Rebecca Dixon is an entrepreneur who is passionate about creating businesses that support and amplify women through engaged communities.
As co-founder of the*gameHERs, Rebecca and her team have created the largest social network, media platform, and lifestyle brand for women who game and work in the gaming industry in North America.
Of the 2.8 billion gamers in the world, half of them are women, while women are extremely under-represented in the industry and experience a high level of toxicity. The*gameHERs is dedicated to providing a safe and social space for women gamers with the launch of their matchmaking and social app.
The team at the*gameHERs is the same team who sold their parenting company Mommmybites in 2016 to a media conglomerate in New York.
Rebecca received her BS in Mathematics from Vanderbilt University and lives in New York City with her husband and three children.
Verta Maloney is all love with appropriate doses of rage. Verta is a founder, storyteller, yogi, mama warrior and anti-racism facilitator. she has designed, managed, and delivered professional learning experiences and programs for school leaders and educators across the country.
Verta began her 25 year career in education as a teacher in Prince George’s County Public Schools and then as a literacy specialist for the New York City Department of Education. after getting her master’s degree in politics and education at Columbia’s Teachers College, she became the founding principal of Bronx Arts and then served for several years as a leadership coach for principals and aspiring principals at New Leaders.
Verta is a founding team member at Civics Unplugged because she knows #TheKidsWillLead and is Chief Innovation Officer & Co-Founder at the*gameHERs because all gamers who identify as women are dope. Verta is also a national leadership facilitator for New York City Leadership Academy where she expands upon her anti-racism work.
Verta Maloney co-founded 45 Lemons to help individuals and organizations share their racial autobiographies and stories in order to act on and undo racism in this lifetime. It is Merta’s hope that in every encounter Black, Indigenous and folks of color will leave seen, heard healed and loved.
Connect with Verta on LinkedIn.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- About the*gameHERs
- Changes in the gaming industry since launching the company 2 years ago
- The biggest challenges as a startup founder
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:04] We’ll come back to the Startup Showdown podcast, where we discuss pitching, funding and scaling startups. Join us as we interview winners, mentors and judges of the monthly $120,000 pitch competition powered by Panoramic Ventures. We also discuss the latest updates in software web3, health care, tech, fintech and more. Now sit tight as we interview this week’s guest and their journey through entrepreneurship.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:37] Lee Kantor here another episode of Startup Showdown, and this is going to be a fun one. But before we get started, it’s important to recognize our sponsor panoramic venture. Without them, we could not be sharing these important stories. Today on Startup Showdown, we have Rebecca Dixon and Roberta Maloney with the game hers. Welcome.
Rebecca Dixon: [00:00:59] Thank you. Thank you so much.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:01] Well, I’m excited to learn what you’re up to. Before we get too far to things. Tell us about the gamers. How are you serving folks?
Rebecca Dixon: [00:01:09] Sure I can kick it off. This is Rebecca. The campus is a community and a social network, a media platform, and a lifestyle brand for women who game women and femme identifying gamers and work in the gaming industry. So we launched about two and a half years ago and we are really excited to be continuing with a lot of growth and positive feedback to help our four purpose mission based company offer more community and opportunity for women and feminine gamers. So thank you for having us. Well, I feel free to expand on that.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:50] What was the genesis of the idea? What kind of was the spark that led you to building this community? Because a community community building isn’t easy. And that’s a it’s it’s a it’s a big task by itself. So what spurred you to work in this space?
Verta Maloney: [00:02:06] I’ll take that one. This is Berta. Hello, everyone. And I would say that one of the sparks for me and for us collectively is that a stat out there is that approximately half of all gamers identify as women. However, if you think about gaming, video games, the video game industry, that’s not usually the image that comes to mind for most people. And we just realized that with our background in building community in different areas of our respective lives. Heather, Laura and Rebecca starting a company for parents in the past, and I’ve done a lot of just community organizing and work just in the world around anti racism and anti oppression. Thinking about, well, where, why aren’t we seeing all the women who are in this space actually being recognized, being honored and and making money off of what is a multibillion dollar industry? And so, obviously, cocktails were involved as well as big conversations about weight. We know how to build community and we know we talk to like thousands of women as we were starting up and we said, hey, we can build a platform in a space that can do this. So I would say that that was some of the impetus.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:13] So when you decide to go into this space and say, I want to be the community for female gamers, what do you start with the actual creators of games? Do you start with the people who enjoy playing games? Like how do you begin a venture like this? Because it seems so overwhelming.
