Casey is a Tech Marketer & Board Game Designer
Casey Hill talks about his passion for board games and how building his own board games have made him better at handling business and relationships in the office. John and Casey also talk about the many ups and downs of running your own business the process of creating and selling your own product!
• Getting into board games
• Creating his first board games
• How designing board games has translated into his career
• How his office has supported his passion
• Why you should start as an individual in pushing your passions
• Start small
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Welcome to Episode 409 of What’s Your “And”? This is John Garrett, and each Wednesday, I interview a professional who, just like me, is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work. To put it another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “and”, those things above and beyond your technical skills, the things that actually differentiate you when you’re at work.
If you like what the show is about, be sure to check out the book on Amazon, Indigo, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop, a few other websites. All the links are at whatsyourand.com. If you want this voice, me reading it to you, then look for What’s Your “And”? on Audible or wherever you get your audio books. The book goes more in depth with the research behind why these outside-of-work passions are so crucial to your corporate culture. I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s reading it and writing such nice reviews on Amazon and, more importantly, changing the cultures where they work because of it.
Please don’t forget to hit subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week, and this week is no different with my guest, Casey Hill. He’s the Head of Growth for Bonjoro, and now he’s with me here today. Casey, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Casey: Yeah. Thanks so much for having me, John. I actually just got your book, so I’m excited to dig into that shortly. It arrived a couple days ago, and I’m just polishing off the adventure book and then that’s next on the docket.
John: Well, thank you so much, man. That’s awesome. Yeah. Well, I have my 17 rapid-fire questions that are not in the book, these are the get to know Casey right out of the gate.
Casey: Let’s do it.
John: Yeah, here we go. Easy one, favorite color.
John: Green. Okay. How about a least favorite color?
Casey: Ooh, I have not given thought to a least favorite color, but I’ll go with black, I guess.
John: Black? Okay, fair enough. Yeah, yeah, totally. Here’s a tricky one, pizza or hamburger.
Casey: I’m going to go pizza.
John: Pizza. Yeah, really good pizza is.
Casey: Hard to beat.
John: Hard to beat, yeah, yeah. How about a favorite actor or actress?
Casey: Ooh, I like Emma Watson, always liked her work and just overall as a person, seems a very, very wholesome individual. Yeah, I’m going to go with that.
John: No, that’s good. Those are hard to find nowadays, it seems, so good for, yeah, yeah. Would you say you’re more of an early bird or a night owl?
Casey: I’d say probably night owl, although different points in time in life, I’ve adapted to both schedules.
John: Exactly. How about Star Wars or Star Trek?
Casey: I’ll go with Star Wars. When I was younger, I watched a lot of Star Trek too, but I think if I had to choose one, Star Wars is what I’d pick.
John: Okay. Yeah, totally. How about your computer, more of a PC or a Mac?
Casey: A Mac now, I guess. I’ve been a PC person my entire life, but as of probably five, six years ago, I made the jump. It’s funny, not to derail this conversation, but for my phone, I had a friend who was giving away an old iPhone. They didn’t need it any more. Oh, you can just have it. They gave it away. Then when I joined this current company, they’re like, your phone’s too old. We need to get you a new one. They got me an iPhone again. I had Android my entire life, but now I’ve been using iPhone now for a while because I keep getting free iPhones. I’m like, I can’t turn down free phones.
John: It’s hard to complain on that. Right? Yeah, definitely. I’m not even cool enough to be allowed in an Apple store. I can’t even make that jump, so let me know what it’s like. Yeah, it’s good to know that someone’s done it and survived. That’s awesome. Okay, how about a favorite movie of all time?
Casey: Ooh, I’m going to go with Gladiator.
John: Oh, solid answer.
Casey: I just have always loved it. It’s always been a classic for me. There’s so many good movies. It’s not the perfect movie in terms of how it’s constructed, but it’s just, for me, it’s that go-to classic. That’s what I always pick.
John: For sure. How about a favorite ice cream flavor?
Casey: Ooh, I’m going to go mint chocolate chip.
John: Oh, okay. Classic. Nice. I like that. All right, the green mint or the white mint.
Casey: The green usually.
John: The green. Okay. All right. Yeah, I see you. How about, oh, here we go, balance sheet or income statement?
Casey: Balance sheet or income statement. Oh, man, balance sheet, I guess.
John: I guess. Yeah, it’s like, I don’t look at those. It’s fine. Oh, here we go, prefer more hot or cold.
