Anahita Dalmia is not only a CEO of an emerging company, but she is also a two-time published author. Her fascination with stories and storytelling began when she was young, and this fascination ballooned as she grew up. Eventually, her obsession with stories led her to co-found Alterea.
At Alterea, Anahita Dalmia creates a combination of immersive theater and interactive gaming to provide clients a totally new way of experiencing stories, which the company calls “Storyliving.” This new hybrid storytelling form allows clients to immerse themselves in another world, giving them ideas on how to make a difference in the bigger world.
For Anahita Dalmia, her experience at crafting new realities for people using stories developed during college. At the University of Southern California, where she majored in Narrative Studies, she built a Harry Potter-themed Alternative Reality Game (ARG). She didn’t even know what an ARG was!
But Anahita Dalmia did it anyway. For the project, she had to establish 17 partnerships within the university, raise $28,000, got 100 students for staff, and invited 400 participants to play the game. They had to choose between joining the revolution against the American Wizarding school or protecting it.
These experiences at large-scale world-building gave Anahita Dalmia enough experience and skill to found Alterea. At Alterea, she can now build more new worlds professionally. By choosing collaborators with equal ambition and realistic expectations, Alterea brings to life new worlds which each participant should want to visit over and over again.
Jerome Knyszewski: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Anahita Dalmia: One of our most striking qualities is that we’re a very young company that came together in college. The majority of our team is still in college or recent grads, which makes us responsive to the desires of Millenials and Gen Z: our generation. Furthermore, this started out (and still is) a passion project. So the team remains intrinsically motivated and holds themselves to a very high standard — all while having fun. Our collegiate roots allowed us to gather people from a variety of backgrounds and build strong professional and friendly relationships with each other. Especially considering we’ve done several projects together forming a company and inched closer to our ideal team every time. We’re used to working with nothing, so we’re very adaptable and take risks to achieve our goals.
Our adaptability and commitment became especially apparent when the pandemic hit. While most companies in our industry collapsed, we pivoted. We built our Agents of Influence: a digital spy adventure to combat misinformation during these trying times. As we’re old enough to know what we’re doing but young enough to live on our parent’s couches, we were able to pour time into something that was less financially secure because we believed in it. I remember asking everybody during a meeting what they were most grateful for. 4/6 people said the support and dedication of the team.
Jerome Knyszewski: Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Anahita Dalmia: This is an extremely tough question — one that we’re still struggling to find an appropriate answer for. I think it’s particularly tough in our industry because people’s personal ‘hobbies and interests’ often overlap with professional obligations. As such, it’s extremely hard to draw a line between professional and personal life. Here are some things that we’re still figuring out how to implement that might help:
- Draw that line: Have days off, regularly scheduled work hours, and other processes to separate work from personal life. These are not always implementable in our industry and that’s important to remember. But it should be clearly defined when exceptions should be made.
- Make a list of ‘Burn Out Processes’: that can be referred to when people start feeling burnt out. Things like, ‘If it’s late at night, go to sleep, You can’t be creative if you’re feeling exhausted.’ It’s worth it to compile tips and tricks that have worked in the past and can be independently referred to when the occasion arises.
- Keep the purpose in mind: Many people often encourage younger people to “do what you love”. I disagree. Do what makes you feel purposeful. Because it’s impossible to love what you’re doing 100% of the time. You’ll feel burnt out, start resenting the work and want to quit. Instead, if you feel like you’re moving towards a meaningful destination, you’ll accept that sometimes things will be hard and unpleasant. The important thing to remember is that it’ll be worth it.
Jerome Knyszewski: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Anahita Dalmia: I’m very grateful to my mother, who actively made efforts to remove any roadblocks we encountered. But I would also like to call out to my friend and teammate: Lillianne John. During the first event I ever did, Bizarre Carnival, she encountered me sitting on the high school field and trying to draw a maze by eyeballing dimensions of the venue. She then helped me draw the space and sent me computer-generated plans that evening with the games marked.