Rebecca Dixon: [00:03:34] It’s a great question. So what we did before we started is a lot of research. I like to say and our team says we did a deep dove to set to look into is anybody addressing this sort of challenge for women gamers that exists? Does anybody care? And what we, of course, found is that, yes, there were initiatives and individuals who were trying to do do what they could do. They were not a lot of nonprofits. There were definitely a lot of incredible women who were in the industry, even if it wasn’t enough. But what we felt like is that there was space for a community like Verna mentioned. We all had experience building communities prior to launching this company, and we felt like our experience could be valuable. So we interviewed on the phone and in person thousands of gamers. We were able to attend a couple of live conferences and conventions prior to COVID and really meet women in all of the categories. Some of the ones that you mentioned, everything from streamers to developers to students. Anybody that touches the gaming industry would like to benefit from community and maybe even work in the industry. So after verifying that, yes, there is there’s a place for what we know how to do.
Rebecca Dixon: [00:04:59] We literally launched with a presence on a number of social networks, with a newsletter, with a podcast. And we immediately, I mean, absolutely immediately got traction. And so then we used our tried and true tools of community building, which I think one of the main ones is look to those early community members and ask them, how can we how can we build this and how can how can we create the space that you want? And so that was the genesis. And the one thing that I’ll add to that in answer to the question, too, is. While it’s that the industry is vast, as you’re saying, right, there are game developers, there are streamers, there’s cosplay, there’s actual like esports, competitive players. And the in the middle of that circle, the thing that connects all of the people in our community is just a love and appreciation for video games. And that’s the core of who we are. And we are providing a space that is like less toxic, more safe and more inclusive than what has existed before, to be able to just pursue all of those things within the industry.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:12] So you use the word, I believe, mission early on and having kind of a bigger why behind this than just maybe just a social aspect. Can you talk about part of the mission? Is it to to move some of the people who are consumers of gaming to consider possibly making gaming a career?
Rebecca Dixon: [00:06:37] Absolutely. The crossover between women and feminine femme identifying gamers and women and femme identifying gamers who would like to work in the gaming industry is it’s a big number. And it’s not surprising when you think about where gaming kind of sits in the world today. It’s right at that intersection of quite literally everything, right? Music, sports, entertainment, space. Nascar uses gaming education. So the fact that, as Verna mentioned earlier, it’s a multibillion dollar industry and women aren’t working in it at the percentage, which they really should be, it’s that’s the opportunity. And so that is that is that is one of the missions. I think also it’s just to create a space that is community building and safe and comfortable. And we also believe very early on that the way to move that needle for women in gaming on the professional side of it was to create a business and not a nonprofit. And tons of nonprofits exist and we love them and work with them and support them. But by creating a business, we have the resources to, number one, hire some of them to facilitate movement into the career side of it and just to continue to create sort of more general understanding in the media that, by the way, women also game.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:06] Now, as this went from idea to to an actual community, what were some of the early hurdles that you had to get past in order to get, you know, to you saw traction pretty early but what were some of the hurdles you had to get it to, you know, kind of match the vision that you you thought or think? It can be.
Verta Maloney: [00:08:30] Two things that I’ll name. One is that a lot of people think that when you are women led in, that you’re centering and you’re about women. So identifying gamers that you are not for profit. And so it was like, no, we actually are a company and we think it’s really important to put that out there for purpose and for profit, because with profit you can actually create access and opportunities. And that’s really what we’re trying to do. And I think that the second was, I don’t think that this is an obstacle. I think that this is just the nature of a startup, which is understanding that what you think you are setting out to create will change once you have other people along that journey with you. And I think that that’s our community. We have an app that we developed which was not what we thought we would make, right. It was it was actually getting on discord with our community and realizing that there were some things that were not there that they needed. And we started down this path of creating our own app, which brings our community together and is like, it’s kind of just like growing. And we just left our beta phase. It’s being nimble. And so I don’t think it was an obstacle. I just think it’s an important thing that when you start anything that you what you think you might be building can just change and shift and you have to go with that tide.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:44] Now, are you noticing now that the world is opening up a little bit and there’s more in real life events happening? Is there a place for game creating, you know, in-person experiences?
Rebecca Dixon: [00:09:56] Absolutely. That’s another example of something that we didn’t necessarily know whether or not would be a part of our business model and our community. And it is absolutely a huge part of it. We gamers love events. I think people like events, people like in-person interaction. And it’s a really fascinating thing to sort of watch come to life after two years of COVID because I mean, in fact, our team, a big portion of our team just came back from a big gaming convention. And it is it’s a huge part of why community can be built so successfully online often is tied into in real life events. So yes, we have big, big plans and current initiatives that are that are in-person and digital. So yeah. And I think can I I’m sorry.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:46] No, go right ahead.
