Co-CEO & Co-Founder, Scopely
Q: With your English Lit major, what made you pursue starting and leading a games company?
A: I had no idea what I was going to be doing specifically when I was in school, but what I knew was that I wanted to do something that was self-directed, and I wanted to create experiences for other people that made them feel something. That was always what I was interested in more so than working in a specific industry or solving certain problems. I wanted to have an experience that I thought was unique and valuable as a human being and to provide other people with that experience, some sort of emotional experience that mattered to them. Over time I found that creating software-driven experiences that people can customize and self-direct was a really powerful way to touch a lot of people at scale and really let them take a foundational thing that was skillfully created for them and make it their own. I love seeing how people create meaning for themselves through digital experiences that we create. That’s one half the equation. The other half is what they do with it, and that dialectic is really fun to watch.
Q: Where did your relationship begin with Bryant Stibel?
A: Bryant Stibel has been an investor in Scopely since before our Series A and has been one of our most trusted investor partners since then. We were oversubscribed on a convertible note between our seed and Series A, not looking for any additional partners, but Mark Mullen — one of our existing investors and a good friend — said ‘You should really meet Jeff [Stibel].’ I obliged and had lunch with Jeff and Pete Delgrosso and it became clear by the end of lunch that they were people that both Scopely as a company, and myself as an individual, wanted as friends and as long-term business partners. They seemed like some of the smartest entrepreneurs in LA who really understood what goes into building and scaling a business. They were both enthusiastic and sympathetic supporters of the business and I had a good feeling about right away, and hence we decided to find a way to make room for them in that round.
Q: How do you know if an investor or partner is a good fit for your company?
A: I think when you’re building a company, both in terms of the people you hire and the people that you want on your cap table, the number one thing is thinking about who you want to have on the journey with you for the long term. If you find people that you admire, enjoy spending time with, and find energizing, then it’s going to be a great experience to have them involved, whether they work in the company or they’re investors in it. I think that’s the number one lens that we’ve tried to look through. The best question to ask yourself when evaluating anyone to invite on your journey is, ‘Is this someone, or a group of people, that you think the journey will be better with by having them along the way?’ Bryant Stibel definitely fits that description. It comes down to the people that you’re spending your time with and that’s what I continue to optimize for both inside the business and in our partnerships.
Q: What is Bryant Stibel’s current level of involvement and where do they bring the greatest value to your business?
A: Jeff has been one of my most trusted sounding boards and counselors as an early investor in the Scopely journey. He’s provided me with wise counsel and outside perspectives on a lot of major issues that I’ve faced along the way. He’s made a number of very helpful introductions over the years to people that are good for us to have access and exposure to. He’s always somebody that is willing to help when we need it, and never causing unnecessary communication cycles when we don’t. We met Kobe through Jeff and the Bryant Stibel partnership. In the early days of Bryant Stibel, Scopely was scaling and Kobe was effectively an evangelist for us. He went on CNBC’s Squawk on the Street and spoke repeatedly about Scopely’s momentum, which drove a lot of investors to reach out to us in a very short period of time. He also spoke about Scopely on stage at a Wall Street Journal conference where he was the keynote speaker. A venture firm ultimately decided to invest after hearing about Scopely from Kobe on stage; they did their own diligence, but it sparked a good conversation.
Q: Did Kobe bring any understanding of gaming or entertainment that helped Scopely as you launched?
A: When we first met Kobe, he understood that while he wasn’t an expert on mobile games, he was certainly an expert on playing a game, the concepts of wanting to control your own destiny and influence outcomes, being the best you can be, and self-actualization in trying to win. I think Kobe immediately and intuitively understood that a lot of why interactive entertainment has now surpassed books, movies, and music combined in terms of annual revenues is that people increasingly want to participate in their entertainment. They want to have the power in their hands to try and direct their own experience and find out what they’re capable of. I think that the underlying motivation for our players and also for the Scopely team is something he could relate to immediately as a great competitor.
Q: How would you say Bryant Stibel differs from a typical venture capital firm?
A: There’s a difference between people who are great professional investors and people who are both entrepreneurs, investors, strategists and supporters. It’s really helpful as an entrepreneur to have investors who are also entrepreneurs. They bring the experience that they’ve had to the table–helping you think through issues you are facing. Bryant Stibel does that in a really collaborative and transparent way. I think they have a unique degree of trust and sympathy, approaching challenges you face as an entrepreneur, not just an investor. They are uniquely positioned and willing to provide solutions or ideas that could be a catalyst to overcome obstacles.