Casey: Probably cold.
John: Cold? Okay, interesting.
Casey: It feels like with cold, you can always layer up, right? We’re talking about weather in general, if it’s cooler. If it’s like 100 degrees, you’re in a rough spot.
John: Yeah, you can’t layer down. It’s like peeling off, yeah. No, I agree with you 100% on that one. How about pens or pencils?
Casey: I’m usually using pencils.
John: Oh, wow. Okay.
Casey: Yeah, interestingly enough.
John: I gotcha. How about a favorite number?
Casey: Favorite number. To be frank, I have not given that deep thought through my life, but if I had to go with something off the top of my head right now, I’m going to go with 19.
John: 19. Is there a reason?
Casey: No, there’s not. It was the first number.
John: Because no one said 19 ever in the history of ever. No, I’m just kidding. No, but that’s good, man. I like it.
Casey: I tried out for a game show called One versus 100 in Hollywood, and I made it to the second round where they’re doing the live read. They asked me a trivia question. I had absolutely no idea, so I just spit out the first reflective thing that immediately came to mind and by chance, got it right.
Casey: They were like, how did you come up with that? I’m like, honestly, it’s top of the head. I just said something, and it just worked.
John: You went into like balloons and everything to be like, that was the right answer. 19 is it. That’s funny, man. How about when it comes to books, real book, e-book or audio version? I do a lot of e-books and regular books. When I was commuting a lot in the past, before the pandemic, I would listen to a lot of audio books as I was driving, so I got really into that. I also just enjoy sitting down and reading a physical book. There’s something about that, that I enjoy. I’d say if I had to choose one, it will be physical books, but I do appreciate audio books as well.
John: All of them. Nice. All right. How about a favorite Disney character?
Casey: I’m going to go with Maui, the demigod from Moana.
John: Oh, wow, that’s a good one. All right. I get Moana as an answer, but not Maui the character. That’s awesome. Very cool. All right, when it comes to puzzles, Sudoku or crossword?
Casey: I’d say crossword. Sudoku is one of those ones I’ve tried it in the past, but it never clicked for me. I think I’m more of a words guy than a numbers guy.
John: All right, I hear you. Last one, favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own.
Casey: I don’t know if that’s a specific item or a collection, but I would say, as a collection, I would say my library. I’m really into books. I’m really into reading. That’s an important possession of mine is my book library.
John: Awesome, and What’s Your “And”? just snuck in. I’m honored. Thank you, man. I appreciate that. Very cool. All right. Well, let’s talk board games. Let’s get into this. Is it something that you grew up doing and then were like, you know what, I’m just going to start designing them and making my own games?
Casey: Yeah, so I come from a family of seven, right?
John: Oh, wow.
Casey: With a family of seven, there was a lot of us. It was very hectic, people running around, very busy house growing up. Board games became the conduit of bringing everyone together. Everyone was doing their own thing. Some people were in sports. Some were people doing this. Board games, we’d all come together. So, growing up, and I was the middle kid, older brother, older sister, younger brother, younger sister, just smack down in the middle, and board games became that thing where my parents, all my brothers and sisters would all meet up. Yeah, from a very, very young age, I was playing board games.
For me, designing a game, that transition came because my dad was an entrepreneur his whole life. He currently runs a business. He ran a different business when he was younger. My grandpa runs a business. My cousins run businesses. I grew up around the entrepreneurial world, and everyone was always saying, do stuff you’re passionate about. I was like, well, what the heck am I passionate about? I like Magic: The Gathering trading cards, board games. I’m a nerd. I don’t know what I would make a business about. They encouraged me to just go out and try something. I started messing around and doing a little bit of board game design. Eventually, that segued into the Kickstarter that I launched that went really well, and that whole started the journey. Yeah, that was kind of a connecting point.
John: Yeah. Were there other board games that you had prototyped or had tried to make before? Or was the Kickstarter the first one, that you just happened to nail it right out of the gate?