Verta Maloney: [00:10:47] Because I think what was really interesting is the fact that we actually launched in March of 2020, like official launch literally at the moment when COVID hit and the entire world started to shut down. Is that IRL was what we had always intended. Right. And we then had to make a real big shift in just our thinking and the world did about what it meant to do. I’m going to call it Earl. Earl versus Earl experiences. Right. And we actually, I think, had the benefit of this time to really think about how we can do in-person as well as virtual together and are really excited about that and excited about the ways that we are able to now. Think about what Web three means for our company, what it means to create events that are, like I said, IRL in IRL in their nature.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:36] So what are some of the ways that people can connect with the community? What are some of the initiatives that you have active right now?
Verta Maloney: [00:11:44] Well, we just finished our professional boot camp, which is a weekend event, and that actually was born out of the pandemic when we found a lot of people in our community online was talking about being laid off, how do I break into the industry? And so we just had a whole three day virtual event because that’s how it started, where we just brought experts from all parts of the industry, whether it’s HR professionals, streamers, marketers, all of esports and gaming to just share information with the audience. So we just did that and we are gearing up for our awards, which this year pretty certain will have an IRL component. I think we’re also going to have we’re working on maybe even having a roadblock event for that as well. So a lot of really fun things that are happening there and that’s coming up. Rebecca might be able to talk more about that as the sounds start to enter my background. Yeah, I think Verna really, really hit most of it. I mean, we we exist in a lot of places and that’s because, as I mentioned earlier, saying the word gamer is it means a lot of things, right? So we have where we are at the game hers on basically all the social networks, which is a great way to interact with our community. We have a discord that’s very active. We have an app and then we have some tentpole events like like that boot camp, like our awards. But by following any of our socials, that’s the best way to figure out where we’re going to be and what we’re going to do and how to get the benefit of our really wonderful community.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:13] And you have an initiative that targets like a college level women.
Rebecca Dixon: [00:13:19] I mean, yeah, that’s an example of, as Vertue mentioned, when we didn’t know we were going to do this. But we realized very early on if we’re going to make a difference for women in gaming, we need to actively identify how we can be valuable in the collegiate space. So we did about a year of networking and research and launched launched a collegiate discord in March. And it is a wonderful community for college age gamers, as well as an opportunity for colleges and universities to join and help navigate through that community there, whether it’s their e-sports program or their gaming club, and figure out where women and them identify and gamers can sit in that in that space. So it’s been really a fun new initiative we’ve just done in the past couple of months.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:07] Is that the youngest group that you target this community for? Are there initiatives for even younger women?
Rebecca Dixon: [00:14:15] So our roadmap is to include and specifically address creating a community for all ages. And with the with our app, we have age an age limit, but we have the collegiate discord and then in the high school space and kind of k 12 we’re just right now, I would say in the study and learning phase, we talked earlier a little bit about possibly having a Roblox be a part of our awards. That’s something we’re exploring with some some younger girls. And we’re just we’re just trying to figure out how we can be valuable in that space. So at this exact moment in time, there’s not a place to go for that. But we are actively connecting and trying to learn and see what we can provide.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:04] The reason I brought that up is here in Atlanta, we do a lot of work with a group called Women in Technology. And something I learned from interviewing a lot of those folks is that very young girls are kind of interested in STEM and steam initiatives. But at some point around, I think fifth grade ish, that starts to splinter. And I was just wondering if there is, you know, at least some thinking around, we have to do things to attract and keep those girls engaged as creators, not just consumers of this type of technology.
Rebecca Dixon: [00:15:44] Yeah, absolutely. I think that that stat is one that’s it’s just really saddening. Right. And we do want to have an impact in changing that. And so we’ve we’re a small but mighty startup. And so just as Rebecca said, it’s a goal of ours and we’re already engaging with a couple of as we engage with the colleges and universities, some of them have camps where they’re bringing younger students on. And we’re thinking about ways that we can support that right now as we build out what could potentially be a way to get down to K to 12.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:14] Now, did you start this out as kind of bootstrapped and it was just a bunch of like minded folks who were just saying, hey, let’s take a swing at this? Or was this always something that you said, you know what, at some point we’re going to get investment and we’re going to really blow this out.
Rebecca Dixon: [00:16:31] We started out by bootstrapping for a very short time, but as Verna mentioned, we found out quickly that there was a space for our app. And the moment we decided that we needed to develop an app, we’ve started fundraising. So we. Of investors and we are actually in the middle of and an intermediate seed round right now and we’re looking to do our series A in 2023.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:53] So how did you hear about Startup Showdown and Panoramic Ventures?
