#1 Solo Entrepreneurship: bringing an idea to life

Jordan here, I have decided to use this blog platform for a series of lessons that expand on my experiences as an entrepreneur. I am by no means an expert in business, but I have learned a lot over the past 8 years running my own businesses. I have not had a job since I was 20 years old (I'm 28 now), and there are so many things I wish I knew when I started out. That's what this series will be all about, sharing solid advice that has proven very useful to me through trial and error. I would love to start a conversation through the comments after each post, so please share you input! I don't bite.

I should start off by saying that if you are interested in exclusively using crowd funding to launch a product, the blog series by Jamey Stegmaier (http://stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter) will give you much more than this blog on the subject. I am here to talk about branding, running a business, and how to tie your creativity and passions into a career that is flexible and fun. 

This first post will outline what the series will cover, and give a short overview of what it takes to turn an idea into a sellable high quality product. I'll start by sharing a little bit of my background. I grew up in a medium sized city in Utah, and was hell bent on being a musician since I was 9 years old. I played the drums in dozens of bands, toured, and explored every possible of genre of music (except for country and rap) that you can think of. Some of my bands were offered record labels, others were not, but after experiencing the life of a small to medium time musician I knew that it couldn't fulfill my desires in life. I still make music and really enjoy doing so, but I am an entrepreneur/maker/artist at heart. 

After giving up on the dream of being a full time musician, I went to school and received an Associates and a Bachelors degree, both of which sit on my shelf and haven't offered me any new opportunities up to this point. I am not in any way saying that school is not useful or empowering, but my degrees have not offered me anything because I don't want a job. I want to run my own business and make my own decisions. Which brings me to the first point: 1) If you are an entrepreneur in spirit, you will know it. You will not want to work for anyone else, or do anything you aren't passionate about. Being an entrepreneur can involve immense sacrifices, and you have to be willing to brush off all of the negativity and setbacks that come with it. If you are really passionate about what you want to do or create, there is only one way forward, and that is through solid determination.

Soon after receiving my Associates degree, I opened an online Etsy store selling decals, phone cases, jewelry, and accessories. It started as a hobby, and turned into my only source of income and well over 4,000 online orders. During the first month of opening, I lived very seriously by that bold text above, working 10-12 hour days 7 days a week, designing all of the products in Illustrator (which I learned from scratch), coding my own website (again I barely knew basic html), and handling all of the customer service and marketing myself. 2) Make sure you are so inspired by your own idea that you will work tirelessly with no returns in sight to make it a reality. Sales were VERY slow for the first 6 months, I averaged around $40 per month. Once traffic to my store started picking up, and people could see what I was offering, many bloggers started sharing links, and orders started snowballing. 

I then decided it was time to try out Kickstarter! I looked through a lot of projects, mostly just highly funded ones (this was a mistake), and determined that I could raise $10,000 to buy a high end desktop laser cutter by selling laser cut leather wallets. There was one thing I did right, which was to message all of my friends and family and ask them to help me out by backing for just $1 right when the campaign started. I flew up to $2,300 over the course of about a week, and then having tapped out every last personal contact I could think of, began flat lining. I didn't get a single backer for the next 3 days, and a few backers cancelled their pledge. I became very discouraged, and gave up on the project all together with 20 days left still! It's quite embarrassing, but you can still go to Kicktraq.com and see the flat lined bar extending endlessly in time for 20 days, eventually leading to a failed project. 3) Don't give up when things start looking grim. Adapt and come up with a fresh new strategy so you can seize the day again!

I've recently just finished running the Kickstarter campaign for my newest game Import / Export, which raised just over $70,000. What was the main difference between this campaign and my first one? I stuck to the three principles above, plus 4) Involve your customers and community in your brand, and in your design process! People grow loyal to brands because they reflect something personal in themselves, embrace this connection.

This was a very vague overview of four principles I would consider fundamental to starting a passion based business and selling a product you believe in. The rest of the series will feature very detailed steps relating to creating a product while and leading a successful, happy life as an entrepreneur. 

