What it’s like to start a business with your best friends
Starting a business with your partner and your best friends works if you’re Literally Wizards.
Tommy and Riley Day, along with their friends Michelle and Chad Yadon, formed Literally Wizards (an independent game publisher based in Indianapolis) to create a party game called Buy the Rights: a quirky, social game where each player creates and pitches a movie idea to a “producer.”
A few years, a successful Kickstarter, and a couple expansions later, their passion project has evolved into a fully-fledged business. Their game is being distributed on Uncommon Goods as well as Amazon and dedicated game shops, they attend game conventions across the nation, they have another Kickstarter planned later this year, and they have a long list of game ideas they’re planning to develop in the future.
Along the way, they’ve learned a lot of useful things: how to run a business with close friends and family, how to build a community and successfully crowdfund, and how to manage the logistical ordeals that come with manufacturing and shipping products all around the world. They offered to share their insights and experience with us and the rest of the Azlo community—read on to learn from them.
How they got started
Tommy came up with the idea for a game. “I’m a huge movie fan and I always wanted to become a director, so I just started thinking about making a party game about that.” He and his wife Riley sat down and made a bare-bones prototype on index cards, and they brought it along when they went to visit their long-time friends Michelle and Chad.
When they played it together, Michelle says, “We were like ‘Tommy, this is actually really fun and a really good idea.” They decided to try to get the game published, and they also decided they were going to do it together. Tommy says this decision was an easy one; “You always hear that you shouldn’t go into business with family and friends but we kind of ignored that. We knew it would take all four of us.”
Kickstarting the idea
One of their first decisions was how to get funding for Buy the Rights. They decided to crowdfund on Kickstarter, allowing future customers to fund the project by pre-purchasing the game. One of the greatest advantages of crowdfunding is that instead of pitching your idea to investors, you’re pitching your idea to your own customers. This means if there’s a need or interest, you have the opportunity to get funding—even if the average investor overlooks your project. As Chad pointed out, “Crowdfunding has allowed a lot of great stuff to exist that probably wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s democratized a lot of industries.”
Crowdfunding comes with plenty of challenges, though. Instead of convincing a handful of investors, you have to convince hundreds or thousands of potential customers to open their wallet for something that doesn’t yet exist. Here’s a few insights from Michelle and Chad on how they approached marketing the Kickstarter.
To do a successful Kickstarter you have to start thinking about it as a month-long event; you have to think about what updates you’re going to bring to your backers to build momentum, and what live events you’re going to do to build support.
First of all, you’re selling it to your inner circle and getting people in your inner circle to sell it to their circle and that bubbles out. The second level is selling to your city. We were doing lots of live events in Indianapolis, where we live. Finally, you have to think about the outer circle; people on the internet and how you’re selling to them.
Their strategy paid off, and they were successfully funded. Chad and Michelle describe that moment like this:
We were both watching the Kickstarter campaign and it was pretty late on a Wednesday. When our campaign was funded, we sent a video of us screaming with excitement to Tommy and Riley —and they sent a video of themselves, also screaming, back at us. Right after that, they came over with pie, and we ate pie together and celebrated.
Tapping into their community
Live events are a big part of the gaming community, and they’ve been a big factor in Literally Wizards’ growth and success.
Early on, they got accepted to the Boston Festival of Indie Games, and the enthusiastically positive response from the crowd encouraged them to launch the Kickstarter campaign shortly afterwards.
They continued to do live events during the Kickstarter campaign and beyond. This year, they’re heading to GenCon (which is pretty much the largest tabletop game convention in the United States). All four of them go to the events together, and they’ll spend hours talking with the community and playing games with hundreds of people. Riley says “One of the greatest things is that the gaming community is very welcoming. Everyone from the gamers to the other creators wants to learn about you and your process. Since our game is really social and it’s easy to learn, we can be at an event for 12 hours and play with 200 people in a day.”
The prospect of talking with hundreds of people and selling your product to them might sound intimidating. The folks at Literally Wizards felt that way, at first, but they say it quickly got easier because they love the game and they could see how much other people enjoyed it. Riley describes how she surprised herself, and her co-founders, by excelling at these live events. “I’m very quiet and shy and reserved but when we come to these events I’m able to really come out of my shell and become the big sales person.”
Wrestling with logistics
After leaping over the first couple of hurdles (getting the word out and running the successful Kickstarter campaign), the next step was manufacturing the game and actually getting it out to customers. This proved to be a huge project with a couple distinct complications.
First off, they decided to do a substantial redesign, working with a new designer. Tommy says “We had one artist that helped us when we were first starting out, and then I thought it’d be nice to have it redesigned and make it look more professional. Right before we sent the game to the printers, I realized we really have to do it now.” This meant that the game took longer than anticipated to create and send to backers, but it also meant that the final product was more polished and visually engaging.
Tommy says that actually finding suppliers wasn’t that challenging. They learned a bit about manufacturers and suppliers at board game events, and they were able to easily find a list of potential partners to contact. “If you get a good company, they really help you along and it’s not that daunting.”
Shipping, on the other hand, was immensely difficult and complex. Tommy did a lot of the legwork there, and he says “I think that the freight shipping from China is probably the most confusing part because it gets on a boat and it takes about a month to get here. I did a lot of research but I still underestimated some things. We used Amazon for a lot of our domestic shipping, and that was a disaster. It was 50% more expensive than I thought it would be.” They also had to figure out how to store and manage inventory.
They made it through, however, and now they’re planning to apply everything they learned from the experience to their upcoming projects.
All in it, together
There’s a lot of work that goes into building a business. If you’re going to spend hours and hours working on a project, on top of a day job, it helps to enjoy the process. Working together made everything a lot more fun, Tommy says. When they were working on the first version of Buy the Rights, “It felt like we were in the writers room for a sitcom; there were days where we’d order a pizza and we’d be there for 12 hours talking about card ideas.”
Another advantage of working with co-founders, Michelle says, is that you have people to support you and complement your skillset. “We bring a lot of respect to our friendship and we all want to support each other. That’s made us really successful business partners, because we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. None of us are going to ask someone to do something they don’t feel passionate about because this is a passion project for all of us.”
For the folks at Literally Wizards, building a business with their friends and partners has been incredibly rewarding.
“It’s really special to have a business with your best friends; to have something that you’re all excited about together.”
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