What makes a hit product?
And how do you take your idea from its inception…
To being sold by major retailers?
In this episode, I’m joined by Tim Swindle, a seasoned entrepreneur who has launched multiple companies in the toy, game, and novelty space.
Tim is going to walk you through the process of creating and selling his products.
- How to capitalize on online trends to create hit products
- The best strategies for pitching your product to retailers
- And more
Mentioned in this episode:
Voiceover: This is Performance Delivered, Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success with Steffen Horst and Dave Antil.
Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst. The topic for today’s episode is how to use online trends to create hit products. Here to speak with me is Tim Swindle, who is the co founder at Glacier Games. Tim has been an entrepreneur for over 10 years, having launched multiple companies in the toy, game and novelty space. Its first game Utter Nonsense, achieved rapid commercial interest and ultimately went on to be sold in Target, Walmart and other major retailers around the country. His latest product PaddleSmash is one of the fastest growing outdoor games in the US. Tim, welcome to the show.
Tim Swindle: Great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Steffen: Now, Tim, before we find out how you come up with all these amazing ideas and these games, tell us a little bit more about yourself. How did you get started in your career and what led you to inventing games?
Tim: Sure. So my journey started about a little over 10 years ago, and I was actually a software entrepreneur. We were building a sales software. It was basically a way for you’re sending a lot of content, as the salesperson you’re sending out links to your website, case studies, contracts, videos, different kinds of multimedia. We would package up all that content, put your brand on it. And then as you sent it to the customer, we would provide analytics back to you to understand if they were looking at it, when they were looking at it, so you can kind of base your follow up.
So anyway, while building that company, which was obviously it was a tech company, it was venture backed, burned a lot of cash, we were you know, trying to grow fast, running big teams. It was a very stressful environment for all of us to be in. And on the side as like a side hustle passion project, I decided to launch a board game like a physical card game. And this was just the nights and weekends project just kind of with my additional creative energy. And it was the idea behind it was I had read an article in Inc Magazine, where they covered a game called Cards Against Humanity, which was really popular game several years ago, and quite frankly, still is.
And it was made by just a bunch of right out of high school kids from Chicago, which was where I was from. So I played the game really enjoyed it in Inc Magazine with this article, more or less kind of laid out the whole game plan for how they took this game to market. And so while I had no background in experience in launching games, I saw that and I was like, you know what, that’s interesting, because there was a game that I’ve been playing with friends up at lake houses and whatnot, on weekends, when it’s late at night, and you’re trying to finish the last couple of beers looking for something to do.
We had come up with this game. And it basically evolved ultimately became Utter Nonsense. And it’s a really simple concept, you basically just kind of speak in funny voices and say silly, silly phrases in funny voices. So you may have to speak with a British accent or I don’t know, it was a little R-rated. So a little more aggressive, but I won’t go there. So anyway, decided to launch this game, didn’t know what I was doing, did a Kickstarter campaign because that’s what the Cards Against Humanity guys did, got funded. It by no means blew up on Kickstarter, it was just one of these, you know, kind of hit my funding goal. It gave the first win.
And I just took that momentum, I ended up getting introduced to this gentleman who ran a kind of a niche retailer with like 40 locations around the country that took the game in. And that just kind of started my journey. So it was this kind of dumb idea to do this silly card game. Unlike other businesses that I had been involved with it just kind of caught on quickly. And I decided that you know, this was the path that I ultimately wanted to go with my life, I had a ton of fun doing it. Creating games is very rewarding. And not only do you have fun coming up with the concepts, but you’re also bringing fun to the world, which I think is a it’s a little cheesy, but I’m being genuine when I say it.
You know if I can spend my days coming up with ways for people to have fun and bring fun to the world, I feel pretty good about that. And so that game went on to be sold at Target, Walmart, etc. Ultimately, I came out with a few more versions of it. That then had some of the bigger players in the space come calling wanting to acquire it. Meanwhile, we sold our software company to LinkedIn. The timing was just right for me to sell the board game, and just kind of take some time off. And so I sold it. And but I decided that kind of when I was ready to get back into to working that I wanted to really stay within the kind of the toy and games space just because I, I really enjoyed it from a different, a few different perspectives.
