How I Built A Successful Business Out Of My Passion For Board Games

$30,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
2
Employees
product
Facade Games
from Columbus, Ohio
started March 2015
$30,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
2
Employees
1.21M
alexa rank
1.14K
followers
1.7K
followers
199
subs

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Travis Hancock and I’m the founder of Facade Games. We have published 3 board games, each disguised in book boxes.

Each of the games focuses on a city and year from history, and has some kind of lying/backstabbing involved in the gameplay. We’re currently working on game number 4 for our current series of games, as well as a new party game line.

Our games have raised over $1 million on Kickstarter, and we’ve sold about 80,000 copies of our games around the world. I work full time from home with my wife Holly. We love inventing and publishing games!

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What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

how-i-built-a-successful-business-out-of-my-passion-for-board-games

I played a lot of board games growing up, especially ones that involved lying about roles and identities. I was also never afraid to “tweak” games or change the rules if I thought it would improve the game.

We were able to produce 12,000 copies of the game in our first print. This opened my mind to the possibility of making more games and potentially doing this full time. I quit my job and started to get my feet wet as I learned more about fulfillment, manufacturing, retail, and distribution.

This tendency led me to create my first game, Salem 1692, as a side project during college. Around this time I met my wife, Holly Hancock, who happens to be an excellent graphic designer. I also worked through a university job board to find a talented illustrator, Sarah Keele.

We put our thoughts together for the look and feel of the game, and tested out the rules many times before eventually putting the game on Kickstarter, which I had learned about in an entrepreneurial program called The Crocker Fellowship at BYU.

Our goal for Kickstarter was to raise just a few thousand dollars to make some copies of the game for friends and family. However, we were shocked when people really responded to the game and we raised over $100,000! We’re not exactly sure how it did so well, but we have some guesses. The game was uniquely packaged in an antique-looking book box, which people seemed to really respond to. The game also played 4-12 players, which is a uniquely high player count and there aren’t many substantial games that go up that high. And we got lucky. Kickstarter chose our project as a “staff pick” in the first couple of hours, and things just kind of snowballed from there.

We were able to produce 12,000 copies of the game in our first print. This opened my mind to the possibility of making more games and potentially doing this full time. I quit my job and started to get my feet wet as I learned more about fulfillment, manufacturing, retail, and distribution.

how-i-built-a-successful-business-out-of-my-passion-for-board-games

Since then we’ve published Tortuga 1667 and Deadwood 1876, and we’re hard at work on the next game.

how-i-built-a-successful-business-out-of-my-passion-for-board-games

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Testing

Games take a lot of testing to get the rules and flow and theme of the game just right. We typically test out literally 100+ versions of each game before it’s ready.

This involves lots of game nights where we invite people over and then listen to every bit of feedback they provide. You have to have thick skin so that you can admit when you’ve had a bad idea about a game idea or core mechanic.

We try to get the game to a point where it is as simple as possible to learn and play, while still having a high level of intrigue and strategy.

Look and feel

Once the rules are ready, Holly takes over and figures out how the game is going to look and feel. We then tell our illustrator which illustrations we will need. We put it all together and then order prototypes from our factory and from other print on demand sites.

We’ll use this prototype to get pictures for Kickstarter. We found the factories that we work with by talking with other board game creators about which factories they have had good experiences with.

Kickstarter

Kickstarter is a busy time as we showcase the game and ask for people to pre-order it so that we can have funds for manufacturing. Kickstarter also lets us know about how many copies of the game to order.

how-i-built-a-successful-business-out-of-my-passion-for-board-games

Once the campaign finishes up we get files to the factory and they send back digital and physical proofs so that everything is looking as it should. The factory then ships it to our fulfillment company’s warehouse and we send out games to everyone who backed it on Kickstarter. We then work with distributors to get the games in stores, and we sell the game on our website and Amazon. We’ve written a more in-depth guide to publishing a board game and to our tips and tricks for Kickstarter on our website.

Describe the process of launching the business.

As mentioned above, our initial Kickstarter campaign was key in getting our business started.

During that initial campaign we raised over $100,000 and immediately had over 3,000 interested customers. We were able to use the funds to buy our first print of games which were used to send to the Kickstarter backers and to have extras to sell into stores and on our website.

When our second game was launched we were able to email the customers from our first game and immediately build on that base, which was crucial to keeping our momentum moving forward. We built our website with WordPress initially, but have since moved to Shopify since it is a bit more user friendly.

