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Solo Student Entrepreneur to Over $50M Revenue: Chess.com CEO Erik Allebest (Part 5)

Posted on Friday, Dec 3rd 2021

Sramana Mitra: Why do you need 300 people? The demand meant bigger server investment. Where does the people angle come in?

Erik Allebest: We take our customer support very seriously. We believe that taking care of our community is a big deal. When you have five times as many active users, you need five times as many support agents. We scaled up our support team significantly. Also, we’ve been adding to our international team significantly. The amount of content and translations require larger teams to translate and take care of all of the international growth.

The other thing is that our events division has blown up. We went from one producer of streaming to three producers. Chess events have just blown up. The content and support got bigger. We’ve also been trying to evolve technically. You got to pay down your technical debt. We’ve been scaling our tech team as well.

We see so many opportunities for growth as well whether it’s in content or an event. Our streaming program got bigger. We’re trying to do more with schools and with our other company Chess Kid. It just felt like there’s a lot of opportunity. There’ve been more passionate people too. We have been able to do this without external investors.

Sramana Mitra: What scale are you at right now revenue-wise?

Erik Allebest: We’re not at a hundred million yet.

Sramana Mitra: You’re definitely above $50 million.

Erik Allebest: Yes.

Sramana Mitra: What I love about your story is there’s a lot of bad rap against solo entrepreneurs. You started with just one idea as a solo entrepreneur.

Erik Allebest: I’ve enjoyed it and I’ve enjoyed how we’ve done it. I have a lot of friends who started a lot of successful companies. I will say that a lot of them have told me, “I wish I owned a lot more of my company.”

Sramana Mitra: They’re obsessed about raising money.

That’s one of the problems with places like Stanford. They prep you up with the idea that entrepreneurship equals financing. It is not true. Financing is optional. Exit is optional.

Erik Allebest: Exactly. They were constantly fundraising. They ended up not owning as much. They spent so much time managing their Board or doing their next round.

They felt so pressured to grow that sometimes, their growth wasn’t healthy and sustainable.

I feel lucky that I was in a market where we had time to grow. There are more competitive markets. I don’t think all financing is bad.

Sramana Mitra: It’s not bad, but it’s optional. The outsized importance that people place on financing is wrong.

Erik Allebest: Agreed. They’re always stressing about making hires in New York or Bay Area. I’m like, “Try Poland or Serbia.”

Sramana Mitra: All that has leveled in COVID. I really enjoyed your story. Thank you for your time.

This segment is part 5 in the series : Solo Student Entrepreneur to Over $50M Revenue: Chess.com CEO Erik Allebest
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