Driving Disruption: Greg Selkoe of XSET On The Innovative Approaches They Are Taking To Disrupt Their Industries

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Building on Values and Community — Our brand is deeply rooted in strong values and a sense of community. It’s not just about playing games; it’s about uniting people around shared ideas and creating a space where everyone feels welcome and valued.

In an age where industries evolve at lightning speed, there exists a special breed of C-suite executives who are not just navigating the changes, but driving them. These are the pioneers who think outside the box, championing novel strategies that shatter the status quo and set new industry standards. Their approach fosters innovation, spurs growth, and leads to disruptive change that redefines their sectors. In this interview series, we are talking to disruptive C-suite executives to share their experiences, insights, and the secrets behind the innovative approaches they are taking to disrupt their industries. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Greg Selkoe.

Greg Selkoe has 3 current jobs including Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer at XSET, Blogger at HuffPost, and CEO & Founder at PLNDR.com. Additionally, Greg Selkoe has had 3 past jobs including CEO & Founder at Wanderset.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about disruption, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Honestly, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life at the start but I’ve always had a passion for exploring different cultures, cities, fashion, music, and lifestyle. After college, I jumped into grad school at Harvard, aiming for a degree in public policy and another in urban planning from the Graduate School of Design. It was a hectic time, trying to manage a joint degree program. I wound up getting 1 of the 2 degrees

During that time I also started Karmaloop, my first real venture, driven by my passion for streetwear. As my studies were supposed to lead me into urban planning and government, Karmaloop really began to take off. Managing a business and handling two graduate degrees was tough, so I decided to drop urban planning and just stick with public policy and only got one of the degrees which was from Harvard Kennedy School.. Truth be told, I never really saw myself following either of those paths strictly. But interestingly, a lot of what I learned in that program turned out to be applicable in the lifestyle sector, which may sound strange but I used what I learned in grad school all the time.

I’ve always been attracted to anything that’s a bit off the beaten path. Growing up, I thought maybe I’d be an artist, developer, movie director, or architect. But, as the internet started to bloom, it was ecom and fashion that became the focus and it all evolved from my personal passions and interests, leading me down a path that turned out to be incredibly fulfilling.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

There are a lot of things that make XSET stand out in different facets. At our core, XSET is all about diversity, and I mean the real deal, not just throwing around buzzwords. We have a lot of different folks involved in the business, both from investors and staff to our talent which includes gamers, professional athletes and musicians that are part of the company.

Then there’s how we see gaming — not just as a hobby, but as a lifestyle. This idea isn’t entirely new to me; I started forming my thoughts on it back when I was running FaZe Clan, but with XSET, we’re really honing in on it. We’re looking at gaming in a way that says, “Hey, you might not call yourself a gamer, but chances are, you game in some way.” It’s a big shift from focusing solely on esports to recognizing that gaming’s pretty much woven into the fabric of everyone’s life now. Professional athletes, musicians, you name it, they’re playing games like Fortnite, Apex or NBA 2K.

What’s cool about us is that we’re tackling gaming from this broad perspective that almost everyone’s a gamer in some way. It’s about seeing gaming as a part of the wider lifestyle, which isn’t really the angle most folks are taking.

And, of course, there’s the creative side. We’ve got people from all over — music, fashion, you name it. My co-founder Wil Eddins has been in the mix with Supreme and OVO, and was head men’s buyer at Karmaloop, our COO Steve Birkhold used to be CEO at big names like Lacoste and Diesel, and our CMO Bre Aubrey was at Chase before this, our GM Nick Nocera came from the liqour industry. So yeah, we’re not just a bunch of hardcore gamers, even though a lot of us are also big gamers. But we are a crew that’s tapped into all these different vibes, all tying back into gaming.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Perseverance is hands down the most crucial trait for me. My journey wasn’t laid out for me — my dad is a scientist, and my mom, an urban planner, which actually sparked my initial interest in urban planning. However, I didn’t have a family background in business or retail to guide me. Everything from business to web design was territory I had to conquer on my own. I learned the ropes and leaned on my relentless pursuit of mentors and guidance, even when it meant being a persistent presence until they’d share their insights, never taking no for an answer.

Open-mindedness has been another game-changer. Valuable insights and ideas can come from anywhere and anyone. I’ve sought opinions from diverse sources, including once from someone cleaning the office, because I believe everyone has something valuable to offer. This approach has led to innovative ideas and perspectives that I might have missed had I only listened to ‘qualified’ voices. It’s about embracing a wide range of thoughts and recognizing that great ideas don’t have a hierarchy.

