As a part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’ we had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Heiman, CEO and Founder of The Game Day.
Matt Heiman is the current CEO and co-Founder of The Game Day. As an entrepreneur with more than 20 years in the industry, he has successfully built and exited multiple businesses to large-cap publicly traded companies.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I am a long time entrepreneur. When I grew up in Winnipeg I was constantly thinking of new businesses and then started my first at age 18- printing t-shirts. Coming out of University, I felt I needed a “job” and gained a lot from working for two global companies- Xerox and The Royal Bank of Canada. At the latter, I really learned the value of personal and corporate integrity. After I left banking in 2001, I immediately started another business- delivering pizza from a posh restaurant in London. Sadly, that didn’t work out. But, soon enough I was funded and back into the media sector. My first business as founder/CEO had the tech and middleware that made video work on a mobile phone. Massive market, massive clients, massive growth issues. In the end we sold for a good return but it was the school of hard-knocks. My business partner Steve Carey and I then started Diagonal View and that was a great ride- it was a very successful business from the very start. We sold that in 2017 and as soon as my lock-ups were off…we started The Game Day. It is a similar business but in the US sports market rather than “football”.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Leading up to the start of the 2021 NFL season, we could see our fan-base was super-engaged and all the online metrics were pointing to a big bump in our first revenue quarter. Our hopes and expectations were far exceeded. By the time the dust settled, by the end of September, we were 11 months ahead of our revenue target and had to think about who we could hire to keep up with demand. And our commercial team was totally burnt out but facing more inquiries. We promised them a break, in April 2022.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
For our Holiday party last year, we decided to do remote drinks via Zoom. I was a bit cheeky and did it from bed (NY 5pm is 10pm London). I was sharing a house in the country with some friends and our kids and one of them is an investor in the business. He thought it would be funny to also drink from bed and join the call. So he hopped into bed. But, some of our colleagues were not yet on the call and for those who joined late, I was in bed, with a bottle of champagne and a pal. One asked if they were on the correct call, another said- I have enough screen grabs for years of Xmas parties.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Absolutely. My long-term business partner Steve Carey has been phenomenal. Through personal and professional challenges, he’s been there the whole way. We’ve had so many highs and lows and had wild disagreements but we’ve always worked on the best solution we could devise and come through so much stronger.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Good businesses learn. And you learn your most and best when surrounded by a diversity of smart, driven people. Valuable businesses also serve a range of constituencies. A diverse management group addresses those constituencies.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
First, educate. Even the most skeptical part of society will respect a well educated colleague/friend/neighbour. Then, empower. Don’t just listen, give every member an equal opportunity to express themselves and engage themselves. Finally, trust. The world is a generous place. Too many of our decisions are guided by scarcity. The truth is, there is almost always a collaborative way.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
The CEO brings everyone together and shapes the trajectory of the company. The CEO harnesses the strengths of individuals to power the collective. The CEO gives employees the tools and opportunities they need to succeed.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
That you are definitely the most important person in the room. The CEO is the generalist who can attract the best people and apply the skills of the group in the most effective way possible. Smart colleagues want a boss that listens and doesn’t tell. For the most part.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I love NFL football and thought I’d at least have seen a live game since we started this business.
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
Most are, yes. Being respectful of your colleagues and growing the people around you are the most important traits. Most people, when they put their minds to it, are pretty good at that.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
Make sure everyone has a voice. And teach them to use that voice appropriately. It’s so empowering for the individual and rewarding for the group.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I’ve had hundreds of colleagues go on to great jobs that they may or may not have gotten had we not worked together. In the time we worked together, the experience and learnings were valuable. I hope.
Fantastic. Here is the primary question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- The US would put in a 2-week quarantine and I could not meet any of my colleagues. Or is this actually a blessing? Kidding aside, is it better for a start-up team to find its own feet while the founder leads from way out in front?
- If you are starting a business with a 5-hour time change make sure you share the work with a co-founder. Ideally with one you have worked with before. Managing time and initiatives is challenging. But building and leading the right team has really been the hallmark of our success.
- If you get it right, sports fans will drive your business forward to a level you never thought possible. In that way- pick a market where, if you get it right, the sky’s the limit.
- 45 people can work remotely and still get along very well. We have adapted as people and colleagues. No-one would have believed it was possible 18 months ago.
- Pick a market with real money in it. Sports betting is a real-money business with valuable customers and scale evolving nationwide. Growth and scale have been a huge blessing- with real money and momentum, good people want to join top businesses in the sector so we are very privileged to be working with the people who have joined us so far.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Always ask another question.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people” — Steve Jobs. I have witnessed first hand, in all of my businesses, the true power of teamwork and collaboration and the impact these values can drive.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.