Founder of kids’ entertainment company Mind Candy, creators of Moshi Monsters, Michael Acton Smith answers a Raconteur Q&A devised by Edwin Smith
What kind of people do you want working for you?
They have to be able to do the job, that’s a given. But beyond that we look for various traits – people who are passionate, playful, respectful and have the ability to think commercially.
How do you make sure that you find people like that?
It’s not easy. We have an in-house recruitment team who are using everything from LinkedIn to attending parties and networking events. I love finding amazing people whenever I’m out and about, and trying to convince them to come and join us. We also try to make sure that the profile of the company is positive from an outsider’s perspective. That involves releasing great products, getting great publicity and throwing great parties so that people are intrigued about the mythology of Mind Candy and want to work here.
What do you ask people at interview?
I love getting people to do a presentation. We ask them to tell us their story: who they are, what they’re passionate about. We ask what they do beyond their jobs to sharpen their skills – do they attend conferences or read books, or are there particular blogs that they like? That allows you to see whether someone is really passionate about their role. One of the things that is very important here is that people want more than just a job. It’s a fast-moving company in a very, very competitive space, so we want people who really care about their careers and who are specialists in their field. For example, the guy who takes care of tax on our accounting team is so passionate about tax – he watches tax TV, he reads tax magazines. If you can get people, who are all so passionate about what they’re doing, together in one company, you can do amazing things.
If you can get people, who are all so passionate about what they’re doing, together in one company, you can do amazing things
Have you ever hired somebody who you thought was going to be brilliant, but then turned out not to be?
Yes. Regularly. But that happens in every company. You can only learn so much about somebody in the interview process. During the probation period we try to figure out whether new employees are right for us and vice versa. We’re a bit of an unusual place, so it doesn’t work for everyone. We certainly don’t have a 100 per cent record when it comes to hiring, but we get it right a lot more often than not.
How do you go about shaping a company’s culture?
It’s very, very important. When I left university I did some temping jobs and worked in a lot of different companies. But they were all so boring, no one seemed to be enjoying themselves. Everywhere had the same blue carpet and strip lighting. I thought then that, if I ever had my own business, I would create an environment that people actually liked working in. You arrive at Mind Candy and you smile, you’re inspired by stuff on the wall, there’s bizarre furniture. I don’t think you need to spend a lot of money doing that, but it creates a wonderful environment. But culture is more than aesthetics. It’s the events the company puts on for its staff, the way they’re treated – with respect and transparent communication. We spend a lot of time trying to get that right.
Two years ago you said that you wanted to “build the largest entertainment brand in the world for this new digital generation of kids”. Are you on track?
Moshi Monsters has been an amazing journey, but we don’t want to stop. We want to take those learnings and create new stories, characters and worlds – in a similar way to Disney – and build that over many years. We’re still at a very early stage; it’s what we call a B-HAG, a “big, hairy, audacious goal”. But it’s going to be a fun journey trying to make it happen.