10 Questions with John Machacek: Pops & Bejou Games

Written by: John Machacek

John Machacek, Chief Innovation Officer for the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, has worked with countless startups throughout our community over the past nine years. He knows their ups, and their downs, but most of all, he knows the questions to ask them. Here are John Machacek’s 10 questions for Austin Foss, Jenna Radtke and Jake Sells of Pops & Bejou Games.

1. Will you please tell us your Pops & Bejou Games elevator pitch?

At Pops & Bejou Games, we make tabletop board games. Our goal is to create games that fall in the middle ground between simple and strategic. These “gateway games” are a great way to introduce new and casual gamers to board games that are simple yet incorporate a strategy to keep seasoned strategists stimulated as well. Another way our company is unique from other indie board game companies is our commitment to inclusion within our games. We strive to do our part to make games inclusive and have our characters representative of ALL people. No matter your walk of life, we believe that board games should be for everyone.

2. Will you please tell me more about the goals towards inclusion, representing all and the games being for everyone?

Of course! Our biggest goal is to try and ensure that everyone can see themselves somewhere in our games. A large way in which we are trying to do that is by having characters within our games of all backgrounds. Characters of varying races, ethnicities, religions, gender identities, sexual orientations, body types, etc. We know that we cannot understand everyone’s experiences, so we have worked with specialists in the field of diversity and inclusion to get feedback and suggestions on our designs and backstories. We also want to incorporate more usage of pronouns. It’s not hard to be respectful and use people’s preferred pronouns, and we want to do our part to normalize that. We are very happy with our characters in CULTivate, but we know we can strive to be even more inclusive and we plan to expand our representation more and more with each game we create and produce.

3. Everyone involved has day jobs. How have you effectively collaborated and managed this new company, essentially as side gigs?

Austin: I am really lucky to work remotely from the Prairie Den, surrounded by a lot of entrepreneurial energy. I have a job that is flexible and allows me to make important calls during the day if need be.

Jenna: It is a bit tougher for me as my job often includes appointments with students, but I try to spend extra time working on Pops & Bejou during breaks and when the campus is closed throughout the year. I also work in a very collaborative team, so my supervisor and coworkers are very supportive when I need to take time off for my “side gig”.

Jake: My schedule currently allows me to be more flexible with my time, and I try to keep that flexibility as much as possible. Sometimes this can be difficult with work, being a student, and working on Pops & Bejou.

We schedule at least one check-in a week and focus on work that evening. When there is a busy time, however, most of our evenings are work time. We also use Slack to communicate and manage our work. We are looking forward to the day when we can focus on Pops & Bejou fully

4. What were some of the initial steps you took to make your idea a reality?

It seems so easy to think you can just come up with an idea, pitch it to some company, then sit back and collect your royalties. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. If you have an idea and you want to see it happen, you need to put in the work. We started brainstorming a couple of game ideas and sharing the concepts with friends to bounce off ideas. When we had one idea far enough along, we developed a prototype and tested it out. Some of those initial prototypes and game mechanics we tried were not great, but that’s where the hard work comes in. We play reworked the game until we created the version of CULTivate that is now out to the public.

When we started developing our first prototype, we initially thought we would pitch it to a company and they would take it—easy peasy. But being in the Prairie Den gave us the mindset that we could do this ourselves. We learned that the legal aspect of starting a business is not actually that hard, but taking this step past the prototype was a whole other beast in itself. Never in a million years would we have thought someday we would be worrying about international shipping issues. We have been learning so much, and it totally rewires your brain.

5. So, what helped you get past the prototype stage into getting the game into production?

There is a lot of good information on the internet from other indie board game companies that have gone through the same process. We researched who they went with for manufacturing and came up with five or six good candidates. We reached out to these companies to compare prices and customer service, and ended up choosing one based on quality and communication. We were able to get a quote and base our Kickstarter goal on this price.

