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CFO Spotlight Series: The Crisis Puts the Focus of Business Back on People
“It's a new world for everyone. A lot of my role is now HR. It's not something CFOs train for.”
-Jason Ton, CFO at 100 Thieves
Recently, we spoke at length to three leading CFOs to get an honest progress report on how they are coping with the impacts of COVID-19. The stories in this series shed light into some common challenges facing CFOs, particularly around customer service, and how they are doing their best to react.
In the first of our series highlighting how CFOs are coping with Covid-19, we spoke with Jason Ton, CFO of lifestyle brand and gaming pioneer 100 Thieves. What can we learn from an organization at the bleeding edge of innovation in an industry that’s less than a decade old?
ESPORTS TAKES ITS PLACE AT THE TABLE
The Esports space, which encompasses online competitive video gaming, was exploding before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. According to Newzoo, Esports annual revenues have expanded by 15-20% every year in the last five years. And the industry hit the $1 billion mark in 2020 with a worldwide audience of half a billion fans. That’s why companies like 100 Thieves have major investors—Dan Gilbert, Drake, Scooter Braun, and Sequoia Capital to name a few—backing their vision.
How does a company without the baggage of tradition stay at the top of its game to face new challenges brought on by the pandemic?
START BY SEEKING EXPERT GUIDANCE
Jason readily admits he was completely unprepared for the pandemic—a sentiment so many of us share. Knowing this, Jason asked his network of fellow CFOs about it, and found they were feeling equally in the dark. So, he buried himself in the CDC guidelines and looked for any official help from experts he could find.
“I don't think I ever thought that I would read so much guidance from the CDC and different agencies about office health,” he said. He quickly realized that his primary focus should be on keeping his people safe, and any decisions about how to run the business from then on would start with the simple question: Is it safe?
You would think since Esports is already a virtual business with gamers playing on their own and fans around the world enjoying the sport from home that this industry would feel no pain from the widespread moves to remote operations due to the pandemic. But in reality, Esports is an extremely communal experience. Fans often travel to huge events and meet up in-person to support their teams. They will schlep thousands of miles for product drops, and Jason is extremely aware of the human element of community that supports the industry.
“Right before COVID hit, we had a pop-up sale at our facility. It was a limited drop. We had 100 people sleeping overnight waiting for the sale. And the next day, the line was about 500 people long,” he said. “So, it was a huge success to have that in-person activation where we got to see fans, where we go to interact with them.”
MAKE IT THE SAME, BUT DIFFERENT
Jason has made strategic shifts to guide the 100 Thieves team and the business through 2020 and into 2021. The role of the company now is to protect the community and give his customers as much of the old experience as possible, but in new ways. This has meant reengineering customer service to give everyone the one-on-one experience they might get from an event where they interact with the founders and talent.
“We didn’t have heads of client experience or support, so that's why we are working with Simplr,” Jason shared. “When it comes to CX or support I focus on how fast we can address customer issues or problems, how we automate, and how we make that scalable.”
“The way our customers reach out is not just through dedicated customer support. A lot of times they have feedback in Twitter comments, on TikTok, or in Reddit threads,” he added. “How do we make sure that we address those concerns in these platforms that aren't connected to our customer support channel? We meet the customer where they are, and don’t force them to come to us in our preferred channel.”
OPERATIONS IS ABOUT BALANCE
On the operations side, Jason has committed to allowing all his staff to work from home. However, he stresses a need for work/life balance. When the home is the workplace, it’s all too easy to be on-call 24 hours a day because your computer and phone are right there.
“It’s about drawing a line in the sand,” Jason explained. “We have to focus on what we need to do, but when you're off of work, you're off of work. We make sure people have that clear separation from work and home life so that people can just really relax when they need to."
Jason’s focus on people is how he frames the future of 100 Thieves. His customers are a community, and keeping that community safe and intact is his main priority. Likewise, protecting the 100 Thieves team and treating employees right are key focus areas for Jason—especially when all the rules of the game of work and life have changed.