Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I am Barry McLaughlin, half of Barry and Jason Games & Entertainment. We make party games, host live game events, and are developing game shows.
Our first game is Game Night in a Can, a party game made up of 30 different creative challenges and games of skill, and it’s now in Barnes & Noble and independent stores across the country.
Our second game is Dr. Biscuits’ Radical Road Trip, a super fun travel game that includes 60 games to play in your car. This game is a finalist for the Toy Association’s Game of the Year award, and will also be for sale at Barnes & Noble Spring 2019.
We have a lot more games on the way, and we’ve begun collaborating with other companies, including a game we’re still developing with Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty called The Ultimate Putty Challenge.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Jason and I met on our very first day of college at UCLA 23 years ago, and we’ve been collaborating ever since. We started with a comedy band called The Bicycling Mariachis (with Andy Coyne) and then went on to do variety sketch shows all over LA.
Work with someone you really trust, admire, and enjoy spending time with. Jason and I are very lucky to have our friendship and business relationship flow so easily, and we’re always having fun.
We’re both huge fans of game shows and have been contestants on over 10 game shows between us, including Jeopardy for Jason and winning the Showcase Showdown on The Price is Right for me. (Crazy, right?) So clearly we had a love of games and comedy right from the start.
I began hosting live game nights, and eventually was able to convince Jason to start co-hosting them with me (he plays a lot of instruments, which really added to the magic). These game nights were much different than anything else going on in LA, where we would have people create new animal species, make commercials for made-up products, competitively fly paper airplanes, and do all kinds of other ridiculous and creative stuff.
So one night, after a particularly fun event, Jason said “We need to create a play-at-home version of what we’re doing here. How about Game Night in a Can?” For me it was a no-brainer.
We decided in that moment we were going to run a Kickstarter campaign and make it happen.
To make sure that we actually stuck to it, we decided to create a weekly podcastwhere we would check in with our status and goals, all the way up until the campaign launched. Even though our podcast didn’t have many listeners, it was an amazing way to keep ourselves accountable.
We ended up raising over $20,000 on Kickstarter and Game Night in a Can was born.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Jason scoured the web for companies making games, created a spreadsheet, and called about 20 different factories until we found one that would actually work with us and our very limited first run of games.
They’re called Longpack, and we’re still working with them today. To make Game Night in a Can, we would just describe how we thought the packaging should feel and they sent us samples, at which point we could say what we wanted to change and they would send new samples. They’ve been wonderful to work with in that regard.
As for the actual games themselves, we had a lot to choose from already from all of our live events. But since we needed 30 games, we still had to create more, so we brainstormed game names every time we met (which we call “Game Blasting”) and the best names would practically create the games for us. We also rented an AirBNB in Topanga CA for a weekend where the only thing we did for 3 straight days was come up with fun new game ideas.
At the same time, we had our friends Jane Moro and Andre Schnyder getting to work on art for the packaging and the components. We loved the idea of using Russian space race propaganda as our inspiration, which you can see in the final design. It was a fairly smooth process, with the only issue being that once the cans arrived, many of the spinners didn’t spin very well, so we had to fix them all by hand.
We inquired about patents, but discovered that there wasn’t much that we could actually protect about our game.
(Our first ever shipment)
Describe the process of launching the business.
We knew that to have a fun kickstarter campaign we needed a bunch of content, so we had some friends help out and shoot some stuff for free. (Thanks Grant Haynes!)
This included the main video explaining our campaign, as well as a lot of extra content that was just pure fun.
Jason and I each put in $1000 just to get things going, and we kept our campaign on a very tight budget. I have a lot of experience editing indie comedy videos, so that saved us a ton of money. Our friend Jeff Conrad has a huge library of amazing music he created and he let us use whatever we wanted for our content, which was super helpful and really added to the quality.
As for our website, I just made a simple site on wix.com.
The kickstarter itself was much harder than anticipated. We had a lot of activity in the first few days of the campaign, lots of friends and family getting involved, but the middle of the campaign was a real slog.
We hired a company to help spread the word (for a small up-front fee and a percentage of the campaign), but I would not suggest going that route. They didn’t end up helping us and we actually had to struggle for a week of our campaign just trying to get our money back and our momentum going again.
But near the end of the campaign we got a big infusion from friends (thanks Sistos!) and family (thanks Lautenschlegers!), and then an old friend with a very popular podcast (Chris Hardwick) pimped our campaign on his show which took us over the finish line.
Getting the manufacturing over the line
After this we got to work getting the cans manufactured in China with Longpack, as well as planning our live celebration show at The Hollywood Improv.
Jason and his amazingly supportive wife Katie put in a few extra thousand dollars around this point to fill in the company-building gaps, and a couple months later we had the games just in time to give to all our backers for Christmas. And the Improv show was a blast. Thanks Jamie Flam! (Check out his new theater Dynasty Typewriter, the best comedy in LA.)
To spread the word on Amazon, we hired a company called Bobsled, which was very effective at setting up our page effectively and using the best keywords and ads. This helped set us up for some good starter sales, as well as a nice first holiday season the following year.
The biggest lessons learned for us:
- With Kickstarter, put as many things in place early on as you can (press, friend shares, etc), but also JUST JUMP IN. Additionally, Indiegogo seems smarter for first time crowdfunders because even if you don’t reach your goal, you still get to keep what you raised.