Steffen: Interesting, interesting. How you go about coming up with new ideas? I mean, how the Utter Nonsense kind of you explained it, it’s kind of you played with friends, you made it probably up, etc. And that kind of got licks basically. How did PaddleSmash come about? You know, how did you go about finding you know what, this is the next game I want to do.
Tim: Once you get into this mode of trying to be creative and come up with ideas, I feel like there’s like a certain muscle that you train yourself to learn. And in our case, with games, a lot of them follow trends in pop culture and things that are happening online. And so you just kind of like, stay tuned, like your antennas are always up. My business partner likes to give the example of like a domesticated dog versus one that lives in the wild. Domesticated dogs have the floppy years because they’re not as alert as the ones that are out in the wild that are always worried about being eaten.
And so in this case, I feel like my ears and my you know, I’m just attuned to kind of what’s going on. I’m always looking for for ideas. So I’m very sensitive to when I see certain trends happening. So certainly, right now, there is a huge trend within the just the sporting space, sports space of pickleball. Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America. For those that aren’t familiar, it’s basically like a cross between ping pong and tennis. So tennis is kind of a hard game to learn. If you’re, if you didn’t grow up playing it, the serve is hard to get in. It’s somewhat elitist. I don’t know. It’s just hard.
And then you know, then ping pong, everybody could play it. So if you could just imagine, it’s played with like a solid paddle with like a wiffle ball. But like outside general, generally outside on like a bigger court than a ping pong table, certainly, and a smaller, like half the size of a tennis court. So just it’s very approachable. It’s growing like wild because I think it’s so accessible. So with that, we just kind of were like, it would be cool to do something related to pickleball. But how do you how do you iterate on that? And it was like, well, could there be some sort of like, portable version of it? Because right now, you have to have a court, right? It’s about you know, it’s a little smaller than a tennis court.
And while it’s very popular, there’s still not courts everywhere. And if there are, they’re typically crowded. And so we were like, it’d be fun if we could come up with something that people could just play in their backyards. And so my business partner, and I just kind of started brainstorming some ideas, we actually drew, sketched a couple of things out. As luck would have it, we were introduced to a gentleman who had also been parallel pathing, something very similar. And he had, he was far ahead of us, he had created a prototype. He’s a structural engineer by trade.
So he just likes tinkering. He’s very smart, you know, coming up with concepts and putting them together. He’s good with a CNC machine and a router. And he actually came up with a game that was very similar to what we were trying to come up with ourselves. So we saw this, through just that we were introduced to him through a mutual connection. And he didn’t know what to do with it. He’s not an entrepreneur. He’s an engineer. And while he had created this great prototype, he’d been playing this game with friends and family for a couple of years, he didn’t know what to do with it.
And so we were like, this is basically what we’ve been looking for. So I don’t know if I totally answered your question there. Because a lot of times we do come up with our own stuff. And then in this case, we actually are licensing this particular concept from somebody else. And so in PaddleSmash, specifically, we’ve been like I said, looking for something like this, trying to come up with it ourselves. Through total luck and happenstance, came across a gentleman who had already kind of created one, and we decided to license it from him.
Steffen: Yeah, aside from PaddleSmash, what is the other process that you go through? Are you, are you using data to see whether it’s a certain interest there? If so, what kind of data are you using?
Tim: So outside of PaddleSmash in terms of like other games that we’ve launched, there’s one that we did last year called ally hoopster, and maybe two years ago now. And it was born out of the during the pandemic, you saw a bunch of videos of people bored in their basement, basically doing ping pong trick shots where they would kind of bounce a ping pong ball off of the ceiling, across the room, off pots and pans and try to like get it into a hoop of some sort. And so we saw these, they were on like, Good Morning America, some of these kids that were doing these, and just going viral on TikTok, and YouTube. And, again, going back to just, you know, very attuned to kind of spotting these trends.
