Agile Culture Improves Growth with Andrew Paradise at Skillz

Creating an agile culture gives you speed and results. Agile is the norm in development teams. They have proven the value of small incremental growth that evolves the technology quickly. Some companies are embracing an agile culture across the whole company to improve growth. Think that each team has a new project that is the prime focus every two weeks. They learn to complete projects instead of just ongoing work. Our guest today is Andrew Paradise, Co-Founder of Skillz. Skillz was the #1 fastest growing company in 2017’s Inc 5000 list. Their revenue growth of 50,059 percent in three years proves they understand growth. Andrew shares how his teams think about their work in the agile framework. Create a team that moves fast and makes work happen with an agile culture.

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Andrew Paradise: The Transcript

Target Audience: 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 a $400 million revenue run-rate and raised over $50 million in funding from leading venture capitalists, banks, telecommunications companies, and team owners across the NFL, MLB, and NBA.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Andrew Paradise: [00:00]
We try really hard to aim high and then be OK with any level of results that we generate against their objectives. Provided we’re making incremental steps forward. And that’s, I think the real magic if you always are making steps board in your business. Eventually, you end up being the next huge business in the world, right? It’s the steps backward that really say.

Gene Hammett: [00:24]
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host, my name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett: [00:41]
Thanks for tuning in here to Growth Think Tank. Really excited about sharing this with you and before you run, I have done so many interviews in the last few weeks. I have such an exciting time to share with you that those interviews have been organized into the 12 core principles of fast-growth companies. So all you have to do to get that is going to genehammett.com/Worksheet so you can get the 12 principles and I’ve been able to go in there and find which episodes will align to each individual episodes. When you subscribed to Growth Think Tank, you will find exactly what you need so that you can move forward. And many of them haven’t been published yet, depending on when you’re hearing this, but you can, you can tune in to the date that means the most to you.

Gene Hammett: [01:23]
Is Your company growing really fast? Then you know the pressure you have around communication, around meeting structure and around having maybe too many meetings or not enough meetings and everyone doesn’t seem to be aligned if you’re growing at this astronomical pace. Well, I wanted to figure out how other companies were doing that. So I went out there and found the company that I really admire. A company called Skillz. Skillz was number one and the fastest place to grow in 2017 that growth rate was 50,000 plus percent over a three year period in the millions of dollars. And Are you wondering yourself, how did they do it? Well, the interesting part of this is they’ve adopted what’s traditionally a technology methodology called agile versus waterfall. And this agile has been something that they’ve adopted for the entire company all the way from product management to customer service, to communications to every aspect of the business runs through the agile methodology. And I’m with Andrew Paradise, the cofounder there at Skillz talking about exactly how they do that, why they do it. And all of that is inside today’s interview. So stay tuned for an amazing conversation with Andrew Paradise cofounder of Skillz.

Gene Hammett: [02:40]
Hi Andrew, how are you?

Andrew Paradise: [02:41]
I’m doing well today. Thank you for having me.

Gene Hammett: [02:44]
Well, I’m excited to talk to, you know, I’ve already let our audience know a little bit about skills and from a highest level number one best scoring company in 2017 on the INC list. A very impressive feat over 50000%, which for many people would probably think that’s insane. Can you give us a little background about skills and like, you know, this whole market that you’re in?

Andrew Paradise: [03:05]
Sure. So Skillz is driving the future of entertainment by accelerating the convergence of sports, video games and media into the first mobile e-sports platform. So what our platform does is we enable mobile game developers to put a piece of software inside of their games that they then distribute to consumers all over the world to play in their games. And that piece of software enables competitive multiplayer tournament’s we are best known for our fairness and for a number of core back-end technologies that enable a fair competitive gaming experience. So one of our claims to fame is we actually policeman stop all of the cheating and the ecosystem providing a fair, fun and meaningful competition platform for now 18 million-plus consumers.

Gene Hammett: [03:54]
So this mobile gaming thing, we all have kids. I play a game every once in a while. Not very much but this is a really growing market. Where do you see it going from here?

