Moshi Monsters games designer aims to be monster hit

Divinia Knowles (pictured) is keen to swap ideas at the Telegraph’s Festival of Business. She is looking for ways to keep Mind Candy, the firm behind popular children’s gaming site Moshi Monsters, as “uncorporate” as possible. It helps to attract the best staff away from the big players, the chief operating officer said.

From giving away free breakfast at the firm’s beach bar-style kitchen, to building a makeshift tree-house in the lobby, Mind Candy is not your typical employer.

The trendy environment is all about being part ofLondon’s “silicon roundabout”, a cluster of digital media and technology start-ups near Shoreditch.

But Ms Knowles is not complacent. “It’s very difficult to go from a small company to a large one without experiencing some growing pains,” she said. “I’m always talking to chief operating officers and chief finance officers from other start-ups; they do things so differently and have incredible ideas.”

Firms trying to keep the start-up spirit alive as they grow should go out of their way to see how other firms do it, she said.

Ms Knowles is no stranger to growing a business from scratch. She helped build Mind Candy from a very small start-up in 2005, employing fewer than 10 people, to a 75-strong business that has plans to become the world’s largest children’s entertainment brand, rival only to Disney or Viacom.

This time next summer, the Mind Candy headcount is set to have almost doubled to 130 people.

The Moshi site speaks for itself. Dubbed the “Facebook for kids”, it has 50m members worldwide and rising. One child signs up every second, “adopting” a virtual pet monster on the site and socialising with other children.

One in two British children aged between six and 12 have or used to have a Moshi pet. Sales of Moshi merchandise alone are estimated to hit £60m this year.

In June, Mind Candy was valued at $200m (£125m) after Spark Ventures, an early investor, sold half of its stake for more than 15 times the value of its initial investment in 2004.

But at the forefront of Ms Knowles’ mind is that the firm cannot rely on huge marketing budgets to attract the best staff. Sought-after software developers, technical engineers and games designers could easily gravitate towards the bigger pay packets of the large corporates, she said.

The firm is recruiting its first ever “chief people officer” this year to tackle this challenge as it grows. Up until four months ago, Ms Knowles did all the recruitment herself. But she realised Mind Candy was becoming so big it needed a full-time recruitment manager, who is now in place. The chief people officer’s role will be to oversee the firm’s official “strategy” for recruitment, career development and staff motivation.

In the past, the firm developed these things “organically”, as and when different people issues arose. Staff wanting to experiment with different projects or add new strings to their bow, for example, were easily moved into newly-created positions. The firm was also wise to mop up some of the most talented staffers on its books from other gaming studios that went bust during the recession.

But as the company grows, it won’t be as easy to keep track of hiring or staff training without having someone dedicated to it full-time, Ms Knowles said.

The firm will do its best to keep its individual personality, however. “No one ever has to feel like they are stuck in a particular role. We intend to stay flexible about incentivising people who are quite junior,” she said.

Similarly, the company will rely on existing staff to help it hire new people. Employees that successfully refer someone for a job at Mind Candy get £2,000 – more than four times the original reward on offer.

“It’s still a lot less than we would pay recruiters, and they’re always really good people,” Ms Knowles said. “We try very hard to listen to the people that work for us.” It’s a strategy that seems to be working

 

This article was originally featured on telegraph.co.uk/finance/jobs

Thursday, 28 July 2011

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