Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
(Tim): My friend and I were having brunch on New Year’s Day of 2014 after playing Cards Against Humanity the night before. We both liked the game and thought it would be fun to do something similar as a side project to our day jobs. We remembered a game we had come up with at friends’ lake houses over the years where we’d write ridiculous phrases and accents on scrap paper and toss them into a hat. We’d take turns drawing the papers and acting out what we had read. We came up with a formal name and logo for the game, ironed out the rules of play, developed all the content and ultimately launched Utter Nonsense on Kickstarter in August of 2014. In January 2015, Target called asking to carry the game after a buyer saw an article about us. We ultimately said yes and that put us on a much different trajectory than we ever expected. Today my sister, Shannon, and I are focused on running Utter Nonsense full time (picture of us as kids below and the picture above is Dave, Shannon and me at our first ChiTAG in 2014).
(Shannon): After the Kickstarter campaign was funded, Tim and Dave realized they needed help. They approached me and asked if I would be interested. I’m a former teacher and didn't have a background in gaming or retail, so I was a little apprehensive at first. In addition, they had no idea if the game would be successful or not, so they could only guarantee me 4 months of employment. It was all a bit risky, especially being a single mom, but I decided to take the risk, which turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life, for so many reasons.
We actually have a pretty funny story. When we were at our first Chicago Toy & Game Fair in November 2014, Tim jumped into a photo with other toy and game inventors, who we later found out were the 'featured inventors' of the show, including the inventors of Jenga, Rainbow Loom and Operation. We were beyond flattered when Choon from Rainbow Loom bought a game and asked Tim and Dave to sign it.
What factors do you believe have contributed to your success?
(Shannon): When people ask about our success, I tell them it was a mixture of strategy, timing and luck—coupled with hard work. Cards Against Humanity opened the door for adult party games. And based on their success, many retailers were looking for the 'next new party game’ when we first entered the market.
What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?
(Tim): In general, I think people are too connected to their phones. I think games that pull you away from technology and make you interact with other human beings will be a trend we see in games. And, as the party game market has exploded, I expect to see variations on this concept.
(Shannon): Video games worry me, social gaming excites me.
What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas to you?
(Tim): I’m a big fan of a concept called “product validation.” Before you invest a ton of time, money, and energy, test your idea on potential customers. Try to get outside of your network of friends and family, so you get unbiased feedback. You’ll learn a lot and they will challenge your assumptions.
What advice would you share with inventors who are looking to grow the market for their toys and games?
(Shannon): In order to grow your company you have to be a self-starter and take initiative. Opportunity is not going to fall into your lap. People didn't come to us, asking to write about the game. We reached out to them. You have to be creative and resourceful and hustle. You have to reach out to people, and constantly step outside your comfort zone. As the saying goes, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” And of course, you have to work hard because dreams don’t work unless you do. I worked in higher education prior to Utter Nonsense. And I don’t have a background in Marketing or PR. But by taking this leap and doing something as simple as Googling “How to do PR,” I discovered skills I never knew I had.
It’s also important to leverage your connections and build relationships. Who is talking about you or your industry and similar products in the media? Can you set aside the time to meet with them? Give them a sample in person. If you are working with vendors and partners, make a point to meet them in person at least once.
Lastly, find people you respect and learn from them. We have been very fortunate to work with a talented group of creative people such as our graphic designer, writers and new marketing team. We’re also very proud to have the game manufactured in Battle Creek, MI.
(Tim and Dave with Choon, inventor of Rainbow Loom)
What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
(Tim): I’ve always loved Taboo. Even as an adult it continues to be one of my favorite games.
(Shannon): Some of my fondest memories as a child are playing cards with my grandma like Canadian Rummy, Liverpool and Hearts. My son is a ham and loves to play Hedbanz: Act Up. I carry a deck of UNO in my purse, we play it all the time.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had and what did you learn from it?
(Tim): I can tell you the worst investment I’ve ever made, which was a nightclub. The guy who ran it turned out to be a crook and was put in jail for running a Ponzi scheme. It taught me to invest in myself, which has turned out to be a much better business decision.
What inspires you?
(Tim): I’m inspired by the opportunity to make people laugh for a living.
(Shannon): Kindness, new experiences and play-based learning.
Where did you grow up and how did that influence who you are today?
(Shannon): I grew up in Chicago and currently live in Michigan. But I believe that the world is too big to stay in one place and life is too short to do just one thing. I have an adventurous spirit and I’ve lived in France, Spain, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica. Over the last 20 years, I’ve worked in the music industry, hospitality & tourism and education before taking on my current role. I love learning new things, so change has been a constant theme throughout my life.