Andrew Paradise: [04:06]
Well, we started off in the mobile gaming space. It was $8 billion in terms of the entire sector and that was in 2011. It’s grown to this past year, two $63 billion and actually became the majority of the entire gaming ecosystem, some mobile past computer and console game. The projections are that it will continue to trend that way. So mobile gaming has grown 35% kicker over the last six years versus computer and console that’s growing and more like eight to 10. And mobile is projected to be a $150 billion industry. So mobile gaming, $150 billion industry by 2025 more than half of the entire gaming ecosystem and gaming is projected to be continuing to eat away at other forms of entertainment. Sometimes we like to joke and call it inactive entertainment, but you may know it better as video or television.

Gene Hammett: [05:01]
Inactive entertainment. Okay. How many employees do you have?

Andrew Paradise: [05:07]
We’re about 230 employees, although we’re growing about 20 a month. So it’s a little hard to keep track of.

Gene Hammett: [05:16]
Well that is a lot of employees and I know, you know, to keep up the demand of the market that the business is growing. You’ve got some interesting ways which you guys do business. It’s not traditional the way you guys organize around meetings and organize around the work that you have. So give us an idea of kind of the foundational idea of your, how you work together.

Andrew Paradise: [05:39]
Sure. Well, I am a serial entrepreneur, so maybe just start there. And I’ve been an investor in five different sectors for technology. My first company was an image recognition company. We only, we got to about 12 employees before we sold the company. My second company invented a mobile self-checkout. So mobile payments, using your phone in a source, that company got to be a little bit under 50 employees before we sold it. And my current company, I think I mentioned a moment ago over 200. And so the way we work is actually a big part of the experiment, I think for any company. And particularly with ours across each of these companies, we tried implementing various levels of the agile engineering methodology into the company. And for those of you viewers who aren’t familiar, agile is this concept of moving away from sort of what was traditionally referred to as a waterfall method of engineering, which is we kind of do a lot of defining upfront of what we’re going to do for work.

Andrew Paradise: [06:42]
We then do a working period with a set deadline and then someday, soon we have this finished piece of software and we ship it off to the world and that’s the end of it. Kind of done with that work. And then we go back to planning, we do this big huge long planning session, then do another cycle of work and then ship it off to the world. And so agile is a really, this concept around modern software development where instead of having a huge planning session and then shipping what we do is we actually do very bite-size, almost micro-level of planning. And then we’re very quickly shipping, building, iterating. And so if you ask me what software the team will be working on three months from now, I really couldn’t tell you. We candidly don’t know. What we do know is hearsay, like a backlog of ideas and things that we’d like to work on given a kind of our best moment in time right now.

Andrew Paradise: [07:33]
And so when you think about translating them to a workplace, and I apologize that I’m going on too long here, but I feel like this is important. The first company we had agile just for engineering, the second company product development. So half the company ran agile and then again, there’s still a lot of friction. And then this company is skills we’re running agile in every team, including business teams. And so you know, maybe quote like Facebook is often famous for saying move that, move fast and break things. We definitely do that in all teams here, particularly in our, in our business teams. So w the way that works in terms of a week overflow our website, we can flow. You have your planning cycle or your sprint planning as it’s called at the beginning of the week. That’s your Monday and you’re planning out what your work is for the week.

Andrew Paradise: [08:22]
We then have a 15-minute standup every day of the week for everyone on every team. So you might be in the communications team, I’m with them right now here with you today. They’re going to stand up tomorrow morning. They’re going to talk about three things and in no less than 15 minutes kind of walking around the table. And those three things are what did I do yesterday? What am I doing today and what are my problems or what’s blocking me? And everyone on the team quickly does that. And that allows you to remove bottlenecks from your workflows and to really coordinate what activities for a day will be. And ideally what I’m doing yesterday and what I’m doing today relates back to that work plan that he created on a Monday morning. Does that make sense?

Gene Hammett: [09:05]
Totally makes sense.

Commentary: [09:06]
I want to stop right here for a second. Move fast and break things. That’s showed up a lot inside of these conversations. I’ve had interviews, but I want to highlight this in case you didn’t see the other episodes. It comes from a Facebook mark. Zuckerberg really believed that in the early days of them growing the Facebook platform, them getting to a billion users that they had to move fast and break things. They didn’t want people to not take risks. They wanted to always be testing and they wanted to always be really pushing the boundaries and finding the edge and the whole culture centered around this concept of move fast and break things. Now your culture may call it something different, but if you believe in failure, if you’re embrace that and you have these open, honest conversations and transparency around that, you really can create a place where people are failing forward and they really are moving fast and you go have the kind of a fast-moving company as well. Now back to the interview with Andrew.

