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About.com features entrepreneur and game inventor Don McNeill of toy and game development firm McNeill Designs

February 22, 2010

About.com recently did a series of interviews with entrepreneurs in a wide variety of business types. Don McNeill, founder of McNeill Designs for Brighter Minds (pictured) was interviewed for the piece. An excerpt follows, but you can read the piece in its entirety at About.com . Also, see some of the other entrepreneurs and theirs businesses, success and struggles. Very interesting reading, indeed!

“Why is your business unique and what’s your pitch?:

Started a game company based on an idea. The flagship product, The You’ve been Sentenced! game has family members from 8 to 88 laughing hysterically at the crazy sentences they create and have to defend. Now winner of 9 national awards, it’s a bargain entertainment value for parents during tough economic times. With 540 cards and over 2,500 words players can create billions of possible sentences and never see the same ones twice. It’s available at B&N, Borders, 1,000+ independent stores and has distribution in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

What led you to start the business?:

On December 28, 2004, I took my family of 5 to dinner where we did a Madlibs on the back of the kids menu. On December 29, in the shower (sorry for the bad visual) I had an idea. I had never seen a game where you had to make sentences. It would be called “You’ve been Sentenced!” I knew the name before I got out of the shower and now I had to convince the boss.

I quickly ran out of the shower soaking wet and woke up my wife Susan with “Honey I have an idea!”

“No! Not now,” was the reply…

I said “No, honey, I really have an idea!” in a slightly different excited tone.

After I had explained the idea, Susan began to catch on and foggily responded with “I haven’t had my coffee yet, but that sounds like a pretty good idea.”

We searched all day on the Internet and could not find anything like my idea. We found a website for teachers and one teacher’s letter to the Toy and Game industry stating how ‘sad it was that each year new word games came to market but never a sentence forming game.’ I called my brother in St. Louis who has two patents to his name and he said “I think that is one of the most brilliant ideas I have ever heard.” We knew for certain now that we were on to something.

In 20 years of selling commercial printing I’ve never burned a bridge so every time I needed something else for the business I called the next person out of my r Rolodex. We pulled the whole idea together and on May 5, 2005, launched the world’s first pentagonal shaped game.

By June 2006 we had landed B&N and Borders and were now picking up rep groups all over the country that were working with the independent stores.

By 2007 we started to win awards with the cream of the crop being the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold award. More awards followed and so did more distribution and more products.

In 2008 we launched a campaign to raise investment but it took a turn for the worse when the market crashed. We have struggled at times but we have made it through the worst of this economy. I hope and we are back to growing again.

We are hopefully less than a month away from announcing a TV game show version YBS and have a license agreement with ASU that will deliver an online version as well as an interactive whiteboard version for the classroom.

We got here through hard work, persistence, dedication and most of all a passion to create great games that all have an educational nature.

Lessons Learned:

  • Be adaptable to the economy and fast.
  • Don’t count on anyone other than your core people to make sure you succeed.
  • Work smarter rather than longer so you can work…longer! Did I mention persistence?
  • I have hired some people who were not who they said they were, and it cost me a small fortune to repair their mistakes.
  • Get a good bookkeeper first.
  • Work well with others and help them as they help you. It always pays off.
  • Our greatest failure was to not be able to adapt to a crashing economy quickly enough. I should have let some people go sooner.”

Want to learn more about McNeill Designs for Brighter Minds’ award-winning games like You’ve been Sentenced!, Twisted Fish and more? Visit McNeill Designs for game rules, printable score sheets, or even order online!

 

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