Willingness to embrace vulnerability has also been key. I’ve never been afraid to look silly, admit I’m wrong, or acknowledge when I don’t understand something. This openness has sometimes led to misunderstandings or doubt from others, but it’s a necessary part of pushing boundaries and pursuing a vision. I am often underestimated or people don’t see what I see which is fine with me. Entrepreneurs face rejection regularly. Hearing “no,” or being told you’re crazy is par for the course. However, believing in yourself and being open to learning and asking for help is vital. It’s about staying true to your vision while being humble enough to navigate through the learning curves and course correct on the way.

Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader? I’m curious to understand how these challenges have shaped your leadership.

Navigating leadership involves steering through tough decisions, a skill I’ve improved over the years. Also, learning no decisions, is still a decision and can often be a bad one. One of the biggest challenges is resisting the temptation to chase every shiny opportunity that comes along. Early in my entrepreneurial journey, I learned the hard way that not every opportunity is worth pursuing, even if it seems promising at first.

For instance, in my first business, we launched a couple of spin-offs that showed potential but were draining our resources. The hard decision came down to whether these ventures aligned with our long-term goals. Ultimately, choosing to shut them down meant not just cutting losses but also dealing with the fallout, including disappointing team members and stakeholders. This experience taught me the importance of focusing on the big picture and making tough calls for the sake of long-term success.

Another example was when we invested heavily in developing a sophisticated website, only to realize the risk of launching it as planned could outweigh the immediate benefits. Despite the initial outlay, I decided to shelve the project temporarily. This decision raised eyebrows and sparked questions about the rationale behind postponing the use of something we’d invested in so significantly. As a business person, it’s important to be willing to make sacrifices and tough calls so you’re not throwing good money after bad. Timing is important and I think the new website will be the better for launching it at a time when the team is able to focus on it fully.

These experiences have profoundly shaped my leadership style. They’ve underscored the value of critical thinking, cost-benefit analysis, and the courage to pull back when necessary. It’s about not letting sunk costs dictate future actions and being willing to make unpopular decisions to achieve long term success. Such challenges have reinforced my commitment to strategic, thoughtful leadership, ensuring that every step we take aligns with our broader vision and long-term objectives, and not everyone has to see that every step of the way but as a leader it is your job to get your team behind and to execute.

In the context of a business, what exactly is “Disruption”?

Disruption in business often boils down to two main approaches: innovating with something entirely new and different, or significantly improving upon existing concepts. A classic example of this is Disneyland. Walt Disney’s vision wasn’t just to create another amusement park; he was driven by the desire to overhaul the amusement park experience entirely due to the subpar experiences he had with his kids at other parks. His idea was to do it better — cleaner, more engaging, and more magical than anything that existed before.

This improvement on an existing idea is a form of disruption because it sets a new standard that others in the industry then strive to meet. But Disney didn’t stop at just making a cleaner park; he also introduced the concept of immersive rides. Instead of traditional roller coasters focused solely on thrills, Disney rides are about storytelling and experience, which was a radical departure from the norm.

True disruption often combines these two approaches: enhancing what already exists and injecting entirely new concepts into the mix. This blend creates a shift in consumer expectations and industry standards, forcing competitors to adapt or risk obsolescence. Disruption, then, is about reimagining the status quo — whether by doing things better or by doing things differently, and ideally, a bit of both. It’s about challenging how things have always been done and asking if there’s a more effective, efficient, or engaging way to achieve better results.

How do you perceive the role of ‘disruption’ within your industry, and how have you personally embraced it? Is it a necessity, a strategy, or something else entirely in your view?

In the gaming scene, we usually see organizations focused solely on the competitive side, like signing top esports athletes and popular hardcore gaming content creators — pretty much the gaming world’s version of sports teams.

Our vision at XSET diverges from this norm. While we embrace the essential elements of gaming orgs, such as supporting players and content creators, we aspire to transcend the conventional boundaries and are a media company and lifestyle brand. Our aim is to foster a social movement and cultivate a brand that resonates on a cultural level. Today’s digital landscape often leaves people feeling “alone together,” engaging online without a genuine sense of community. We’re tackling this by building a brand that not only entertains but also connects and reflects our audience’s identity and values.

XSET was founded on the principle that gaming is ubiquitous, cutting across diverse backgrounds with three billion gamers worldwide. Our focus isn’t on just individual personalities but on creating a community centered around shared values. We like to think of ourselves as the “baddest good guys on the planet,” striving to be edgy and fun while maintaining a commitment to positive impact. This approach is about more than just gaming; it’s about building a media and commerce platform that combines entertainment with a sense of belonging.

Do you see disruption as a necessity, a strategy or something else entirely?

It’s a bit of both — a must-have and a strategy, especially when you’re playing in the lifestyle and culture arena. Being disruptive is huge for standing out, but it’s all about timing.