Once our Kickstarter became successful and we went above and beyond our original goal, we knew we had a hit on our hand and ended up manufacturing more games than we had originally thought. Most of our sales have been direct-to-consumer, whether through Kickstarter or our website, but we have also sold to about 30 friendly local game stores, known as FLGSs in the board game world. We have sold our games to someone in every state in the US and over 40 countries around the world. We were also so lucky to have Kirk Anton and Heat Transfer Warehouse help us with the fulfillment process here in Fargo and would not have been able to get our game out to so many people without them.

6. You mention your successful Kickstarter campaign for launching CULTivate. What was your process towards choosing a platform and running your campaign?

It was a no-brainer that we would use Kickstarter to help fund our first print run and market ourselves as a new company. As avid board gamers, we knew that Kickstarter has become the norm for board games; many new game designers are using it. Some gamers actively seek out new board games on Kickstarter as opposed to people who come across campaigns due to external promotion via social channels, etc.

Before creating and launching our own campaign, we did quite a bit of research. We backed other projects to see how they designed their campaign pages and learned things like how and when to post backer updates. All our research paid off in the end as we more than tripled our funding goal and successfully accomplished our goal of bringing the game to fruition. We also got a ton of compliments from backers on our unique and colorful game art as well as on our cheesy game commercial.

7. You did a great job with your online videos. That so-called cheesy game commercial really cracked me up as well. What advice would you have for others who may be considering a crowdfunding campaign, such as Kickstarter?

The main thing someone needs to realize is that it is a lot of work. Many people think that the work comes after you make your funding goal, and that people will just find your campaign on their own. This isn’t true, especially now that there are so many Kickstarter campaigns out there. You need to market yourself and your product to people. For example, we had all our game concepts, art and rules already prepared before we launched our campaign. This process took us nine months to accomplish, and that is actually a short amount of time compared to many other games. We had all of this done because we wanted to make sure that backers knew exactly what they were getting if they backed our game. Also comparing our campaign to other successful games on Kickstarter, we knew that this was the recipe for success.

Once you have your product developed to almost a final version and you have marketed your campaign, you are ready to launch. A successful campaign usually raises at least one-third of its goal on the first day. This way potential backers can see that there is good traction, and they will be more inclined to join. You also must make sure that you are communicating with your backers during and after the campaign. They will want updates, and word-of-mouth marketing is the best way to get people talking about your campaign.

8. So, what is next for Pops & Bejou Games?

Our next shipment of CULTivate will be here really soon! We also have launched a Kickstarter for our second game, Channel WON. The goal we have for our company is to launch a new board game every year. We have several in the works currently, including a possible expansion to CULTivate. We want to keep expanding our Pops & Bejo Universe of games and keep making games that are quirky, fun and creative. We would also like to become profitable enough to where each of us can make Pops & Bejou our main gigs

9. If you could go back in time, what hindsight advice would you give yourself?

First and foremost, we would tell ourselves to be bold and just go for it; don’t be afraid to fail and be open to new experiences. None of us necessarily had this on our radars in the past, and yet here we are, and it is exhilarating! When taking these risks and starting an endeavor like this, be sure you are prepared for what is to come. Understand the amount of work, time, and dedication it is going to take and be sure you can put your all into it, and still find balance with other things in your life. It’s not easy, there is a lot of trial and error. Sometimes ideas do not work, and you have to be okay moving on and trying something else even if you’ve already put countless hours of work into that idea. Don’t get hung up, you just have to go on to the next thing and try again until it clicks and works, and you will know when it does. It is a feeling and an intuition, and you have to trust it and follow it.

10. What can we do as a community to help Pops & Bejou Games succeed?

Fargo is a community that loves to see its people succeed. It has been amazing and we wouldn’t be where we are now without the support of the community.

We would love it if you follow us on social media. (@popsbejougames on Instagram, Pops & Bejou Games on Facebook or popsbejou.com) Also, we do currently have a Kickstarter campaign live now for our new game Channel WON. kickstarter.com/projects/ popsbejou/channel-won

We would be so appreciative if people would take a look and see if our game sounds like something that they, or someone they know, may enjoy.

About John

John Machacek has been helping local startups with the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation since prior to his position with the GFMEDC. Before joining the team, Machacek was the VP of Finance & Operations at United Way of Cass-Clay and a business banker at U.S. Bank.

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