Greg Dybec and Joe Santagato are digital phenoms, podcasters, and media mavens who also love the simple pleasure of a good, old-fashioned game night. In the middle of the pandemic, they wanted to bring families podding together in a fun and organic way. Through their combined love of trivia and lots of late nights, Pay the Price was born. A wildly successful Kickstarter campaign is only the beginning for this duo.
Greg says, “For us, it was wanting to bring something tangible back. We were so involved in the digital space. We came up with this idea right at the beginning of the pandemic. We wanted to be ready with something the second that people can start getting back together to create memories with friends. To be able to step away from the digital side and have something that people can hold and play with.”
The Bad Deal That Inspired a Business
Before Pay the Price, Joe was an accidental board game designer. He bought these ridiculous-looking plastic lips on Amazon and took some hilarious and very impromptu videos on social media. Hasbro saw the videos and immediately wanted to collaborate and the popular game Speak Out was created. He and Hasbro agreed on a licensing deal, but the relationship between the two seemingly spoiled over the years after some disagreements.
When Greg approached him with the kernel of a game to develop, it was the chance for Joe to take ownership of the game development process and do it with a good friend. Joe says, “We didn’t want to deal with answering to anyone else other than ourselves.”
The partners knew that they “wanted to bootstrap this and do this 100 percent independently – no licensing, no revenue share. This is a game that’s supposed to be silly and creative.” Neither partner wanted to get bogged down in the mistakes that plagued Joe the first time around.
They also wanted to create a physical game. Inspired by a tweet from Web Smith of media company, 2 PM, the goal was to build an “empire” of media content and pair it with physical objects like games, expansion packs, and more. “An eCommerce company unwilling to hire for media and content creation skills may not be at a disadvantage now, but it will be. A media company unwilling to hire for eCommerce competency may not be at a disadvantage now, but it will be. Study linear commerce,” the tweet read, and became the duo’s MO.
From Couch to Consumer
Greg and Joe researched all facets of their budding business. “In terms of advice for fellow entrepreneurs, the biggest takeaway from all of this is do your research.”
The duo scoured the web. Greg said, “The beauty is that the answers are there and you just need to start reaching out to people. I made a list of the 10-15 most popular games on Amazon that I saw were independently created. I ended up cold emailing the creators of 10 different games and asked them, ‘Can you get on the phone? Can you answer these questions through email?’”
The team was careful to execute its vision slowly and meticulously so as not to overpromise and underdeliver. Greg explains, “It all comes back to the product, no matter what industry you’re in. You can make something shiny on the outside and people could buy it, but if it sucks, they’re not going to talk about it. We thought a lot about every game that sells. This person’s going to have it in their home. That’s the best marketing you could ask for.”
Greg and Joe generated hype for their upcoming game through word of mouth. An idea only goes so far, however, and they knew they had to deliver a quality product. They spent months perfecting the cards and gameplay to simplify the rules. Joe says, “We didn’t want people to think this was just another cash grab that many influencers typically do. We put the time and effort in so that this product could stand alone without our names attached to it.”
They could have launched in 2020, but because of the uncertainty of the pandemic, they decided to wait a little bit longer. There were so many variables that kept changing. Would there be another lockdown? Was the world opening up? What about vaccinations? Throughout all of the questions, the partners remained hopeful. Greg says, “We have to just trust that people are going to be together. “
Once Joe and Greg perfected their game, they created a prototype. They found a designer willing to take on the job for $1,000. It was an investment they hoped to recoup. Prototypes allowed the team to see their “creation in real life” and really focus on the “design, look, and feel.” It also helped them “catch mistakes and flaws.” They ordered a handful of prototypes from a manufacturer that charged $150-180 per game. Prototypes are not cheap! They then quickly set up an LLC and applied for a trademark.
The partners then called their friends over for game nights once the prototypes were in hand. Greg knew that their friends wouldn’t lie to them. He says, “We both cherish the fact that we have friend groups that keep us humble. We still have those friends from home that call us out and aren’t afraid to say, ‘You’re an idiot.’”