For instance, in one of my early ventures, we were pioneers in integrating e-commerce with content creation by launching a YouTube channel alongside our clothing brand. Despite our innovative approach, the concept initially puzzled people, as the connection between selling clothing and creating content seemed unconventional. While our idea was eventually validated by the widespread adoption of similar strategies, being ahead of the game taught me something important: disrupt, but keep it relatable. If you go too wild, you might just lose folks. It’s all about finding that sweet spot where you’re shaking things up but still giving people something familiar to hold onto. That way, you’re not just throwing them into the deep end — you’re guiding them into new waters, showing them something fresh but not totally out there but providing a sense of comfort and recognition to ease the transition.

What lessons have you learned from challenging conventional wisdom, and how have those lessons shaped your leadership style?

There are always going to be haters. But most of the time, the folks who are quickest to doubt you or shoot down your ideas are the ones who disappear or flip their stance once you prove your concept works. It’s pretty wild how they go from doubters, to critics to believers, acting like they always knew it was a brilliant idea.

But here’s the thing, proving people wrong shouldn’t be your motivation. Yeah, there’s a bit of satisfaction when people finally see what you saw all along, but if that’s all you’re after, you’re not really in it for the right reasons. It’s not about holding onto bitterness or trying to get back at anyone. You should be driven by the excitement of what you’re doing, by the belief in your idea and the difference it can make.

The core of it all is wanting to bring something new to the table because you genuinely believe it’s the way forward. There’s this saying by Schopenhauer that my Dad told me, “All truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed; second, it is violently opposed; and third, it is accepted as self-evident.” It perfectly sums up the journey of innovation. At first, everyone thinks you’re nuts. Then they’re all against you. And finally, when your idea becomes mainstream, they act like it was obvious from the start.

So, the key takeaway is to focus on driving change because it’s what you’re passionate about, not because you want to prove the skeptics wrong. If your only goal is to show them up, you might miss out on the real joy and impact of what you’re creating.

Could you describe a time when you faced significant pushback for a disruptive idea? How did you navigate the opposition, and what advice would you give to others in a similar situation?

Back in 2012, I had this idea that was way out there for the time — livestream shopping. A 24-hour livestream where we sell stuff non-stop, mixing entertainment with shopping, kind of like the home shopping network but crazy and all online. At that point, livestreaming wasn’t the giant it is today. We had to use this platform called Live Stream because that’s all there was no Twitch or Twitter or anything like that.

I pitched this wild idea to my team at Karmaloop, all pumped up, saying we were going to revolutionize how people shopped online. After the meeting, though, I heard the whispers: “This is the dumbest idea ever.” But hey, I was the CEO, the founder. I decided we were going for it, whether they saw the vision or not.

And guess what? It paid off. Big time. We pulled in $3 million in 24 hours during our first run. It wasn’t just a one-hit wonder either; we kept at it and each event was a hit, turning what many thought was a bad idea into one of our biggest successes. Unfortunately, it was near the end of my time at the company I founded and they didn’t continue with it after I was gone.

Sometimes, you’ve just got to stand your ground and push through, especially when you’re in a position to make executive calls. Sure, not everyone was on board initially, but it was about showing the potential and taking a calculated risk. And yeah, selling your idea is crucial, especially if you’re not the one calling the shots. You need to identify the key players who can help swing the rest of the team or stakeholders in your favor.

This whole venture was a testament to the power of action and belief. If you’re convinced about an idea’s potential, sometimes you’ve just got to dive in and go for it, ready to handle the fallout if it doesn’t pan out. But when it does, it’s all worth it. And this ties back to perseverance — getting up after each rejection, keeping the faith, and knowing that all it takes is one ‘yes’ to start turning your visions into reality.

What are your “Five Innovative Approaches We Are Using To Disrupt Our Industry”?

  1. Blending Content, Commerce, and Live Activations — We’re not just sticking to one aspect of the industry. By merging content creation, e-commerce, and live events, we create a symbiotic relationship between these elements positioning us as a comprehensive media company.
  2. Reframing Gaming as Lifestyle — Gamers are the new rock stars and we are on a mission to shift the perception of gaming as a simple pastime to a core part of lifestyle and entertainment. This perspective is still fresh to many, especially big brands, and we’re leading the charge in showcasing gaming’s central role in modern culture.
  3. Advocating for Gaming in Broader Communities — We’re demonstrating why gaming is lifestyle should be reaching newer, broader audiences. We’re taking gaming out of its niche and into the wider world, highlighting its importance in engaging the next generation of consumers.
  4. Building on Values and Community — Our brand is deeply rooted in strong values and a sense of community. It’s not just about playing games; it’s about uniting people around shared ideas and creating a space where everyone feels welcome and valued.
  5. Introducing Gaming to New Venues — From nightclubs to music festivals, we’re integrating gaming into unexpected settings. By bringing gaming to a variety of cultural events, we’re broadening its appeal and establishing it as a vital element of the entertainment industry.

