How Heather Ouida and her co-founders are amplifying women’s voices in the gaming industry through the*gameHERs
Describe your business in a few words?
The*gameHERs is a media platform and social networking community that connects, supports and amplifies women who game and who work in the gaming industry. Our mission is to advance the role, voice, image, and power of all women, femme-identifying and non-binary gamers who are comfortable in spaces that center women.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
Prior to cofounding the*gameHERs, I was VP of Licensing at Kidtagious, Al Kahn’s international children’s entertainment company (Al was the visionary behind Cabbage Patch Kids, Pokémon, and more). At Kidtagious I spearheaded initiatives to introduce disruptive technology to kids’ toys and products in the esports and gaming world. Before that, in 2006, I co-founded Mommybites, which through its platform that matched parents with caregivers, quickly became one of the largest social and educational communities for moms in New York City before launching nationally. In 2016 the site was acquired by a large Manhattan media company. Prior to co-founding Mommybites, I was a learning specialist where I taught in London for many years as well as at The Dalton School in New York City.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
When I was in college I thought I wanted to be a teacher. I ended up teaching for many years and loved it! But eventually I decided I needed a change and that’s when I caught the entrepreneurial bug!
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
Before officially launching in March, we had booths at PAX East and PAX South (huge gaming conventions similar to Comic-Cons). It’s hard to have your booth stand out during gaming conventions, especially on a limited budget, so we decided to play up what our brand was all about – celebrating and amplifying women in the gaming space.
We rented a fun, retro couch and borrowed bright yellow pillows from the Marriot we were staying in to add a splash of color (thank you Marriot!). We also rented a mini photo booth that produced branded photos with our logo and had a banner company create a huge, bright banner for the backdrop. We bought game themed photo props from Amazon, had a bunch of branded pins made which we gave away for free (pin collecting is very popular at these types of events), and also bought bulk bags of mini chocolates from CVS and ta-da! We ended up having streams of people visit our booth, take pictures, and chat with us , and it was a great way to get the word out and create some media buzz.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
We created the only awards show in gaming by women, for women called The GameHERs Awards. Once of the categories in these awards was dedicated to honoring exceptional women in esports. These awards recognized women in all aspects of gaming for their dedication to creating content, building communities, and empowering each other. We considered this a huge win for numerous reasons: we had 8 weeks of virtual events leading up to the finale, our community ended up nominating over 600 women in the gaming space, we received over 75K votes within a few short weeks, and our finale was live streamed on the front page of Twitch!
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
Our app is launching in beta this summer! Of the billions of gamers in the world, half are women. The majority of women experience harassment, hate and toxicity while gaming simply for being women. Because of this, many women gamers long for an easy way to find other women to meet and game with based on shared experiences. Our first of its kind women-led social networking and game matchmaking app will enable women to easily find other women to socialize and game with.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
I’ve learned so many lessons this year! I guess a big one was how to make lemonade out of lemons or as my mom says, “how to see the ponies in the poop.” We launched our company on March 2nd 2020. Three weeks later the world “shut down “ due to Covid and we had to cancel all our in-person events and gaming conventions we had planned on attending. I was convinced our company may go out of business before even being in business!
But because everyone was home during quarantine, the world saw a huge uptick in time spent gaming. Our community grew faster than we ever anticipated and became a place that connected and supported women in a difficult and stressful time. My mom would say that was definitely a pony in the poop!
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
My co-founders and I have a business philosophy which is that we are “the 4 least important people in the room.” This does not mean we don’t celebrate and lean into our own strengths as business women, but rather we try to make our company all about the incredible women in our community and not about us.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
From my time running our parenting company, I know “balance” for women can be a tricky word because it can mean that you are doing two things, often simultaneously, with equal attention and success. For me personally, I know when I am juggling two balls at the same time, I always drop one. So for me balance means giving each thing in my life my full attention in that moment. So if it’s work, I’m totally focused on my work tasks at that moment. If it’s family time and personal time, I’m 100% focused in that moment on family and the important people in my life.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
I am a big believer in the Tim Ferris’ school of thought that your bed should be made every day. Tim says this sets the tone for a successful day since your first task of the day is complete. I also take a walk every day even if it’s a short one. For me, it resets my creativity and energizes me. Lastly, I try to take advantage of the ‘dictate’ feature on my phone. It allows me to get through and respond to emails more efficiently. A word of caution here – I’m a fast talker so sometimes my dictations get lost in translation. I’ve definitely sent my team some random emails when I forget to double check before I send!
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
It means getting to choose the people I work with, and let me tell you, I adore my co-founders and our whole gameHERs team! It means endless creativity, setting my own hours, the rush of building something from the ground up, and creating a company that is aligned with my values and ethics. Even though it’s often hard and stressful and there are lots of sleepless nights, I’m having too much fun for it ever to feel like “work”!