Casey: Definitely not the first one, not by a long shot. There were tons of games we had made before that, and just never anything that had made that next leap. The story of Arkon, which is the game that we ended up Kickstartering, was actually a Christmas present for my wife. At Christmas, we always do a creative gift. That’s our thing. It always has to be some sort of creative gift. I was thinking, I was like, I’ll make a game. I spun up this simplistic game, didn’t have any graphics, obviously, or just random stuff I grabbed from the web, made some basic rules, sat down with my dad, who’s actually the co-founder. He started it with me. He designed it with me. We worked and did all the prototyping together. We sat down and just went through this process of creating this game in like two days, and gave it to her as a present. We all were just playing it out of obligation. I’ve given the gift, so now we need to play it. Then we were like, wait, this is actually pretty good. This is actually pretty fun. I started thinking about it. I was like, yeah, this is not bad.
Once you get the initial, your family is almost always going to say it’s good, no matter what, right, so it doesn’t mean too much. We started there but were like, this is fun. I decided, what the heck, I’ll bring in some friends. They played it. Yeah, this is actually really good. Okay. I went through friends, check. Then I was like, alright, I’m going to spin up some just really basic graphics from the web, put it onto some cards, I’ll head to a gaming shop, and I’ll just see if people will play this game with me. I started doing that, a couple local gaming stores around where I live, got some good feedback. This is great. At that point, I was like, what if I did this thing? I started contacting artists and started looking at the whole process. It was a two-year journey from that point to when it went live. It was a long scope but, yeah, that’s how it kicked off.
John: That’s cool, man. That’s awesome. I love that out of obligation, and they’re like, yeah, sure, it’s great, whatever, Casey. Let’s have dessert.
John: What? Then, yeah, once you get that honest feedback from strangers almost, then it’s like, oh, wow, this is a thing. That’s cool, man. Growing up, did you have a favorite game or a go-to?
Casey: We played a lot of the classics, the Risks, the Monopolies, those types of games. Then when I was in, I want to say maybe it was middle school, me and my older brother started getting really into Magic: The Gathering, which is a trading card game, so started getting into the collectible card idea. That segued a little bit of our interest into that high fantasy style theme, like Lord of the Rings, not Lord of the Rings, but that kind of game.
John: Yeah, that, well, yeah.
Casey: Dragons and ogres and that kind of group.
John: Right. Right.
Casey: Which later influenced a little bit of the design on Arkon. Yeah, those were some of the ones we played. We had a spattering of all different types of games, growing up. We had huge cupboards of games that were based on dice, games that were based on little moving things, games where you’re placing trinkets on the board. We tried a whole bunch of ones, but, yeah, I think that those were some of the early influencers.
John: That’s cool, man. Yeah, Risk, for sure, and then that graduated into Axis and Allies, which was like the grownup version of Risk. Yeah, games that just lasted so long, though. It’s like, alright, no one touch the board. It’s like a whole weekend. Finally, on Sunday afternoon, someone’s like, screw it, I’m just going for broke. It’s like, all right.
Casey: That’s how it always ended.
John: Exactly. That’s really cool. Do you feel at all that, either playing board games or designing games, that gives you a skill set that’s translated to work, something that you don’t learn in school with your degrees?
Casey: Yeah, 100%, in so many different ways. The first thing was, my day job at the time, but even still what I’m doing now is I work with a lot of small businesses. I’m working with a lot of small businesses. The first thing that really helped me was understanding all the moving gears in a small business. When I started this whole journey of getting this board game up, I had to handle PR, I had to handle marketing. I was doing a physical product, so I had to handle shipping, I had to handle fulfillment, all of these logistics. It’s not just sales. It wasn’t just like you plop something on there, you design it, and it goes. There are so many components. I wasn’t a web designer, but I had to build my WordPress site. I learned about SEO to try to get a little bit of ranking on my page, hundreds and hundreds of these components. That gave me so much better of a connection in with my audience because that’s what these small businesses are doing. Oftentimes, you have a mom and pop shop. There are two people. They might not be super tech savvy, and they’re just trying to figure out this crazy world of all these pieces.
I think from that perspective, it gave me a ton of connection. I was spending money on ads. One of our customers spend money on ads, and I was doing the same thing with my own money. I got this direct connection of, hey, what is it like to spend $5,000 on promotion ads? What’s my ROI? What works, what doesn’t? It was a huge connection there. The other thing was we assembled a small team. We had six artists. We had a videographer. We had a person who was doing the graphic design on assets, wrote the website, as well as assets on the card itself. We had the person who designed the packaging around the product. I also learned how to manage those types of relationships.
