Funlab, the genius minds behind your weekend, know how to have fun, and they know how to share their wins. TBS speaks to CEO Michael Schreiber to find out how he came to lead such a ground-breaking company.
Hi Michael, can you tell our audience about your career path that led you to be CEO of Funlab?
I’m an entertainment industry lifer, a triple lifer to be precise. My first life was in a role with Village Nine Leisure (VNL), a company set-up to figure out what was next in entertainment for shopping centres. That was in 1993. Virtual Reality was first introduced and technology was going to lead the way to unlocking “inner space” and creating indoor theme parks. Intencity was the concept, large footprint units packed with the latest and greatest games and technology. Virtual roller coaster did not equal real roller coaster. Not then and not now (yet). Bottom line was the technology did not meet consumer expectations and before the smoke settled $150 million in equity was burnt up.
Second life was a company I co-founded with ex-CEO of VNL called EDG Entertainment. We wanted to take the lessons learnt to the next level. Started consulting to Asian conglomerates diversifying into entertainment and transitioned to creating our own concepts to operate – Bar Code at Crown (the first licensed amusement arcade), Galactic Circus, The Next Blue, Kingpin Bowling. While we achieved some great success, my partner was driven by flawed ambition and self-interest, a toxic combination. We had an acrimonious break-up and he ended up running this business. Third life saw me as founder and CEO of Strike Entertainment which was the foundation of Funlab. Sixteen years on and it’s vying for longest ever “overnight” success!
What motivates you to remain innovative as a company in the entertainment industry?
It’s a great industry to be involved in, we basically sell good times and memories. Our guests laugh, dance, high five, scream with joy and go home smiling. Like anything, if you do the same thing over and over again, even the most thrilling of things will become boring. This is the essential fire that keeps us moving, changing and blazing new trails. We innovate across the business on a continual basis whether that is product offering, food and beverage, how we market, finance, sales, you name it, and we are continually looking at how we can do better. We are our own disruptor.
Why do you think science of Wow is important in any company/business?
Wow is what we want to hear our guests say when they visit us. Wow is an expression of excitement, surprise or pleasure – it is a differentiator. The science of Wow is the how (see what I did there). What you need to do to create Wow experiences sits between art and science; while we don’t use test tubes and pipettes, we do apply a lot of know-how, expertise, technology and intellectual property. All businesses should want to create Wow to stand out from the competition and give guests reasons to visit.
How do you balance work and play?
Thankfully a lot of my work requires play so this helps. Naturally success demands a lot of hard work but ultimately to what end if it is all consuming? Balance is critical both so you don’t burn out and more importantly to enjoy life and create your own happiness. I take vacations, often blend downtime into my travels, bring my family along on trips and make sure I take time to smell the roses. There are no dress rehearsals and, while slightly morbid, no-one on their deathbed regrets not spending more time at the office!
After reaching such an amazing milestone of hitting $100 million in turnover in one year, how do you see Funlab in the next three years, and what do you think will keep you on top of your game?
We are growing incredibly fast, adding $60-70 million in revenue per annum. We hold onto around 30c in the dollar. Our BHAG is to take Funlab to a $1b valuation by 2022. We have a lot of white space in Australia and have taken our first few steps internationally. I don’t think there is any single game changer, rather it’s about keep playing the game hard and fast. Stay on top of culture, innovation and paranoia – don’t get blindsided by any competitor; “only the paranoid survive” – courtesy of Andy Grove.
You believe that your hardworking, passionate and creative team is one of the key reasons behind all of this success through the years. What do you think is their biggest motivator to stay and achieve goals in Funlab?
Without doubt I owe our success to the team. I believe in giving people a chance to prove themselves, to improve and progress through belief, empowerment and trust. Select the right people and get out of their way. Being an authentic servant leader also resonates with our team. Reward and recognition is a core value and we do this a lot – be it internal competitions, short term incentives or our long term incentive plan which is a path to our key team potentially achieving life changing payments. Having a cause we support reminds us of our social responsibility and our support of Headspace provides us with great moments of satisfaction. I don’t lord over people and always have the team’s back. So in answer to the question, treat people with respect, make mistakes and learn from them and have fun. We are lucky to be in an industry where the business is providing fun times; there are a lot less fulfilling places to work and put your energy into.
What do you do differently in terms of your relationship with your team? And also, what are some of the characteristics you look for in a person to be part of Funlab?
I run a very transparent relationship with my team and encourage them to do the same. I don’t really have a specific type when looking at team members. A diversified, inclusive group of Motherfunners is what works best for us. Encourage our uniqueness is a core value that speaks to being non-judgmental. We would certainly hire for personality over skills – we can train for skills. We also try and have a “no assholes” policy – diversity only goes so far.
And finally, what is your advice to other CEOs entering 2019?
We live in interesting times. Be agile, be resilient, be fast, be true.