Asking friends to give honest feedback is great business advice, according to Greg. He advises, “For anyone bootstrapping or starting, you need to find ideal testers and beta users. It’s tough to find people that are going to be truly honest with you. It’s important to communicate that to people. If you’re about to launch anything, it’s a reflection of yourself. You have to have thick skin.”
It was important for the founders to change the variables amongst their friend groups. For example, one iteration was a sober night to ensure that the jokes landed sans alcohol. Another night included someone on a second date. Greg says, “It makes it so awkward and different every time.” The founders always encouraged documentation in the form of social media posts, group texts, and videos. The material was too good to be forgotten.
Joe and Greg decided from the beginning of the game’s inception to crowdfund it. They wanted to include their community of followers (both have social media followings nearing a million followers) rather than launch it themselves. Kickstarter made sense because it successfully launched lots of board games and Joe and Greg didn’t want to reinvent the wheel.
They began to tease the game on their respective Instagram handles and talk about it on the podcast. The interest was huge. People’s interests piqued. Joe and Greg decided to launch the Kickstarter with a $10,000 goal. They chose this number and a time period of 30 days because their research told them they were “the most popular and effective” parameters.
The partners alerted their community that the project was live through a promotional marketing video for Kickstarter. It was pricey but the “splurge” ended up paying off. The response was resoundingly overwhelming. Greg calls their followers a “built-in audience.” Greg says, “Our mission was to market this from start to finish with our core audience. We knew that people trusted us.” The duo ended up raising over $120,000 in the allotted time from a total of 3,205 backers.
There are so many nuances to creating a game and raising the funds, but if you don’t calculate your shipping costs or overestimate what it’s going to cost, people hesitate to fund the project. Greg explains, “If you put your own money in, you can burn all your cash and have nothing left as a reserve. So, you made these cool games but now you have zero left to market it.”
Luckily, the duo did their homework. They priced the most effective production and distribution model. Ad Magic, a “personalized playing card printing company,” was the company that they chose to be “essentially a middle man with ties to the factories that do the actual printing – typically in China, though there are US-based options.” They also found a third-party logistics company to carry the inventory and plug into their sales funnel – a website created through Shopify as well as an Amazon store.
At the same time, Greg understands that this game won’t be for everyone, and that’s okay too. It’s really about refining a vision and then tapping into an existing market. Greg says, “It’s not going to be for everyone but it is going to be for a certain type of person.” Through trial and error, they did get rid of some consequences that were “mean-spirited.” They wanted fun above all, and if they kept certain cards in, the game would have a different outcome. “No one deserves to not have a good time from this.”
Ultimately, this is a game for people who love trivia. Greg says, “We wanted trivia and higher stakes. We feel that we can get people to say really funny things. We keep it simple and don’t overthink it.”
The rules are super simple. Players take turns answering trivia questions. If they get their questions right, they get to keep their cards. Anyone who answers a question incorrectly has to pull out a “Consequence” card. Examples of “Trivia” include “What is the name of the bird in The Lion King?” An example of a “Consequence” is “Let the group scroll through your phone for 30 seconds.”
The worldwide pandemic certainly delayed shipment and Greg and Joe described finding a ship to bring home their product as “trying to get into the hottest club.” The shipping quotas kept rising. One day, they were quoted $8,000 and the next day it would be up to $13,000. “We had to immediately send more money and we couldn’t say no.” It then took 28 days to bring the product from the port in California to Texas.
But despite all of the logistical headaches, once the games finally reached their intended owners, the response was beyond enthusiastic. “I’ve been tagged every day in so many videos of people flushing their feet in the toilet.”
Greg and Joe have big visions for their future. They’re on track to make a quarter of a million dollars in 2022. They are adding expansion packs. The future is bright, the shoes are wet, and the fun is just getting started.
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