Always be a student. Learn to always be learning. Find your muse, your mentor, read and research. Knowledge is everything and I find that everyday, if you’re not eager to learn, you’ll become stagnant and allow your competitors to pass you by. I find successful people with whom I respect, I ask for advice and I accept constructive criticism. It’s not always easy but being able to accept mistakes and learn from them is the only way to grow and succeed.
For my series on strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mariah Hale the founder of Neon Kids. Mariah Hale is the CEO and Founder of Gone Gaming, a multifaceted gaming organization and fashion/streetwear brand whose primary mission is to create a culture of inclusivity in the gaming industry. A gamer for over 20 years, Mariah launched Gone Gaming in 2017 and has been at the forefront of empowering women and minorities in the gaming and content space, and additionally educating young gamers while creating safe online environments for all players. Gone Girls, an all-female content creation team, stream on Twitch and YouTube with an audience of over 500K and growing. Neon Kids, launched in Fall 2019, is an online mentorship program for the next generation of pro gamers, offering kids nationwide aged 8–14 the opportunity to be coached, trained and inspired by experienced gamers in a challenging and exciting safe weekly online gaming environment using platforms such as Discord and Twitch. Mariah is passionate about charitable giving and volunteer work, and is excited for upcoming opportunities with major corporate sponsors to engage new audiences and future gamers. Mariah is known for her gusto, as a female and minority pioneer in the gaming space, and as an advocate for equality in a male-dominated industry. In her free time, she enjoys playing Call of Duty, Apex Legends, and Halo. You can find her on Twitch @dangeruus_and on Instagram @dangeruus. The Gone Gaming streetwear line is currently available on www.gonegaming.net. In addition to coaching kids on popular e-Sports games, the platform will create a sense of community among gamers and will teach invaluable skills including leadership development, strategy, ethics, gaming etiquette, techniques, and team building. The newest generation of gamers will thrive in a fun virtual community, explore their passion for gaming, and will learn how to work collaboratively in a team setting. The program is currently in its beta phase before it officially launches in December, and participants are selected on a rolling admission basis. Participants will be doing community outreach with the goal of teaching other kids how to act ethically and responsibly, which will perpetuate and create kinder generations to come.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always been a gamer but for the longest time I was told that gaming wasn’t a career path, especially for women. It is only recently that pink/blue aisles have stopped determining which gender gets to play with what toys. Video games have always traditionally been in the boys section and young girls are rarely encouraged to play video games. Nonetheless, I always gravitated toward computers and games and was a competitive person growing up. I played sports and enjoyed the nature of competing and being in a team environment. When I found out that video games could also be highly competitive, I attended a few eSports competitions and realized I was home. Watching the crowds cheer for their favorite teams gave me goosebumps and I realized what passion felt like. I knew I gamed way more than the average person and I knew that this was a world I belonged in. At first I wanted to be a part of one of those organizations but then quickly realized that I wanted my own team and to have a fan base that followed us because they believed in what we were doing. I knew I was still an outsider in this male-dominated industry and I wanted to bring a new and fresh female perspective. I wanted to create a path for other female gamers and to build a company that supported the (at the time) minority of gamers. I decided to make a career change, and in 2017 incorporated my company, Gone Gaming.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I was at an event and got approached by a cool guy who worked for Complex. We were at a lunch seated at the same table and I was telling a few people about my gaming organization. Later that evening at the same event, he approached me and gave me his contact and said he was looking for interesting people and wanted me to give him a call. I was interested because I knew how big and influential Complex was. The meeting went well and they asked me how they could help a small, one year old, company like mine, so I asked if I could have a space at ComplexCon that fall. They said yes and gifted me a small 10×20 booth, which lead to some amazing connections for me and helped grow my company to where it is now.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It can sometimes be tough to laugh at yourself in the face of mistakes, but I try to find ways to keep it light, so thank you for helping me with this. I’m really passionate and have really high expectations for not only myself, but my company. I set my goals high and sometimes they don’t come to fruition, but I try hard to learn from them. Back before Call of Duty franchised, I was determined to find investments and wanted to be a part of the franchise. It was a lofty goal, but I believed I could do it. Everyone I told about this goal always seemed to be shocked and treated me like I couldn’t do it. It lit a fire in me and I could tell they were keeping an eye on me, waiting for me to fail. The mistake I made? Thinking that being the franchise was a place I would have profited. It’s hard because I know those people were probably thinking they were right about my inability to make it into the league, however, I shifted my direction and am doing something even more meaningful now. I got some valuable advice from an important mentor that I met at ComplexCon last year who advised me to step away from the scene. I was super hesitant to because I was competitive and extremely determined to be there, if for nothing else than to prove that I could do it. It took a lot of thought, working through the pros and cons, but I put away that competitive ego that I had and decided to switch gears. I didn’t fail and or feel bad for doing so, like I was sure I would. Instead, I’m on an even more successful path, making connections and working with people that I never imagined I would be working with. I always used to say, “Just because one door closes, doesn’t mean another isn’t waiting to be opened.” And this is the first time I actually had to practice it.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
My company is one of the first and only female-owned and operated gaming organizations. We are seeing more and more women rising to positions of power within existing gaming organizations, which is amazing for women in this industry. Decision making power needs to be diverse and I knew from day one I’d be one of the first to pave the way for other women and minorities in the gaming industry.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
The Gone Gaming Neon Kids is a mentorship program and educational platform for young gamers. The concept is to coach young gamers and help them realize their skill levels in video games while also mentoring and guiding them in the online world. The Neon Kids is a virtual playground and safe space for children to actively participate in a gaming environment that they love while giving their parents peace of mind on who they are gaming with. Kids get to create community in real life as well, via special events and field trips with their fellow Neon Kids.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Be unapologetically yourself. Allow your emotions to exist because they’re beautiful, just learn to not be reactive to them. We’re told that because we’re girls, we’re emotional and those emotions make us ineffective leaders. I challenge that antiquated idea and believe the opposite. Our emotions make us more effective because they channel empathy and allow us to connect with our team, our colleagues and everyone we interact with.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
I’ve only managed a smaller team, but my advice would be to choose your battles. Allow your team to make decisions and know that you trust them and believe in them. Never doubt your place at the table and don’t think that you’re being a bitch. You’re not — you’re being a boss.