Gene Hammett: [10:03]
I want to bring everybody up to speed on this. Like we’ve done waterfall for decades, right? This was, this was something that started way back into, you know, build a house is typically a waterfall kind of thing. And a lot of it was because the technology didn’t allow for the speed at which it does today because it was, you know, when you shipped software, you shipped it in boxes back. And when I first started doing computers, I know you’re a little younger than I am. But you guys, you guys were able to see the changes in technology and now you have this, this way of shipping these small drops of code and internally improving it. Am I got that correct?

Andrew Paradise: [10:47]
That’s right. And then, and then think about that relationship with that first week though to say the overall quarter. So let’s like describe the rest of the quarter because I think it’s really important in terms of how you iterate towards what you call it, release and agile. In our case you know, back to the communications team, they did that one week of work. They then are going to plan that a sprint the next week. And the relationship from week to week on their work ties into an overall planning process that we actually adapted from, from Googlewho is known as the inventor of the OKR system for objective and key results system. And the OKR operating system is like an overall backbone for the company where each team is going to plan out it’s three to five objectives and then three to five key key results. And if any of your viewers or readers are interested in learning more about that, a quick Google of OKR and you can actually see a number of different sites that are great at helping plan, helping you plan o cares against your business.

Andrew Paradise: [11:48]
I can’t recommend it enough as a great way to business plan quarter to because it gives you the direction you need for building a startup, but it also keeps everyone accountable. While a, I would say, I’ll call it loose accountability. And what I mean by that is a great OKR, so a great objective and key results. It is a number or set of numbers tying back to an objective that you’re looking to hit somewhere between 60 and 70% of, and the process, the reason is 60 to 70% is you certain have gone for like a c-level execution on a few different numbers. It gives you the flexibility to even really high while gives you the accountability where you can make progress without having to hit the number completely and still feel good about moving the business forward. One of the things that Skillz as a culture is really big on is this concept of failing upwards. And so we try really hard to aim high and then and then be OK with any level of results that we generate against their objectives. Provided we’re making incremental steps forward. And that’s, I think the real, the real magic. If you always are making steps forward in your business, eventually you end up being the next huge business in the world. Right? It’s the steps backward that really set you back.

Gene Hammett: [13:09]
You know, it’s a very common conversation inside of fast-growing companies. You guys being, you know, astronomical in 2017 and continuing that now is to have a different relationship with failure. You know, a lot of companies resist failure. Like they end up moving slowly because they are so careful. Why has it really proven you to work for you guys?

Andrew Paradise: [13:33]
I think the thing we try to teach at skills is that communication is the most important aspect of doing business. And you can’t have a true communication if you don’t build trust and transparency around failure. And what I mean by that is well everyone loves to say the great names when it comes through. No one wants to say that. And if you can’t build into your culture and acceptance of it’s okay to fail as long as you learn from it. I think you ended up in a situation where people are almost trained into hiding failure over time. And so it really, it all starts from the top. It starts from like me saying, Hey, I’m totally fine with you failing. I just want to know early and often that’s happening. We like to say this a three-part statement option and skills. One, if something’s going wrong, you’re going to hear about from the first. Two, I’m going to demonstrate that I care more than you do in three. I’m going to demonstrate that I’m all over it. And I think if you have that kind of ownership within a company or around a, an effort, let’s even say beyond the company, but around the mission, you end up having a group of people were not only failure acceptable, but failure has the right process.

Commentary: [14:56]
Transparency. Wow, that’s such a big word, right? It’s tossed around a lot and in many people, they think they have a level of transparency. But I want to really urge you to think about the level of transparency you have. So what exactly is it? Well, in the traditional sense, transparency means openness or it’s really about, you know, trust and it’s about sharing what’s really on your mind. Yup. Are you sharing everything that you can to your team? Do you trust them enough to share everything you may be thinking to yourself? Well, you know, I can’t share everything, but I have done the research. I’ve looked at a lot of companies going fast just like this, and I worked with teams to help them, you know, reduce that fear of transparency because it really does hold you back. I work with leaders to really grow beyond just the need to hold on and control and to open up. And if you have any questions about how to do that, I would love to talk to you about that. Just reach out to me, [email protected] Now back to the interview with Andrew.

