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Growing a Happy Team, not just a Growth Company

By Shari Spiro

I would like to preface this blog by saying that I love my job – and anyone who can say that in the fourth quarter of the year (while running a growth company) and mean it is truly blessed.  This is generally the time of year when stress and business take over – and the joy is buried underneath all of that.  Maybe I feel so good today because I have finally been home long enough to organize “my side” of the bedroom -(that always makes me feel good) – or maybe it is because I am just sick enough – getting over a cough –  to appreciate how great it is going to feel when its gone.  Whatever the reason – not only am I encouraged today – but overall I even feel like writing – which – in itself – has been pretty rare in the last two years judging from the frequency of my posts (to the utter dismay of my SEO team) 🙂

Today I am optimistic about the future – regardless of politics – economics – flu season – and the need to be in NYC last week during the busiest time of year and in LA this week giving away toys for families in need for the holidays.  Maybe it is the sunshine and the 40 degree weather I enjoyed in NY – because soon it will be freezing in the Northeast – but whatever it is I am happy – and consequently I am in the mood to wax philosophical.  Also after being named 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year for New Jersey in Media and Entertainment by Ernst and Young – I couldn’t help but think about what being a growth company should really be all about.

When you grow a business – time flies.  Meetings – phone calls – tens of thousands of emails – problems – triumphs – it all takes time.  I have been in business now for quite a while – having become un-hireable at a pretty young age – I had no choice but to work “for myself”.  Now with a team of 15 on the east coast and a team of about the same on the west coast – a couple of world class illustrators in Mexico (you know who you are) and some uber talented people out in LA – I no longer work for myself – so much as I also work for all of them.  My main desire and focus in life – besides my immediate family and trying to spend quality time with my children and loved ones – is to keep my team focused – motivated and most of all – happy.  Happiness – being what it is – (and the oatmeal has a great article on this) changes – and I believe that re-invention is a large part of what growing while maintaining happiness –  is all about.

When I first started Ad Magic – my fiancé Brian wanted to build an empire.  I nodded and agreed – but secretly I had no desire to do any such thing – I just wanted to not have to worry about money constantly.  My motivation for a long time was paying two mortgages because I got stuck in a bad economy with a house I could not sell – when at the last minute the buyers changed their minds and I was already in my new house.  Carrying two mortgages was the spark that fueled 15 – 20 hour days – constantly studying SEO to keep the website at the top of google organically – and specializing in rush jobs that no one else wanted.  Answering phones until 11 PM and on weekends – publishing my cell phone on the web – (I think it’s still there) all of these things were driven by the need to just make sure I could stay afloat.  Then I was in a four year trademark lawsuit – fighting for my Ad Magic name – after which – eventually – the sun decided to shine,  I started printing Cards Against Humanity,  kickstarter jobs started to “kick in”  and things started to look up.  Time passed and we all worked long hours – and the business slowly began to evolve and change and finally we experienced the business growth that transformed us into into what Ad Magic is today.

And then – there did come a day – I vividly remember it – when I realized how many people I already had on my team – and suddenly I DID want the empire. I consciously started to plan for the business growth I had once tried to avoid.  I had to embrace the idea that I was going to actually able to grow as big as my wildest dreams – and that I need to simply follow the path that I could so clearly see growing before me.  I cannot say there were no choices to make and it was all completely clear – but – for the most part – the choices and decisions flow organically and  – as a team – we now tend to know what is right for our unique culture.  I love that we HAVE a unique and cool culture – and all of us are pretty proud of the things we are doing.  I like that our team FEELS like a team – that – when given a challenge – everyone rallies to meet and exceed it.