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 about that?
This stems back to my childhood. My father is the person whom I attribute my success to. He has always been my number one supporter in not letting the world tell me I didn’t fit in or that I couldn’t do something based on gender or race. When I was about eight years old and I wanted to be on the school’s wrestling team. I was told that I couldn’t join because I was a girl. He went down to the school and made sure they didn’t discriminate against me based on gender. My father was able to get through to them, though it was very challenging. When I got on the team, I didn’t lose a single match the entire season. One kid even forfeited the match because he didn’t want to wrestle a girl. I ended up only wrestling for one year because I was made fun of by some of the other kids, but it taught me a valuable lesson to challenge the rules and to not let anyone hold me back based on my gender.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I believe that if we are healthy and able-bodied, that we should be doing something to give back or help those less fortunate that us. The Gone Gaming team believes that in everything we do, we will always have a charitable element to it. The Neon Kids will be teaming up with a major charity (unable to disclose this info at the time) to interact and bring joy to kids with illnesses through gaming and play. Personally, I volunteer with an organization called Coach Art that brings art and athletics to kids with chronic illnesses.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Always listen. I find that when you allow your team to feel included and give their ideas space to grow, they’ll take more ownership over the project yielding better results.
- Treat others with respect. I do my best to treat everyone kindly, whether it be the parking attendant or the CEO. On a human level, being kind should be a no brainer and when it comes down to it, you never know who will end up being there for you when you need it and will be willing to return that kindness.
- Forgive but don’t forget. I’ve been in a situation or two where I thought I’d had the support of someone and I didn’t. It led to some setbacks with my company and challenges that I had to learn to overcome. I’ll never treat someone unkindly and I don’t think it’s wise to burn bridges, but I won’t forget and I’ve noted who I won’t ever do business with again.
- Show your passion. Passion breeds passion and people gravitate toward it. We live in a world that wants so desperately to have meaning. If you stand for something, don’t be quiet about it, shout it out and let the world know how you fiercely aim to conquer and succeed. The right people will find you, those who believe in you and align with you’re doing.
- Always be a student. Learn to always be learning. Find your muse, your mentor, read and research. Knowledge is everything and I find that everyday, if you’re not eager to learn, you’ll become stagnant and allow your competitors to pass you by. I find successful people with whom I respect, I ask for advice and I accept constructive criticism. It’s not always easy but being able to accept mistakes and learn from them is the only way to grow and succeed.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My movement is all about educating younger gamers, which, when you think about it, are all of our kids. Every child lives in an ever-growing online world and can be considered, in one way or another, a gamer. My goal is to have a global brand and we stand for inclusion, tolerance, online responsibility, and accountability. It’s our responsibility to help them navigate this online world that we have created for them and teach them how to exist and behave there. We are doing that with our Neon Kids program and community.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“But still, like air, I’ll rise.” — Maya Angelou. I have this tattooed on my neck. Maya was an inspiration to so many people and she is my favorite poet. Her words painted emotions onto the page and into hearts. She lived a heavy life and had to work damn hard. I have it as a reminder that despite all I’ve been through and the challenges that I know I’ll still face, I’ll still rise.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Pharrell Williams. I made a mental note of this back in the late 90s when I first learned about The Neptunes.
How can our readers connect with you on social media?
They can connect with me by finding me at my gamertag:
– Instagram: @Dangeruus_
– Twitter: @Dangeruus
– Twitch: @Dangeruus_
– Instagram: @GoneGaming
– Twitter: @xGoneGaming
– Twitch: @GoneGamingTV