Technology has always had its many faces, and one of them is gaming. These days, video games can also make a positive and world-changing impact. Arad Malhotra was featured in Forbes 30 Under 30 for Gaming because he and his partners at Skyless Gaming didn’t just create a game to be downloaded on a app store, they created a game applying their philanthropic game design concepts. These featured women empowerment, anti-terrorism and fighting corruption. Like Arad, Megan Conley also looks at the pain points of her target audience so that she can help them produce measurable results both in their society and their business. Megan emotionally connects to brands through their values and philosophies that will help in sending out social content and influencer tactics.
On this episode, we have Arad Malhotra and Megan Conley. Arad is a very interesting guy. He was recognized by Forbes in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for gaming. He has such an inspiring story. He’s co-founded the Skyless Game Studios. I’m going to let him talk about it because I think you’re going to be really impressed with what he’s doing. Equally as impressive is Megan Conley, who’s a digital marketing expert. She’s the CEO of Social Tribe and what she’s doing with her company is unique for helping top organizations, SAP, Cisco, HP, you name it.
Listen to the podcast here:
Philanthropic Game Designs And Influencer Programs with Arad Malhotra
I am here with Arad Malhotra who is an award-winning social entrepreneur with a passion to create, lead, and advise disruptive startups that create meaningful impact. Arad is a global expert in educational games and the Co-Founder of Skyless Game Studios, a highly decorated organization that uses immersive video games as an active learning medium to drive social impact through engagement. Arad’s contributions have been featured in various international publications including Forbes, VentureBeat, Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal, the list goes on and on. Arad is recognized as being the top 1% in his field in the world and was featured on the Global Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2016 for Games. It’s so nice to have you here, Arad.
It’s an absolute pleasure to be here. I don’t think I could have read my bio any better than you have. Thank you for the kind introduction.
It’s a great introduction because you’ve done so many things. I was fascinated with your work because I’ve had a lot of the Forbes 30 Under 30s on my show. Before we get into how you made it to that list, can you give us some background? You’re from India, right?
Yes, that’s true. I was born and brought up in New Delhi, India and in my formative years of early schooling, I grew up in the Middle East in Dubai.
You have an interesting background. I heard you had some challenges just to get the visa to get here, right?
Absolutely. That’s a very tricky part and a very important part of my story. Going from a challenge, it actually led to being one of my strongest aces and it helped me get on that Forbes list.
How do you get the attention of Forbes? Let’s start with how you started the company because it’s got to be hard to create a successful game company. Everybody wants one, right?
Absolutely. Going back to college, I actually always wanted to be in the videogame industry and I went to Drexel University for Computer Science with a specialization in videogame development and design, human-computer interaction, and information systems. I always knew I wanted to be in the gaming field. However, the entrepreneurship side actually evolved as I was in college. I happened to meet my co-founders, Chris Bennett and Oleks Levtchenko Chris Bennett and Oleks Levtchenko, socially. All great things always happen over drinks and we ended up dabbling in entrepreneurship back in 2012. We started an app development company together where I was the only developer and my two co-founders are business majors. To cut that story short, basically two months after developing what we started developing, Google started doing exactly what we were doing but for free. It was the typical fail-fast story but we pivoted and we went back into the room and said, “Apps are great but let’s do something that we’re really passionate about.” My co-founders are big gamers. I went to school for game development and design and we were like, “Videogames, that’s something that we all care about, but that’s not enough.”Everybody and their sons want to be game developers now. One, it’s not the most sustainable business model unless you have a lot of capital. Second, there’s something missing. We can’t just start off as a team of three and suddenly expect to become successful game developers. That’s where we talked about what we really care about beyond just games and we said, “Philanthropy.”Making a difference in the world was really important to us, especially considering that all of us are not US-born.
