It was the Friday before MLK Weekend. Like many founders, we were draining our personal savings and struggling to find the light at the end of the tunnel. It had been five months since my co-founder Param Jaggi and I had founded our company Hatch (a mobile app builder) and we hadn’t had many good days since.
We weren’t ready to fundraise, but we couldn’t move forward on Hatch without an immediate cash infusion.
That afternoon, we were at an all-time low. My co-founder was searching to see what “Rent a Gent” paid per hour— we needed to do something. We needed to make money fast.
For several months, we had been following the reality TV show playing out on CNN. Debate watching parties had turned into sloppy drinking games, and laughing at candidates on both sides had become our daily refuge from the stressors of our startup. It seemed that every day some outlandish quote would go viral.
And that’s what we needed: Something we could sell that could go viral. Our idea? Cards Against Humanity for the presidential election.
Within two days, we wrote, printed, cut, and photographed our first 20 cards — that would be enough to launch a website and start selling. We only spent $68.32. It would’ve been less but we needed beer.
And then we started selling the 2016 Election Game.
It was brilliant. We were geniuses. We were going to sell so many card games.
In the first week, we sold only 50 games, mostly to sympathetic family members. And then we were out of family.
Maybe we weren’t that brilliant. We were certainly still broke. The card game rapidly went from super fun to super stressful — just another set of responsibilities with no foreseeable upside.
So we started desperately emailing reporters, calling in favors, and tweeting at late night comedians. I contacted over a hundred reporters in three days. Finally, we landed a piece in Forbes. It got over 50,000 views. Two days later, we were trending on Facebook. The week after that, a producer from NowThis reached out about covering the game. The video they posted got a quarter million views on Facebook alone.
Within a couple weeks, we had sold 2,300 card games at $20 a pop plus shipping. We didn’t even have a bank account yet, so the $50,000+ in cash was sitting untouched in our Stripe and Paypal accounts.
Around that time we came to the realization that we’d actually have to write, design, print, and ship the cards. Details, details.
We sold a product that didn’t exist; presales allowed us to keep our capital costs low at the onset. Then, once we had sold a ton of games, we needed to figure out how to get them all printed and shipped.
We spent an afternoon coming up with about 300 cards, which we then printed and play tested with a group of politically minded friends (we live in DC, so pretty much all of our friends qualified). Once we had narrowed down our top 250 cards, we put together a simple design for cards and our box — nothing too fancy because neither of us is a design whiz, and we weren’t about to start paying a designer.
Printing, however, was going to cost us. Fortunately, a printer in Dallas reached out following the Forbes article and quoted us a lower price than any overseas printer we had found.
My co-founder flew down to Dallas to ship the games directly from the factory, saving our customers a week of waiting time. At one point, his grandmother was taping 2,000 shipping labels. At another, his parents and brother were sitting in the back of a Budget truck frantically packing and shipping 2,000 card games.
It was a pretty ratchet operation; we certainly took Paul Graham’s mantra to heart.
“It’s all fun and games until Donald Trump is president.”
(So we have at least another six months of fun and games.)
This whole experience has been absolutely absurd. We got a free trip to the Toy Fair in New York, spent time talking to reporters as ‘experts’ on the millennial vote, and received a surprise semi-endorsement from Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson. But we’ve also learned a ton about how to develop a product, how to run a business, and how to work with each other. When it comes down to it, we have zero regrets about this little side project. It was fun, it was challenging, and we made a bit of cash.
Now, we’re back to working on Hatch full time. We’ve been asked a few times to share our story, so there it is.
Hopefully we’ll sell a few more games (my cofounder still has 2,000 decks of cards in his bedroom so if you want one, grab it here) but even if we don’t, we’re glad we did this. We also hope that this little vignette will inspire other startup founders to find creative ways to fund their visions. And if you do something cool, tweet at me and I’ll add a link to your project below.
Creative ways people have funded their startups:
- Airbnb founders sold $40K in breakfast cereal
- FedEx founder turned $5K into $27K at the blackjack table to save his company
- Send me your stories!
Thanks for reading til the end :) If you thought this was worth a read, click the little green heart below so more people will see this story— your support means a lot! And if you want a card game, you can buy one here.