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A brain game CEO reveals one essential practice necessary for success

“It's 100 percent worth it.”

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Neal Taparia saw success in the education sector, selling the company he co-founded to publicly listed online textbook service Chegg for $42 million in 2016. Following the sale, he got interested in the role games could play in everyday brain training, leading him to found Solitaired.

“We learned that there are a number of brain-training related benefits to playing classic games, like an improvement in mental acuity, short-term memory, and responsiveness,” he said.. “With Solitaired, while on the outside is a classic games and solitaire site, we are doing a lot of work in the background to tie it to brain training.”

Prior to stay-at-home orders in March, Taparia said the company had been in the process of working with universities to conduct research on the effectiveness of its offerings. But as schools shifted to remote learning, potential research into Solitaired’s solutions took a back seat, he said, leading the company to cease fundraising and marketing.

“It was challenging for our team as they were very excited to explore this area in a scientific way,” Taparia said. “Additionally, given the uncertainty, we paused on hiring plans. There is a silver lining, however. We decided that we’d be fully remote going forward, and recently have brought on great talent outside our home base of New York City.”

Here’s how Taparia said he’s motivated his team during these past few months.

The change

“Our team wanted greater transparency on how we thought about the initial phases of business, and meeting our vision of how games can be used for brain training and even education,” Taparia said. “While we had spelled this out in broad terms for our team, they wanted a better understanding of what regular steps we’re taking to meet our vision, and how our thinking evolves with the business. Additionally, our team wanted transparency on how we were planning to navigate this shift to remote work.”

He added, “To create transparency, I started sending out a weekly email outlining high-level work and progress at the company, why we are doing it, and how it ties to our long-term vision. Each email would tie to our overall mission, which is how to bring joy through gaming while also bringing cognitive benefits. I also tie in particular themes for an email. The other week, for example, we talked about the importance of focus and highlighted how our development team improved their engineering velocity by focusing on one game as opposed to a number of games at the same time. The larger message was about how focus can accelerate our company goals.”

How it has benefited the company

“The team loves it,” Taparia said. “I also provide reports on how traffic is improving as well as revenue. Seeing these metrics move on a regular basis allows employees to see how their work is impacting our KPIs. They get to see how more people are playing the games we create. When you’re growing and executing, it’s incredibly motivating for the team. I also began weaving in customer testimonials in my weekly emails. It allows our team to emotionally connect with our customers, which gives more meaning to their day-to-day work. Many people have told us how they enjoy coming to our platform to relax and take a quick break, and our team loves being reminded of this.”

He continued, “Lastly, our team better understands how their daily work ties to our overall mission. We recently took an employee engagement survey, and results showed that our motivation scores have considerably improved. Anecdotally, I’ve also seen our employees feel more connected to the company and present more ideas on what we as a company can do to further our games layer on brain training exercises.”

The challenges

“It takes time to write a well-crafted email that our team wants to read,” Taparia said. “You need to tell a story and make it motivational. I also have to pull in metrics and tie them into the particular theme of the email. It’s taken me two to three hours to write these emails, so there is a time commitment. With that said, it’s 100 percent worth it.”

He added, “Sometimes, transparency can be a double-edged sword. At the start of lockdowns, we were forthcoming about evaluating options for furloughing and why, which unnerved some employees. As a CEO, you need to be honest. When some of our growth metrics dipped, I followed up with context on how this is commonplace for a business, especially when one of your traffic channels comes from search. Finally, I would send these emails at the end of day on Friday. That was a rookie mistake, as most people were ready to enjoy the weekend. Weekly memos are better read when sent Monday morning and set the stage for an exciting week.”

5 tips from Taparia to implement this change

5. “Communicating a vision once is not good enough. A key role of a leader is to constantly show your team how the business is progressing towards its long-term vision. It can be a weekly meeting or email. Take the effort to regularly show them how everything ties to your mission.”

4. “Explain the ‘why’ in employee communications. Every employee wants to feel that they have skin in the game and wants to understand why their work matters. If you take the time to communicate this, your team will be more motivated and productive than ever.”

3. “Employee communication doesn’t have to be email based. You can hold team meetings or send video messages or Slack updates. Do whatever you think is best for the dynamic of your team to effectively get your message through.”

2. “Don’t rush team communications. Your words as a leader are extremely important. Take the time to craft a great message for your team. Share how you think about the business. The investment is worth it, because it will lead to improved engagement.”

1. “Explain the big picture, including industry news or developments from competitors. If your team sees what you see, they’ll also start thinking strategically, and you’ll be grooming future leaders in your company. Moreover, it can help create a sense of urgency and level of insight that can lead to new ideas and innovation.”

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