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From Prototype to Product

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When you live in a household with an Entrepreneurship Professor/Entrepreneur, everyone just sort of gravitates toward that mindset, as if by osmosis. Even the children. From a very early age, the boys would draw all sorts of pictures, create comics and draw models of things they wanted to create; all of these creations were carefully trademarked by the young artists. They were already, at age 4, protecting their intellectual property, just in case. Add our particular lifestyle to the mix, (which gave them lots of time to devote to their particular interest with minimal interruption) limited extra curriculars (music only) and the creative endeavors just kept coming.

Back when we lived in the country, child number two dreamed up this clever card game. He had been playing it periodically with his grandparents when they visited, but I was always too distracted to play it with them. Well, last year we spent a weekend at my mom and dad’s and MS, (2nd son) brought his game along and we all sat down and played. For some time, my parents had been telling me about my son’s fun game. So, it was time to see what they were all talking about- turns out the game was fun, challenging, and clever. I was so impressed. A math game, that was fun. After that weekend in October, we’ve slowly been developing the game from this:



to this:


One of the key points my husband tries to impress upon his entrepreneurship students is to start small and just get started. I think for under $200 we actually have a pretty good prototype. Even if we fail, no one is going to go bankrupt and by starting small, your mistakes are small as well. We did spend a lot of time researching printers which did delay the ‘get started’ portion of this endeavor, but I think research and being responsible does take a bit of time– and it’s an important step. Here are the ways we started small on this project:

1. My husband designed the cards. He used to own a graphic arts/marketing company so he knows his way around good design and design software. This certainly saved us many hundreds of dollars.

2. We only spent about $35 on paper. We wanted to try printing on several thicknesses to see how the printer would handle the paper. We also wanted to experiment on how the paper handled the ink.

3. We spent $150 on a printer. After MUCH deliberation, we finally settled on a printer. We could have brought our files on a thumb drive to a printer and had them print up the sheets for us but that would have been cost prohibitive at this point and there are just so many little ‘tweaks’ that need fixing mid way through the printing process. Professional printing becomes a viable option when high volume brings down the price.

So, we’ve started small and embraced the Nike motto to “Just Do It” (but without being reckless) and we’ll see where it goes. I hope it continues to inspire our kids to be entrepreneurial and creative and I hope it inspires you too!


As we quickly ran through our small stack of paper, we headed out one Friday to scare up so more and off to the print shop we went. As is happens, there are two printing companies in town and we went back to the shop we visited last time. As luck would have it, the door was locked and it was all dark. : ( We didn’t really want to lose an entire weekend, so we thought we’d give the other print shop a try and see what sorts of paper they had. As it turns out, the paper we bought from the second shop was less expensive and it actually took the ink considerably better than the first paper! So, after changing a few things on our cards and printing 96 new sheets we are officially out of (cyan) ink! We are so much happier with our new paper, (and price) we could not be more pleased. That is the value of prototyping, experimenting, and taking your time.

We had a few oops during our printing run. We only wasted 2 sheets of paper, not bad if you ask me!

After cutting a few of these cards ourselves and rounding the corners, it became obvious this task was better left for the professionals. The time and precise nature of this task is done so much faster by a machine– which printers have. For $18, the printer perfectly cut out all 16 decks and rounded all the corners. We had them back the same day! Definitely worth the price and still in our desired small prototype budget.


After getting them back, all cut and rounded, they had to be organized into decks.


The other change we made, now that we (kind of) have a plan, is we taught M., the creator of the game, how to find the AI file, load the printer and print up his deck(s) of cards. In no way is this going to be a ‘mom and dad do all the work’ kind of thing. He needs to have ownership of this and he’s learning tons in the process. He’s been in on all the decisions and has been part of all the discussions about how much the paper costs, the printer, to have the cards cut etc. What a great learning experience for him!


In order to play the game, you have to read the directions AND understand them. While this sounds quite simple, it actually was really really hard. We had M. write up the directions, then my husband set about to lay them out in Illustrator. We tweaked his writing to clarify, then had M., Grandma and Grandpa proofread. Grandma and Grandpa had played the so many times they were the perfect editors!

After we had the wording sorted, it was time to figure out how to fold the instructions so they fit behind the cards. As you can see, we had lots of tries before we got it right– Not only was the folding a trick, but we had to find the right paper for that part of the project as well. We had initially printed them on photocopy paper but found it to be too thin and just didn’t feel right. We ended up printing the instructions on our black and white laser printer using a 24 lb. laser paper. Much better.




Now that the cards are cut, Max needs to take his product to the finish line. One of the big issues is packaging. When he starts adding up all the costs to each deck of cards, it is obvious that packaging needs to be inexpensive. After looking at ideas on Pinterest, your head swims with beautiful possibilities. Unfortunately, those gorgeous ideas are generally quite costly– especially for such a small quantity.

So, we found clear plastic product bags with hang tags incorporated for only a few pennies each. But, for his initial 16 decks, he’s going to simply tape a band around each deck and put them in padded envelopes.


Shipping materials (such as the padded envelope) add additional costs as well. He was incredulous after seeing all the money that goes into developing a product and then learning if he sells the product to a retailer, you have to likely take 50% less than you would if you sold the cards yourself. After pointing out and explaining that retailers have their own set of costs and risks (buildings, employees, heat, insurance, inventory etc), he understood and accepted this concept much better.

And for the promotional part of his game he has an evening planned with friends where the game will be played, videoed and shared. Luckily, he has my blog and social media accounts to share it on as well. Ultimately though, he’s going to have to go out and sell his product. Children’s Museums, schools, home schooled kids, families and catalogs are just a few outlets that may be interested in his product.


PART FIVE: Trial Run with Friends

So, after coordinating the schedules of 4 very busy teenagers, we found an evening where they could come together, play 36 More or Less and see what other kids thought of the game. It was quite fascinating to watch how teenagers played the game vs. how it was played with Grandpa and Grandma. The teenagers were really bent on the sabotage angle and it was clear that we would have to change the directions because of this or no one would ever finish the game! Anyway, the kids really enjoyed the game– check it out in the video below:

Max would love it if you would purchase his game! If you’d like to hone your math skills and have fun while doing it– click below!