Do you have any thoughts on the post? Disagree with anything I've brought up? Let me know in the comments!

Jordan

 

 

Essen 2016!

Yes, Spiel 2016 is just around the corner, and I couldn't be more excited. You will surely see frequent posts from Jordan and I on our experiences at Essen, but this is more of a little pre-game post from myself. 

As a strange juxtaposition to Jordan's recent travel post, I have to confess that I, unlike Jordan, never travel. Well never travel for entertainment or fun. Truthfully, I spend over 30% of my time traveling around the US, Canada, and Europe (mostly Germany), but all of that is for business. As Jordan can attest to, I am difficult to convince to travel, but there are two things that can get me on a plane: an awesome backpacking trip and boardgames.

Essen is the latter, and is a trip that I just couldn't turn down. Even though it is Dark Flight's first trip to the big game fair, I can only imagine the great people we will get to meet, the awesome games we are going to play, and all of the delicious German food we are going to eat. On top of the biggest boardgame convention in the world, we have an awesome concert planned, and the whole thing occurs over Jordan's birthday weekend, which just adds to the fun. 

If you are going to be at Essen, please do reach out to us, we would love to meet some of our supports and knock out a few games.

Nick

Beating your self-limitations

Regardless of if you agree with Elon Musk and his business developments, if he has taught humanity one thing, it's to never be self-limiting. This holds true in Nick and I's lives as well, where we are constantly battling against the walls of possibility. I'm not one to preach, but this subject is something dear to the heart, and I must convey my trust in everyone to push yourself and tackle your ambitions until there is a black or white outcome! Literally anything can be learned with enough patience and common sense. If you read books/the internet and ask questions (to the right people) you will be able to obtain any level of intellect in any subject. If it can be accepted as a testament, rather than boasting, I have to admit that I self taught myself nearly every skill I have in life, the most important being a belief in my passion and entrepreneurship. While I still have many mental and financial barriers, I know that preserverence and personal drive are the keys to overcoming them. Every single successful human being, and I mean literally everyone, has at some point thought to themselves "I have no idea what the hell I'm doing", but what they did know was that taking the first step would lead somewhere great if they just kept pushing to an outcome and adapting. You are capable of ANYTHING, so never let yourself get in the way. 

Jordan

Sharing your work with the international community

I love to travel. In fact, I feel fairly confident/ashamed/weirded out to say that I have spent around half of my disposable income traveling over past 4 years. Two of the three games I have released were themed around experiences I had out of the country. One of the hardest things about visiting other countries and cultures is the language. How can I connect with the locals, make fun of my friends, or play games if I can't even say "What do you mean I'm too skinny!?" (this happens quite often unfortunately). Luckily for me, I have many multilingual friends who are very interested and appreciative of the work that comes out of Dark Flight. From this I always find a drive to deliver our games in other languages.

Over the course of two Kickstarter campaigns, we have been very fortunate to have our games translated into 4 languages with more on the way. Most of these translations are done for free, out of a passion to spread the game to the translators local community, or at most for a free copy of the game (which is still a bad deal for the translator). I recently had the pleasure of meeting a new friend through Kickstarter, living in Australia, who translated the rules for Turin Market out of a love for the game. This sincerely means a lot. In answer, we are just as committed to spreading our games to an international audience, and if you are interested enough to be reading our blog (thank you friend), simply send us a message with a requested translated language for any of our games and we will make it happen. What's that you say, you're already bi/tri/quadra lingual and you would like to translate for us?! You will be forever enshrined on our list of "perfect people" and betrothed with future gifts from Dark Flight. You will most certainly have our gratitude and a shout out with any future reprints.

If you want to see some of the other languages that our games are in, head over to boardgamegeek.com or follow the links there on our game pages, peruse to the files section on the game page, and click on some things.

On a related note, our new game 'Made In Merica' (ok it's actually Made In America) will feature six full blown translations on every single card! This will make it easier to play the game in Japanese, Norwegian, Esperanto, Spanish, French, and German. Stay tuned for more on the game, which will launch on Kickstarter early October.

