Don’t Do It Alone | WTR 29

Don’t Do It Alone | WTR 29

Moira is the President and CEO of Galvanize Labs, an edutech startup that brings together learning through gaming!

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ANGELA: This is Women’s Tech Radio.
PAIGE: A show on the Jupiter Broadcasting Network interviewing interesting women in technology. Exploring their roles and how they are successful in technology. I’m Paige.
ANGELA: And I”m Angela.
PAIGE: Angela, today we interviewed a good friend of mine, Moira Hardek, and she is the CEO and President, sole founder, of Galvanized Labs, and they’re a edutech startup. She kind of gives us the lowdown on what that means, and what that looks like, and kind of how she’s using her experiencing in gaming to bring technology and education together.
ANGELA: And into gaming, because it’s technology and education in games.
PAIGE: Yeah, its’ crazy. It’s like this awesome hybrid mashup that she goes on to kind of explain what that means. It’s a really neat interview, I think.
ANGELA: And before we get into the interview, I’d like to mention Digital Ocean. If you go to and use the promo code heywtr, you can save on simple cloud hosting, dedicated to offering the most intuative and easy way to spin up a cloud server. You can create a cloud server in 55 seconds, and pricing plans start at only $5.00 a month. That’s 512 megabytes of RAM, 20 gigabytes SSD, One CPU, and one terabyte transfer. Digital Ocean has date center locations in New York, San Francisco, Singapore, Amsterdam, and London. The interface is incredibly simple, intuitive. The control panel is awesome. It will help you design exactly what you need, which empowers users to replicate on large scales with the company’s straightforward API. Check out by using promo code heywtr.
PAIGE: And we got started with our interview today by asking Moira to explain her role in technology.
MOIRA: I’m the President and CEO of Galvanize Labs. We are a hybrid tech company at the moment. What we’re working on is ed tech, so educational gaming and technology education. My role is a little bit of everything. In startups, in small companies, it’s kind of everything from the business side to the tech side, the design side. I get to do a little bit of everything, which is probably really good for me. It keeps me excited. It keeps me interested, and it’s certainly never boring,. It’s kind of broad, but also really exciting.
PAIGE: What is a hybrid technology company?
MOIRA: I like to think of it as a hybrid, because we’re focusing on education and we have such a strong emphasis and validating the educational side of what we’re doing. Not just throwing out the term of, hey this is an educational product. We really want to be accredited and validate that educational status. So, we’re kind of half an educational company and the other half of it is a gaming studio. Everything to do within the game is all in house. Nothing is third party. Nothing is purchased. We do everything inside. So, everything from soundtracks to all the digital assets, to the game design, to the voices is all in house. That’s where I kind of feel the hybrid is. It’s great educational emphasis and then this fun game studio.
PAIGE: Has it been a challenge to kind of combine those two worlds? I mean, you don’t typically think of education and gaming at all.
MOIRA: It has been really interesting, because I just don’t think it’s been done in this way before. You really do have these two totally separate industries of gaming, which is so much more classically identified as entertainment. You know, I think of, game releases now are almost like movie release weekends and billion dollar release weekends. It’s entertainment and it’s really what it does so well. Education is obviously kind of almost the flip side of that. Not to say that education isn’t fascinating, but you certainly don’t see, you know, a billion dollar education weekend. And so, as far as how the money flows and how the tech works, it’s entirely different. So, when you try to put educational gaming together, you don’t see gaming classically as an industry really turning its considerable talent towards the education industry, because it just doesn’t have the same type of return. That leaves education a little bit off on an island, that although gaming is a really powerful tool that can be utilized within education, they really don’t get to use the great talant of the gaming industry. And so, that leaves educators to kind of self-educate when it comes to gaming. So, gaming inside of education, or edugaming, which that’s always a great term, has been a little bit lackluster, because it doesn’t bring this entertainment quality. Kids today, I mean, I like to call them the 3DS generation. They’re the first one, if you give them a crappy game, they’re going to tell you this is a crappy game. When they’re used to things like Battlefield and Call of Duty, and World of Warcraft. Visually stunning games with tremendous dynamics that keep them really engaged. Edugaming really can’t compete. What we really wanted to bring to this was a level of entertainment quality gaming with real educational validation. And that was a challenge. We really kind of were able to pull that off for the first time. We live in between these two worlds, and yet we don’t wholey belong to one or the other. There’s pros and cons to that.
