by Vasco Duarte
Next month London will rock during a DareFest called ‘SPARK the Change’. The funny thing about the conference is that it is organized by a company called Gamevy. And there’s something strange about those guys. I gave my friend Helen Walton a call. She’s in charge of marketing and as one of the founders she’s also one of the owners. On the other hand; since it’s an employee-owned business – everyone is. She told me her story.
“Before we started the company, Paul Dolman-Darrall, Dan Rough and I were writing books about Agile – about organizations, teams and change. The more we got into it, the more we crystallized our thinking about how things should be and compared it with how things were.
“We decided to start a company ourselves; a company that would be radically different in the way it was run. In some sense what we did felt less important than how we did it. We just wanted to create happy employees. Well, happy and rich, because that last bit matters too. We didn’t want to be consultants though; we wanted to build something. But what? After a lot of research, we realized there was a gap in the game market. There didn’t seem to be many that combined skill, luck and the chance to win real money. Perhaps it wasn’t surprising – ‘real money prizes’ means gambling, and it is hard work to get your license, build the game and find customers prepared to stake real money…
“We’re still on the journey, but we already have a very transparent organization. Everyone owns part of the company. We also have no managers and so everyone has real power in influencing what we do, making decisions, spending money etcetera. We frequently disagree with one another – but that forces us to break the idea down and find a way of proving it. We properly compete in Gamevy, which is fun. That’s the ‘Lean’ way most companies want to work, but their hierarchical structure gets in the way.
“The benefits are clear. We’ve been able to find and retain the very best talent, people who understand how the shared risk and reward model is good for them. It keeps our cost run rate very low – which ensures we can keep going for longer during this early phase as we develop and launch games. It makes it more likely that one will succeed and that all of us will win big.
“We believe in what we do and we can’t help being a bit evangelical about it; we are frustrated when people say our way of working is ‘wishy-washy cuddling stuff’. It’s not, far from it! We are pragmatic and we never ever give up on productivity and quality. We often get in arguments about it and that generates an interesting range of responses. From ‘that will never work!’ to ‘wow, tell me more!’. I’ll admit it – we probably started talking to other radical companies to get ‘ammunition’ in our arguments with people who insisted these ideas wouldn’t work at scale, but we’ve ended up forging really useful connections! So much so that we decided to organize the SPARK conference! We wanted to build a community of other companies experimenting with different structures and management techniques and we wanted to share that knowledge more widely.
“Do I have tips to share? Yes I do. We are disciplined and very, very rational in our approach. We didn’t leave our culture to chance – instead it’s embedded in the way the company is formed. Gamevy has a constitution and clear rules that lay out how certain decisions are made and how the ownership and rewards structure works. If you are thinking about doing something like this: you have to work out your model and then you must embed it. Don’t fall in the ‘we are so free and open and we don’t need structure-trap’. None of us are perfect and culture is both powerful and fragile, it needs to be based on clear values that people live up to. From the CEO to the one doing marketing. And if things get difficult, work harder. ‘You often don’t learn things until you properly learn them’ is what I learned.”
I know I loved talking to Helen; she’s just so passionate about what she does. Oh, and she’s funny.
Photo: Bernard Hermant (Unsplash)