“To create a fantastic work culture, respect personal time” with Andrew Paradise and Chaya Weiner
Respect personal time. We believe in working hard between Monday and Friday, but we have a hard stop at 5pm every Friday. Unless we encounter a rare crisis, our employees are not bothered on the weekends and are not expected to respond to messages outside of normal work hours.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Paradise. As CEO and founder of Skillz, Andrew has grown the company into the worldwide leader in mobile eSports and the fastest-growing company in America, according to Inc. Magazine. Under his leadership, Skillz has grown to an annual run-rate of $400 million in total transaction volume and has raised over $50 million in funding from leading venture capitalists, banks, telecommunications companies and team owners across the NFL, MLB and NBA. A noted thought leader in the eSports industry, Andrew has been featured in prominent publications such as Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal and CNBC, and spoken at preeminent conferences including MWCA, Inc. Conference, SXSW, CES and GDC. Andrew’s accomplishments have also resulted in recognition as part of the San Francisco Business Times 40 Under 40 Class of 2018. A serial entrepreneur and inventor with a successful track record, Andrew previously founded AisleBuyer, which was best known for pioneering mobile self-checkout prior to its sale to Intuit (NASDAQ: INTU) in 2012. Andrew has been the founding inventor behind companies in different technology sectors ranging from eCommerce to image recognition to HR technology.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
As a lifelong gamer, I came up with the idea to found Skillz when I was playing one of my favorite mobile games. I vividly remember being in the middle of the game when an advertisement for Burger King appeared in the middle of my screen. I accidentally tapped it while playing, which took me out of the game and opened a web browser page promoting the fast food chain. This distraction ultimately caused me to lose the game and led to a fair amount of frustration. After experiencing this pain point that millions of mobile gamers around the world have constantly had to endure, I was determined to find a better way for game developers to monetize without detracting from the player experience.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The idea for Skillz first came to me in 2005, but I knew the world wasn’t yet ready at this point for eSports to take over mainstream forms of media or get ingrained with offline sports. I sat on the idea for years and founded two companies in the meantime — AisleBuyer and Double Picture LLC. When I was ready to found Skillz in 2012, the term “eSports” was still nascent and mobile eSports were essentially unheard of. Today, eSports are expected to be worth as much as $40 billion by 2025, and cross the $1 billion mark by the end of 2019. Needless to say, it was difficult to forge an industry that wasn’t defined, but it’s been incredibly rewarding to pave the path for the future.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
As a startup aspiring to go public in the coming years, we’re always working on new, exciting technology to uplevel the experience for our players. We plan to keep developing technology that will cater to a wide range of audiences, continuing to democratize the industry — furthering our goal of enabling eSports for everyone.
Ok, let’s jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the U.S. workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
There are a number of reasons why people may be unhappy with their work environment, such as low compensation, lack of job security, missing connections with colleagues, or a disinterest in the work itself. At Skillz, one of my biggest priorities is building teams that are comprised of intelligent, motivated and caring individuals who are committed to our mission of making gaming better. We strive to work alongside our employees to ensure they’re happy during their time at Skillz, and provide outlets for employees to ask questions or express concerns. Before even starting the interview process, it’s important for job seekers to actively look for jobs that align with their own values, missions, interests, and career ambitions. Hopefully, this leads to a good fit on both sides of the equation.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
An unhappy workforce directly impacts company productivity, business profitability, and employee well-being. Dissatisfaction manifests in a lack of motivation, which means productivity takes a hit, which then detriments the company’s profitability. Unhappy employees may also negatively impact their colleagues, thereby hurting others in the process.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
- Set clear goals and expectations when an employee starts or whenever a new project begins. Everyone should be on the same page from the beginning to prevent any discrepancies down the line. At Skillz, we pride ourselves on our extensive planning and have meetings every quarter where each department presents the work they’ve done over the past three months before reviewing their plans for the next quarter.
- Empower employees by recognizing their hard work. Throughout the week we encourage our employees to give shoutouts to one another and every Monday these accolades are read to the entire company. This peer-to-peer recognition has been incredibly beneficial in helping every employee feel seen and appreciated.
- Respect personal time. We believe in working hard between Monday and Friday, but we have a hard stop at 5pm every Friday. Unless we encounter a rare crisis, our employees are not bothered on the weekends and are not expected to respond to messages outside of normal work hours.
- Create opportunities for socializing outside of work. On Thursdays, we put on company-wide game nights where we turn on music, play board games, enjoy pizza and beer, and try out the latest and greatest gaming technology. We also host an annual summer BBQ, a three-day offsite trip, and have half-day Fridays in August. Our employees work hard and it’s important that everyone gets to have leisure time too.
- Celebrate milestones together. It’s important to take the time to cherish each milestone or accomplishment the team reaches. One example is when we reached a new revenue record, we celebrate with a champagne/sparkling apple cider toast.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the U.S. workforce’s work culture?
One of the biggest problems in modern workplace cultures is the separation of work and personal lives. We’ve seen other countries combat this by instituting laws like they have in France, mandating that companies with more than 50 employees must negotiate a system that ensures work emails don’t infringe upon days off, evenings, and weekends. Also, on average, American employees receive 10 days of paid time off per year while companies in European countries mandate at least 20 days off a year.
At Skillz we previously had an unlimited PTO policy, which sounded great in theory, but we found that our employees were not taking enough time off because it was open to interpretation. This year, we implemented a new PTO policy that gives employees 15 days of paid time off, 3 personal days, 1 floating holiday, unlimited sick time, and 15 additional holidays (including a company-wide closure between Christmas and New Year’s Day). The expectations in society need to be shifted and companies need to be held responsible for the well-being of their employees.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
One of my first mentors that showed me a true work/life balance was my AP Calculus teacher and wrestling coach, Tom Randall. A true Renaissance man, he believed in developing yourself fully by having an always-learning attitude. I remember him as being a very smart man who worked hard, but who also knew how to balance his life with activities that he enjoyed, like wrestling. He showed me the importance of a work/life balance that I cherish to this day.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Most recently, I’ve been involved with The Guardsmen, a local San Francisco organization founded in 1947 that raises money to better the lives of at-risk youth in the Bay Area. Each year The Guardsmen sends 2,500 youth to outdoor education programs and provides scholarship support to more than 250 students. I believe in giving back to the community where I live and work, and contributing to this organization has been incredibly rewarding.
Thank you for all of these great insights!