Hoping you have a wonderful culturally filled day,

Jordan

The Best Thing You Can Be Doing

Opportunity Cost. The most difficult thing for me to deal with as a business owner and even in my personal life. 

I think it is safe to say that those looking to craft a business tend to have quite a few ideas floating around, and I think that this is especially true when working in an industry where very creative ideas are rewarded. With each new idea, it is very difficult for me to not say yes to every single one! Jordan and I have gone through literally hundreds of sparks of an idea for a game or app, and even if only 2% of those make it through to an actual thought out design, that is still more than we can currently handle simultaneously producing. It is really difficult to sit down in front of a list of 10 really awesome boardgames, video games, and apps and say "Let's work on this one, it is the best thing we can be doing right now." 

On top of being a difficult decision to make, it is easy to end up in a situation where you have finally chosen one, but then come up with a new idea that is 'even better' or some improvement to the current project that is 'even greater'. It is tough to know where to draw the line on saying "That's it, this is finished, and we shouldn't work on it anymore."

This is true at my other job as well. Should we make the wireless brain computer interface, should we make the implantable one, should parter with a friend in industry and move towards their space? What about the brain stimulator? Surely it could be improved somehow.

Of course, this is something that affects my personal life as well. There are so many things that I want to do to improve as a person; so many things I want to get done. I want to go fencing more, join boxing spars, make clocks, go to the gym, learn C++/Qt, spend more time with my wife, go trail running with the dog, learn Python, improve my cooking, construct home improvements, do archery, play guitar more, write electronic music, learn dancing...the list goes on. 

The fact is, our time and resources will always be fought over. Whether it is on a business scale, deciding where to direct the force of a whole group of people, or on a personal scale on what you do when you are at home, it is important to narrow it down to the best thing you can be doing. For many, this might mean sacrificing a bunch of the good things that we could be doing. That is okay...or at least I think it is. 

What are your thoughts? How do you deal with prioritization in your life?

Nick

Manufacturing decisions

The biggest and hardest decision when creating a board game or card game for me has always been:

Where and how will I get this game manufactured? 

Before Dark Flight existed I was running an online business selling decals and phone cases which I would put together, by hand, for every single order. In batches of 10-15 every 2-3 days this process was manageable, but still tedious. Needless to say after 4,000+ hand made orders I started to crave a streamlined automation. 

Fast forward to the first game Nick and I made, Poison Bottles, and I was very eager to deliver a unique 1 of a kind product and experience as was a signature trait of mine. The brand had to deliver more than it promised, or I just wasn't living up to my potential. I somehow convinced Nick that it would be a great idea for us make 10 stamps, and hand stamp every single box of Poison Bottles in a multi step process, laser cut some chits, paint them ourselves, draw X's on their eyes, print instructions that needed to be hand folded, and then assemble everything. While this model allowed us to make an incredibly small run of only 150 or so copies of the game and still make a small profit, it was very time consuming. I can still hear Nick cringing every time the words "we can make that ourselves" escaped my mouth. 

Next up was Turin Market. I knew I wanted another quick turnaround time on the production of this game, but I was really swimming in the deep end on this one. After designing the game and making a prototype, I decided that I would hand make every single box, which included wrapping the box tops and bottoms with a glued print, around 10-15 min each.. not to mention that I laser cut all of the money for the game and made instructions booklets. Just for fun, I decided to get a quote from Panda (a major board game manufacturing company) to see how much Turin Market would cost if they printed it. I was aghast to learn that it was about the same price as what I was paying to hand make everything. While I have no regrets on the beautiful products we've made so far, I'm now asking myself what the future holds for as we scale up operations. 

Normally when a board game is designed, you have a team of people working together from artists to marketing teams, but here we have the full control of every aspect with just a two man team. This means that we can plan ahead for any crazy fun ideas that come to mind and explore them freely. Just the other day I was visiting the biggest packaging and offset printing company in Norway, discussing some off the wall designs for the box of my newest game Jutaku. I've since dreamt up designs of die-cut frosted recyclable plastic that can be rivited together instead of glued or wrapped as is the industry standard. Exploration grants innovation.

