Meet Bar None Games CEO Spencer Fertig
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Originally Posted On: https://barnonegames.com/blog/meet-bar-none-games-ceo-spencer-fertig-4-28-2022
How LGBTQ+ CEO & Founder Spencer Fertig grew a $1.5 million-dollar business in 1.5 years – connecting 60k+ remote employees together when employee morale was the top concern for managers.
Growing a company from scratch is never easy.
Growing a company that specializes in bringing people together is even harder.
Following a vision that is dedicated to building teams through trivia and games – in the middle of a pandemic, where many employees were working from home – is worth celebrating.
Recently we sat down with our CEO, Spencer Fertig, for a conversation about how Bar None Games managed to grow so far and so quickly.
Who is Spencer Fertig?
Bar None Games: Who is Spencer Fertig? Tell us about your background.
Spencer Fertig: I went to school at Georgetown University.
I spent my first few years in the corporate world working at Morgan Stanley and then pivoted into the startup world and joined Uber at around employee 200.
I grew from Strategy & Operations into General Management roles at Uber over my four years there. When I left, I think we had 15,000 people. That was a journey: from 200 to 15,000!
From there, I attended Harvard Business School.
When I was at Harvard Business School, I loved playing bar trivia with friends at local pubs around town; it was there that I discovered my love of trivia.
Bar None Games: Is that where Bar None Games and your virtual corporate trivia games came from?
Spencer Fertig: Let’s fast forward to a decade later when my business school’s one-year reunion went remote.
I had been the president of my section and wanted to find a way to keep people connected. I created a virtual bar trivia game for about 80 of my classmates.
At the end of the virtual trivia game, people started reaching out via text, email, and phone to say that had been the highlight of quarantine for them.
Then they asked me to host these events for their companies.
At the time, I was the Head of Operations at a Series B tech company, and, on the side, started hosting these virtual team-building games for my friends’ employees to connect people during the pandemic.
Soon, Bar None Games started taking off through word of mouth and people enjoying themselves. Within two months, it became my full-time job.
Over the next two years, we scaled this into the company that it currently is. We’re just getting started.
Bar None Games: How were you able to scale and grow so quickly?
Spencer Fertig: We’re proud of the fact that over the past year and a half:
We’ve held over 2,500 events
We’ve worked with more than 1,000 different companies
Over 60,000 players have joined one of our events
We’ve made over $1.5 million in revenue to date
We employ five people full-time, and we have a team of 35 hosts who are professional entertainers from the world of entertainment: TV, cinema, Broadway, and comedy – you name it – who bring energy and passion to these events.
What started as a trivia game has now expanded to a set of five different games for team building, including:
TV game show competitions
Through our products, there are so many ways for teams to connect – which we really pride ourselves on.
When I step back and think about this trajectory, our product development and innovation are why we were able to achieve this success in the past year and a half.
People needed connection. We offered that.
Focus on the Product
At first, I became laser-focused on the product. I wanted to create something that people would enjoy, and create systems to collect feedback in real-time, so we could make changes quickly whenever needed.
Find the Right Team
The second thing I did is the smartest thing I’ve done in this business – which was to find an awesome co-founder.
About two months after starting Bar None Games, Lilian Chen, our COO, (who was our first paying customer) helped me grow the business into what it is today.
I think about what the company looked like before Lilian got here and what it looks like now, and they are like two completely different companies.
I’m so extremely grateful to have found someone with a complementary skillset to mine who shared my values of bringing people together and wanting to spread some joy during these weird times.
Know Your Market
We’ve been pretty clear on who our customer is through research and by creating use cases to meet those people where they are.
We host lots of virtual team-building activities for team managers that are looking to keep their teams connected.
We also throw tons of holiday parties (St Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, July 4th, Christmas and winter holidays, and many more) where larger HR teams can help their company celebrate.
We also host a lot of diversity and inclusion events, which are core to who we are and what we value.
Diversity and Inclusion
Bar None Games: Bar None Games features events centered around Black History Month, Women’s History Month, AAPI Heritage Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, and Pride Month, just to name a few. Why is it vital to you, and for Bar None Games, to feature Pride Month virtual trivia games for example?
Spencer Fertig: I’m a member of the LGBTQ+ community and Lilian is a female member of the AAPI community. Being able to host hundreds of events where employee resource groups and allies can come together, learn, and celebrate has been a really meaningful part of the business.
I think of myself a decade ago at work: not feeling comfortable talking about my sexuality publicly. Now, I interact with so many corporate teams celebrating members of the LGBTQ+ community, members of the Hispanic community, the AAPI community, the Black community, and the list goes on.