- Be wary of 3rd parties who make big marketing and sales promises. Some can be very helpful, and others can be a real headache.
- Try to project a full year ahead and 3 years ahead, but be prepared for everything to change as you’re just getting started.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We just used Amazon for our first year, along with the company Bobsled, mentioned above, and it was a great way for us to get our bearings with this first business.
That being said, it was just a side gig for us at the time and didn’t bring in a lot of revenue, so it’s not the best way to enjoy fast growth, unless of course you get a huge press surge, in which case it could be the best way to do it. We were selling a couple thousand dollars’ worth a month, and then November and December were bigger. Our total was just over $25,000 for the year, and it was definitely slow but somewhat steady growth.
Pitching to retailers
After one year we decided to join a sales rep group (called brokers in other industries), and this put us in front of tons of brick and mortar stores. We started with just small indie toy and gift stores, and eventually got into some larger chains like Tillys and Box Lunch.
We also had Barnes & Noble as one of our top 3 goals, and after pitching it 3 or 4 times to their buyers, we finally got on their shelves.(Thanks Tom and the Revenew Sales team!) To stand out amidst the competition, we started making creative videos for each big account we pitched, and we were told that what finally put us over the edge with Barnes & Noble was the ridiculous but creative video we made for them.
We switched sales rep groups and we continue to do trade shows, which can be expensive but also lucrative, especially when we can get in front of larger accounts.
We do ads on Amazon, but we don’t have any special sauce for that (yet).
We also make video ads for Facebook that can be pretty helpful, because you can get so specific in who you’re targeting and what they already like.
Also, having a video on our Amazon page is super helpful, as we’ve found that over 80% of the people who click on our video watch it all the way through.
Creating more products
We’ve found that the best way to bring customers back is by creating more products. But not just anything. We don’t believe in making things that may bring in money but just create more waste. So we followed up Game Night in a Can with an awesomely creative travel game Dr. Biscuits’ Radical Road Trip. We went a step further on this game with the art, packaging, game play, and even the amount of included games (60 for Dr. B, 30 for GNIAC). This really paid off for us because Dr. Biscuits got nominated for Game of the Year from the Toy Association, and we’re still getting the word out about it.
As far as our competition, we always look to see what other game companies are creating and how they’re advertising it, and what we can learn from that. We have no interest in copying any other companies, but we’re also aware that we only know a fraction of what we have to learn, so we’re always looking to see what else is out there.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today we’re building up the entertainment side of our company, developing some game shows with a major studio (that I don’t think we can advertise yet), and producing and hosting fun live game nights, team building events, and experiences.
Be persistent, kind, and funny. People before money, as often as possible. (But get that money, baby!)
We are slowly and steadily becoming more profitable, and our overhead is very low. Jason and Katie’s converted garage is our headquarters. I work full time for the company, while Jason still has a full time job as VP of Creative development at Adam Levine’s production company, 222.
We talk multiple times a day about whatever we’re working on, and we have regular weekly meetings, or “band practice.”
We doubled our growth each year in our first three years, and we’re still going over last year’s numbers, so we’ll see how year 4 stacked up. Our goal is alwasy to try and make $5 profit per game whenever we can, so if a game costs us $2.75 to manufacture and ship to our warehouse, we also have to take into consideration 5-15% sales commissions, freight costs (when the buyer doesn’t pay for it), and any additional overhead specific to that game. So when we sell a game to a wholesale buyer for $10, it immediately starts getting chipped at.
For our social media following, we have put a lot more focus into our Instagram specifically, and that has been growing pretty well, so now we’re up to over 4,000 subscribers.
For 2019 we’re getting into some licensed games, and expanding the Game Night in a Can world to a second game, The Familympics.
Our goals include getting into Target and selling one of our tv show ideas.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
We learned how important it is to marry someone who is your best friend and biggest supporter. My wife Jade Wolf is an amazing partner with lots of artistic talent, tons of creative ideas, and always hypes us up. And her book The Creature Connection is really inspiring!
Jason’s wife Katie Delahanty is a supermom who has helped in so many ways, including lending us her social media genius. And she’s written four books!
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use Freshbooks, Amazon, Instagram, Facebook, Premiere Pro, Photoshop, iPhones, High Performance Planners (brand new situation), and lots of paper, pens, and markers.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
- The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman
- How I Built This (Podcast with Guy Roz)
- Show Your Work by Austin Kleon
- The High Performance Planner by Brendon Burchard
- Contagious by Jonah Berger
- Monty Python’s Flying Circus
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Be persistent, kind, and funny.
People before money, as often as possible. (But get that money, baby!)
Work with someone you really trust, admire, and enjoy spending time with. Jason and I are very lucky to have our friendship and business relationship flow so easily, and we’re always having fun. And it’s a huge blessing for us each to trust the other so strongly. It makes it all feel easy.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We will be looking for an Operations Manager in the future, but not quite yet.
This would be someone who can handle relationships with stores, onboard new accounts, manage most of the regular operations, and think up ways on how to grow the business. Essentially, right now the business is just me and Jason, and having someone handle the “business” while we handle the “games and entertainment” is the goal.
Where can we go to learn more?
(Figuring out assets for Dr. Biscuits’ Radical Road Trip)
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Want to start your own business?
Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.
If you liked this story, join our mailing list for new interviews every Tuesday.
Interested in sharing your own story? Shoot me an email!