Gene Hammett: [15:54]
Where did you get those three from? Is it something you guys came up together as you were developing the teams?

Andrew Paradise: [16:00]
My life partner, she is smarter and better than me and everything.

Gene Hammett: [16:05]
Okay. I speak on stages around the importance of getting employees to go beyond responsibility to take ownership. And those three pieces in there really are kind of a great way to talk about that level of ownership. Go through them again. And let’s break it down a little bit. The first one was about we’ll hear from you first. So what does that mean and how does that.

Andrew Paradise: [16:28]
One, if something’s going wrong, you’ll hear about from me first. Two, I’m going to demonstrate to you that I care more about it than you do. And three, I’m going to demonstrate that I’m all over it.

Gene Hammett: [16:45]
That is really impressive. But if you had employees that do that and I’m sure you guys do it really does change the way things happen.

Andrew Paradise: [16:55]
It does. In fact, we actually run that kind of methodology across every level of the company, even in how our board works with me. So I think everything has to start from the top. And so we run the exact same processes in terms of agile, in terms of a failure and our commitment to communication at every level of the Q. And if there’s one thing I had to say that’s generated results that skills have, it’s much more about our operating system and methodology than it is about the industry or any other aspects of this.

Gene Hammett: [17:31]
Well, I want to go back into this whole agile planning because the details behind it I think are really kind of interesting because a lot of companies will say, man, what you listed out there Andrew, that’s a lot of meetings. You have all of these little small 15 minute meetings. Like do you guys ever get any work done? So do you say to that?

Andrew Paradise: [17:51]
Well, a couple of things. One is I would much rather only make one step forward today provided I know I’m walking in the right direction and then walk a little bit.

Gene Hammett: [18:02]
Sure. You’ve talked a lot about the direction and I’ve been playing with this thought, so I’m gonna kind of bounce it off. You being, being at the level you are and growing as fast as you are employees that need to be delegated to, I mean, we get it, we hurt, we tear about delegation all the time. But really I feel like employees really just need direction and the level of trust from our leaders like you, that they’re gonna know how to get things done and engage resources when necessary. So direction becomes much more important than the whole delegation piece.

Andrew Paradise: [18:36]
You know, it’s interesting the words we use in terms of management, whether it’s delegation or direction assigning responsibility has to go hand in hand with authority. And what I mean by that is one of the things we focus a lot on curate Skillz. And I’ll give you an example of prepping to decide to do this interview. Our head of communications owns all communications for skills and owning all communications and skills. She decides whether or not I’m going to be on this interview, not me. And that’s like a really interesting thing, right? I’m the CEO. You’d be like, oh, of course, he interviewed, decides she gets to do interviews. It’s like, no, actually marine is tasked with growing on a skills communications. They’re at war, she owns it and she decides who is the best speaker. What kinds of talking points they should be prepped with kind of every element of, not just strategy but the execution. And I think that’s a maybe a little bit different from how some companies look to operate. And it is certainly, it’s scary, right? It’s scary saying, Hey, I’m going to turn over every aspect of communications to this person and they’re going to choose how everything brought at skills. I think at the end of the data to build a really powerful company, you have to give up control and you have to say, okay, I’m going to hire people who are smarter than me. And not only are they going to be smarter than me, but I’m also going to actually believe that at a holistic level where I’m going to give them total control over certain elements of the business. I like to say opt-in the statement. I’m just trying to work myself out to the beach. What I mean by that is if we do everything right ideally at some point the company will run without us, myself.

Gene Hammett: [20:21]
I totally agree with that. And I feel like some of the leaders, even fast-growing companies, I just really, I talked to someone the other day that they were, you know, working at midnight now all hours of the night because they had to get these little elements done. And I’m sitting back thinking that means you’re the bottleneck. I appreciate you sharing that with me and I want to leave on this note, like this whole aspect of meeting with agile. You’ve got a lot of meetings, all hands. We have two, one on Monday, one on Friday. You have team agile meetings, you have the meetings that happen before you start sprints and at the end of sprints. What mistakes or what kind of boundaries have you put around these meetings that make them run efficiently?