Rebecca Dixon: [00:16:59] We have been we have identified Atlanta as a really important city for the gaming and e-sports industry. We are New York based, but we are everywhere global. That being said, Atlanta is a city where we have our lead investor and also just a lot of really wonderful partners and connections in that industry. So through that, we found out about the startup showdown and Panoramic Ventures and we were lucky enough to get to the finals last year.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:31] So can you share a little bit about part of the process that you found most beneficial? Like what was kind of the the valuable part of going through something like that?
Verta Maloney: [00:17:44] I’ll start with that. As someone who had never I’ve started a lot of things but never started a business and then had to pitch to people. And so for me, the kind of biggest learning was around how we as founders share our message and how it is that we are always clear on who we want to partner with, even as people that want to invest with us and make sure that they’re aligned with us. So that was something that was just a really key learning for me and that you kind of never know who might be interested. And so you just have to always be ready, willing and able to just like shoot your shot.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:20] Now. Any advice for other founders of startups, maybe specifically ones that are trying to build a community? Because I think building a community has its own unique challenges. Any kind of, you know, do’s and don’ts.
Rebecca Dixon: [00:18:35] I think the most I won’t say the most because there are a lot of things about building a community. But one of the really valuable things to keep in mind is the reason the community gains traction. We thought we had an idea. We we talked to a lot of gamers. We got people in the community early. And the fact that the early adopters, I guess you could say the early joiners joined means that we were on to something valuable, but we still weren’t really sure. So looking to the community for advice and and direction on how to grow, it’s just the most important thing because the minute you think that the minute that we think we know more than our community, we are community builders in terms of creating that space, but the community is the community. So that would be what my advice probably has some things to add. I’m not sure.
Verta Maloney: [00:19:24] But yeah, no, I was definitely I think that’s really important and I think for me it’s just hire I always I always hire people that are smarter than me. And I think you need to do that, right? So don’t be intimidated by that. Like actually have that as a goal. And even if you’re not hiring them, there are people that you’re collaborating bring people on that know a lot about what it is that you want to do. We have so many gamers on our team, we were just like really deliberate about that. Women on our team, people that are non binary in our team, just wanting to make sure that whoever it is that you want to serve and solve a problem for work with, sell a product to make sure that they are a part of that process of building what you’re building.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:04] How do you go about when you’re building a community knowing that this sounds like the community could all raise their hand and say, This sounds great, I’d love to be a part of this, but they never spend a dollar with you. They never kind of, you know, generate revenue so that you can keep building the community. How do you know you have something that is, you know, worthy of your members investing in with, you know, green dollars, not just, you know, likes or high fives.
Rebecca Dixon: [00:20:35] Well, I can tell you, when we first started, we had some hypotheses about revenue models for our community and definitely having community members possibly pay us was was one of them if we were able to provide something valuable for them. That being said, when we when you build a community, you do have to build the community a little bit first to make sure and then to test that. The revenue that came to us first and is still our most most robust revenue at this moment is actually advertising and sponsorships because they just because of the sheer number of women gamers and the fact that, as you mentioned, they are they represent so many different parts of the gaming industry. That is a group of people who brands almost every brand in any category could or I would say should want to reach. So that’s one piece of it. Now, why how our community would actually pay us. There are lots of different potential streams for that and it’s in the form of facilitating jobs, although that also could be could be something where we get revenue from the corporate side of it, which is something we already actually are doing right now. Merchandise merch is a big deal in the gaming world and so we are continuing again to build the community, look back to the community and test that and then grow base based on that is the answer.
Lee Kantor: [00:22:10] So it really starts with just being just continue with continual service of the community and then if you do that well then everything kind of takes care of itself.
Verta Maloney: [00:22:23] I think so. I think you do it well and it’s and it’s also being strategic. So one thing that I wanted to say about that is also seeing we see our community as an influencer, as an expert in the space and people need to one pay for that expertize, right? So that’s how it coming to us. And we want to make sure that we are able to pay people in our community to do that. But also knowing that that expertize exists makes people want to come to the community. So I want to just like say a little bit that not all of those dollars have to come from your community members spending. It has to come from what it is that that community has to offer. The world could also be the way to look at that question. Absolutely.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:01] Now, having now immersed herself in this world for a few years now, have you seen a change? Are things changing? You know, as we get through the pandemic, like you said now, some in real life things are coming into play. Now this Web three is coming into play. And the metaverse, there’s all kinds of, you know, stressors on that world. How have you seen the gaming world or industry change in that period of time?