We’re like, oh, that’s really interesting. There, there doesn’t currently exist a game where, you know, you create ping pong trick shots, basically. And so that’s what we ultimately decided to come up with, where it’s like this kit of creating a trick shot game where you’ve got back boards and boards, and it kind of comes with this kind of big, cool ping pong launcher. So you can fire a ping pong ball across the room. So I’d say like, yes, there is certainly data that we’re looking at. But it’s it’s more anecdotal than purely statistics, in terms of, you know, what kind of data we’re looking for.
We’re just seeing that there’s literally these things going viral, you’re seeing the millions of views that people, you know, that these things are getting, and that’s giving us enough confidence to then want to pursue it on our own to say, all right, there’s some sort of established, proven concept here, that we’re piggybacking. So we’re not being so trailblazing that it’s like, nobody’s ever heard of this type of thing. So when we say like a ping pong trick shot game, people can maybe relate it back to some of these viral, you know, videos that they’ve seen. And, you know, that’s kind of how we move forward in that particular instance.
Steffen: Interesting. How many ideas do you usually have before you kind of pursue a product to take it further, basically. To kind of think about, hey, is this a product that a mass or bigger group would like, and then let’s go through the motion to develop it.
Tim: It goes in phases. So as an entrepreneur, you’re constantly coming up with dumb ideas. And you’ll just, I don’t know, these things pop in your head all day. And some of them just kind of stick around. So most of them by the next day, you’re like, yeah, that was a dumb idea. But sometimes they stick around. And they stick around for a few days, and you kind of ruminate on it, and you beat it up in your head. And maybe you look online, to see like, hey, does something like this already exist out there? And then it’s like, well, why doesn’t it exist? Why doesn’t it exist? And if some of those questions are just like, it hasn’t come out yet. You know, like, it just this opportunity may present itself.
So from there, I want to get it out of my own head. And I want to talk to people. And you know, in some cases, it’ll be my business partner. But it’s also good to not only, I mean, certainly, you can talk to your friends and family, because they’re going to be the easiest to talk to. But if there’s a way to kind of poll people that do not know, you, or one trick I’ll do is I’ll say to my friends and family, hey, you know, somebody gave me this idea, and I’m just trying to help them out and evaluate whether it’s legitimate. So that way, I’m removing the personal relationship. Because anybody that knows you doesn’t want to insult you to your face.
So you tell them that you have an idea, they’re gonna immediately probably say, that’s great. That’s great, Tim. Love it. And it’s total bullshit. So you need to kind of disassociate yourself from the idea and get that raw, authentic feedback on if there’s something there. And if that kind of continues, this idea, it stuck around in your own head for a couple days, you beat it up, it passed the sniff test of like, does it exist? Why doesn’t it exist, etc. You can kind of talk to a couple people. Well, if it’s still working out, then maybe it’s worth pursuing, you know. Then you may look at, like in PaddleSmash’s case, we looked at what does the outdoor game market look like? How big is that, right? And what we found was that it’s the fastest growing category in all of games.
And maybe this was COVID related, I don’t know. But it’s something where, you know, we, it gave us the confidence again, just to look at kind of where the, the trends were going in terms of like, this is a emerging space. There’s there’s a game that, so PaddleSmash, I think I kind of skipped over really what PaddleSmash is. So PaddleSmash is a combination of pickleball and a game called Spikeball. And Spikeball is again, has probably been the most popular backyard game for the past 10 plus years. So we looked at that, you know, again, as like a, that’s an independent publisher. So that’s kind of what we are. So we’re not Hasbro, we’re not Mattel, you know, these big publicly traded companies. And it’s interesting thing with innovation is that a lot of times innovation actually happens not at the big companies.