PAIGE: Always, whenever you’re bridging a gap it’s always strengths and weaknesses.
MOIRA: Right. Yeah, first to market, again there’s bonuses and there’s drawbacks.
PAIGE: So you do everything in house. What kind of tools do you use to do that for education for gaming?
MOIRA: Oh my god, we do. I feel like there’s a little bit of, just, everything. The game and built and designed entirely from the unity engine. So, obviously, we do a lot of work in unity. All of the web interfaces. All of your guy’s favorite stuff from node to angular to the tremendous list of the custom APIs that we create. The game is hosted within Amazon, right, so AWS, and god bless them for that. And there’s just there’s so many little pieces that we’re able to put together and custom design. Half of the time that we spent building the original platform for launch, before we actually built the game, we built proprietary tools that we were going to use to build the game, and make production even easier going forward. So, the custom scripting system that we were able to create. All of the techs and all the interaction that you see in the game isn’t actually hard coded into the game. It’s actually all dynamically being pulled through our custom scripting system. And so, for our writers and our game designers, we actually have a web portal where now when we write scripts for games going forward, is we’re actually just — when we create those storyboards and write those scripts, we’re dropping the scripts into a web portal that’s then dynamically being pulled into the game when the game is hard coded. So, it’s great tools like that. We have an in-game currency that’s called jewels. It’s like gold coins in Mario Bros or rings in Sonic. To make, again, production much more efficient, instead of hardcoding exactly where those little pieces of currency are going to be in every level, we have a custom coordinate and mapping system. So, again, it’s on the back end. We get to go in this great little web portal that we’ve created and drop the coordinates for where these are going to go, instead of hardcoding in the game where they are. That just gives us a lot of freedom. So we can change levels, and we change maps, and we can build new things, and keep the game and the future games really dynamic and updated for the kids. So, it’s a great experience for our users. So, from the game itself to the tools we’ve created to make production more dynamic, there’s so much stuff that we’re using, and a lot of stuff that we’re creating on our own.
ANGELA: What is your target age?
MOIRA: The age range is remarkably large, because of the type of content that we’re offering. I kind of like to call the beginning platforms — right now, Taken Charge is a serious of four games that are played sequentially, and then we actually have three games that are about to kind of roll off the production line, and then we have 30 more that are currently up on the storyboard that are in production. The first, beginning part of our platform, I like to call as b.c. it’s before coding. So, its’ fundamentals, right. Its’ really getting kids to kind of work up into coding and those advanced topics. Because we’re talking about these fundamentals, that actually gives us a tremendously large age range. The only thing that you need to play Taken Charge is a third grade reading level, and a browser, and an internet connection. So, I have kids playing this that are from third grades to — we just completed a really fun pilot, actually here at a Chicago high school, and it was freshman, sophomores, and juniors in high school that were playing it. So, its’ really all about what level of knowledge the user or the player has, or in this case doesn’t have. And a lot of students in American are lacking these technology fundamentals. And then gaming, being this great universal language, can speak to a large range of audiences. So, the exact same game is just as fun and interactive for elementary school kids as it is for high schoolers. It kind of has that Minecraft effect, right?
MOIRA: You know, ten years old playing Minecraft, and then very popular in the 55 plus market too, it’s tremendous.
ANGELA: Right. Where do you see the kids going after they use your product? Are you planning to develop something after that for more advanced? What is your vision on where they go after?