We really wanted to bring experiences from our countries, my partners are Ukrainian and from the UK and I’m from India. We wanted to think about some of the problems and some of the deep-rooted issues that people face now and how we can use games as a medium to try and make a quantifiable difference in some of these. That’s how we came up with the concept of philanthropic game design. That’s where we started in terms of the concept. In terms of the business model, coming back to your original question, how do you come up with a successful game company? We did something unique. What we did was rather than try and create a game and throw it on the app store, we said that what we want is especially since we’re tackling a social impact, we really want to partner up with experts in the field of the area that we’re trying to create impact in, whether that’s women empowerment, whether that’s antiterrorism, whether that’s fighting corruption. We wanted to go and really find expertise from people who had spent their entire lives doing this. Then use our game design knowledge in order to come up with the perfect blend and the perfect business structure that minimized our risk but also maximized the visibility for them compared to any other ways of traditionally getting their message to the public. Whether that’s traditional advertising or it’s trying to get people for volunteering runs. How do you actually go beyond that? The 3 billion hours people are spending on games a week, how to use that as a medium that helps scale and hit a homerun on the message or the area of education or the area of training. That’s the summary of how we got started.
How did you entice these people? You’re saying they’re getting exposure, but was it tough to get these experts?
We are very fortunate to have the resources provided to us by our university, Drexel. What we did was we started off first talking to professors. Actually, our first idea was to create a game that taught people about the psychology behind violent extremism and terrorism so that people can better understand and tackle. Instead of religious affiliations, really understand the root causes behind what causes people to become terrorists. We essentially started talking to professors and going to a few networking events. Eventually, we connected with one of my previous professors and the head of the game design program at Drexel, which is highly rated. We spoke to him, told him about the idea. He said, “I hear 1,000 pitches every day, but what you guys are talking about seems fantastic and meaningful. Funny enough, I had the former Chief Litigator for the FDIC and his partner who has been training anti-corruption bodies globally and within the United States for over 25 years, come and pitch an idea that was similar to you in the sense that they were talking about terrorist financing because of anti-corruption training being weak.”He put us two together in a room and that’s when we made magic happen and started getting kicked off.
Once we started building out that one product and getting traction from there, everybody we went to and spoke to at all sorts of networking events that was local, national, all around, we started getting one question. It’s like, “You are taking such a complicated problem like anti-corruption training and making it into an immersive game. Can you help us tackle this topic, whether that’s women empowerment or STEM education?” We started listening to the market and that’s how we started the second part of our company, which was really being unique in providing a development and design service in order to encapsulate topics and areas of education that don’t get enough traction through traditional mediums of advertising and marketing.
Is it all B2B that you’re doing? If you have gaming about terrorism and violent extremism, explain what that is. What does the game look like? Are you trying to teach it? Are you having people do things that are violent or explain how bad it is? How does this work?
We are primarily B2B right now. We have structured the company in three stages. First, we have our own intellectual property for the anti-corruption training. Second, we provide a B2B service, but it’s not just a client developer relationship like in most cases, but a hybrid relationship where we essentially start with the design all the way to the development and deployment to help with the marketing and getting the whole vision out. It’s more of a partnership that ranges literally from us taking royalties all the way to having almost joint or higher ownership, although we typically give the intellectual property to the people who are the experts. Then phase three is which we are actually starting to get in now is working on more projects where we hold intellectual property and get the SMEs in for a certain percentage of the product line. That’s the answer to your first question.
The second question is what does the game about terrorism look like? The answer is that’s why we, in its purist form, actually went on the backburner. The concept in general was a shock value game where you look through the eyes of a child in a nondescript, war-torn nation and have to take general life decisions to survive. You look through their eyes and again, really understand how they end up living lives where your decisions are questionable, but making tough decisions like if you have a gun to your family’s head, you pick up a gun or do not. That’s all I can tell you about that. The product that came out of it that we are currently launching is called Follow The Money, which is the first of its kind anti-corruption investigation training for the FBI, IRS, and International Law Enforcement. Think of that like Sherlock Holmes, but instead of solving murder mysteries, you are solving financial crimes all based on real data and over 50 cases of grand corruption, such as Bernie Madoff, such as the Prime Minister of Costa Rica, etc., that again very honorable SMEs have solved during their illustrious careers as global anti-corruption experts.
That would be fascinating to include in ethics courses in colleges. Are you looking at colleges for that?