One huge lesson that sticks out to me, I loved our final product with the video, awesome animator, but it was this guy, he was a college video professor. He was working on this as a side project. We were getting two to three weeks before launch, and we were pretty far behind. Because I was not used to this whole thing, I came at him super harsh. We need to get this done, man. The guy was basically, he came back, and he’s like, you know what, Casey, I’m not doing this for nearly enough money. I’ll just walk away right now. I’ll give you all your money back. Give you all your money back and you can go find a different person to do this video. It was like a hit to my gut. Oh, crap, that would be a disaster. I had to grow up quick in that situation and realize, okay, this is my bad. I need to handle that situation better and just set expectations better and just support them better. From there, we had an awesome relationship. We have a great relationship to this day.
It was stuff like that that took taking a step back and realizing, hey, if my creatives mess up, that sits on me. That doesn’t sit on them. I need to be someone who manages those in the right way. Just a ton of learning, man. It was super, super applicable to connecting with my everyday customers that I was working with on my day job.
John: Right? Yeah. That’s accidentally just an awesome byproduct of me loving board games was I became a better leader and better relate to clients and coworkers. That’s powerful. Because at no point during any of your education did they say, hey, go design board games because it’ll make you better at your job.
Casey: It opened up so many doors for me because I was in sales at that last job, but now I run Growth at Bonjoro. One of my big responsibilities is around marketing. Well, I had no formal education on marketing. I didn’t know anything about marketing, but I got myself featured on a bunch of podcasts, I did a product launch, I built attention around an event, I ran ads. I learned all my marketing skills that got me a position as the Head of Growth, head of doing marketing stuff at a tech company, just from that one self-learning experience of getting in the trenches and doing it myself. So, that opened up a huge doorway for me.
John: Yeah. No, that’s super cool. Are board games something that you’ve talked about during your career, whether it’s with coworkers or clients, whether it’s Arkon, the one that you designed, or it’s just other board games in general? Is it something that comes up?
Casey: I have. I’ve always been vocal about board games because it’s something I’m interested in. If I’m talking with my friends or talking with groups, that certainly would come up. I would meet with people at my work to go play board games. We do board game Friday or stuff like that. We’d go out and play.
John: There you go.
Casey: Also my work, both my last job and this current job, are super supportive, which was awesome, in terms of just all aspects of the journey. I think my last job, we had 70 people from my company who bought the game when it went live. 70 out of 200 people, I was flattered by that.
John: See, that’s really cool. Yeah.
Casey: Yeah, they’ve always been really supportive. We did a bunch of play tests. The company actually let me use their film studio to do some promo shots. I think they saw the benefit that the design process and what I was learning had on my day-to-day ability to execute my job. I think they had enough foresight, which some businesses do not, to say, yeah, Casey following his passions and doing these things that get him excited just makes him a better employee, makes him able to deliver on his day-to-day, and I was able to bring real examples to people. In so many jobs, everyone’s talking about theory. You’re talking to a business owner, and you’re advising them, but you’ve never run a business. It’s kind of this weird gap, right? Where if I say, look, I just finished running a $1,000 ad campaign, and I just learned the craziest thing, if I switch out, and then suddenly, it’s real. That’s rooted in real insights. From a customer perspective, I believe it’s so much more powerful. I’m not taking information that I read from a blog, or something I studied in a course, some other person told me to do X from two years ago, when things are always changing. This is real, right now, in the trenches insight, totally makes a big difference.
John: Yeah. No, it’s so true. It’s like the Harvard case study bubble world. It’s like, well, that’s not how things are here. That’s crazy. Or the speaker that talks about leadership but has never led a group on anything ever, even as a child. What? So it’s cool to hear, hey, I’m going through this, or I just went through this. I have real world skills. This is how things have gone. It’s just so cool to hear too, just an organization that supports that outside-of-work hobby or passion, because they see that that’s what lights you up. If we can help light up Casey as much as possible in all dimensions of his life, then his at-work skills or whatever are going to be so much better and more focused and more engaged.
Casey: It’s so huge, but I believe in that so wholeheartedly. The people that I hire and the people that I bring onto my team, I try to promote and facilitate that as much as possible, for people to go after their passions, to take time. The new world that we’re living in, in a lot of lines of work, like in my line of work in tech, there’s no reason, if someone says I want to go play racquetball at 1 pm, as long as they get their work done, awesome, go play racquetball. Do the stuff that makes you happy. You want to take a surf break, take a surf break. Do the stuff that makes you excited because when they come into work, they’re going to have that energy. They’re going to be happy, and people who are happy and connected are going to be way better producers, no question, and you’re going to get retention.