MOIRA: There’s kind of multiple ways to look at it. Obviously, the company being as young as it is, we are building extended platforms. So there are, again, three games coming and there’s 30 more games to come. So, this will be quite a large marketplace of options and of topics. It all begins to get more advanced. So, we’re all kind of about this progressive learning model and being able to progress kids through technology as a subject. Because, I feel like, technology is always kind of treated as this one off when it’s addressed educationally, and we certainly don’t do that math, right? And you always see, like, let’s throw kids into coding. Because coding and robotics, those are really sexy technology topics. And those are great, great, great topics. But when we teach kids math in school, when they have no background in math, we don’t start them in long division. We go back and start with addition and subtraction and multiplication. And then we move them forward. We make sure that they grasp these topics so that they don’t get frustrated, they walk way. When we teach kids technology, we’re throwing them to coding and there’s this huge assumption that they have this underlying knowledge, when I’ve got the benefit of working with kids hands on for the last decade. Ninety percent of the kids that we work with don’t know where a file goes when you download it through a browser. But we’re like, (unintelligible) go to coding. So, what we really want to do is build this progressive model, have them move forward. So, yeah, our platform will move into things like coding. It doesn’t move into things like 3D modeling and different stuff like that, so yeah, there are those options. We partner with a lot of youth development organizations that offer, again, more advanced programs. And we’re also kind of working with, now, other types of technical sites that are a little bit more adult driven. That, if you can get this really solid, kind of, base line in your younger years, then why couldn’t you go into — think of what’s out there in tech ed for adults. And things like Linda and portal site, and all those great educational sites that you can continue your own education online. So, there’s so many places to go after this, once you establish this great baseline. So, we’re working in a lot of different arenas to see where you can go.
PAIGE: Have you always been involved in gaming? Did you start out as a game developer or anything like that?
MOIRA: No, certainly not. I mean, I’ve always had an interest in games dynamics. I’ve always applied them in a lot of the work I’ve done. And game design as pure game design, was something that kind of came later. It really kind of came in the second half of my career and the decade that I spent at Best Buy. It really came for me when I really was able to recognize what a powerful tool gaming was going to be, and it could be in that educational realm. I had just had a particular passion point around teaching, and particularly in the youth market. Gaming just seemed to be at the center of that for me. Immediately, I think, kind of any other entrepreneur, I just looked at gaming and what it could be and was urked that — my point was view was, we’re not doing it right. I wanted to do something different with it. I had to get involved. So, gaming came much later for me.
PAIGE: So, you’re been a lifelong gamer yourself. What are some of your favorites?
MOIRA: I go all the way back to my Apple IIe when I was younger. I totally just dated myself and gave away how old I am. That’s fine. I still play like mod of number munchers from when I was a kid, because that’s all we had when we were in school. So games like that. And then Day of Tentacle I felt was really great. I still have the original box too, it’s one of my prized possessions. For me though, really, really advanced gaming. I have told this story a million times. It was the very first Civilization by Sid Meier when i was Civ, and that really pushed me over the top into my love of gaming. I really kind of like this closeted gamer in college, because I didn’t know any other girl that gamed. So, yeah, I always hung out with the geeky guys, because I worked at the student union, and they introduced me to Counter Strike and things like that. It’s been this really slow progression. I was really kind of an isolated individual gamer until after I got out of college. Then, when you go to work for a company like Best Buy, that sells games and consoles. the addiction got out of control from there.
PAIGE: I had a very similar experience. I got into games a little bit in high school and then (unintelligible) Civilization, definitely one of those. And the Sims.
ANGELA: Yeah, I never did do Sims.
PAIGE: I had to actually — I had a burned copy back in the day of the Sims and my freshman year I had to take it out of my drive during finals week and literally break it in half so that I would pass my finals and stop playing the Sims.
ANGELA: Oh my gosh.
MOIRA: Yeah, see. I think it still is. I believe it is still like the number one game for women. I believe it is still sitting out there as the number one game for women.
PAIGE: Yeah, I’m pretty sure.
ANGELA: I got into Minecraft in 2011, I think. And I really like it. Now, I’m playing it with my son and that’s really fun, but I did Battlefield 1942 and some of the other first-person shooters. And it was my husband and me and his friends. No other women, but it was great.
