because of where the bus is going. But because of who else is on the bus.

If I’m thinking about great examples of this process, one comes to mind.

When I joined Supercell in 2011, they brought all these great people on the bus. I remember there was a lot of questioning on what games the new people would be working on. But they were brought in first to build their teams, then to figure out what games they would make.

In a way, Supercell had the right people on the bus, and they didn’t compromise on hiring the right people. After that, as Supercell decided to pivot from Facebook games to mobile games, the “engine of the bus” was turned on.

The key is that people were joining Supercell, not because of the games they were making on Facebook, but because it already had the best people.

Jim Collins nails it in Good to Great:

If people join the bus primarily because of where it is going, what happens if you get ten miles down the road and you need to change direction? You’ve got a problem. But if people are on the bus because of who else is on the bus, then it’s much easier to change direction.

Early stages

Here is the most common way that startups approach hiring after a pre-seed or an angel round:

The founders look at how much they’ve raised. Then they hire a few programmers and an artist. With 6 or 7 people, you will chug along for six to nine months until they need to raise more. The team might have gotten their game to a point where soft launch numbers are OK, but they still haven’t proven the scalability of the game. The founders could raise a seed round, but their category isn’t hot enough for VCs to invest.

The different way would be to go back a few steps to the stage before the pre-seed funding. The founders shouldn’t ask: “what game should we be making” (or “where should we drive the bus”), but they should want to ask:

  • what should our hiring plan look like?
  • who should we hire to build the best team?
  • do we have the right co-founders?”
  • or plainly, “who should be on the bus?”

Here’s another way to approach the issue of having the right people on the bus. Ask yourself, “If I’d need to bring on five people at the beginning, and if I could hire anyone in the world, who would they be?” It’s not a simple question, but the answer will make the difference.

If I could go back to my previous startup days, I would tell myself: Don’t settle on the first few people you talk to. Don’t bring on your previous colleagues just because you know them and they are good people. You want to define the seats on the bus and then hire the best possible people. To find those can take months, sometimes even years. But it’s worth it.

A great way to think about the people you’d want on the bus is to first think about the seats.

The CEO is a given, but what then? For a game studio, you want people who own the games, own the tech, but also that they own and manage teams. So, first, you’ll scout for the best-in-class games people, bring them on, and let them find the best-in-class teammates to build the games. The same goes for tech.

Once you have the people on board, you start driving the bus.

Existing company

OK, now you are driving the bus.

At each stage of the company, you hire a bunch of people. But as you graduate from Seed to Series A, to Series B, and so on, you should constantly ask if you have the right people in each seat.

Here’s what Jim Collins says about having the right people as the bus is going places:

The good-to-great companies probably sound like tough places to work— and they are. You probably won’t last long if you don’t have what it takes. But they’re not ruthless cultures. They’re rigorous cultures. And the distinction is crucial.

Jim’s piece of wisdom took me back to No Rules Rules, the book by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer, on Netflix’s company culture.

Reed Hastings says in the book:

At Netflix, I want each manager to run her department like the best professional teams, working to create strong feelings of commitment, cohesion, and camaraderie, while continually making tough decisions to ensure the best player is manning each post.

I think that Netflix embodies this kind of thinking: As a company grows, it needs to use all existing people to debate if you have the right people on the bus. It’s the most demanding job in the world to replace people, but often it’s the only way to ensure that all the right people are on the bus and that the rest of the people want to stay on the bus.

“To be rigorous means consistently applying exacting standards at all times and at all levels, especially in upper management.” — Jim Collins, Good to Great.

Get my book, “Long Term Game: How to build a video games company” from Amazon. Available on Kindle, audiobook, and paperback. Check it out!

Nick Kneuper and Nat Eliason — Building Crypto Raiders

In this week’s podcast episode, I talk with Nick Kneuper and Nat Eliason who are building Crypto Raiders, which I believe is one of the best web3 games out there. Both Nick and Nat haven’t been in crypto for that long, but as long time entrepreneurs, they’ve channeled their skills in creating product to take on blockchain gaming.

In this episode, we talk about how Crypto Raiders got started, how they’ve grown the player base, how they manage their cryptocurrency treasury and how they see things developing for web3 gaming in the near future.

Listen to the full episode by going here.

And check out Nat’s crypto newsletter: https://cryptonat.substack.com/

Some useful templates from EGD

Articles worth reading

Social Capital 2021 Annual Letter — “Based on more than 10 years of accumulating these learnings, we believe being a successful technology investor is less complicated than many make it out to be: attract and partner with founders who are, above all else, hyper-focused on finding product-market fit, and then willing to scale this fit with superhuman resilience and persistence, no matter the distraction.”

How to think about building web 3 communities — “When thinking about communities, I’m not thinking about how to maintain a status quo. Instead, the objective is to empower supporters and evangelists. The job is to find ways to unlock and incentivize creativity and participation among the community, by creating the right systems, rules (or lack thereof) and reward mechanisms.”

How African gaming giant Carry1st is spending its $20m raise — “‘First and foremost we’re going to use the funding to expand our content portfolio,’ Robbin-Coker tells us. ‘Having capital allows us to pay seven-figure minimum guarantees for great games and even acquire mid-sized titles, providing capital for folks who want to allocate to new development or their core portfolio.'”

Quote that I’ve been thinking about

“Our company has, indeed, stumbled onto some of its new products. But never forget that you can only stumble if you’re moving.”

— Richard P. Carlton

Sponsored by Audiomob

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I hope you have a great weekend!