Yes. The next step would be colleges. Right now we are fine-tuning data for the people who are actually on the field. The game is pretty intense. The next step would be to have a slightly more toned down version in terms of the intensity, a version that fits criminal justice majors. We’ve had a lot of demands for that being launched as a consumer game as well.
How long does it take to play these games?
They vary significantly. Follow The Money is about a 40-hour experience where you go through more than 55 pieces of evidence and it’s self-paced. That is based on PCs and revs so they can run on the government computers which often don’t have the highest specs especially in developing nations. We also have absolutely casual games that are like Temple Run.
I teach technology students at a local university and they’re huge gamers so they’re very fascinated by all this. I teach for a bunch of different universities but for this one that we deal with ethics in technology, a lot of them want to talk about whether violent games lead to violence. What’s your perception on that?
What games are really good at doing is amplifying people’s mindsets. Based on the research, I do believe that violent games can lead to some forms of violence but they’re not going to make non-violent people violent. They’re going to bring out the violence or exaggerate it in people who already have that as a mindset. In fact, that’s exactly what we wanted to take a positive twist on and that’s what we’ve proven is that we’re using the same medium because at the end of the day, videogames are just a medium to actually amplify people’s empathy or social wellbeing. We’re taking the good out of people and using the same platform. You can’t blame the platform for people’s actions. We’re taking the same platform and trying to get people motivated to let’s say go into an eighth leg or to play the game more in order to get to a higher level. When you buy things from the game in order to progress, now they’re doing it more actively because the revenues from there are going towards buying real healthcare supplies. That’s a game that we actually have. The idea is to flip the model. For people who are motivated and addicted to the game, how do we use that addiction towards something good? For people who are not, how do we use the motivation for the actual cause and make it more immersive through the games? That’s the secret sauce right there.
I wrote my doctoral dissertation on emotional intelligence, which empathy is a big part of that and you’re talking about building empathy. If you’re able to develop empathy through a gaming system, that’s a huge thing. Are you doing a lot of research on the correlations between what you’re doing and empathy-building and all that, or is that down the road?
We ourselves are not doing the research because we are working with the subject matter expertise on each one of these games and that’s what we take pride in. Serious games or educational games are not necessarily brand new. They’ve been employed by the military for about twenty years and then there are at least another 50 to 100 companies that have done some kind of educational game or not. What separates us is the fact that we really understand the goal and have the people who are good at the research, who are good at the subject matter work with us rather than us trying to do some internet research and figure out what’s going on. For example, we have a game that helps children with autism bond with their siblings, so peer-supported therapy. We have a highly published neuropsychologist who is actually working with us on that game. For the anti-corruption stuff, we have the top anti-corruption trainers in the world. We have another game that teaches cultural exchange between Middle Eastern and American college students using puzzle-based, critical thinking-based collaborative problem solving. Over there, we are working with the Eurasia Foundation in Washington, DC. The research and the actual metrics that drive the change come from the experts and then we use our endgame data and our game design in order to encapsulate and deliver that the best.
The average age of the gamer is now is 34. There are more people over the age of 51 than under the age of 18 playing games now. As I mentioned before, over 3 billion hours a week are being spent by people globally playing some form of video game or the other. We look at it as real estate, not as an end product, but as a real medium that is growing exponentially and how we use that to ideally improve people’s EQs and EIs, their empathy factor and some of the things that you’re mentioning. It sounds like with your thesis, we would love to partner up with you on a project potentially.
What I’m working on now is curiosity and improving curiosity. My next book is going to be about that. You’re talking about solving puzzles, which obviously you’ll get curious if you want to solve puzzles. What interests me is how do you develop curiosity in people without having them spend too much time gaming about it and actually going out and doing it? That’s where I see the sweet spot is how do you get to that point? That’s where my mind went with all that. Do you have any curiosity experts?
Not specifically but we have plenty of research on games that have been able to do that very well. That’s one thing that we do in our process because we don’t just come up and say, “This sounds like an interesting game or here are a couple of concepts. What do you like?” We actually go back and do the research on games that fall into the right amount of gameplay time games that have been successful. I’m talking about straight entertaining games that have been successful at gaining a wide audience for a certain type of audience. Then we basically come up with our own game designs that are similar to those models. Coming back to that game I was telling you about, called Temple Run, it’s a game that you can play on the subway and you can put it aside after five minutes or ten minutes. We have games like that, that get people to understand the importance of vaccinations and preventative healthcare and that actually drives a recurring revenue to our partners, nonprofits that then use that to buy real healthcare supplies.