Verta Maloney: [00:23:29] I’m going to say two things here. The first is that I believe fully that gamers, people that game, even whether it’s competitive or casually, have been the people that have actually built this moment that we’re able to be in. And so it’s within this space that so many of the thinkers I mean, if you think about AR VR that’s been around for a while, right. Has it been successful? Maybe not, but it’s been around for a minute. And so I think we are just really well situated to be engaging with a community that is going to be able to solve and kind of think about web3 and the metaverse and some really amazing dope and interesting ways. And I completely lost the second part of what I was going to say. So gone.
Lee Kantor: [00:24:08] But is it are you seeing now you’re seeing kind of a dip as the pandemic is waning, a dip in the streaming services, people, you know, watching things, they want to now get out in the world to interact in real life. Or is that kind of bleeding into the gaming world as well?
Verta Maloney: [00:24:28] Not not in our gaming world. That being said, you know, like we’ve sort of been talking about, the gaming world is so intertwined with everything else, the community piece of it, which is where we sit. I think people always want community and this goes kind of right in line with there’s Earl. Earl, and then where wherever web three kind of fits into that. It is both online and in real life and and the in real life part of it, I think, for a gaming community doesn’t take away from the online. It actually adds to that community building. So for us, the answer to that question is no, but that doesn’t mean that’s a statement for gaming at large. It’s that we haven’t we haven’t seen a dip.
Lee Kantor: [00:25:14] Now, going through the startup process and being a founder. Has there been any mentors or any people that you’re kind of leaning on to help guide you through this process?
Rebecca Dixon: [00:25:28] Yeah. I mean, we have an incredible advisory board. We all have mentors. We had even the mentors that we had in the start up showdown. I mentioned Atlanta as the city that we have identified as being important in our industry. We have a number of mentors there. And so it’s interesting that you bring that up because one thing we we talk about a lot for women and girls who want to get into the industry or maybe who want to pivot their career, to be here is to try to find people who could be mentors and connect with them. And so that is definitely an area where we practice what we preach. I think I would say every day I would agree with I think, yeah, we have an amazing advisory board and so they help us so much. And I think one of the people in the world that I just kind of admire in the space of like VC is Arlene Hamilton and she’s just this. She has an amazing story and she’s quite inspirational but also really practical. And I just follow her on social media and listen to her story and her advice. And like a lot of the things that about being ready to shoot your shot, being willing to shoot your shot, and also just believing in your idea. Right. And being able to pivot that. So.
Lee Kantor: [00:26:42] Yeah. So what do you need more of? How can we help?
Rebecca Dixon: [00:26:48] That’s a great question. We what we are always trying to do, I would say, before anything, is share the message about what we’re doing, because for the most part, women who game, who find out about us are happy we exist and want to want to join in our community to get value and to give value. We find our community is really generous with each other. So we have a lot of resources to offer in terms of figuring out how to get into the industry, getting support in the industry, getting support as a gamer. And so to the extent that we can provide that to more people, we’re always excited to get the word out about what we’re doing. And that being said, as we mentioned earlier, we are a for profit company intentionally so that we have resources to be able to grow and do more of that. So we are we are currently in the middle of an intermediate seed raise. So if you are if you are interested in learning more about that, we’d love to connect with with with you.
Lee Kantor: [00:27:54] And what’s the best way to do that. The website social and.
Rebecca Dixon: [00:27:58] I am I’m Rebecca Dixon. I lead that initiative and I am very active on LinkedIn and responsive to direct messages. So that’s a that’s a great way to connect.
Lee Kantor: [00:28:09] And the website.
Rebecca Dixon: [00:28:11] And the website yep the website is the game hers dot com.
Lee Kantor: [00:28:15] That’s tag Jamie HRC dot com.
Verta Maloney: [00:28:20] Yep and you can find us there. Oh sorry at the game. Hers everywhere else.
Lee Kantor: [00:28:27] Good stuff. Well, Rebecca Verda, thank you so much for sharing your story today. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
Rebecca Dixon: [00:28:34] Thank you so much. All right.
Lee Kantor: [00:28:37] You all right? This is Lee Kantor. We’ll see you all next time on the start up showdown.
Intro: [00:28:43] As always, thanks for joining us. And don’t forget to follow and subscribe to the Start Up Showdown podcast. So you get the latest episode as it drops wherever you listen to podcasts to learn more and apply to our next start up showdown pitch competition visit showdown. V.s. That’s Showdown Dot DC All right. That’s all for this week. Goodbye for now.