Len Giancola
Sep 5 · 6 min read

As a part of my series about “Black Men and Women of The C-Suite”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Delane Parnell. Delane currently the Founder and CEO of PlayVS, the venture-backed startup building the infrastructure for high school esports. Prior to starting PlayVS, Delane worked at IncWell Venture Capital where 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 High School State Associations (NFHS) to collaborate on the national rollout of esports in high schools. In June of 2018, the company announced a $15.5M Series A led by NEA, the largest ever for a black founder in the consumer internet industry. PlayVS’ first esports season commenced in October 2018.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

There was always a lot of entrepreneurship in Detroit where I grew up, whether it was legal or illegal. My brother and I used to have a lawn care service, and I always wanted to be an entrepreneur and forge my own path and own my own business. This really stemmed from my upbringing and my desire to provide for my family and make as much money as possible. I was really introduced to esports while I was working at Rocket Fiber funded by Dan Gilbert.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Since my career started, the most interesting thing that’s happened to me has been meeting my idols. Every year I change my lock screen on my phone to a different picture of Jay Z and Diddy, and now I’ve spent time with both of them — it’s so crazy where life can take you.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In all honesty, I don’t think making mistakes are funny. Mistakes cost you and what’s worse is that they cost other people. I really don’t like making mistakes, so what I say is I try to make minimal mistakes. The best you can do is learn from your previous mistakes and the mistakes of others.

Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important for a business to have a diverse executive team?

It should be more obvious than it actually is, but people from different backgrounds bring different experiences with them. You can’t have a successful company if you don’t have people bringing different views to the table. Companies should take pride in having a diverse team and being representative of the whole world. A lot of my beliefs about how important it is to have a diverse team stems from me being a minority and feeling a connection with both people who look like me and people who don’t look like me.

More broadly can you describe how this can have an effect on our culture?

People can recognize immediately when an organization is inauthentic. Representing a company at the executive level with only one type of person at gives a really inaccurate perception of all of the people, thoughts and backgrounds that go into making the company what it is.


Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address the root of the diversity issues in executive leadership?

  1. Hire a diverse group of people.
  2. Support growth at all levels.
  3. Encourage open-mindedness.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Actions speak louder than words. For me, leadership is about what you do and not what you say. You have to be focused, stable and decisive to be an effective leader. It’s beyond just having a vision; you also need to be positive and self-aware, and encourage those around you to do the same.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be worth it.
  2. Everyone you meet could open a door or bring you an opportunity; don’t take anyone for granted.
  3. Keep an open mind.
  4. You can’t do anything alone.
  5. Never forget where you came from.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I’d love to inspire a movement that encourages more people who come from backgrounds like mine to get involved in tech, or whatever their passion is. Black kids should be able to chase their dreams. I want kids who struggle to realize they can dream big, think big and do big things instead of just surviving. I want to show them the endless possibilities that they have, no matter where they come from or what they go through.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I feel like I can really relate to lyrics. I really like this one from Jay-Z’s “U Don’t Know,” that goes, “…if somebody would have told him that Hov (Jay-Z) would sell clothing? Not in my lifetime, I wasn’t in the right mind/But that’s another difference that’s between me and them/I smartened up, opened the market up/ 1million, 2 million, 3 million, 4/In 18 months 80 million more/ Now add that number up with the one I said before/ You are now looking at one smart black boy/Mama ain’t raise no fool/Put me anywhere on God’s green earth, I will triple my worth…” It just speaks to leveraging your network and your relationships to expand your brand and your business. You should never be satisfied or get complacent; always continue to learn.

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 just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

I’ve met Jay-Z in group settings, but I’d love to have 1-on-1 time with him. He’s so influential, not only in music but in business and his social impact. Jay-Z’s been involved with the Black Lives Matter movement and bringing awareness to the need for prison reform with Meek Mill. He’s just the best at his craft when it comes to being an artist, performer, entertainer and advocate for social justice. Jay-Z literally excels at all of them in the most authentic way, and I’d love to know about the lessons he’s learned along the way.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: @delane

Twitter: @delane

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Len Giancola

Written by

Founding Partner of MJ.com

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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