Each of these innovative approaches is part of our strategy to disrupt the industry and redefine what a gaming brand can be.

Looking back at your career, in what ways has being disruptive defined or redefined your path? What surprises have you encountered along the way?

Well, for me, it’s been a defining aspect of my entire life journey. I’ve had my fair share of successes and failures, and each experience has taught me valuable lessons. While confidence is important, it’s equally vital to remain grounded and open to constructive criticism. Not every idea will pan out, and it’s essential to discern between unwavering self-assurance and unwillingness to look at the facts on the ground.

As I’ve grown, I’ve learned to balance that disruptive spirit with being more collaborative and open to admitting when I’m wrong. There’s a thin line between confidence and overconfidence. I’ve learned the hard way that moving too fast or being overly sure can lead to missing the important details or misjudging a situation, even if the idea at its core is solid.

Having a team or people around who can call you out and say, “This isn’t going to work, and here’s why,” is invaluable. Sometimes, if everyone’s telling you it’s a bad idea, it might just be. But then, there are times when everyone doubts you, and you end up proving them wrong. The key is to critically evaluate: Are you being overly optimistic, or do you genuinely see something they don’t? Can you logically argue why your disruptive path is the right one?

For every success I’ve had, there have been many failures too — moments that forced me to take a step back and really consider what went wrong.

Beyond professional accomplishments, how has embracing disruption affected you on a personal level?

Even as a kid, I’ve always been one to forge my own path, often to the chagrin of my parents and teachers. I was rebellious, disruptive, and unapologetically independent, which landed me in trouble more than a few times.

As I’ve grown, I’ve learned to balance that disruptive spirit with being more collaborative and disagreeing in a less disagreeable way. Disruption for its own sake isn’t the goal; it’s about trying new things and also knowing when to pivot, compromise, or even completely change direction. It’s not about banging your head against a wall but the process of constant learning and adapting that has shaped my journey.

In your role as a C-suite leader, driving innovation and embracing disruption, what thoughts or concerns keep you awake at night? How do these reflections guide your decisions and leadership?

Well, I think I’m a strong personality. I have a very clear vision of how I want things done and sometimes people have different styles or different ways of getting to the same result. It’s a tough balance to strike — recognizing that while I have specific ideas about how things should be done, you can’t do everything and you can’t micromanage everyone. Sometime you have to micromanage up to a point to set a process in place you think works but it also requires embracing different styles and approaches, then stepping back.

There isn’t one standout single concern that keeps me awake at night, I am blessed with the ability to pass the hell out after a long day, but I do spend a lot of time reflecting on my leadership approach. Questions like, “Am I managing effectively?” “How does my team feel about my leadership?” and “If something goes wrong, how can I course-correct or learn from it and what is my back up plan, and my back up back up plan?” are often on my mind. These reflections help guide my decisions and ensure I’m constantly evolving as a leader, striving to strike the right balance between driving innovation and ensuring my team feels supported and empowered.

What I’ve found most important is maintaining a mindset of resilience and adaptability. It’s about worrying enough to take proactive steps without letting anxiety overpower you. Ensuring you’re not losing sleep to the point where it hampers your ability to think and execute. Finding that balance, knowing when to step back, take a breather, or even a nap, has been a lifelong journey of trying to improve on that trait, “taking breaks” as an action doesn’t come easy for me.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could kick-start a movement, I’d focus on leveraging the universal appeal of gaming to bring people together. Gaming, like any medium, can reflect both the best and worst of human nature. Sometimes, anonymity breeds negativity — misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, you name it. But gaming is also a great equalizer, it has this incredible potential to connect people across the globe through shared passions, fostering a space for collaboration, problem-solving, learning and empathy.

At XSET, we’re all about promoting the positive aspects of gaming culture. We aim to minimize the toxicity and amplify the joy and creativity that can flourish in digital worlds. It’s about creating an inclusive environment where everyone can feel a part of something bigger and use gaming as a bridge to understanding and mutual respect.

Beyond gaming, though, I’d love to see a broader movement that would help unify people in our country. There’s so much division these days, political or otherwise, with too many people focusing on what sets us apart rather than what brings us together.

It’s not about denying the differences or the issues that need addressing, but finding a common ground, recognizing that, at the core, most of us aren’t as different as we’re made out to be. Most want what’s best for our families, our communities, and our country. Although many people now truly believe other groups however they define them are “evil” and “bad” and don’t want what is best for the country. The real challenge is moving beyond the extremes, cutting through the noise of anger and resentment, and focusing on constructive dialogue and action. Seeing people in dimensions.

While I might not be the one to start this nationwide movement, I hope to contribute to a shift towards more unity, understanding, and collective effort to tackle the real challenges we face as a country and not take the simple path of hate. After all, the stakes are high, and the issues are real, but so is the potential for positive change when we remember we’re actually all on the same team.

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.