Editor’s Note: The Game Show of Love has been named to The Story Exchange’s list of 12 Brilliant Business Ideas.
The Game Show of Love, hosted and founded by Washington, D.C. creative Emma Mankey Hidem, is an interactive, online spin on the sort of dating shows we all like to watch – even if not all of us admit it. As a self-employed media producer, Hidem found herself panicked at the start of pandemic-induced lockdowns, unsure of how she’d support herself with work opportunities quickly drying up. Thinking fast, she harnessed the power of Zoom to create an online show where six romantic hopefuls answer audience questions before viewers send pairings on virtual dates. A hit was born: “The first episode, we maxed out our Zoom capacity within the first two minutes,” she says. Since then, over two seasons, she’s given 93 singles a chance at love, built a community of over 1,100 people, and is about to host Season 3 as an in-person event.
Here’s our lightly edited Q&A, from The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project.
Tell us more about the show.
When a friend joked about doing dating experiments over Zoom, my brain immediately thought, “dating game show!” Perhaps it’s because of Zoom’s resemblance to Hollywood Squares. Perhaps it’s my love of games and the fact that, pre-pandemic, game night was one of my favorite things to do on a date. But it came to me like a lightening bolt.
We live in a dark world and The Game Show of Love is intentionally positive, fun, and light-hearted. Hilarity often ensues because of the mixture of personalities, activities, etc. When I was thinking about the format of the show, I didn’t want drama or some kind of reality-type show. Even as we hope that the end of Covid may finally be in sight, there is still a lot of negativity in the world. The Game Show of Love brings people together in a supportive and nurturing way.
How do you define success?
Being able to live comfortably while doing what I love: making awesome media that positively impacts the world. Work comprises basically one third of our lives (potentially even more) so it has always been important to me that my job enable me to incorporate the things I love in life. I don’t want to have to do those things as a hobby or in my spare time. I love my career as a media producer because I get to travel to new places, meet tons of new and interesting people, and learn new things. Even during the pandemic when I was unable to travel, the show enabled me to meet hundreds of new people, some of whom have become my closest friends.
Tell us about your biggest success to date
In the first season’s All Star finale, people voted on who to bring back and we raised almost $1,000 for the nonprofit Bartenders Against Racism, an organization focused on combatting systemic racism in the hospitality industry. Since the eventual plan was to do this as a live event that would likely take place at a bar, club, hotel, or theater, I thought that was fitting and Black Lives Matter protests were in full-swing.
And being interviewed by the nationally-syndicated show The List is a pretty big success.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
Balancing work and life. For the first few months of the lockdown, I was chained to my computer, working all the time and I hated it because I’m someone who likes to be out in the field. I missed my favorite months of the year (spring time!) which left me feeling frustrated and at times I described my relationship with the show as love-hate.
I’m honestly terrible at asking for help but I was lucky that people contacted me expressing interest in volunteering, so I didn’t have to ask. When it came time to do the second season, I went a step further and switched from doing the show every week to every two weeks. This was also a bit of a necessity because some of my client work was coming back. But I have kept that work-life balance in mind moving forward. Season 3 in-person episodes will take place monthly since they are a bigger production, and then I can be sure that I still have time for my client work.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
Embrace a love of learning. If you don’t love learning, then being an entrepreneur might not be for you. Technology and business are constantly changing and you will be left behind if you can’t learn and adapt. A love of learning will also help in meeting new people, as you will exude that curiosity. People will want to help you or be a part of what you’re doing because you project an interest in the world to the people around you.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
I follow a lot of dogs on Instagram. Ha, kidding (kind of). Honestly, I go back through old pictures, or through my “one second a day” videos. When things are dark, it can be easy to feel like they have always been dark and always will be dark. You start getting comfortable in your hopelessness. You start comparing yourselves to others and lamenting what you haven’t achieved. So, when I’m feeling particularly low, I look through old photos and videos to remind myself of everything I have achieved and all the amazing experiences I’ve had, which reminds me why I pursued this career and entrepreneurship in the first place and motivates me to push through the darkness.
Who is your most important role model?
My friend Kristen, who became a best friend because of the game show, who does so much to help other people. She works for a nonprofit full-time as a grants program director and on top of that she is the first female president of a hurricane relief organization… as a volunteer! She is the kind of person who will always step up to help other people, no matter how busy she is or what is going on in her own life. It’s pretty incredible to see. And she’s good at anything she sets her mind to. ◼