I think one thing that employers have to remember is that turnover is expensive. When you let people burn out, when you let that good, high quality talent burn out, it’s expensive to replace that person, when instead, you could have maybe taken a step back and said, hey, I need to help this person be able to spend more time on their passions or hobbies. Or I’m going to give them some conduit of support there that would have kept them on board and would have kept them engaged. I couldn’t agree with that more.
John: No, that’s awesome. My ultimate dream is for accountants and lawyers and finance, there’s continuing education credits that you have to have so many hours a year of continuing education or supposedly you’re not as good at your job, and I think that companies should have passion hours that they track. If you don’t have as many hours doing something that you’re passionate about, outside of work, then you’re not as good at your job. The company should track that, encourage that, make time for it, and it’s something that we’re actually tracking that’s part of your annual review. It’s whatever. It just shows that not only is it lip service. No, these are hard numbers. We care. I think it would be awesome.
Casey: I 100% agree. I think that’s a challenge that so many people don’t make it part. They’re not accountable. They’ll say it. Oh, yeah, you should take time. Then when people actually do it, they’re like, oh, it always feels like a distraction. Then when you create that dynamic, then employees don’t want to do it because they feel like they’re jumping through hoops. There’s so many things like that where people encourage employees, they say, oh, you should go do X, Y, Z, but then the structure of their organization doesn’t facilitate it. I think that what you said is pertinent. It can’t just be lip service. It has to be an actual, structured, supported, we’re going to ask you about it. That’s how you make people feel comfortable to actually say, okay, this company actually wants me to follow my passions. They actually care if I do this stuff. That’s the difference.
John: No, it’s so true, man. It’s so true. I just love hearing just all the benefits from not only having an outside-of-work passion, but sharing it and how much that matters. How much do you think it’s on the organization or leadership to create that environment where, hey, we share here, that’s what we do? Or how much is it on the individual to maybe just get it started in their little circle and build from there?
Casey: Yeah, that’s a great question. I always am a person who believes that you want to start as an individual. You want to start as an individual within your life, trying to put off time to do these things. Now, I think, hopefully, you’re working within organizations that when you try to make that segue and try to connect that, that they facilitate that. They’re open to it. They see the value in it. I think that, for me, on an individual level, I just think this is almost beyond this just life philosophy. You have to be accountable to yourself. You’re the only one in the driver’s seat actually take the action. If you really, really care about getting an hour in per day of X, maybe at first you have to wake up a little early, maybe you have to push it a little late, it’s not maybe ideal, but that’s something that you want to connect in because I think there’s a sense of accomplishment in saying I care about this thing. I took time, and I did this thing. I made progress on this thing.
I, throughout my life, had a lot of side projects and side businesses and side hobbies and doing consulting and wrote up a book on the design of the board game. For me, part of the satisfaction is just saying, look, I dedicated myself to doing this thing. I got it from point A to point B. Maybe it’s imperfect. It’s almost always imperfect, right?
John: Sure. Yeah, yeah.
Casey: It’s less about other people pouring in and buying tons of my stuff, as it is me just knowing, hey, I cared about this thing. I invested in it and made progress. That’s how I think about it a little bit.
John: No, no, it’s so true. As long as the organization doesn’t just completely squash it and also too, that it’s not lip service, going back to a little bit of your answer before of where it’s almost like a trap. All right, you can go do it, and then the manager walks around and takes note of who’s here and who’s not here. It’s like, no, man, that’s not how it works. Everyone’s got to do it. Or you have to genuinely care about it because people can smell through that, immediately. There’s no sugarcoating stuff anymore. People are too savvy. That’s for sure. No, this has been awesome, really awesome. Do you have any words of encouragement to anyone listening that maybe has a hobby that they think no one’s going to care about because it has nothing to do with my job?
Casey: My biggest thing is start small. Just get in there and do it. It’s almost like goal-setting in general, right? Spend 30 minutes. My mom, who I love to death, is an artist. Having five kids, she got away from art for a little while, and she’s just starting to get back at it. What I always tell her is, it’s okay, if it’s just a small, because she always has so many things. I’m busy, I’m doing this. It’s okay, just take a small moment for yourself, 30 minutes, just block it off. Make that your first thing. You’re always going to have that 30 minutes. No pressure, you don’t have to create a masterpiece. Just get in there and start drawing. If you like drawing, if drawing is fun for you, if it’s an exciting thing that you look forward to, in your day, just block off a little time. Over time, you maybe start getting bigger projects. You maybe start developing. Maybe you take a class related to it to help you meet other people who share the passion. You can expand them.
