Interview : myFanPark Co-CEOs Joy Des Fountain and Peter Karpas on Cooperative Leadership, International Growth, and Delivering Happiness
23 February 2021
Interview with myFanPark Co-CEOs Joy Des Fountain and Peter Karpas: Cooperative Leadership, International Growth, and Delivering Happiness
Joy Des Fountain & Peter Karpas
With over 14 years of experience as a CFO in both corporate and startups and now in her role as
CEO of myFanPark, Joy Des Fountain’s ambitious vision has brought together an established team both internally as well
as through international partnerships in key markets to setup the roadmap for success. Peter Karpas held
executive position at high growth tech companies including Intuit and PayPal. At other companies,
he continued to serve small and medium businesses owners, who he’s incredibly passionate about helping.
He’s is also on the Executive Committee of the Computer History Museum.
Please tell our readers a little more about myFanPark.
Joy Des Fountain: myFanPark reimagines how fans connect with those they admire by enabling the famous and influential to uplift, inspire, and delight their fans with unique, personalized interactions. We offer a limitless range of ways for fans and celebrities to connect with each other: shoutouts, social media interactions, DMs, "Fun Stuff," video and phone calls as well as personalized or one-of-a-kind merch. myFanPark, named one of the top 5 start-ups in South Africa, is a global success that has seen exponential growth around the world.
What in your careers brought you to developing fan engagement platforms? Was there any other entrepreneurial opportunity that you were considering?
Peter Karpas: There were lots of other possibilities! I have lots of ideas for businesses. But when I first heard this one which was brought to me by my co-founder Randy Kessler, who called it “the happy birthday app,” I just couldn’t get it out of my head. I wanted this thing to exist.
Joy: Whilst I was in corporate for 18 years, I had a number of entrepreneurial ventures, some of which were naturally more successful than others. When my co-founder Wouter Lombard brought up the idea of connecting people with those they admire in a far more real and authentic way, it was something that stuck. Building a business that made people happy sounded like a pretty great thing to do.
The merger of myFanPark with Starsona was unusual and rather quickly executed. How did you find each other, and know the merger would make sense for both company’s goals?
Joy: It’s very unusual for two startups to come together in their infancy. However, for both Peter and myself, it made so much sense. Starsona had just launched their new product, which we firmly believe is best in class, and myFanPark was moving into new markets.
The companies brought vastly different yet complementary skill sets, both of which are needed in building a business of this nature.
Whilst it may bring different skill sets, it naturally brought very different people together (who still to this day have not physically met), so a critical part of this journey beyond “the deal and diligence” was establishing whether our people shared the same values and could build towards a business with a shared ambition. With this in mind, Peter and I spent substantial time focusing on the people, culture, strategy, roles and execution. After many long nights for me, and early mornings for Peter (we have a 10 hour time difference), we had a digital handshake and agreed that a merger made sense for both companies.
Were there any hiccups along the way? How did you overcome them?
Joy: I wouldn’t say hiccups. We took the approach of looking at the “big rocks” which needed to be “blown up” allowing us to then get to the “pebbles” all of which are part of the process in a merger negotiation. We had a joint goal for this to move swiftly and through open, honest and direct communication, we got through it very well.
Can you name a few of the immediate benefits of the merger?
Peter: It was super simple: more Talent, on a better product, creates more happiness with their fans and more revenue. The day we launched the combined company we added 50% more Talent to what Starsona (my prior company) had.
Why did you opt for a co-CEO structure? How does that work on a day-to-day basis?
Peter: We opted for a co-CEO structure because there’s a ton of work to do, and we have very different focus areas. Early in our merger discussions, Joy shared a model she’d heard called “unlock & unblock.” Her role is “unlock” - unlock opportunities for us with Talent and in markets all over the world. My role is to “unblock” - to make sure we have the product, operations, and processes to be able to take advantage of all the amazing opportunities Joy is creating.
What new lessons or skill sets have you been learning through this experience?
Joy: I believe that leaders should be learners. Having come from a finance background, the art of selling isn’t something that comes naturally to me. Now, leading the business through fundraising and meeting potential investors all the time, I’ve had to really put time and energy to understanding the craft and skill that goes into this process and the need for authenticity in telling your story.
What advice would you give to a start-up looking to grow through partnership or merger?
Peter: My biggest piece of advice: whether to merge/partner or not is the second question. The first question is “Do we want to co-found a company together?” Joy and I spent many, many hours with each other discussing all the soft stuff, because founding a company is hard and you really want to enjoy the journey with the people you take it with.
What are some tips you can offer about enmeshing regional employees into a connected global team?
Peter: We started as a virtual team from day one. I’ve never met in person either our head of engineering (who lives in Peru) or our head of product (who lives in Canada) even though we’ve worked together incredibly closely for nearly 2 years now.
The keys to making it work, for me?
1) Video, video, video. We’re on video calls all the time.
2) Find time in your video meetings to talk about your lives. To give just one example: we have a monthly social where the entire team comes together and each person answers a fun question that gives insight into their personal lives, whether it’s their favourite movie, or favourite vacation, or favourite family photo (which gets posted for everyone to see).
As entrepreneurs, what would you like your professional legacies to be?
Joy: I believe that personal and professional legacies overlap too much to see them in isolation. I would like nothing more than to be remembered as a person who has the ability to bring people together to trade in one of the most meaningful commodities in the world: happiness. To build a business of value that has the ability to make people happy, from colleagues, to customers, which in this case includes both talent and fans. To raise children who are happy. To have a happy marriage. That would make me happy.
Peter: I think about “work legacy” around two groups - the people I work with, and the customers I serve. Today (literally this morning) I received an email out of the blue from someone that really put a pin on what I want my legacy to be with the people I work with. She wrote “...something I attribute to you and the impact all these years later that I realize your leadership had on me :-) I just wanted to let you know... and to send this thank you from the past and the ether!” As for customers, I’ve always thought the goal of the companies I help lead should be to make customers so happy that they willingly throw money your way so you can stay in business for them.
What is myFanPark looking forward to most over the next 6 months?
Joy: We are in an exciting space as a company. myFanPark is engaged in a number of investment conversations as we grow the business. We have the leading platform, populated with some of the most admired Talent across the world. It’s great to see how others see that as well.
Peter: Our focus remains attracting great Talent who are looking to engage with their fans through authentic personalized interactions. We continue to infiltrate our existing regions, and I’m looking forward to our unlocking some new markets as well!