I had the pleasure of interviewing Delane Parnell, the Founder and CEO of PlayVS, the venture-backed startup building the infrastructure for high school esports. He became the youngest black venture capitalist in the United States. Delane was then part of the early team at Rocket Fiber that raised $31M and focused on retail strategy directly with the CEO. While at Rocket Fiber, Delane founded Rush Esports, an esports team that was acquired by Team Solomid.
In 2017, Delane was introduced to Peter Pham and Mike Jones of Science where Delane founded PlayVS. In April 2018, PlayVS announced their exclusive partnership with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) to collaborate on the national rollout of esports in high schools. In June of 2018, the company announced a $15M Series A led by NEA, the largest ever for a black founder in the consumer internet industry. PlayVS’ inaugural esports season will commence in October 2018.
Jean: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory” of how you become a founder?
Prior to starting PlayVS, I worked at IncWell Venture Capital where I became the youngest black venture capitalist in The United States. I was then part of the early team at Rocket Fiber that raised $31M and focused on retail strategy directly with the CEO. While at Rocket Fiber, I founded Rush Esports, an esports team that was acquired by Team Solomid.
I started my first job at 13, working 40 plus hours a week during the school year. At 17, I used the money I saved to purchase three cell phone stores and joined the founding team of Executive Car Rental that now has 16 locations across Michigan.
In 2017, I was introduced to Science founders Peter Pham and Mike Jones, where we discovered a common interest in esports. After a few months of speaking with Science, I founded PlayVS. In April 2018, PlayVS announced their exclusive partnership with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) to collaborate on the national rollout of esports in high schools. In June of 2018, the company announced a $15M Series A led by NEA, the largest ever for a black founder in the consumer internet industry. PlayVS’ inaugural esports season will commence in October 2018.
Jean: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I credit gaming as one of the main activities that kept me off the streets and got me into technology. I wanted to create a company that would allow me to give back and help kids excel by doing something they loved. By turning it into an organized activity in high schools across the country, I’m excited to get millions of kids involved and set them up for success, both by teaching core values like teamwork and by making them eligible for hundreds of scholarships and even more professional opportunities.
In the beginning, our goal wasn’t even necessarily to advocate for video games. We looked at the current landscape and realized there was a huge gap in the market. There are millions of amateur gamers out there who want to compete — the most important demographic within this segment is high schoolers. Until now, there was no way for them to actually compete. We are going to provide that venue in a supervised, inclusive and safe environment that makes them part of something larger.
Jean: Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Right now, I’m really just focused on launching the PlayVS product and the inaugural season. We’re still completing the product and working on technical integrations with publishers. I’m laser-focused on my company.
Jean: Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
My favorite book is “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz. It’s a good depiction of the rough times that happen within business and when you’re starting a company, and really teaches you to stay focused and overcome it all. It’s a great example of the highs and lows of entrepreneurship and the true, ugly picture of what we go through. I also love that it touches on mental health and how to deal with an intense environment and emotional stress. The book taught me that there’s no one-size-fits-all model of success and that it’s important to create a culture of trust within your company — so people can focus on the problem, and solve it.
Jean: What are your “5 Lessons I Learned as a Twenty-something Founder” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Patience — In general, it takes time to grow a great team. You can’t rush the process, and I really had to embrace this.
- Opinions are everything — You have to have a really strong opinion to be successful, it’s impossible otherwise. PlayVS, for example, feels strongly that esports offer kids really unique benefits by encouraging interest in computers and STEM education, and offer a career path for students who are interested in things like game development, programming, illustration and more. While not everyone agrees or understands that esports can translate into a career path, we feel strongly that it can — our business is built on that notion, and we wouldn’t be here without standing strong in our opinions.
- Delegation — It’s hard when you want everything done your way, but when you’re on a team, you have to trust people. I had to learn to do this, and it ends up working out most of the time!
- Openness — Be open to new ideas from other people, especially those who have experience. Learn as much as you can and ask but don’t tell — really listen.
- Focus — Stay focused on the things that matter to the company. You can’t be everywhere that you may want to be, so you need to decide what’s most important.
Jean: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Jay Z. He comes from the same background as me — his father was not in his life and he grew up in the projects. Our pasts are different in terms of the era we grew up in, but I’m inspired by his story and his revolution as a man, as an entrepreneur and as an artist. He continues to not only evolve but impact culture and impact his industry. One of our core values at PlayVS is ‘impossible is our favorite kind of possible’ and Jay Z embodies this idea. If you were to tell someone about Jay Z’s background and what he’s been through — without letting them know you’re speaking about Jay Z — nine times out of ten the person can’t even believe someone so successful could overcome all of that in their past. And that’s inspiring.
— Published on August 16, 2018