These people would normally have to go month after month to fundraise. We just created a sustainable form of revenue for them that comes from people either who actually care about preventative healthcare or people who just care about getting to the next level in the game but are being fed facts about healthcare and mortality rates and stuff in these countries. They are learning without realizing what they’re learning. Active learning and immersion, no matter what the period of time, is really where games are doing actually well, otherwise, they wouldn’t be such a big phenomenon. The curiosity factor comes from the design, comes from the fun factor of games, and what you want to get them more curious about comes from that expertise in the particular area of social impact.
Were you naturally curious? Have you been a very curious kid or was it the culture you grew up in? What made you be so interested in going with all this? Is it something in your culture? Did your parents want you to be into business and all this or is it something you just came up with on your own?
My background of course makes a big difference. I was very interested in art as a child and then I let drawing and painting go away after I was in my teens. That’s when I got really interested in computers and programming. I started programming when I was eleven years old. I let that art side go until it was time to think about college and what I wanted to do in life. I worked backwards. Most people say, “I’m going to go and get a degree and then figure out where to go from there.” I did a lot of research about combining my art and my programming skills and that’s when I came up with videogames. I wasn’t as big a gamer as most people are usually who get into this field. I used to play games of course, but it wasn’t the end product that was interesting to me. It was just that combination of artistic storytelling and technology that really made me think about what my day-to-day is going to look like. At that time I didn’t think about entrepreneurship but even then I wanted to use my skills for something creative versus be the best programmer in the financial tool, for example. That’s where I decided to take the path I wanted to take.
Typically, the stereotype is true where people from my country, Indians are supposed to be doctors, engineers and lawyers. I was very fortunate to have parents who were extremely flexible and very supportive and generally an exception to the rule. They encouraged me to do whatever I wanted as long as I was passionate about it and as long as it followed the path of education. They were supportive during my formative years. They were supportive during my decisions for college and further so even being pre-revenue for a few years and having excellent job offers straight out of school which I turned down. It’s hard for parents to support those kinds of decisions but my parents have been there with me through thick and thin. I can’t even tell you how much it’s contributed to my success.
It’s amazing how much you’ve been able to accomplish at such a young age. How old were you when you made the Forbes 30 Under 30 list?
To get that kind of attention from such a global brand, that’s pretty impressive. Congratulations on that. What you’re doing is really impressive. I really enjoyed hearing about all this and I’m sure a lot of people want to know how they can find out more about you, how to reach you, your company or website. Can you share that?
Thank you for having me, first of all. It’s actually because of being lucky and being surrounded by people like you and other experts in the world where I actually sat down and I listened, I was able to get into that exclusive Forbes network. Just being in the right place and the right time and spending a lot of time listening to people who are your peers, who are older than you, who are more successful than you in whatever measure you consider success as. That’s what helped me a lot in my journey. Thank you for taking on the time and helping me learn more about your work. I’m usually pretty easy to reach. You can find me on LinkedIn. It’s just Arad Malhotra and you should be able to find me. Otherwise, the quickest and the best way to reach our company is through email. That is Info@SkylessGames.com. Our website is SkylessGames.com.
This is such a great discussion and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Philanthropic Game Designs And Influencer Programs with Megan Conley
I am here with Megan Conley who’s a digital marketing expert and the CEO of Social Tribe, a social engagement agency that builds and delivers leading-edge social content and influencer programs for enterprise brands. Since opening its doors in 2009, Social Tribe has worked with global businesses such as SAP, Cisco Systems and HP, driving measurable business impact and real world results. It’s so nice to have you here, Megan.
It’s such a pleasure to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
I saw that you’re going to be at that event that I’m attending in San Diego and I’m very anxious to listen to everybody’s talks there. That’ll be a great event. Have you been to that one before?
