Josh Hafkin is the Founder and CEO of Game Gym Esports. Before Game Gym, Josh worked at Bethesda Softworks running global marketing campaigns for Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and Quake Champions. Previous to that, Josh launched the GEICO Gaming program and ran national marketing tours at RedPeg Marketing. He graduated from Georgetown with a Master’s in Sports Marketing and earned a bachelor’s in Communications at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill while on the varsity swim team.
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Table of Contents
Let’s learn a little about you and really get to experience what makes us tick – starting at our beginnings. Where did your story begin?
Josh Hafkin: I started off in community sports, I played almost everything from soccer to basketball swimming to karate. I was involved in anything that would keep me active and moving. I developed a love for swimming and my career took off. I earned a scholarship to college, competed in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic trials, won an ACC championship, and broke countless records along the way. In the background, I played games. I would play my Gameboy on the way to far-off swim meets or when I was killing time before races. In college, my teammates and I would compete in Halo, and this was also my first experience realizing that watching people play video games was just as fun as playing myself. Post-college, I got into the video game world and ran national and global marketing programs for big brands and major game studios.
After being in the industry and understanding community sports, I realized that there was a massive opportunity to help kids and parents navigate the world of video games better. I realized that I could take what I’ve learned from the traditional sports world and apply it to the gaming world by providing coaching and structure to practice and play. So, my story is really about combining the things that I love, in a way to help people, and create the same opportunities for gamers that sports provided me.
Was there somebody in your life that inspired you to take that specific journey with your business?
Josh Hafkin: There wasn’t a specific person, but there was a specific moment. I was at QuakeCon, which is a huge, fan-driven celebration of gaming. It felt like every single person there was exactly where they should be, and I didn’t feel that way. I loved what I did for work at the time, but I was in another realm of the gaming world, not in competitive esports. I walked the floor and wanted that feeling, I wanted to feel like I was exactly where I should be.
It was at that moment that I decided to start and pursue creating Game Gym. Since then, I’ve pursued building a place where not only myself, but gamers and parents can feel comfortable learning, competing, and understanding esports and gaming better.
What are the most common mistakes you see entrepreneurs make and what would you suggest they do?
Josh Hafkin: I think that one of the most common mistakes is thinking you could do it all yourself. I’m very good at a number of things, but there are also things that I’m not good at. I wish I would have surrounded myself with other people who had complementary skills earlier in this process. When I did, it allowed me to do the things that I’m good at, take things off my plate, and develop a support system that I wish I would have had from the start. I highly recommend finding good coworkers, mentors, and good people to be in your corner early in the process.
Has the pandemic and transitioning into mostly online shopping affected your company positively or negatively?
Josh Hafkin: We were a 100% live program before COVID, and we had to pivot our programs 100% online. Luckily gaming is built to make this transition, but we missed the live interaction. We closed up shop on March 24th and we ran our first online pilot on April 4th. It provided new challenges, but also opened us up to new opportunities. Prepandemic we pulled mostly from a 5-10 mile radius.
With our online programs, we had people join our programs from almost all 50 states and a variety of other countries around the world. It forced us to pivot, it made us build something COVID proof for the future, and it brought new people into our ecosystem. Surviving COVID was one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to do as a company, but our current success resulted from it.
What is most important to your organization—mission, vision, or values?
Josh Hafkin: I believe that our values are the most important thing. When I first started Game Gym, my wife showed me a Ted Talk, and the moral of the Ted talk was that “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” As we grew and evolved, we continued to make sure our “why” was front and center as we pivoted or launched new programs.
What do you consider are your strengths when dealing with staff workers, colleagues, senior management, and customers?
Josh Hafkin: I believe that my strength is treating everybody equally. We all have skills that we can bring to the table and those skills need to be supported and fostered and people need to be treated like people first and employees second. I talked to people the same way whether you’re a fellow CEO, an investor, or an intern, and I think people appreciate that about me. It’s all about communicating and I feel as though the way I communicate stays consistent and it makes me approachable from all angles.
How important do you think it is for a leader to be mindful of his own brand?
Josh Hafkin: I think it’s incredibly important for a leader to be mindful of their own brand. This is something I’ve been aware of for a long time. I was one of the best swimmers in the nation from age 10 to age 23. I realized from an early age that people were watching me and it was important to be aware of how I presented myself. Combining my early success with the fact that I have a distinct look and a marketing background helped me understand how to leverage and utilize my personal brand. As a founder, people buy into me more so than my company and so developing and maintaining a personal brand is vital to the success of my company.
How do you monitor if the people in your department are performing at their best?
Josh Hafkin: I do my best to give clear goals and deadlines. Then, if a milestone is not reached or a goal is not met, it’s clear to me and the employee. Deadlines and other important metrics are vital for monitoring and then reacting to performance appropriately. Clear expectations are key to keep people performing at their best, and to do so, you need to communicate proper goals and deadlines.
Do you think entrepreneurship is something that you’re born with or something that you can learn along the way?
Josh Hafkin: Anyone can be an entrepreneur. I think the goal is to empower everyone and teach them that they can do anything. There are obvious financial limitations to some dreams, but with enough creativity, entrepreneurial endeavors can be chased by anyone. At the end of the day, it’s all about drive, dedication, and vision.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Josh Hafkin: ‘Some men see things as they are and say why, I dream things that never were and say, why not’ – George Bernard Shaw
This quote is so powerful and I think we are educated out of our creativity through school and adult life. The goal is to remain inquisitive and continue to ask questions as we grow up. I’ve always wondered “why not?” and dreamed first before reality kicks in. I think that mentality has helped me see a different future than the one society has laid out for me.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Josh Hafkin for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Josh Hafkin or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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