To some, board games can be a simple reprieve from the stress and constant connectedness of life.
To Travis and Holly Hancock they're more than that — board games are the magic behind their start-up, Facade Games, which has grossed over $1 million since they started it as a side hustle, according to the couple.
The Columbus, Ohio-based husband-wife duo first toyed with creating their own board game in 2010. Now they've notched three successful board game Kickstarter campaigns, including their latest, which has raised over $400,000 with three days to go.
They built their success from what Travis estimates was just $500 in seed money. It doesn't sound like much, but it was enough for the couple — who had zero prior experience in the industry — to get started funding their first game, Salem 1692, in March 2015.
"We got lucky," 30-year-old Travis Hancock tells CNBC Make It. "Right when we pushed the launch button [on Kickstarter], orders just started pouring in."
It took them less than a day to reach their fundraising goal of $6,000, and they eventually surpassed it by 1722 percent, when the campaign raised a total of $103,000.
They'd hoped people would embrace the idea of a card game based on the infamous 1692 witch hunt, but it was more than just the concept. They had invested much love and energy into the details of their creation.
"My mom, growing up, she would always say as soon as a game box is ruined the game is ruined," he recalls. "Because you never pull it out anymore cause it looks like trash." So the couple found a manufacturer on Alibaba that, for $100, made a prototype hollowed-out book to house the game.
Travis, who was living with Holly in Utah at the time, also went to SaltCON, the state's largest board game convention, and asked the experts for advice on getting started. He later found a small-batch card maker on MakePlayingCards.com to create the prototype's other pieces and they utilized Holly's background in graphic design. On a Brigham Young University job site the couple found an illustrator to help bring their characters to life.
For two years, after clocking out at work — Travis from his digital marketing job and Holly from teaching — the Hancocks tinkered with their prototype game. When they were finally finished, they shot a promotional video for Kickstarter on an iPhone and hired a voice over actor (on freelancing site Fiverr) to speak in Old English to jazz it up and bring the era in which 1692 was set to life.
"It just does wonders bringing people into the game," Travis says. (They since have used pirate-themed and Western voice overs to promote their later games too.)
After the campaign, in November of 2015, the Hancocks distributed the finished versions of Salem 1692 to its backers and Travis quit his full-time job to split his time between developing a second game and doing contracting marketing jobs on the side. Holly, now 24, kept teaching so they would have health care benefits.
In January 2017, after following a very similar process as with their first game, the Hancocks launched the Kickstarter for their pirate-themed mutiny game called Tortuga 1667 — and Travis held his breath.
"I still wasn't sure if Salem was just like a crazy anomaly that randomly did well on Kickstarter, and didn't know if our second game would just flop and we'd have to go back and get real jobs again," he recalls.
It didn't flop.
In total, Tortuga 1667 raised over $400,000 and shattered its fundraising goal by 4072 percent.
"That was probably my favorite moment as an entrepreneur," Travis says. "Even more so than the first game, because, you know, maybe this is just chance, but [with] the second one, seeing that they believed in us twice … just brought me to tears a little bit that day."
The success led the Hancocks to focus on Facade Games full-time. They converted the business from a limited liability corporation to an S-corp to start taking salaries. Having their own business is paying dividends and giving them the flexibility to enjoy parenting now that they have 1-year-old daughter, Margo.
"I've always been very stubborn in the fact that I don't want anyone to control me, so I think that's why I wanted to be my own boss," Travis says. "I kind of knew I was going to have a family and kids one day and thought it'd be really fun to be home with them more."
And while the norm in the board game industry is to churn out more games than Facade does and to do it faster, Travis says they're intentionally growing the company slowly. He has no plans to hire employees or boost output beyond one game a year.
"If you bring on employees, then you gotta manage them and then that kind of ties you down," he says. "We like it just being us."
For now that's clearly working. Despite having plenty to do, they trade off shifts, one working on day-to-day tasks for the business and the other watching the baby. And they still find time to travel by working remotely if need be.
The two just hope their daughter grows up to like board games as much as they do.
"We're curious if she will grow up loving board games or hating them because we're going to make her play so many," he says. "But hopefully she'll like them."
—Video by Zack Guzman
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