There’s a, is it Paul Graham, or who is it, the innovator’s dilemma. Christiansen, I think, has the innovator’s dilemma. And it’s like, why does, why do the big companies always get disrupted? And it’s because there’s just, they’re afraid to fail. They’re too big and bureaucratic, right? I mean, if something comes up in an idea meeting, well, there’s gonna be too many people sitting there shooting it down because it’s too risky or off brand, or whatever it is. And that’s kind of the beauty of being in my position is that I don’t have all that, that I have to worry about. Right, I’m willing to take risks, and I need to take risks, I need to stand out. And so that’s one benefit I think that I have, and that we have versus some of like, the behemoths in this space, is that, you know, we can take these risks early on.
And so that’s, that’s what we’re doing here. And so there’s a couple things that just seemed to fit for us. We saw that the, you know, the data showed us from a numbers perspective that, you know, while we’ve never done an outdoor game, this was a really fast growing area, and that we wanted to maybe try to do something with. We looked at some of the bigger competitors in that space. Spikeball, I mentioned. Another one called cross net that only launched a couple years ago, they’ve exploded quickly. There again, an independent. So there seems to be something about these, like independent publishers that seem to do well in that space. That just gave us the confidence to move forward.
Steffen: Interesting. Now, what’s the value, or how much is just an idea worth?
Tim: Well, I wish it was worth more. Because I’ve had a lot of ideas. Unfortunately, the idea, you know, they’re not worth what the, the napkin that they’re written down on. So in the toy and game space, I’m being facetious, there is a value. Because as I mentioned, we did actually license Paddle Smash from the inventor. So in our case, in the toy and game world, there is kind of a kind of a baseline of a 5% royalty based on net sales.
So that’s just kind of like, if you’ve got a proven concept in some way, shape, or form, you know, you’ve created a prototype like in our case, we were able to play this thing we had, we were able to take it to a park and play with other people. And then it can go up from there. Like if you’re a proven inventor, with some big hits that you’ve had before, maybe you’ll get, call it 7-8%. If you’re like a celebrity, and you’re bringing some of the marketing power with you, the ability to sell the product as well, that may garner a larger percentage, but generally you see in our world, in the toy and game space, an idea is worth about a 5% royalty.
Steffen: Now, a second ago, we already talked about, you know how many ideas it take to kind of move a product further in the stages. Can you elaborate a little bit more on the process to bring a new idea to life? You know, you talked about obviously, you come up with an idea, if it lingers, you know, you start talking to friends, or kind of talking to family, people that might not be connected to you. But what happens after that? How do you take that idea that you go, that you have, and then start developing it and building parts of, you know, bringing it to life?
Tim: Yeah, so the next thing we’ll do is create a prototype. So for the most part, the idea has probably just been in your head, maybe it’s on paper, maybe sketch something up. But I think you need to get that real feedback of people using the product, playing with it, touching it, feeling it. What is the, what is the response, the visceral response from people using the product. And so you know, having done this now for a few years, have relationships with some of these manufacturers that are able to do prototyping for you.
The beauty of like this day and age with technology, things like 3d printing has become super valuable, because for a relatively low cost, you can take your idea, and have it come to life in a physical form, to be able to play with it and do whatever you want to do with it, and test it, and use it, and get it in front of other people to do the same thing. And so that would be the next step. So again, thinking about just trying to keep costs really low, using as much as little money as possible early on before you have really strong conviction. And so it’d be to go get a prototype made. From there, like I said, kind of go back to the focus groups, if you will.
Have them use it, what’s working, what’s not. And then you know, if you’re still feeling confident, you’re still feeling like this thing needs to exist in the world. Then you’re going to create a brand around it. You’re going to come, you’re obviously going to like name it. Come up with a logo, the packaging, all that. You’re going to do a probably small production run. And then the beauty, the hardest part, by the way, is the distribution. The beauty of what we have now in this day and age is the ability to control distribution ourselves to some degree. So with the, you know, popularity of Shopify websites, you can spin up your own storefront and sell it direct to consumer via your e-commerce website. You can spin up an Amazon storefront to then, you know, get in front of all of the Amazon consumers out there.
