Rand Fishkin, CEO on Dungeons & Dragons

Hi, I’m Rand Fishkin, co-founder of a couple of software companies: Moz and SparkToro. I’m also the author of the recently published book, Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World. Like many entrepreneurs, I fell into my position by virtue of circumstance and necessity. I was inspired to get into web marketing and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) by my own frustrations trying to learn the practices of the field (in the early 2000s, it was a very opaque, secretive arena).

I’ve lived in Seattle nearly all my life. My parents moved from New York City when I was 3 months old when my dad got a job with Boeing. Seattle is the United States’ fastest growing city and has been for a few years now. The boom in tech, particularly with Amazon, Microsoft, and the many Bay Area companies competing for talent has turned a very small, somewhat remote town into an expensive metropolis in just the last decade.

Outside of my work life, I play Dungeons & Dragons. D&D is a table top, role-playing game where one person takes the role of storyteller and rules interpreter, and the other people portray the characters they’ve invented in a collaborative story that’s told through the storyteller’s prompting and the players’ actions and responses. There are lots of dice rolling to simulate the effects of how various, challenging situations are resolved, and numerous unique mechanics and rules that govern how things go. But unlike any other game I’ve ever played, there’s incredible freedom to do almost anything imaginable, so long as the players can dream it up and the storyteller permits it.

Technically, I started playing when I was 12 years old, but back then, when I tried to play with friends, I was shamed and teased for being interested in it. As a result, I didn’t try to play again until a friend mentioned it on Twitter in December of 2017. I literally waited 25 years between wanting to play and getting to play for the first time. Thankfully, people in my life seem far more accepting now than when I was young.

My friend who introduced us to the game has us create characters for our first session. I’m a tiny person who is carried around in a backpack by my wife’s character (who’s giant). I now have a regular group of 5 – including my wife, Geraldine, and some of my new company’s investors. However, I’ve also played a couple times with one of my wife’s good friends who’s really creative and up for anything, and that’s been a really great way for us to connect too.

D&D absolutely helps to benefit my career and work life. There are loads of folks who talk about how the game benefits one’s ability to interact positively, constructively, and creatively with others. It’s also a wonderful way to build shared experiences with people in your life who you might not otherwise encounter.

I have played the role of the dungeon master, but it’s difficult. You have to prepare a lot for the games, and then be extremely good at modifying stories and dealing with the creative ideas players come up with on the fly (without making it seem like you’re ever flustered). That is probably some of the best experience I gain that actually applies to the world of company building – creating a world and dealing with the actions of players isn’t dissimilar from creating a company and dealing with the actions of customers, employees, press, etc. as they interact and change your ideas (hopefully for the better).

D&D has certainly brought me closer with the people I play alongside. It’s been wonderful for the creative thinking and storytelling parts of my brain that don’t always get as much use as they could in my day-to-day business life.

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