Over the first couple of years we talked with many owners of other game companies to learn about the best factories, distributors, and fulfillment companies to work with specific to the game industry. Business continues to get easier as we’ve built relationships with our partners who help us perform each aspect of our business.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

We have tried to always put our customers first and shy away from doing too many marketing or email campaigns.

We never want to come off as pushy. Instead, we’ve focused on making amazing products that our customers love and then want to share with their friends and families. Board games are unique since most people will buy them only after they’ve played them. When we make amazing games they tend to sell themselves as our customers sell them to their friends and get them to the table a lot.

There is so much value in completing something. I’ve found that one of the staples of most entrepreneurial-minded people is that they have so many ideas and have started many projects, but finished very few.

Since Kickstarter campaigns are so key to our business we put a lot of work into making the campaign pages exciting and well-organized. We make videos that pull people into the world and theme of the game, post links to the rules and to videos that explain how to play, and we make the reward system simple and straightforward. We have a lot of people preview the Kickstarter page before we launch to make sure all of the info is clear and that it will get people excited about the game.

Our biggest advertising and marketing push for new customers is done during these Kickstarter campaigns. We’ll usually do some facebook ads and some ads on relevant board game sites, such as BoardGameGeek.com. We also do some ads on Amazon.com to keep sales consistent after Kickstarter is over. Amazon is our biggest sales channel besides Kickstarter.

We also post on our social media channels (instagram, twitter, facebook) about twice a month to keep our audience up to date about our company and our upcoming games. As much as possible we want to have our audience feel like a close community and be “superfans” of our games.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Things are going well! We are on track to publish one new game a year on Kickstarter. Beyond that our past games continue to sell several hundred copies a month on Amazon, and we sell several hundred copies of games each month into distribution.

We have also just reached some deals with some mass market stores, such as Barnes and Noble, for our games. We are going to continue to build out our line of games in books, as well as a new party game line in the near future. We are happy with the activity on our social channels and our website.

Between our Kickstarter subscribers and email subscribers we have about 25,000 people on our email list, which is our biggest asset in terms of launching new games. Our games have made over $1 million in revenue, which has given our family enough profit to do this full time and continue to develop new games for the foreseeable future.

how-i-built-a-successful-business-out-of-my-passion-for-board-games

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

We are big believers that if you focus on making your product exceptionally unique and good-looking and high-quality, then the rest will take care of itself to some degree. People know when they have a good product in their hands, and then they’ll share it with their friends and spread the word.

We’re also big fans about figuring out what you do best, and then finding partner companies to help you do the rest. Over the last few years we’ve essentially “handed off” the accounting, Amazon management, game fulfillment, customer service, and other aspects of our business. We’ve tried to find companies that share our values so that the customer’s experience doesn’t change as we grow.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We use Shopify for our website. We use the Turbo theme by Out of the Sandbox. It has been really nice.

We use ShipStation with our fulfillment company, and that also works well. We have used Alibaba.com for brainstorming unique components to include in our games.

We’ve used gamecrafter.com and makeplayingcards.com for making quick prototypes for our games.

We have used upwork.com for hiring for occasional design or virtual assistant needs.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

TED Radio is my go-to for podcasts. I love the variety of topics, as it seems to get me thinking about lots of different game ideas.

Traveling, in general, is also really great for getting me to think about new themes and mechanics for games.

A few other key books that have put me where I am are The 4 Hour Work Week, Mindset, Never Eat Alone, Essentialism, and The $100 Startup.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

There is so much value in completing something. I’ve found that one of the staples of most entrepreneurial-minded people is that they have so many ideas and have started many projects, but finished very few.

I believe that 1 project completed 100%, even if it’s not perfect, is much more valuable than 10 projects left at 50%. Get something fully done.

There is something about completing the process that will give you a lot of confidence and knowledge about how to complete your next project.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are looking for a graphic designer to join the team long term. They would assist in creating the look and feel of each game, and in working with our manufacturer to finalize the Illustrator and Photoshop files. This person would probably work around 5-10 hours per week. Please email me at [email protected] if you are interested.

We are also always open for game submissions in exchange for royalties. Right now we are only considering party games that are quick to learn for 10+ people, or for games that would fit in our current line of faux book games (4-9 players, dark/mysterious element to gameplay, themed on a historical city and year, can fit in the book box). Email me at [email protected] if you develop a game that fits with this criteria.

Where can we go to learn more?

-  
Travis Hancock,   Founder of Facade Games

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