So you know, those are two direct paths. And that’s what we’re doing with PaddleSmash to start. You know, so we’ve got our paddlesmash.com website, we’ve got it on Amazon, start gathering reviews. And then hopefully, from there, if you’ve got something that’s a hit, it’s going to get the attention of some of the bigger retailers out there. And what’s nice, though, is that you can control that conversation and have some leverage, because if you’ve already got sales, through your website, through Amazon, you’ve collected reviews, you just you have some data yourself, that you can then bring to the negotiating table with buyers to say, listen, like I think this product has merit. And I think you should carry it in your stores. And so that’s that’s kind of the process in a nutshell.
Steffen: Is that like completely new ballgame, starting to talk to retailers and then trying to get the product placed in their stores?
Tim: It is. And it’s become more difficult because of the consolidation within retail. You just have kind of less options than you used to have in terms of doing real volume, or you certainly have a number of call it like Mom and Pop type stores. But that’s a lot, it’s a lot of work, you know, to go kind of sell one off to, you know, locations like that. What you’re hoping, I think if you’re doing you know, if you if you want your, you want mass market popularity and product and appeal, you to have mass market appeal, you want to go to the mass market retailers, like the Target, Walmart, etc. In our case, Dick’s Sporting Goods is a big one that we actually just signed up, which we’re very excited about.
So it’ll be in select Dick’s stores, Dick’s Sporting Goods stores here shortly. So yeah, I mean, they just carry a lot of leverage, because they know that they’re gonna be buying a lot from you. And so anyway, you can kind of level that playing field in terms of negotiating with, with the buyers. I mean, you’re kind of just desperate because you probably just want them to say yes, and you’re going to do whatever it takes. So to the extent that you can, like I said, just maintain leverage, be able to walk away and say no, if the deal is not good enough, is a really strong position to be in.
And so that’s why I personally love the rise of this, like, you know, direct to consumer space, owning your own website, owning that data, understanding who the customer is, you know, being able to use because all that is becomes really valuable when you do get in retailers. You can help them understand who the buyer is, what does that persona look like, and that in turn, helps them make their buying decisions and how they market it as well. So you’re just more of a value add player as versus just kind of like trying to get your product sold in stores.
Steffen: Yeah. Is it easier to get your product in store after you already were successful? So you said earlier, obviously Utter Nonsense you got into Target or I said it. You got to into Target, Walmart and other retailers. Now you already have the phone number to call someone there, or is it still challenging to kind of reach out first and say, look, you know, we have this new product that has picked up on popularity, we’d love to talk about, you know, placing it in your stores.
Tim: It’s not easy, but it is easier, if that makes sense. Okay, so I certainly know how to talk the talk, and walk the walk with these buyers now and having a proven track record. And then because they’re taking risk on a lot of times they’re trying to climb the corporate ladder on their side and getting the next promotion and it’s risky to work with someone that’s new. And that’s a little, let’s say, right? They their safer bet is to work with the Hasbro’s of the world or whatever it may be. The bigger, more established companies that know all of the back end and doing fulfillment. And you know, there’s just a lot that goes into it outside of just creating the product and bring it to life.
So yes, it does help when I can walk into a room or in a cold email, because it like in our case, with PaddleSmash, you know, we’re reaching out to Dick’s Sporting Goods. I don’t have a relationship with Dick’s Sporting Goods. Target, yes. Walmart, yes. Dick’s Sporting goods, no. I don’t know anybody there. But the fact that I could say I’ve worked with a Target before who would consider a peer to them. You know, just gives you that social proof, that credibility, if you will. And then the other big thing that I think was getting, would get attention, almost as much as the kind of the track record that I have and my business partner has, is this particular game for PaddleSmash, you’re riding two very popular trends that they’re seeing huge success within their stores.