Lillianne took full ownership of the project even when it seemed like it was on the brink of failure — and she played an enormous part in making it happen. She took control of operations, staying with me till 3am to make pitch decks and a website, sending emails, and even writing affidavits. If I was the heart of the event, she was the brain. I absolutely could not have done it without her. She taught me so much about operations which has allowed me to accomplish every single project I have after my first one. And her investment in the project held me accountable to delivering what I had initially attempted to; it was her involvement that made the matter bigger than me. Made it worth fighting for. And she armoured me, supported me and accompanied me for every battle.
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Delegating effectively is a challenge for many leaders. Let’s put first things first. Can you help articulate to our readers a few reasons why delegating is such an important skill for a leader or a business owner to develop?
Anahita Dalmia: Delegating is an absolutely crucial skill to develop because significant growth is impossible until it is utilized. And when done effectively, it exponentially accelerates growth. It’s literally impossible for one person to do everything due to limitations in time, skill, and perspective. By delegating effectively, the whole becomes much bigger than the sum of its parts and it allows leaders to grow their organizations in ways they often could not have imagined alone.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you help articulate a few of the reasons why delegating is such a challenge for so many people?
- Delegation is a unique skillset — Many people don’t realize that the star player isn’t always the best team captain. While it’s extremely helpful to understand the nuance of the task you’re delegating, delegation can be extremely effective even if the person delegating knows nothing about the task they’re delegating. More valuable things are knowledge on their personal limitations, an understanding of the strengths of the person they’re delegating to, clear goals they want to achieve, and an openness to discuss what the best way to achieve those are with someone who may know better how to accomplish the task. It is incorrect to assume someone good at a job can effectively delegate and realize it’s worth investing energy into teaching people how to do so.
- Trust — It’s impossible to effectively delegate if you don’t trust the person you’re delegating to can get the job done. Trust is a two way street — it needs to be given but it also needs to be earned. Sometimes, the problem is that the person delegating believes that they are the best person to do most of the important things, an attitude which is detrimental to the growth of the company. But on the flip side, teammates need to perform when given the opportunity to earn the trust of the person delegating.
- You can’t assume everybody functions the same way — Different people need different things when you’re delegating to them. They need different resources, different ways of explaining things, different levels of instruction, and have different motivations. Until you can recognize what the motivations of each teammate are and what they need to effectively get the job done, you will always be delegating ineffectively to certain people.
- Inability to communicate the initial vision — my favourite quote about communication is “the biggest mistake people about communication is assuming it happened. People have biases and assumptions and often what you mean will be incorrectly interpreted. As such, it’s essential to set up systems to make the initial communication as clear as possible — with written communication along with verbal communication and, if necessary, visual cues. Regular check-ins should then be scheduled at different stages of the production process to catch anyone entirely off-track.
Jerome Knyszewski: In your opinion, what pivots need to be made, either in perspective or in work habits, to help alleviate some of the challenges you mentioned?
- Differentiate between the star player and team captain — don’t just promote the best salesperson to the sales manager. Make a list of qualities of a good leader and delegator. Ensure that the person you have in the delegation position isn’t just good at the job, but good at getting the most out of the team. And don’t glorify the leadership position to mis-motivate star players to desire that role; you’re reducing the effectiveness of the individual and the team by putting them in that situation and it’s important to acknowledge their value as a star player.
- Be particular in your recruitment process and give people time to work together/ learn about each other to build trust (bonus points in getting ‘captain’ involved in recruitment).
- Have conversation on work styles/ personal quirks. Do group exercises that highlight differences with lessons on how to deal with them.
- Recognize delegation is an investment — the process of delegation and training requires people to expend resources, time and energy up-front for long term benefit–even though it can lead to short term cost. Expect that short term cost.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Anahita Dalmia: You can keep up with our social media:
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!