Yes. I am a long-term veteran of Social Media Marketing World. I have been to their conference. I think this is my fifth or sixth year and it’s my first time presenting on Scaling Enterprise Social Media Program. I’m really looking forward to that.
I wrote a brand publishing a bootcamp with the Forbes School of Business based off of Bruce Rogers’ Publish or Perish report and the big thing they were trying to help, CMOs and everybody that’s dealing with all the vendors and how to personalize messages and do it at scale, that was the hardest part. I’m curious what you’re going to be talking about. I’m going to have to make sure I attend that.
I’m still working on my presentation but it’s really going to be a collection of the insights and the learnings that myself and my company has honed from years of working with enterprise brands that have really complex marketing ecosystems and are constantly trying to figure out how to iterate, how to evolve, how to drive stronger alignment not only internally, but of course externally with their customers. There’s so much potential, but there are also so many challenges in that space that there’s no shortage of topics and ideas for that conversation.
You’ve definitely worked with some big companies. My brother used to work for Cisco so I’m pretty familiar with them. All of those I mentioned are big names, so you’ve done really well. I was looking at your background. You started out in non-profit communication. How did you get into this?
I joke that I’m a bit of an accidental entrepreneur. Early in my career, I was a Sociology major at Boston College. I moved into the non-profit sector and really understanding how to connect with your audience was something that has always been an area of interest for me. That’s probably why I ended up majoring in sociology because I’ve just always been really curious about why people make the choices that they do, what influences them, what conditions factor into various outcomes. Moving into the marketing and communication space was a natural evolution for me. When I left the non-profit world, I started consulting and this was really early on in the very beginning stages of social media coming into what is now our mainstream everyday lives. I started consulting just as a stop gap to say, “I’m not quite sure what I want to do yet, but there seems to be a really interesting opportunity here and there are a lot of businesses trying to figure out how to do this.”Also, the other thing about me is I love uncharted territory and a good media challenge. The fact that social media was this uncharted, Wild West of digital marketing, it appealed to me; I like figuring things out. Over the course of a year or two, I did some consulting engagements and found that not only was there more business than I could handle but that I also enjoyed the diversity of working with different clients, different industries, and really figuring out how to tailor solutions and ideas to different business environments. That was what helped me to realize, “This is something that I’m good at and I have a lot of fun doing,” and then move that into building an agency which is what Social Tribe is now.
You walked into the diversity word. I’m going to ask you about the 100% female-owned and operated thing at your company. That’s pretty interesting. What kind of feedback do you get on that statistic? Is there a real difference working in a mostly female-based business compared to just a combination of male and female?
Yeah, I think that there is naturally. Social Tribe is a female-owned and led business and it happens to be that our entire company at this juncture is female. It is very unusual. Just to be clear, it’s something that has happened organically. We have had some men join our team at various points in the business. We’ve always hired people and added people to our organization based on merit. Up to now, we’ve found that our female contributors have been the top runners in their space and have really helped us to advance our business and our services and the experience for our clients. That’s been a success for us. I do think that being a female-led business naturally changes the dynamics a bit in terms of our communication styles, the culture that we have within our business. It’s interesting because I think that there’s a lot of discussion right now about the rise of these new and different business skills. Some of them are really closely tied with the space that I work in, which is social media. Things like authenticity, transparency, trust, really open, candid communication, those are very much the principles by which Social Tribe has been organized internally. They also are what we use to drive the strategies that we build for our clients. We worked really well with brands and businesses that are invested in those types of experiences and traits because those are ones that are inherent to our company as well.
Tribe alone is such a big word these days. Did you know it was going to be this big when you picked it for your company name? It’s like everybody uses tribe now.
I think I was hedging my bets a bit. When I started Social Tribe, it’s a bootstrapped company. It’s something that’s been built from the ground up and at the time, being a solopreneur and just getting started, I realized that probably my best bet was to pick something that was easily understandable and relatable. That was how I chose the name Social Tribe.
Some of the stuff that you listed that you do were interesting to me. I was looking at your LinkedIn profile and you do voice and tone guide. I’m curious what that is. What is that?
