A change in mindset is one of the most powerful tools for self-evolution. My ultimate goal is leveraging tech’s capability for visual education to connect people of all ages into Generation Infinity. I coined that term to push back against the concept that generations have to be divided into labels (“X”, “Y”, “Z”, etc.), because people of all generations are united in the fact that they’re continuously learning and can benefit from technology. Once people realize that, then we can all uplift each other.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amber Allen.
As the CEO and founder of Double A Labs, a leader in developing transformative platform technologies, Amber Allen has rewritten the narrative around gaming and entertainment. After rising through the ranks at companies including Reebok, Disney, Warner Bros., and Riot Gaming, Amber founded Double A Labs in 2013 with a goal of filling a gap in the marketplace for tech-foward, immersive, yet accessible AR and XR experiences. In six years, her team has reached 3 billion screens (and counting!) in projects for clients including AT&T, Twitch, and Dell. A community leader and mentor, Amber shares her vision with the next generation of women — in tech and beyond — by sitting on the advisory boards of the University of Texas’s Game Development and Design Program, the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), the SAFE Alliance, an advisor on a sports SPAC, and an advisor to Queens & Pangea Cup.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Amber! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
During my time at large companies such as Reebok, I always tried to foster community and culture with employees. When I was a merchandiser at Reebok for Texas, I wanted some way to motivate the stores under my direction to make sales. I noticed inside a contract that my boss had permission to use Maverick Stadium, and decided to run a competition to improve ROI! So, I created a tournament where the athletic store that sold the most shoes could take over Maverick Stadium during one of their practice nights, order pizza, and explore and experience behind the scenes of an iconic stadium. That experience, and how enthusiastically people responded to this incentive to do their best, was one of the events that motivated me to leave the stability of the corporate world so that I could do things my own way and have an impact directly on people’s lives as an entrepreneur. (Also, in a beautiful full-circle moment, 2 years ago I presented an award to Donnie Nelson, the GM of the Dallas Mavericks, at Maverick Stadium where it all started.)
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I mean, it’s got to be how we’ve reacted to the pandemic, right? It’s pushed us all to find and break through the limits to our creativity and endurance. When COVID first hit, I had to accelerate the tech side of the company much more than previously planned — before, the world was much slower at accepting tech in their lives, but now it’s kind of inescapable. So, we pivoted to meet that demand. I started out with 3 engineers in March, and now I have 15. In fact, counting contractors, we’ve had 21 new people join since COVID. As a result, our tech is now at 286% growth and we’re connecting people even in an isolated world, which I’m really proud of.
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?
I originally wanted to call my company AA (“Double A”) because it’s been my nickname for a long time. But American Airlines beat me to that name and domain, and I had to check all the websites with similar names for availability. I didn’t connect all the dots about trademarked names, though, because even “AA Events” wasn’t available. I was in the middle of running CES when my legal team called to say AA was taken, and so was double, so Amber Productions it was! I learned to do my research on the internet before deciding to brand my company, just to make sure domains are open. I was so excited to get to the big stuff, but really learned that I can’t ignore the small stuff.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We don’t judge anyone. Sometimes when people don’t understand how something tech-related works, they may feel looked down on, when in fact they have nothing to be ashamed about. They may just have grown up in a place that wasn’t as current on trends, or their learning style is different (that’s why I love taking personality tests!) As a tech company, we’re trying to change that narrative by creating accessible, easily learnable platforms that entertain and educate at the same time. That’s why one of my favorite projects Double A Labs has done is the Overwatch Puppy Rumble (created for Blizzard Entertainment), which introduced casual gamers to esports through an event that united a wide audience through a shared passion for dogs and philanthropy.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Double A Labs just completed creating a virtual gala experience for the SAFE Alliance, an Austin-based nonprofit. The gala is typically their largest fundraising opportunity each year, so it was necessary to still hold the event in some form or another both to raise funds, and raise awareness of SAFE’s mission of providing help and healing to victims of domestic violence and/or sexual assault. We blended physical and digital worlds to design a winter wonderland ballroom (to fit with the gala’s Storybook theme) that attendees could virtually explore with livestreams, raffles, and auctions, and also learn more about SAFE. $625K was raised, and users were temporarily transported to a magical (and functional!) environment. I sit on the board of SAFE Austin, so this project was particularly close to my heart.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Don’t be afraid to be competitive. Winning — as long as you’re not knocking others down to win — is a good thing. I was once mentoring a girl who grew up in a similar culture to mine in the South, where she was expected to be perfect. She told me that there was a guy in her industry who once said to her, “You’re very competitive, aren’t you?” I asked her if that was bad, and she responded, “Well, being competitive isn’t good.” Since then, I’ve tried to change the language around competitiveness so that women realize being competitive can be a good thing, if you bring people up along with you. If you’re competitive with your community in mind, you can accelerate not just your own growth, but your entire team’s as well.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Create culture and community within your team. Ask for feedback frequently so that everyone feels heard. Celebrate milestones such as birthdays or work anniversaries. Doing so will strengthen employee bonds, build trust, and let everyone learn from each other. You may not be able to get to know everyone personally, but it’s vital that everyone still feels valued as individuals.
