Malika Jacobs is the founder and CEO of Kingmakers, a company offering virtual team bonding experience for business leaders who understand the value of investing in radical employee care. Through facilitation and customized board game-centered experiences, Kingmakers is an innovative approach to team bonding that enhances joy, connection, and inclusion for companies with hybrid and remote employees.
Malika founded Kingmakers as a brick-and-mortar game parlor in 2014, and today oversees day-to-day operations across all functional areas and the team. Highly adaptable and naturally curious about designing high-functioning workplaces where employees love to work, Malika is proud of the team she’s built and the vibrant vision her team has brought to life. She’s passionate about solving problems and bringing people together, something that often goes hand-in-hand. Malika understands that businesses thrive when their employees flourish autonomously and collaborate with ease – through Kingmakers, Malika fully embodies the sentiment that teamwork makes the dream work.
Before creating Kingmakers, Malika worked in hospitality, corporate planning, and at various non-profits within the education sector. She holds a BA in International Relations from Duke University and an MBA from The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. During her time there, Malika served as both a member and president of Fisher College’s non-profit board organization Fisher Board Fellows. Additionally, Malika is a 2021 Tory Burch Foundation Fellow. Outside of work, Malika can be found doing yoga and spending time with her family in Columbus, Ohio.
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Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Malika Jacobs: There is a lot of talks today about how female founders lack access to capital. I didn’t have savings, my family has always been supportive but didn’t have additional money to invest, and a loan isn’t available unless you have some assets to back it. Two older women who I love – long-time family friends – both single at the time, coincidentally, so they didn’t have to run their decision by anyone – gave me money. One floated the cost of our liquor license, which allowed us to open immediately and the other gifted me start-up cash and has never once mentioned a return on her investment, aside from getting joy from knowing that I’m happy in my day-to-day work.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Malika Jacobs: I define resilience as being able to overcome any obstacle and still rise above. During the pandemic, many companies, like Kingmakers, had to pivot quickly to keep up with the changing demand and cater to the new way of life at the time. We all go through turbulent times during our lives and, at the end of the day, it’s important to accept those situations and remember that what the future holds is going to be so much better.
In your opinion, what makes your company stand out from the competition?
Malika Jacobs: We hear from team leaders all the time about awkward Zoom happy hours or team hangouts where conversation feels like pulling teeth. We love hearing participants and team leaders say the opposite about Kingmakers Team Bondings. “I don’t think it could have been improved. It exceeded my expectations—just pure fun without awkwardness,” is a direct quote from IGS Energy, one of our favorite companies to work with.
The key to our energizing and fun experiences is our Game Guides, who facilitate the structured events from start to finish. Expert, external, and structured is the key elements here! Our expert facilitators are there to guide the experience. Our Games Guides know how to read the Zoom Room: if someone is feeling uncomfortable, embarrassed, or hesitant for any reason, they know how to redirect and reframe the situation! Our invitation to play and participate in authentic and reactive to the needs of our participants. The Game Guide in real-time adjusts strategy to increase engagement, which may look like asking questions, calling back a group joke that happened last round, or celebrating both efforts and wins.
As external facilitators, our Games Guides are uniquely positioned to bring a fresh and unbiased perspective outside of the client’s internal workplace dynamics. Our team is trained for the challenge of proving that virtual team bondings can and should be engaging. For the event organizer, we have removed the pressure of planning and executing the event from technical to interpersonal details. Structuring the event from start to finish is incredibly helpful in absorbing any awkwardness. Unlike a happy hour or party environment, participants don’t have to rely on existing interpersonal relationships to create new shared memories. Our events are crafted without downtime so that each participant is engaged all the way through.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Malika Jacobs: True trust in my team is my trait most instrumental to our collective success. I make a point to hire folks with different skill sets than myself and welcome their input and expertise both in the daily operations and strategic planning. Related, my ability to motivate a team and encourage their confidence in exercising their talents and independent agency and problem-solving not only helps their professional growth but has allowed Kingmakers to grow in innovative and swift ways. Lastly, my ability to establish genuine relationships with people has been critical to my success. Being able to empathize with and recognize both the challenges and the successes facing our clients creates sincere connections that humanize what could be sterile business interactions.
How important do you think it is for a leader to be mindful of his brand?
Malika Jacobs: Bringing mindfulness to the Kingmakers brand has been an extremely important decision for me in all iterations of the business. When we first opened as a board game parlor, I was well aware that the board game industry is extremely male-dominated. It was important all guests felt welcome in the parlor space: intentional marketing language, clean yet warm visual aesthetic, and the way our Game Guides approached game teaches supported our mission of making board games accessible to more people.
We’ve taken this intentionality to the virtual space with the way that we engage clients. Our brand has a clear point of view about the way we fit into the world: Kingmakers offers transformative team bonding experiences for business leaders who understand the value of investing in radical employee care. Accessibility, inclusion, and an increasing sense of belonging are core to both the way we approach participant experience within events and how we support employees’ experience at their place of work. Our basis of facilitation and board gameplay allows us to create intentional, efficient, and authentic engagement for teams.
What’s your favorite leadership style and why?
Malika Jacobs: I believe in a fairly flat leadership model. The inputs and perspectives of my team are of extreme value to the direction of the business. I am very interested in cooperative business models as means of a more equitable world and small increments, I try to apply that ideology and approach to Kingmakers.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Malika Jacobs: Look at failures as learning opportunities. At Kingmakers, we take both our successes and failures as learning moments. We reflect on how we can grow and change our practices and what our failures have taught us. We are constantly evolving different iterations of business practice and those iterations are equally built on the information that we gather from our successes as the information we gather from our failures.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Malika Jacobs for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Malika Jacobs or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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