When you think about different brands, this goes back to some of the authenticity and the questions about how we emotionally connect to brands. A big part of the way that we connect to brands is through their values, their philosophy, also their approachability and the way that they communicate with their audiences. If you think of an example, perhaps you’ve used something like MailChimp for your email marketing services. MailChimp has a very specific and intentional tone to all of their communications. It’s designed to elicit specific reactions, as well as just set particular experiences with their customers. One of the three things that we look at Social Tribe when we’re working with brands is not only what your product or your service offering is, but what the emotional reaction is, what the perception is that you want to convey to your customers or your clients, and how we can ensure that that comes across in all of the work that we do in terms of social content and influencer strategies and tactics.
Copywriting is a huge thing. I find that a lot of companies maybe just don’t even focus what they want to say. They don’t really look at their customer pain points and they don’t develop what they need to say based on those pain points. How can you find out what your customer pain points are?
That’s such a great question. I’m so happy that you asked that because this is something that I’m personally really passionate about. As human beings, we have such a natural proclivity to come at things from our perspective and our vantage point. That makes sense. It’s natural to put your perspective first. As marketers, we have an obligation and an opportunity to really orient towards our customers and to put ourselves in their shoes and really empathize and understand with, “What’s important to them? What matters? How could we help them be successful? How can we really make a difference in whatever it is that they’re trying to accomplish?”The first step is reorienting your perspective towards the vantage point of your customers.
The second part of that equation is the technology that’s now available to really provide that insight. To your point specifically, social listening is such a tremendous opportunity for businesses and for marketers to tune into not just what they think matters to their audiences, but really what their audiences are talking about. Straight from the horse’s mouth, “This is what I’m struggling with. These are the pain points. This is what I really need to help move my business forward or to solve this particular challenge,” and then to develop your marketing strategies and your offerings based on that information and that insight.
It was interesting to watch the Super Bowl just to see the messages that came across. I’m always looking to see if they’re going overboard and doing some shock type of marketing or trying to get their brands to stand out. What did you think of the Tide commercials? Did you happen to see all the Tide ads?
I have to admit, I am not a football fan. I missed the Tide commercials completely.
You need to watch them because it was an interesting concept to do what they did. They just would sneak in an ad. You think it’s for something else and then it would be a Tide commercial. It was a little bit shocking and different than what we’ve seen. We’re in an age of content shock and information overload and I think that made their brand stand out. If they don’t do it that way, what ways do you think that they can still stand out?
Taking the clever, unexpected approach definitely is something that can work and I think the Tide example that you just brought up is probably that type of tactic. The other thing that’s really key, as you mentioned, there’s just such information overload. One of my favorite quotes is something like, “We’re overwhelmed with information, but we’re starved for wisdom.”In the digital space, the way that a lot of people are trying to get heard is by increasing the volume of content and information that you’re pumping out and hoping that it lands. Hoping that it gets picked up, it gets clicked on, it gets consumed. Really, I think what we need to be focusing on is being very strategic, being very fine tuned. That goes back to the listening. It’s not the volume of the information that you’re pumping out. It’s the quality of the information. It’s the quality of the content. That means what kind of content format are you using? Is there really valuable insight, information, key takeaways in there? Are you delivering it in a way that makes sense for the audiences and the platforms that you’re using? Should it be video content? Should it be interactive content? Should it be short form, snappy animated GIFs? All of those things are factors to consider. Before you even start focusing on the output of your content, you really need to put the time and the effort and the energy into making sure that the focus of the content is on point. That goes back to the social listening, it goes back to focus groups and interviewing, talking to customers, making sure that you have a continuous and open feedback loop and that you’re using all the tools and your resources to really pinpoint exactly what matters to the audiences that you’re trying to build a relationship with. If you can nail that, you’re going to see tremendous results for your marketing program and your business.
It’s so complicated to keep track of all the vendors and all those things. My daughter works for Tealium. They track whatever is going on behind your screen that you don’t see, the HTML code and all the different advertising and all those things. It just gets so confusing to me sometimes. Who do you use for this? Who do you use for that? Do you find it at all overwhelming to keep track of all the vendors?