In the Scopely experience we’ve only chosen to spend time with people that are accretive to our overall energy as entrepreneurs; Jeff and Pete have really fit that description in terms of people that we’re just glad to have on the journey with us as friends, sounding boards, supporters, investors, and facilitators of opportunities. They’re certainly people that I would recommend that any entrepreneur would want on their cap table.
Q: Where do you find the most value in working with the Bryant Stibel team?
A: My conversations with Jeff have always helped me focus. When you’re in my position, you can get very close to the problems you’re experiencing at a specific moment in time. A lot of my job is helping the people I work with think about the problems and solutions for the long term. Jeff has always been skilled in helping me think about the bigger picture. He helps me think through not just what appears possible, but what is truly optimal over a long enough time horizon. We always say that people overestimate what they can do in the short term and underestimate what they can accomplish in the long term. I think Jeff’s ability to think about what’s possible over a long period of time helps provide clarity on the optimal path, rather than the possible path. It’s a great quality in a mentor and a friend.
I also never leave an interaction with Jeff with less energy to face the road ahead than I had going in; I always feel more excited and energized. That’s something that I find really valuable. He is remarkably humble and accessible for somebody who’s had his track record and anybody who spends time with him understands what a unique intellect he has. I think that’s a large part of the reason why he’s attracted the loyalty of such talented people and the affection of such a broad base of people. I trust both him as a human being, in that I trust his intentions that he has no other agenda than wanting the best for me and the company, and I trust his intellect, in that he has perspectives that are a good use of my time to consider carefully. He truly wants to see other people succeed and pay his entrepreneurial experiences forward.
Q: Has Bryant Stibel influenced the culture at Scopely?
A: I think the biggest influence Bryant Stibel has had on me as an entrepreneur is seeing how the core team there has operated over a long period of time. I know that Bryant Stibel has a genuine respect for all members of the team across multiple companies and investments. That respect and those trusted relationships are inspiring and I aim to have those same long-term relationships with my partners here at Scopely. The team has also shown me that this isn’t a short race, it’s a long one, and when you find people that you like, that you collaborate well with, that you’re compatible with, and you have a deep respect for, that’s a really special thing. Moreover, if you can keep it going over a long period of time, it’s really special and the Bryant Stibel team is unique in that regard.
Q: Are there any specific examples you can give in terms of how Bryant Stibel has been helpful for Scopely?
A: One specific area Bryant Stibel helped us with was thinking through subscription offerings in our games. We made the majority of our revenue through in-app purchases and advertising and had been thinking more about subscription revenue. The Bryant Stibel team came onsite and had a strategy session with our product leaders. They went deep on how we could think through subscription strategy, pricing and optimization. Sending a team to collaborate with us on an actual monetization or business model optimization is very unique.
Q: What is one of the most memorable moments you’ve had working with Bryant Stibel?
A: One of Scopely’s largest games is The Walking Dead: Road Survival and one of the characters in that game wields a katana sword to kill zombies. So, one of the fun things that we do at Scopely is for an employee’s third anniversary at the company, we personalize an engraved katana sword with their name and year they started. We then display those swords on our wall. When Jeff and Pete came to our office, they were very interested in the katanas and asked if investors were eligible. We of course sent them a Bryant Stibel katana sword of their own. But when I went to their office recently the sword was not only displayed, but unsheathed with easy access! We keep the sheaths on them at Scopely because they are real swords but I have to admire the Bryant Stibel team for displaying them proudly; willing to expose the blade is a strong move.
They obviously have fun doing what they do in supporting entrepreneurs. Building a company is really challenging, and what you’re really looking for in your partners are people who make the challenges you face and the process of working on those challenges more enjoyable. Challenges are inevitable and it’s great to have people that understand that a lot of the job as supporters of an entrepreneur is to try to find ways to make the experience of overcoming those challenges as fulfilling as possible. Ultimately the entrepreneur is the one that is going to have to overcome the specific source of adversity that they’re facing, and having strong supporters is key.
Bryant Stibel’s entrepreneurial spirit is infectious. They’re doing it because they love it and that permeates in all aspects of working with the team.
Q: What words or attributes do you associate with Bryant Stibel?
A: Loyal, supportive, honest, and helpful.
Q: What would you say to another entrepreneur considering working with Bryant Stibel?
A: Bryant Stibel is an investment firm comprised of entrepreneurs that support entrepreneurs, and any entrepreneur would be well served by inviting them on the journey with them. There’s no way that anyone’s going to regret having them alongside as they move forward and meet the obstacles that they encounter along the way. The team at Bryant Stibel could not be better partners.
Q: Safe to say you’d work with Bryant Stibel again on future endeavors?
A: I would 100% work with them again in any capacity where it could possibly happen.