10 Things To Know About Delane Parnell

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Written by Ann Brown
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Delane Parnell is changing the game when it comes to esports. He is a young tech founder, having started the company PlayVS (pronounced “Play Versus”), which is now the official league for high school esports. PlayVS founder and CEO Delane Parnell. CREDIT: JAMEL TOPPIN FOR FORBES

Delane Parnell is changing the game when it comes to esports. He is a young tech founder, having started the company PlayVS (pronounced “Play Versus”), which is now the official league for high school esports.

During an interview with Moguldom, Parnell said there are 21,000 high schools in the U.S. and esports will be sanctioned just like any other sports — basketball or football. “You can compete for state championships and have your statistical records recognized by the State Athletic Association,” Parnell said.

And Detroit native Parnell has been attracting investors — fast. 

Here are 10 things you should know about Parnell and PlayVS.

On a Money Roll

Parnell tweeted on June 4, 2018 that PlayVS’s $15 million Series-A was the largest Series-A ever raised by a Black founder in consumer Internet. He has raised $50 million for a total of $96 million raised in 13 months in a Series-C round. Among the investors are Adidas, Samsung, Sean “Diddy” Combs, and the VC arm of the Los Angeles Dodgers. “I don’t care if you’re gaming on your phone, on a console, or through a cloud service,” Parnell told Fast Company. “Gaming in high school, even if it’s tic-tac-toe, will run through us.”

Parnel described the raise as “a historic milestone” in an email to Moguldom.

Sealing The Deal

It was in 2018 that PlayVS inked an exclusive contract with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) “to provide support in building the video gaming infrastructure for high school esports, allowing students to play esports on behalf of their school all the way to the state championship level,” Moguldom reported.

“We’ve had a lot of success by being focused,” Parnell told Venturebeat. “Other esports companies have not been focused on building really good products first. We spend our time thinking about PlayVS and our community — coaches, administrators, players, parents, and teachers. We are on the front lines having conversations with the stakeholders.”

Team Building

Not only has the company grown financially, but it has also added to its team. “The company has also grown from 16 employees at the end of 2018 to 41 and plans to double that before the end of 2019. The new round will give PlayVS a chance to hire aggressively and also consider mergers and acquisitions as a means of growth,” Techcrunch reported.

Taking Over 

PlayVS has taken over the market. Its product Seasons was released in five states in October 2018 and has already expanded to eight states. “On average, schools had 15 students participate in esports, which is half of the average baseball and basketball participation (30 students). More than 13,000 schools — 68 percent of the country — are waitlisted to build an esports program through PlayVS,” VentureBeat reported.

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 24: Delane Parnell Jamarlin talks to prodigy Delane Parnell, founder and CEO of high-school esports company PlayVS, which just raised a $15M series A round.

Hustle Hard

As a teen working in a cell phone store, Parnell started working is way up the ladder fast. He was an associate at a cell-phone store while still in high school. He “ginned up business by offering free cases and ringtones to classmates. By the time he turned 16, he was part owner of the store and several others. Parnell’s next act was starting a car-rental chain with a friend who owned a collision shop. (Parnell made it a hit by renting rides to teens during prom season.),” Fast Company reported.

Early Entrepreneur

Parnell got the entrepreneurial bug early. He was just 20 when he founded FiftyFounders events. The company was established to bring tech-savvy startups to Detroit. 

“As a 22-year-old associate for IncWell Venture Capital, Parnell gained a reputation as the youngest African-American venture capitalist in the U.S., managing the funds deal-flow process and handling outreach. He was on the founding team of an automotive group and led the company to six- and seven-figure profitable years “through a tight focus on quality over scale,” according to his Black tech Week bio. And he headed the retail division at Rocket Fiber, a venture-backed fiber-optic ISP startup in Detroit,” Moguldom reported.

Incubator 101

When asked by Moguldom’s Jamarlin Martin to explain to the audience what a traditional incubator does and how that can really anchor you to kind of go out and raise money and develop your business model?

Parnell replied: “Yeah, so people generally confused accelerators and incubators. I think they just consider them the same thing. An accelerator is like a Y Combinator or Techstars, when a startup joins generally for like $100,000 or $120,000 investment for six or seven percent of the company, and you’re within this batch of 100 other companies and it really ranges. It could be a dozen to 100 companies, and it’s for a three month period of time. You’re just sort of heads down working on whatever you’re working on, and at the end of it, there’s this demo day in which a bunch of investors from across the country come and they may or may not decide to invest in your company. And obviously many other investor conversations sort of happen outside of that demo day. But that’s sort of like the culminating event of being in an accelerator. Incubators are a little bit different. It’s more of a complete partnership. And so, I joined Science, it was literally just me and Science took a portion of our company, and they also gave us money, but in return they gave me beyond money, things that I can’t quantify like a team. Their team became my team, and everyday whatever staff they assigned in this pot to me was working only on my company every single day. They gave me support. It’s tough. I moved from Detroit here to LA, and it’s a lonely place trying to build a company when you don’t have a co-founder or you don’t have a team of your own. They were there for me. They helped me model stuff out, as it comes to numbers to make sure like things made sense. They helped me do research. They helped me make connections. They represented our company, they traveled to places when I wasn’t able to travel there and was a representative or a company that does stuff done.

Why eSports?

Once Parnell got involved in esports, he knew it was the industry for him. “Parnell’s interest in esports was piqued when tournament organizers began reaching out to Rocket Fiber for help in getting faster connections. In 2015, he created his own professional Call of Duty team. He sold the team a year later and began looking for his next venture. That’s when, at a party during his first South by Southwest, in 2017, Parnell was introduced to investor Peter Pham, who was jigging by himself on the dance floor…Pham urged Parnell to focus on the high school market and invited him to move to Santa Monica and work with Science. Pham also provided the brand-name legitimacy that locked in the NFHS deal,” Fast Company reported.

Looking Beyond The Game

Parnell is looking ahead at bigger and better things.

“This is the most accessible, affordable, and inclusive sport at the high school level,” he told Fast Company. “If we grow, the e-sports [industry] grows.” According to Parnell, PlayVS is an opportunity not only to develop new athletes but also to assist parents and teachers “understand there’s a pathway to a career.”