It brings me a ton of joy to be able to facilitate fun, engaging, and authentic spaces for others.
When I see people come together and celebrate Pride so openly, I think of myself 10 years ago compared to where we are now. There’s still a long way to go, but it makes me very excited. Hosting events like this, where we get to pause and take stock of all the warmth and love out there, and teach people who maybe don’t know as much about the history of the month, is a real blessing and joy.
That’s why it matters to me on a personal level.
It has sometimes been hard to figure out how to strike a tone that is both educational and also fun. “Fun” is not always a key criteria for diversity and inclusion events, and there is a hole in that market.
DEI coordinators will often say, “We are always looking for a DEI event that sits at the intersection of both fun and educational. That’s really hard to find! We have speaker panels and presentations, all of which are vitally important to spreading awareness about various heritage months, and about various communities, and Bar None Games’ events bring something different to the table.”
They are seeking ways to pair that educational element with fun and engaging content. Sometimes it’s crucial to break through the fatigue of remote work and allow people to just enjoy themselves.
We like existing in that middle space – where our trivia is educational and meant to inform and challenge – but also meant to be fun and celebratory, infusing a bit of a competitive spirit in the celebration.
Case Study: What A “Corporate Virtual Pride Month Trivia Event” Looks Like
In our 60-minute virtual pride events, from the second that you join the Zoom, there will be a host there to welcome you with exciting music playing.
That host will then explain the instructions for the game and lead the team through three rounds of varied multimedia Pride trivia, which cover:
The history of the month
The movement itself
Leaders, and icons from the LGBTQ+ community
Our first round is a picture round, where teams will see images of famous LGBTQ+ icons and movies, and have to answer assorted questions having to do with those pictures.
The second round is a music round with clips of 10 songs brought to you by amazing LGBTQ+ artists. We’ll play clips of the songs and you need to identify the artist and the song title. We give away discretionary dancing points for anyone who wants to come and boogie!
And then the third round is creative trivia questions that are worth double points for teams looking for a come-from-behind win.
Through each round, groups will be split into teams of roughly five.
They will be sent to breakout rooms, where they will have 6-10 minutes to deliberate and debate. Each round, we will give an answer update and a leaderboard update – so that we are pairing the collaborative energy with a little bit of competitive spirit.
At the end of the game, we announce a winning team for ultimate bragging rights. We’re also happy to facilitate any other sorts of awards or prizes that the organizer would like.
Bar None Games: How do virtual team-building events improve employee morale?
Spencer Fertig: One thing that was apparent at the start of the pandemic, when we started building Bar None Games, was how maintaining and sustaining employee morale during this stressful period was a top focus of most executives.
Both anecdotally, in the hundreds of executives that we talked to, as well as in survey after survey, over 70% of executives cite maintaining and building morale as the number one concern in the workplace over the past two years.
So, for us at Bar None, when you dig in there, you find that a lot of this morale crisis is centered around the fact that when you ask people pre-pandemic what their favorite part about going into work was, it was their friends at work.
Here at Bar None, we try to bridge that gap.
Of all of our data, the statistic that I’m most proud of is that over 95% of our players say that they feel more connected to their team after a Bar None event. Not just in the minutes after an event but in the days, weeks, and months that follow.
What we do that makes people feel more connected to their employees is threefold:
A lot of the team trivia games take place in breakout rooms.
We’ll divide groups into teams of five to eight people. In each round, you are working with the same team coworkers to debate, collaborate, and submit an answer form per team. It’s not like 100 people are dialed in all staring at one presenter. You have a meaningful time conversing with your colleagues, which is a great way to build bonds.
Our hosts are not only extremely talented but are also diverse and represent the communities that we serve.
Our hosts are over 50% female, over 70% identify as members of a minority group, over 40% identify as people of color, and almost 25% are LGBTQ. We care about having a host team that mirrors the people that we serve, and I think that a lot of people see themselves in our host and feel comfortable in the environment.
We have over 350 rounds of trivia that are written that cater to all different preferences.
Inclusive content makes it so that no one feels stupid and everyone feels like they have something to contribute.
While DEI is a particular focus for us, they are just one example of the tons of events that we host.
We love opportunities where we’re able to bring people together in a way that feels outside the norm. We love hosting new hire onboarding, intern orientations, holiday parties, team-building events, icebreaker events, and virtual happy hours.
I’m really glad we got to talk about our Pride Month events, and we often find that groups that book us for diversity, equity, and inclusion events will have so much fun that they will invite us back for more.