We are living an age of endless possibility for manufacturing products, but the real joy of those products comes from thoughtful design. We will continue to wrestle with the line between one off hand made and manufactured games, but one thing that won't change, is the thought and clever care that goes into designing each one. 

Jordan

Apps, Apps, and More Apps

I spend most of my programming time at my brain computer interface job coding in Matlab and Python. I really love working in these languages because it is so easy to take an idea and get it up and running quickly, plus there are so many fun tutorials for Python because people use it for the most entertaining tasks. Python seems to power a lot of the daily interactions we get with bots, web crawlers, and other little things that we might encounter online, and I just happen to love those things.

Outside of that context of programming, I do a fair amount of code for Dark Flight and some other personal projects. Recently, Jordan and I were talking, and we wanted an app that would handle organizing our game collections. Naturally, every time a new project comes up, the question is "What language are we going to program this in?". Since we have a friend that won't ever quit on his love for Javascript, I decided to take a look at it, and since we were doing a phone app, React Native.

I have to say that I am really enjoying React Native. It is an awesome experience. Super fun to learn, super fast to code, and the documentation by Facebook (it's creator) is really amazing. This app is turning into something really cool that we hope to share with the world soon.

If you ever wanted something from a boardgame app, don't hesitate to reach out to us! We would love to hear what you would find in the perfect board game app. 

The future of technology

Do you ever feel like you're part of something larger than you can explain? Or maybe lost in a digital (or physical) maze that you can't quite make sense of? 

Today I've been feeling this and more, exploring something called the Internet for the future of itself. As designers we're given the freedom to script our own aesthetic and reality, which of course begs the question of, what is reality? And can we live or perhaps already be living in one we mold to our personal liking?

From the influence of 'The Robotics Network' (http://roboticnetwork.tumblr.com) and 'Stranger Things' (http://m.imdb.com/title/tt4574334/) I've been intrigued and delighted to be alive in such an unsure and developing time. As I push on a flat nothing with light coming out of it, my brain is stimulated at synthetic lines and curves that form themselves into the holistic ideas in my brain, I am elated.

Real power is the ability to dream, and then live in that dream. Let us forever be creative. 

Credit: pressureappreciation

Credit: pressureappreciation

Jordan

The Community - The Geek

One of the reasons that we love boardgames so much is because of the community that surrounds them. There is such a great number of interactions that you can have with people from this community. Go to any boardgame show, shop, or event, and you will find hundreds of people ready to make an instant friend around the tabletop. That is hard to find other places. On top of all of the friendships that come with board gaming, it is awesome to see all the creativity that comes from the community as well. Being a game designer and publisher, it is great to see constant content from the community. Even our own games have new variants or new pieces created by awesome people just days after launch. 

In the past, Dark Flight has been a sort of black box (haha), we would develop games and then playtest them with people around us, like friends, family, people in Salt Lake, or to a select few people that had helped us with products in the past. We want to be more open in our development now and get feedback from everybody. We want to play games with as many people as we can from the community, so if you haven't yet, take look over at our Join page to sign up for beta testing any of our upcoming products!

As always don't hesitate to reach out to us anywhere you might see us, whether that be the the Geek, a Show, or any of our channels like Facebook, Instagram, or even here at our website. 

Nick

 

A new website, a new day!

Nick and I have been very busy preparing Dark Flight for it's new phase of life! We will be launching many exciting tabletop games that will change the scene, as well as some unique console and mobile games. 

Our hope is that this new website and blog will deliver a personalized experience directly from us!

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Get ready for videos of trucks and gorillas, imports of rare wines, and cats getting zipped on coffee! We have a lot in store for you and we can't wait to deliver. To kick it off, here is a crazy shot from the video shoot of our newest and upcoming Kickstarter project, Made In America.

Please reach out to us, chat about our games, make suggestions, or have a business talk with us at info@darkflightgames.com . 

Jordan