Founder and Chief Puzzle Officer Shuai Chen of Gr8er Good Games share her advice on starting a company, building connections, and growing with a liquid workforce.
Shuai Chen has always been interested in how to build community and authentic connections. Her core values are “curiosity, creativity, and community.” She noted, “It’s so difficult to create that feeling of belonging, especially in this digital age.” An MIT and Stanford-trained neuro-biologist, Shuai has extensive experience in team-building. She has always loved games and play. By starting Gr8er Good Games in 2016, Shuai found a way to combine her neurobiology background, team-building experience, and love of games.
Growing Connections Through Games
Shuai relied on bootstrapping to launch Gr8er Good Games. The company’s mission is to improve human connections through playful experiences, even if those humans are thousands of miles apart. Gr8er Good Games creates these connections through team-building games for remote teams, brand marketing, and IRL corporate team-bonding events. For example, Gr8er Good Games developed a scavenger hunt-based team-building event for Figma to help staff members interact and become comfortable around each other. The game incorporated Figma’s product, their company values, and their inside jokes. Gr8er Good Games’ scavenger hunts have been featured on CNN and ABC and its Online Escape Game was recognized as the winner of Agorize ideas challenge in 2020.
In 2018, Gr8er Good Games began exploring how to build connections in new ways through virtual team-building games for remote teams to connect and play together. At that time, approximately 13% of the American workforce was remote, and options to help remote teams to connect were limited, resulting in remote workers frequently feeling isolated. Gr8er Good Games surveyed, interviewed, and playtested its games with over 300 remote teams and launched its first virtual game in December 2019. Shuai said, “And it’s been an interesting experience learning how to grow and scale an innately unscalable product since we customize several props and puzzles for each player.”
Gr8er Good Games currently offers three different remote team-building games – Mr. Douglas’s Treasure, Escape the Zoom, and the Great Zoom Team Challenge. By May 2020, over 800 people had participated in one of the company’s virtual events. The company’s clients include Columbia University, Google, Teach For America, Adobe, GoPro, Hubspot, and more.
When reflecting on lessons learned from starting her own company, Shuai says, “Marketing and branding is the basis of almost all businesses. I wish that I’d focused on developing better graphic design skills, learning more about SEO/SEM, and setting up great scalable processes for sales and marketing.” Some of the people that Shuai follows for inspiration are Seth Goldin, Gretchen Rubin, Dan Pink, Simon Sinek, and Chip, and Dan Heath. For business advice, she turns to her female founders’ accountability group or to several mentors (including several she met through Score). Her favorite resources for running Gr8er Good Games:
Growing with a Liquid Workforce
Shuai relies on the liquid workforce to support Gr8er Good Games. She notes, “As a one lady shop, it’s been so helpful to have 1099 workers who can hop into a project on an as-needed basis. We don’t have the capacity (or funding) to hire W2 workers, so using 1099s has been essential to our growth and sustainability.”
Shuai recommends using trial projects before committing to a longer-term relationship with a freelancer or independent consultant. “It’s difficult to interview and get to know someone when you’re hiring. As with most relationships, I always like testing out the waters first. If someone doesn’t deliver on a small project (or delivers a subpar product), then I don’t work with them in future projects.” “I can’t believe how much time I wasted before asking my first 1099 to help me with a project!”Shuai Chen, Founder of Gr8er Good Games
For startups thinking about whether to engage 1099 workers, Shuai has the following advice. “Do it. And do it sooner than you would expect. I can’t believe how much time I wasted before asking my first 1099 to help me with a project!”
Balancing Business and Play
When asked to describe a typical workday, Shuai laughs. “There is no typical day.” She describes her current day, which includes writing emails, attending a networking event, developing new content, creating her newsletter, setting up meetings with people in multiple countries, playing an escape game, designing a new game, holding sales calls, training a client, revamping her marketing, and preparing to host an event the next day. In other words, her workdays are both highly varied and filled with building connections and exploring play.
Shuai makes sure that she has time for play. In 2017 and 2019, she used her puzzle and game prowess to represent Team USA in the Escape Room World Championships for the two years that the event ran.
Shuai describes her perfect day as one that is “filled with moments of hygge (community). It’s connecting with friends, feeling like I belong, learning new things, and creating amazing experiences.” If her biography is ever written, the title will be Curiosity, Creativity, and Community: The Zigs and Zags of Shuai Chen. Shuai says, “I already feel like I’ve lived multiple lives (first as a scientist, then as an arts nonprofit worker, and finally as a founder of a games business) that I am hesitant to forecast what the future holds. This I do know, that I want to make a difference in the world: whether it be to make one person feel a bit less lonely or to inspire thousands to become more creative.”
Visit the Gr8er Good Games website to learn more about the company and its team-building innovations.
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