Our experiences with Target Stores- with US Distribution – with trade shows worldwide – with both online and traditional retailers – and with overseas distributors – have all taken time to develop, and each one has had its own unique learning experience. Thankfully – with all of the learning curves – as a team we have become so much stronger because of all of these combined new growth efforts.  Now we have a warehouse of our own – and a warehouse team – and we can ship our games right from there instead of waiting for others to do it for us.  Breaking Games is in countries all over the world – and my team has exceeded expectations time after time.  I cannot even express how proud I am of everyone – and how hard everyone has worked.  I want them all to be happy – and I think they really are, because if they are not happy they generally have no problem telling me EXACTLY how it is. 🙂

They all know that what I care about most is my family – my team and my clients.  I have a small circle in the scheme of things – a small circle of people I want to help – and protect if possible – and I encourage all of them to tell me when things are not right so we can fix them.  I think that most people would never tell their “boss” they are out of line – but – hard as it is to hear – I have been told that – and I have always tried to fix whatever it was at the time to the best of my ability.  I am not perfect – I know that – but I try really hard to take criticism and make it into something positive. Of course – it still sucks being told what you are doing wrong – but fixing these things inevitably seems to make things better for everyone.

Where I was going with this is basically – be careful what you wish for.  Success comes with its own price – as everyone knows – and you have to not only be willing to do whatever it takes – but to also make the right choices and protect the people who make the success possible.  As we grow I hope we never – as a company and a culture – forget the people who make it run – and always do our best to make their lives better.  Companies should be more about the team than the bottom line – they should be about doing right by their people.  I hope my team will always tell me if I am screwing that up. (and it would also be nice if they want to tell me once in a while that they are happy too. 🙂

One thing I will never get is how some clients think it is OK to be mean to a team member – and then be nice to me? I hate when clients do that. They will give one of the team a hard time and make them feel small  – and then in the next minute – when I get on the phone – act so opposite and be so nice to me!  I wish they would remember to treat everyone with respect and not just the CEO.  The CEO is not usually the person that handles the nuts and bolts of their job – and common courtesy goes a long way with all of us.  I know that sometimes people can get frustrated – but learning to be nice in the face of frustration and managing your tone with people is a learned skill I highly recommend.  Also the practice of re writing your email at least ten times when you are angry – to tone it down before you send it – is one of the basic things I have learned in business.  Each time you write the email it becomes less offensive until all the venom is out – and only professionalism is left.  Distill your angry emails down to a professional correspondence with an acknowledgement of the issues and a proposed solution.  I promise you – THAT will be a valuable skill you will always have in your arsenal.  I wish someone had given me that advice in the beginning – but then again – we were so busy paving a path through new technology that there were very few people to give me any relevant advice.   Except my Dad who said “never sell yourself short” – which actually means don’t underestimate yourself or fail to see your good qualities. (It is not a suggestion to ask for more money).

Even the 4 year – life altering – Ad Magic trademark suit – which included educating a jury about SEO using concepts of locating web sites on google much  like phone numbers though 411 – paved a path through Trademark Law.  Sometimes when I think back on this whole trip  – I think it has been pretty extraordinary. Then I remind myself – it wasn’t the invention of the wheel or the discovery of fire or anything – and that pretty much puts everything back into perspective.  Still – some really unique things are happening – some awesome games (and even Toys) are being manufactured  – and I am proud to be a part of them.

It’s not easy growing a business – and with things changing politically and economically – its like navigating by the stars in the middle of the ocean – but we will continue to make games and weird things and develop exciting new products – like Pixel Pals collectibles – Boogie Dice self rolling dice –  Rack Race the electronic un-scramble game, and new games like Treasure Tide – Stripes – Trellis – Rise of Tribes – What the Food and so many others.  And who knows what Cards Against Humanity and Exploding Kittens and Joking Hazrd will do next 🙂 Anyone see the 5 foot 9 inch CAH box yet??

Cards Against Humanity Big Box

Along the way I look forward to making our team even stronger and manufacturing games that make a difference to people and make our customers happy too of course.  Happiness is all we can strive for – and is something I think we owe ourselves. Be happy and try to appreciate what it is that you have.

Oh and if you know a programmer who is really good with Sales Force – please have them call me.  We are looking to add an in-house programmer to supplement our outside team. (Hey you never know who might read this  🙂

Happy December.  Try harder to Be Happy!

Shari

 

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