Absolutely. Also a part of what we help our clients understand is, “If this is your end goal, let’s be specific and strategic about which tools are going to help provide you the insight, the data, the tracking that you need in order to be able to convert that into your strategy. The point of these tools is it should not be to distract. The point of these tools should be to empower and accelerate the progress of your program. I think it’s really important not to start with what tools or what content, but to really focus on the customer experience. When you’ve mapped out the customer experience and you say, “Here’s where our customers are, this is what matters to them, this is the digital watering holes where they consume their information, where they ask questions, where they collect opinions or get input, things like that.” When you’ve mapped all of that out and you understand, “This is their experience day-to-day,” then you back into that, “Which technology platforms can help us manage these relationships, can help us understand from the data what’s effective and what’s not effective, can help us actually run the day-to-day operations of our program effectively?”
I found it challenging how these different vendors don’t always connect or communicate the programs. You’ve got to figure out how to get them all working together. It’s very complicated. Not only that, but in your case, you’re working in a virtual business where you’ve got team members all over the country and you’ve structured it that way. Why did you go with a virtual business like that and how hard is it to keep everybody engaged in that model?
I would say it’s always an evolution and an iteration. We’re constantly evaluating whether or not this model is the right fit for our business and putting ourselves up against the litmus test in terms of our performance and our client satisfaction. Two things, one, I started it as a virtual model because a lot of my early experience consulting was with technology companies. I’m from San Francisco originally, right at the doorstep of Silicon Valley. That really was the foundational experience for how I saw businesses modeling their structures. It seemed natural to me that, “If a company like Cisco can thrive and be successful with a huge remote workforce, why can’t small businesses model the same approach and take advantage of the same advantages and opportunities in terms of agility and innovation and also cost savings?” That was really the initial foundation of how we started off with that approach. The advantage now, as we continue to grow and scale, is that having a virtual model allows us to, one, pick the best talent from anywhere in the country and even in the world. We’re able to really focus on building out our core team on merit and finding people that have exactly the right skills, the expertise, and the experience levels that we’re looking for without being hampered by, “Are they in the same city with us? Can they make it into the office every day?”
The second thing is, as our workforce evolves, a lot of people are looking and interested in more of a flexible model where they can choose. For example, we can accommodate and work successfully with somebody who maybe wants to work part-time, has other family hobby, whatever considerations, passions, things like that, and doesn’t have to sacrifice their personal and other interests for their professional advancement. We’ve found that to be two really key advantages. We’re always working hard to make sure that we’re building in the cultural elements of our business. We have to think creatively about how to do that so that our team constantly feels connected with each other and also with the company as a whole.
We talked about how it’s mostly female and then now, I’m wondering, is it mostly millennial, Gen Z that work in your company?
I guess the answer is yes. I actually believe that I am on the cusp of a millennial, depending on your definition or the years that you use, but I’m pretty sure that I fall right on that line. Most of my team, yes, they’re definitely on the younger side, but not exclusively. I do have a couple of people on my team that are older than I am. That brings a nice balance to the mix.
It’s just such an interesting thing because I speak to groups a lot and a lot of them have millennial teams like yours, but then they’ve got to sell to boomers and Gen X-ers. How much generational issues have you found when you’re trying to sell to somebody that’s older maybe?
We deal with that a lot because we work with enterprise brands, and so often the stakeholders that we’re collaborating with and that we’re reporting into are not only coming from a very different business structure, but there are generational differences. We do a tremendous amount of work with our team internally at Social Tribe to really educate them on superior communication skills, expectations setting and this is always a really great thing to ponder is how do you connect with your clients in a virtual environment? How do you read a room when you can’t see faces and you’re presenting things over video conferencing and via calls and things like that? Those are some of the considerations that are unique to our business climate that we put a lot of time and energy into investigating, researching and educating our team so that they can be successful in those conditions.
It’s really challenging. I’ve taught more than 1,000business online courses and you don’t see anybody. Unless they’re typing all in caps yelling at you, it’s hard to know. You’ve got to really be clear on what you’re saying, don’t you think?