Andrew Paradise: [21:11]
So one, one of the rules meetings start and end on time. So I don’t think you can have this kind of a methodology if you’re going to allow your mid your meetings to run even an extra minute, right? If you think about how important every minute is, so everything has to start in on time. We actually have a standing rule. So for a one-hour meeting, if you’re more than five minutes late the organizer of the meeting is allowed to tell you not to show up. Or if you do, try to walk in to send you out without that being a weird cultural thing. On a half-hour meeting is three minutes. So you have three minutes to, you know, think about that, right? So if you’re more than three minutes late, you’re only going to have 27 minutes slapped in half-hour meetings. So it’s very important that the meetings begin and end on time. Another rule is if the meetings and all of your users to you basically you’re a culturally allowed to stand up and walk out and or the host of the meeting to decide at all times whether or not the people in the room are valuable for the meeting. But yes, meetings are I think something that everyone’s terrified of. Certainly. My first company or like we’re never going to have a meeting again. That didn’t work well actually I can report back. I slept on my desk three out of five nights a week actually face down on my keyboard. We said you’re not hardcore enough if you’re sleeping under your desk. And you know what I’ll tell you from that is we work in a much more balanced work.

Andrew Paradise: [22:39]
We curate Skillz with much greater productivity and results and it’s so much more results. Are really a generation how to productivity and productivity is not about how many hours you show up to work. It’s about how many productive hours were you in where you’re working. And I think that’s one of them, like really fundamental shifts of how to build a great company. It’s how are you focusing on productivity? How are you focused on your point earlier on? Are you walking in the right direction as opposed to saying, hey man, I’m going to just start sprinting? It’s like, what? Well, you may not want to spread it because you may be going backward. You’re running away from your goal, you’re running literally as fast as you can away from your goal. And so I think, I can’t say enough, really thinking much more about you know, almost the analogy of you are navigating a boat in unknown water and you need to think all the time, am I heading on the right bearing? And if I’m heading on the right bearing, like, Hey, are, you know, what level of speed should I be trying to put in my sales? And I growing them both. I like to think a lot about these like pirates lights or ship analogies. I think there are all kinds of different fun ones for entrepreneurs, but I feel like uncharted territory is a lot of what being an entrepreneur is all about.

Gene Hammett: [23:57]
Well, one last question as we wrap up today’s interview. What mistake did you make that you had to really shift your style of leadership in order to continue to the growth of the company?

Andrew Paradise: [24:12]
Yeah. So a company one I think I mentioned I slept at the office multiple nights a week and I can only imagine this for the employee is to come in and they would see me in the same shirt multiple-day after day after day. And this, you know, 24 years old is the CEO of the company. He’s sleeping, you know, like literally as task weekend having like keyboard marks on, on space. That was not a very effective way to work a company to I worked every day of the week in the office at least 12 hours a day. So can I count that out seven days a week? It’s 96 hours a week. Again, I don’t think that was the most effective way to work. I think one of my greatest personal familiars was not appreciated enough. How important balance and how letting everything in your life have its place is to be productive. So actually our seventh value at skills or something, the final value is a balance. And it is just that letting everything in your life happens to place. And that realizing that sleeping at night in your bed is as important to the eventual victory of skills as the harder, you know, the hard labor in the office itself.

Gene Hammett: [25:24]
Fantastic. Well, it’s a good place to end. I really appreciate you sharing your insights here with the Growth Think Tank. Where can our audience get in touch with you and just like follow along with what Skillz is doing next?

Andrew Paradise: [25:39]
Sure. So skillz.comor our Twitter @skillz is a great way to watch. We post most fun things to Twitter and, or to our other avenues in social media. I saw just Skillz with the z.

Gene Hammett: [25:56]
Well, thank you so much.

Andrew Paradise: [25:58]
Alright, thank you.

Gene Hammett: [25:58]
Wow, this is really fantastic to have that kind of conversation with someone growing that fast. Andrew’s got a special talent for seeing opportunity inside of a market and being able to, to align a team to execute around that. And that’s the reason why I have interviews like this on growththinktank.com. So if you have questions or you want to know how you could grow like this, then make sure you reach out to me. I’d love to get to know you. If you appreciate what we’re doing here. You know someone that would really be great for this show that you want to introduce them to it. Make sure you share their growththinktank.com it’s not about vanity numbers. I don’t need, you know, just anybody listening. I want the right people that want to grow fast, become the kind of leaders that really invest in themselves, invest in their people. And that’s what this is all about. So as always, lead with courage andI’ll see you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

 

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