PAIGE: It’s one of my geek cards of shame that I’m epically bad at first-person shooters.
ANGELA: Oh, I am epically good.
PAIGE: Really?
ANGELA: They call me hidden angerz.
PAIGE: Oh man, that’s awesome.
ANGELA: Yes. Yes, I’m a sniper.
MOIRA: Very nice. I am epically mediocre.
PAIGE: Well, we run the gamut now.
ANGELA: Yeah, all three of us.
MOIRA: I can at least hold my own and not be at the bottom of it, but if I go to talk trash, then I totally get rocked. And so I’m just kind of somewhere in the middle. It Sim games that just dominated me. So like SImcity, that was the one that I had to get rid of, because I was going to never have a social live again with Simcity. And then, I was one of those that was so depressed when Simcity came out, you know, with EA last year, and it was so bad. But now, thank you Skylines, is amazing. And if you haven’t played that yet, do it. I’m afraid it’s going to very, very negatively impact Galvanize right now.
ANGELA: You know, in the same way that I’ve avoided Pinterest, I avoided Sims. Because I would get consumed. I have chosen not to do that, intentionally.
MOIRA: Don’t avoid Pinterest, it’s so good.
ANGELA: No, you know what, I use Instructables. It’s way better, because they actually show how to do it, right there. You don’t have to click on somebody’s blog so they can get ad revenue, or wonder, just because they didn’t put any link on how to do things. Instructables is way better. I tried to get into console games, like Donkey Kong I really liked on Super Nintendo. But Poker Smash on XBox is amazing.
MOIRA: I’ll have to look at it.
PAIGE: Like Poker, the card game?
ANGELA: Yes. And it’s like Tetris, but with poker. You match poker hands to clear lines.
PAIGE: Whoa.
ANGELA: It’s really cool. You go up levels. There’s different music, I just love it. Anyway.
MOIRA: This is it. Gaming is just universal. And this is why it’s just so, so powerful as a tool. This is why.
PAIGE: I’m a competitive Tetris junkie. I like it. A lot of people are like, I”m really good at Tetris. I’m like, you don’t understand, competitive Tetris is different. Where you send lines to each other and stuff.
ANGELA: Do you have the Tetris lamp from ThinkGeek?
PAIGE: No, but I should.
MOIRA: Clearly.
ANGELA: I can’t find the power brick. The straight — it’s the straight brick. I can’t find it, but I have all the other ones.
MOIRA: I bet you anything it doesn’t exist, because like in the game, it’s never there when you need it.
ANGELA: Yeah, I have real life Tetris in my house with that lamp.
MOIRA: So, ThinkGeek didn’t actually ever create one, just to give you the same level of frustration that the game does.
ANGELA: No, I did — it did — I did have it. I have three kids and one of them took off with it somewhere and it is somewhere else in the house.
MOIRA: Your kids also are functioning completely the way the game Tetris does. That’s fantastic.
PAIGE: Somebody has made off with my ilen piece. Where is it?
MOIRA: So awesome.
PAIGE: So, you’re the CEO of your own company now?
PAIGE: And having done that, and having been in the gaming space as a woman, have you been able to find other women to work with in your company? Other women gamers? How is that working?
MOIRA: I mean, I will definitely say, obviously there is women at Galvanize. I won’t overplay that, that I went out and went on some big search for women and everything, because quite honestly, my team and I have been together for a long time. We’ve worked together at previous companies. So, sadly that wasn’t this big recruiting coo. And I haven’t expanded the company incredibly. We’ve stayed in a very, very lean model as we’ve gone on to do this. You know, kind of going to Reddit way and staying real lean, so I haven’t done a lot of that. But, from a networking standpoint, it’s hard. I don’t see — I don’t come across a ton of other female startups in this genre. Certainly not, kind of, in gaming, and not locally. I think I mentioned I was on a Skype call last week, and that happened to be a female game designer and she was up in Canada. But the two worlds were completely different. Being on the business side here, right, and we’re monetizing the game. There’s is more kind of social game and kind of grant based. That kind of stuff. So, those were two a little bit different worlds that we lived in. Gaming is still, obviously very, very male dominated. I still get bathrooms to myself at PAX and GDC. And you guys know how that goes. I don’t come across a lot of that. What has been, I think, a little bit different for me is because of how we started the company, the fact that it was kind of bootstrap and angel funded, I didn’t do things like Y-combinator or Sim Connector, or kind of any of those incubators to kind of get this started. I went a different path. And then we moved right into a revenue model. I was networked a little bit differently. I didn’t have access to a ton of that stuff. It has been a little bit isolating. And that’s been not the greatest feeling in the world.