C (image of book): Title of book
Absolutely. Not only do you need to be really clear on what you’re saying, but we really emphasize a culture of feedback and we practice that internally. I don’t know if you’ve read the book Radical Candor, but it’s one of my favorite reads. It’s really about building cultures of transparency and trust using honest, open communication and feedback. There are very clear principles and practices in that book and it’s something that we implement. I would say it’s built into the fabric of our business, but it’s also something that we bring to the table when we’re working with our clients. We very proactively say, “We really want to hear from you what you feel is going well and where you feel there might be opportunities for us to strengthen alignment, to improve, to better support you.”Ultimately, if we have that information, not only are we able to provide better service to our clients, but we’re also creating a partnership with them. We’re also saying, “We’re really listening. We’re invested in your success, we want you to have a great experience working with us. If you can help provide us that guidance and that feedback, we’ll take it to heart and implement it.”
You’ve used the word ‘listen’ quite a bit here and I think it’s really important. I’m curious, are you an introvert?
I am. I’m an undercover introvert.
Talking about good books, Quiet is a great book by Susan Cain and it gives all the value of what introverts bring in. If you haven’t read it, that’s a great book. It’s interesting that you want to listen and learn so much. Were you always a curious kid?
I guess yes, but I have found as I’ve matured into an adult, curiosity is actually one of the qualities that we look for very intentionally when we’re bringing new people into our company. It’s essential to building a culture of innovation, of new ideas, which as an agency, we’re always working to stay ahead of the curve. We need to constantly be making sure that we’re not only competitive but that we’re skating to where the puck is going to be, not where it’s already landed. I also am a really, really strong believer in moving away from fear-based cultures as work motivators. I think when you bring a focus on curiosity on learning, on discovery and exploration, those are all expansive mindsets to say, “What could we do here? What’s the potential? How could we come at this differently?” Whereas traditional models that tend to be a little bit more hierarchical and “If you don’t do this, you won’t get that or this, that, and the other” thing, I think that those are on their way out. Quite frankly, I don’t know very many people that thrive in those kinds of conditions. That’s really not something that we aspire to.
It sounds like you’ve got an amazing culture and it was really interesting hearing about all that you’re working on. I think a lot of people would probably like to know more about how they can reach you or find out more about your company.
That would be great and likewise, I love talking about this stuff.
Do you have a website or something you could share?
You can find us online. Our company name is Social Tribe and our website is www.Social-Tribe.com. You can find me personally on Twitter, @MegConley. Those I think are the two best ways to get in touch.
Thank you so much, Meg. This was very fascinating and I hope everybody checks out your site.
Thanks so much. I really enjoyed being a part of something great.
Thank you so much, Arad and Megan. What a great show. So many people on the show have created amazing companies, such young people, too. It’s amazing what they’ve come up with. I hope you come back for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.
About Arad Malhotra
Arad Malhotra, is an award-winning Social Entrepreneur with a passion to create, lead and advise disruptive startups that create meaningful impact. Arad, is a global expert in educational games and the co-founder of Skyless Game Studios, a highly decorated organization that uses the immersive video games as an active learning medium to drive social impact through engagement. Arad’s contributions have been featured in various international publications including Forbes, VentureBeat, HuffPost, WSJ etc. Arad is recognized as being in the top 1% of his field in the world and was featured on the global Forbes 30 under 30 list (2016) for Games.
About Megan Conley
Megan Conley is a digital marketing expert and the CEO of Social Tribe, a social engagement agency that builds and delivers leading-edge social, content and influencer programs for enterprise brands. Social Tribe is a data-driven agency, focused on solutions. They help enterprise companies build integrated social, content, and influencer programs to increase revenue and improve the customer experience. They elevate brand position, reach target customers, and generate more leads. Since opening its doors in 2009, Social Tribe has had the privilege of serving clients such as SAP, Cisco Systems, HP, Ten-X and many more.
- Arad Malhotra LinkedIn account
- Forbes 30 Under 30
- Skyless Game Studios
- Chris Bennett
- Oleks Levtchenko
- Follow The Money
- Skyless game for children with autism
- Eurasia Foundation
- Megan Conley
- Social Tribe
- Social Media Marketing World
- Publish or Perish report
- Radical Candor
- @MegConley Twitter account