Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Business Startup Lessons from the Success of Trivial Pursuit

Trivial Pursuit is a game that just about everyone has played at least once in their lives.  More than 100 million copies have been sold throughout the world in more than 15 languages.  Revenue since the game was introduced has measured in the billions of dollars.

However, this game was not created in the offices of gaming giants such as Parker Brothers or Hasbro.  It was created by two friends who had to live together in the same house due to financial difficulties.  They even had to pay for food at times by returning empty beer bottles.  With hard work and a total belief in their idea, they created a runaway success in the world of board games, a very hard field in which to get established.



Everyone is familiar with Trivial Pursuit but what are some lessons can be learned about success?

Billion-Dollar Business Ideas Can Come From Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime

Trivial Pursuit founders Chris Haney and Scott Abbott worked as a newspaper photo editor and sportswriter respectively.  They came up with the idea of a trivia game in 1979 while playing Scrabble over beer.  The layout for the game was written on a bar napkin and then first built with construction paper and a box made of cardboard.



How was Scrabble an inspiration?  They were avid players but kept losing tiles, which meant that they had to keep buying copies of Scrabble as replacements.  They were talking about how much they had spent on board games in their lives and figured "There has to be money to be made in this field."

Thus, what Time magazine called "the biggest phenomenon in game history" was started by two men, one of them a high-school dropout, over Scrabble and beer.  It shows you don't need a committee in a company boardroom of a huge corporation to come up with a multi-million dollar business idea.


Listen To Outside Sources For Advice, Even Family

Haney and Abbott came up with 'Six Thousand Questions' as the title for the game, based on the number of questions it would contain.  They eventually came up with "Trivia Pursuit" but Chris Haney's wife suggest adding an 'l' and renaming it 'Trivial Pursuit'.  A minor change, perhaps, but it became the name known to millions.



Chris' brother John was also brought into the team along with his friend, Ed Werner.  With Ed Werner's legal and finance background, he became an important member in terms of setting up a corporation, arranging financing and other business matters.  This allowed to others to focus on the game itself.

Ideas Need Hard Work To Become Successful

The concept for Trivial Pursuit, in hindsight, was a no-brainer.  A board game where people test their knowledge over fun facts in categories such as Arts and Sports was a great idea for a fun night, especially in the days before internet and advanced computer games.

However, the problems facing the founders were:

1) they had no money themselves to finance the idea and had zero background in the board game industry
2) banks weren't interested in lending any money
3) the board game field itself had dozens of popular games already such as Scrabble, Battleship, Clue, Monopoly, Risk and Life with gaming companies receiving hundreds of new proposals all the time



4) they had to gather together 6,000 good trivia questions

How did they go from an game idea in December 1979 to 20 million copies sold in 1984?

They raised approximately$40,000 from 32 small investors.  These investors included friends, family, colleagues and anyone else who was willing to take a chance.  The 18 year-old artist who designed the logo even traded in his fee for a share (it turned out to be a very lucrative trade-off!).



They went to gaming trade shows in the guise of reporters and learned everything they could about the industry.  Ironically enough, they had little success themselves when they went to these trade shows with their own game.

The 6,000 trivia questions were written and researched on a trip to Spain where Haney and Abbott figured that they would be far enough from any distractions to accomplish the task.  This was done with any many reference books as they could pack as this was the pre-internet era.

Do Whatever It Takes to Get Your Idea Out There

The first copies of Trivial Pursuit cost $75 to make and had to sell for $15 to be competitive.  Of course, this was no way to sustain a business so the point was to get the game out there and expose it to as many people as possible.



The main selling feature was the gameplay itself.  Once people played, they were hooked.  They had free gameplaying sessions in bars and in parks and wherever people gathered.  They sent copies of the game out to celebrities and even received thank-you notes from famous actors such as Gregory Peck.  Even if they weren't able to be picked up at trade shows, the buzz eventually caught the notice of the established companies.  It was like selling a new food product - get as many people to sample as possible!

Trivial Pursuit became a world-wide sensation but it had very humble origins and succeeded because of the hard work and inspiration of its founders.



If you ever have a great idea about a new product, think of how the founders of Trivial Pursuit followed through with their own idea despite having no experience in the field and no money and no access to all of the online resources we have today.  Be persistent and believe in yourself.  You may even see your product referenced on the #1 TV show in the country one day!







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