PAIGE: So, if other women are kind of out there with a big idea, and kind of some cohones to make it happen, it’s always sad to me that there aren’t more women out taking risks. What would you say to someone who’s got an idea and wants to try to be an entrepreneur?
MOIRA: Take a risk. I don’t see why not. I really — I don’t see any difference in a woman taking the risk than a man taking the risks, and the startups that they have. Quite honestly, my favorite kind of part of it is always strength in numbers. I don’t think it should be one or two female entrepreneurs at a time. I think we should be doing this in big groups and big numbers. Are there special challenges for us? I think, yeah. That certainly can be the case. But I also think women have a really, very particular point of view. I think it’s very powerful. The way that women look differently at how to solve problems. I think in the world and the way the marketplace today, I think the woman’s point of view is very, very powerful. And I’d love to see that out there way more than it is. The very simple answer to that is, yeah get out there and do it. I don’t see any reason why not. The same risk is involved. It is, it’s scary. I think my dad says it best. It kind of feels like you’re trying to thread a needle while jumping out of an airplane. It feels like that for everybody, no matter what gender you ar.
PAIGE: The diverse thinking is so important. We had an interview with Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack, and she’s a CEO of Fresh Mint and has done a lot of work in the tech space as a woman entrepreneur. And she’s like, it’s not even just women. It’s just getting a group together that doesn’t all think the same way. You can have a diverse group of all different colors of the rainbow; all different genders, all different sexualities, and put them in a room. If they’re all Harvard grads, they still all think the same.
MOIRA: That’s true.
PAIGE: Diverse thinking is more than just gender, but gender is a huge piece of that.
MOIRA: Agreed. Agreed. I’m a very, very big advocate of that. I think you see it all the time. I am members of different women’s groups and I can’t help but see it in a lot of different scenarios that I’ve put in, and these very stark differences. And I think that point of view is just so powerful, and I really want to see that voice and that point of view come to the forefront a lot more.
PAIGE: If there was one piece of advice you could give someone who is about to get started, what would you say?
MOIRA: I think is one I give every time I hear this one, and it’s so true. It’s just, don’t do it alone. I think there are a lot of people out there that think that when you do this and the startup culture is — it’s kind of either one of two things. Either you already have to be incredibly well-networked, and if I’m not then I can’t do this. And that’s not true. And the other side of it is, I have to have all the answers. I can’t do this if I don’t have all the answers. There’s this kind of misconception of I’m doing this alone. You’re not. You’re never actually really doing it alone and don’t try to do it alone. You don’t have to have all the answers. Don’t try to be the lone ranger on this. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to bring other people in. It’s better to do it that way. It is scary, but it’s not scary for the reasons that you think it’s scary. Scary comes later, but don’t do it alone.
ANGELA: Thank you for listening to this episode of Women’s Tech Radio. Don’t forget, you can contact us by going to There is a contact form. You can also do the show drop down to find all the Women’s Tech Radio shows, and find the show notes for each of the shows with tons of links and resources.
PAIGE: You can also check us out on iTunes, where you can subscribe to the podcast. Or, if you’d rather use the RSS feed, that’s available on the Jupiter Broadcasting site. You can also follow us on Twitter @heywtr. Or, you can check out our tumblr that has all of the transcripts of the past shows at And if you have a minute, shoot us an email. Leave us some feedback

Transcribed by Carrie Cotter |

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