I think one of the most intimidating things often is just that first diving in. You probably totally noticed with the whole connection to the comedy, but I noticed from a writing perspective, writing can just be so intimidating. You’re like, I don’t know the perfect idea. It’s just getting in there and starting by just writing. Just write something. It’s okay if it’s imperfect. You’re going to refine it, but the process of getting accountable to yourself to do it is really meaningful.
John: Yeah. When I was writing What’s Your “And”?, writing the book, I wanted the first draft to be the final draft. I’m very efficient, let’s get this done. It’s good. No. The first draft is maybe the first of 30, maybe, on a good project. If I were to compare that first draft to the book, now, there are certainly similarities, but it is so much better. Creating is messy. Everything that we do, we’re not doing it because we’re going to sell it, or it’s this masterpiece, or it’s something amazing. We’re doing it because we enjoy it. As long as you’re enjoying it, then it’s 100% successful.
John: It’s that easy. It’s just hard for us to put aside our type A type of mentality or whatever, to want to have everything be amazing because in school and at work, there’s no room for error, unfortunately. Maybe there is, a little bit.
Casey: Yeah, absolutely. I think that because we have, especially in our kind of culture, just so obsessed with the goalpost, so obsessed with the salary and the ladder and the titles, that it’s ingrained in us that we want to be this super high performer and want to be this. That is your priority over doing the things that give you purpose and make you feel fulfilled, and that’s a mistake. I think that as people get a little older, they sometimes get a little more insight and say, why am I doing this if it doesn’t make me happy? Why am I doing this if I don’t have fulfillment in my life? I get one shot. I’m going through life, one time. That’s that shift that happens. I think the encouragement for this kind of conversation is to say, don’t wait. You don’t have to wait until you’re 40 or 50 or 60 to go focus on your passion. It doesn’t have to be, I’m going to retire and then do what I’m passionate about. Now, start now.
John: Totally, it’s an “and”. You can do both. You have a career and something else. It’s not an or. It’s an “and”. It’s that easy. You can have these other things. That’s awesome, man. This has been so cool. I feel like, before I wrap it up though, I rudely peppered you with questions at the beginning, so it’s only fair that I turn the tables and make this the first episode of The Casey Hill Podcast. Thanks for having me on. I guess I booked myself. Anyway, I’m all yours. What have you got?
Casey: I love it. One thing I’m curious about is when you started with some of your segues into these other areas, at what point did you make the leap from on the side to full time with your different commitments? Because I think a big question that a lot of people have is, how long do I maintain something as a passion project, or how long do I maintain something I’m interested in before putting two feet in? I’m curious, what’s your overall opinion on that?
John: I very bluntly, when I speak at conferences and corporate events and to people even, keep it as a side thing, it’s a hobby, for almost everyone. You’re not that good at it to make a living. Also our society doesn’t reward people that are creative. It’s hard to make a living at these things. It’s very, very hard. I don’t want to be the person that tells you, “Well, I climbed the mountain, so can you,” because when you try and then you fail, I’m the first person you find to punch in the face. I want to be the person that tells you, don’t do it. Keep it as a hobby. Because if I’m able to tell you that and then you are like, yeah, maybe I shouldn’t, then you would never make it. Never. Because every single day, I get punched in the face at least twice. So if a stranger can tell you, “Hey, just keep it as a hobby, don’t make a career out of it,” and you’re like, yeah, maybe not; then I just saved you a lot of heartache. Just, you’re welcome.
For my story, it was very much, I equate it to the Road Runner and the Wile E. Coyote cartoons, when the coyote gets the roller skates, the earth is splitting, so one roller skate’s on each side of the canyon or whatever. Keep both roller skates going as long as you possibly can. At some point, your legs are going to break off, so you’ve got to pick one. I would say keep both as long as possible because one is a steady paycheck and benefits and sanity and all of that. The other one is you’re in outer space. There’s no up or down. There’s no career path. There’s no something to model. It’s literally like you’re out in outer space, and you’re all by yourself. It’s weird.