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?
I’ve had so many great mentors and advisors from my boss at Disney Mobile for 14 years and who I hired as my head of commercial, to the president of Warner Television who I looked up to for years, and now advises me! When I decided to start my own business, there was a woman at Netflix called Tracy Wright (she’s now their Director of Global Content Operations) who started small with them and helped them scale their business to what it is today. She would meet me twice a year and give really good advice: nuggets about culture, how to work with clients without being so “salesy”, and how to cultivate relationships when you’re not the big dog.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I love mentoring young up-and-coming entrepreneurs and people in the tech industry. I’m a partner in the Pangea Cup, a platform that helps indie gamers, and I share my vision with the next generation of women in tech by sitting on the advisory board of the University of Texas’s Game Development and Design Program. I also volunteer with Women Who Code, an international nonprofit dedicated to providing women with an avenue into the tech world by developing their technical skills.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- A change in mindset is one of the most powerful tools for self-evolution. My ultimate goal is leveraging tech’s capability for visual education to connect people of all ages into Generation Infinity. I coined that term to push back against the concept that generations have to be divided into labels (“X”, “Y”, “Z”, etc.), because people of all generations are united in the fact that they’re continuously learning and can benefit from technology. Once people realize that, then we can all uplift each other.
- Unlimited creativity can’t be accomplished alone. This is my mantra, and why I’m always bouncing ideas off of my team. To reach their full potential, each project Double A Labs completes requires collaboration between tech, artists, animators, copywriters, and countless others.
- Build real relationships. People can tell when you’re being insincere. On the flip side of that coin, they can also tell when you’re genuinely interested in their story or mission. When I network, I always think about what the person across from me wants, so I’m more focused on what I can teach others, and less on what others can do for me.
- Don’t make snap judgments about people. I grew up in a small town in Texas and at school, my classes were frequently filled with people of different ages. We were all there to learn, which was the most important thing, not how long it had taken us to get to those classes. Making assumptions about people will close off so many potential friendships, connections, and decrease the accessibility and appeal of your product.
- Stop living in a bubble. There’s a whole world outside of your room or office. Limiting your worldview to what you’re comfortable with will also limit your creative abilities. I’m continuously learning — from books, from my friends, from my team — so that I can continue creating for all. Don’t be afraid to look dumb.
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. 🙂
Generation Infinity, a generation that is always open-minded and hungry to learn more! I’d love to unite people of all ages through a platform that educates and entertains with visual images, since those can be understood by almost all, and make abstract ideas seem so much more real.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The question is not ‘Are you worthy enough to reach your goals?’ The question is ‘Are your goals worthy enough of you?’” -Bob Proctor
Right out of college, I thought that I wanted to work in the corporate world because of the stability it would provide. However, I kept trying to break the mold of what was expected of me in those companies, and eventually decided that my goals were different than what I was being told they should be. And so Double A Labs was created so I could have the freedom to form my own team, determine my values, and decide what kind of impact I wanted to make on the world.
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 🙂
I would love to have breakfast with Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, or Sarah Blakely. They’re genius innovators who are experts in their respective fields and focus continuously on new innovations in the fields they know well. Even though they work in different industries, they’re working on the same common thread of trying to push the world forward in what they are passionate about.
How can our readers connect with you on social media?
I’m @amberallen_aa on Instagram and Amber Allen on LinkedIn and Facebook!