So pickleball, they’re killing it. They’re selling tons of pickleball paddles and balls. So they’re looking for more pickleball stuff, because they know of how popular it’s going right now and how much they’re selling of it. Same thing, where pickleball meets Spikeball. So two big buzz words that we’re using to try to get a meeting. And they know from the numbers they have that Spikeball was the best selling outdoor game for them for the past 10 years. So between those two things, and then the track record and the history of you know, having success working with bigger retailers, I do think that that makes it a little easier to get a meeting.
Steffen: Yeah. What advice would you give people that want to, need to, reach out to those retailers in order to introduce the product to get a meeting, to sell it in?
Tim: I’d say one is put yourself in their shoes. And at the end of the day, they want to know that if they bring this thing in, it’s going to sell. So any way you can give them confidence that this thing is going to sell is what you should focus on. Don’t focus on the features. And like this, this is just like, give them the data to be like, hey, you know, we’ve we launched on Amazon three months ago, we’ve done X amount of sales, our ratings are this. And you know, this thing is like trending, you know. Just, they want to know that it’s gonna sell in their stores, like that’s what they care about.
And then also know that they’re getting hit up constantly by people trying to get on their shelves. So just be consistent. Just continue to reach up, you know, like, if it’s, if, until you’re getting get a no or get a restraining order. It’s like somebody told me with sales. And so you just have to kind of keep following up. And that just happened to me, I’m trying to get into another big retailer. And I’ve been reaching out for probably a month and a half and got nothing back and on Saturday, randomly got a LinkedIn message that they want to talk. So I think, you know, hopefully what I’m doing, I’m living and breathing my own advice.
I’m just continuing, if I’ve got something new, for instance, like we have this Forbes article that we just were able to get a little write up on. I sent that to him, like, hey, I know you haven’t responded yet, but wanted to share this, you know, Forbes article that just came out. Again, another social proof point, like you just keep hitting them with hopefully, things that they will care about.
Steffen: Yeah, until you hear leave me alone, just keep on engaging them.
Tim: Yeah, until you get a no or get a restraining order. That’s how it is.
Steffen: Exactly. Tim, before we come to the end of today’s podcast episode, and last question here. What should aspiring entrepreneurs do if they have an idea they want to pursue?
Tim: The one thing I’ve noticed with aspiring entrepreneurs is they’re very delicate with their own ideas. They want to hold it, they’re afraid to share it, they think people are going to take their idea. Again, ideas are a dime a dozen. Everybody’s got ideas. Nobody wants yours. Nobody knows how to do with it, no one knows what to do with it if they did want it. Nobody has the foresight, you know, nobody’s gonna be as passionate about an idea that as you are. And so my advice would be to go talk about it.
Tell the world about your idea. Not like not, no NDAs, like that stuff is just so stupid, in my opinion. It’s go out there and talk about it. Try to get that raw feedback, like I was talking about, you know, don’t just ask your mom, if she thinks it’s a good idea. Your mom loves you. She’s gonna tell you it’s great, even though it’s terrible. So, you know, put your idea into motion. Get out there, talk about it, try to get people that don’t know you, to give you their feedback to give you that confidence that hey, you know, there really is something here for you to kind of keep kicking that can down the road.
Steffen: Perfect. Well, Tim. Thank you so much for joining me on the Performance Delivered podcast in sharing your thoughts on how to use online trends to create hit products. If people want to find out more about you, about PaddleSmash, how can you get in touch?
Tim: So we are currently available on our website at paddlesmash.com. We just went live about a month ago and we are also on amazon.com. We’ve got a listing on there and will soon be in select Dick’s and Scheels stores but you know paddlesmash.com and Amazon is probably the easiest for folks to find us.
Steffen: Perfect. We’ll have that in the show notes. Now, thanks everyone for listening. If you like the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe to us or leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.
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