My suggestion is just keep both as long as you can. At some point, like for me, it was kind of a perfect storm that happened. I was like, well, I’ll give it a go. I gave myself six months. I’m just going to run as fast as I can. If I can achieve, another space reference, escape velocity, then awesome, but it’s very hard for anything to get from Earth to outer space. It is not easy. A lot of things don’t. Just statistically speaking, you’re probably going to be one of the things that don’t. It’s just hard. That doesn’t mean that you’re a failure. It just means that it’s an awesome hobby. It’s an “and”. It makes you better. It brings you joy. It doesn’t have to be your source of income and all of that. It’s just a side thing. I was also an accountant. The risk-averseness of everything is very strong in me, so there’s that.
Casey: Yeah, that totally makes sense. One of the things I want to understand too, is I’m really into writing. I have huge respect for not only did you write something, but you got it out in the world, and you’ve had awesome feedback on it. Obviously, you had an idea. Obviously, you had this concept. Walk me through that starting point of how you materialized this, and you got it over the line. How did you officially get it to that point where it’s like, man, this is stamped and done, and I’m selling copies?
John: Thank you, man. That just means a lot, as someone that reads a lot of books, for you to say kind words like that. It was literally like I never thought I’d be a guy that writes a book. People that write books are super smart, not me, somebody that has a story, or they won a Super Bowl or landed on the moon or got an arm bitten off by a shark, I don’t know, something that’s profound. From speaking at so many events and people coming up after, “Hey, do you have a book? Because I’d love to share this with my boss so they can quit being jerks,” I was like, I don’t. I was like, well, I guess I need to. That’s really what pushed me to write it was people asking for it. All right, I’m not an idiot. I’ll give you what you’re asking for, but it is so hard to do, and really to get out of your own way.
The first step was getting a content editor who got the vision. I was like, okay, here’s the book that I want to write. It’s this kind of a book, but for this kind of people. He flew to Denver. We sat for four and a half, eight-hour days, solid, in a conference room with white paper everywhere, those giant Post-it note type things, flip chart types, that and a laptop up on a screen, and just the whole ideation of the book and everything about it, and then had the structure. Then it was just on me to just literally write without filter, almost like just vomit onto the computer, everything. Even if I’m like, I think I already talked about this, write it again in this new section, and then he would be able to take these bricks and move them around. Okay, so you said it better here, but it belongs over here. Let’s move it over, and let’s replace it with that. Just these two chapters almost go together, so let’s just merge them into one.
You’ve really got to find somebody that shares your vision and gets it, and it made it a lot easier. Even in the back of the book, I say he became a friend and almost a therapist, at times, because there are so many times where you’re like, this is crazy. This is so hard. I’m sure when you’re creating a board game, you’re like, I don’t even know why we’re doing this. This is insane. This is so much work.
Casey: I think that what a lot of people face, which is really common, is people start, but they can’t end. That’s a huge challenge that I’ve had. I remember I was listening to, there’s a company called Masterclass that does these little lessons, and I was listening to Neil Gaiman who has one on storytelling. It was this amazing connection moment because he said, “If you go up in my attic right now, you’ll find hundreds and hundreds of manuscripts where I wrote the first three pages and nothing more.” I felt so, like understood in that moment because I always was like, I have this trauma. I have all these stories I’ve started, but I can’t finish. I just felt like I had this unique problem. Hearing someone like him who’s accomplished, hearing him say that’s part of writing, writers start things. That’s where I think it’s really interesting to hear that outlining and getting it to completion because I think it’s the same with board games. How many board games did I start, but I just didn’t get that second, that second part is hard. It takes a lot of determination.
John: The big part was getting that publisher. Once you pay money, there’s money involved, and there’s publisher. There are other people that are relying on you. There’s going to be a copy editor that’s going to make sure that verb tenses and semicolons and all that stuff are there, and there are three rounds of that. Then there’s going to be a proofreader that makes sure that there’s not any misspelling or something that slipped through these three rounds of that. It’s just iron sharpens iron. You get that team of people around you that know what you’re doing, and it’s literally like I couldn’t screw it up. I just had to get out all the content from my head and layer and then you pull that back, and it’s like, oh, yeah, totally, I forgot about this. It’s just getting all of what I want, out, and then it’s letting people that know what they’re doing, take it and start to shape it, and then you providing feedback and guidance along the way of what works, what doesn’t work. It’s fighting for your vision, but also being open to, you know what, I didn’t think about that, that’s probably going to be better. It’s that plus. It’s a cool process. Until you really go through a creative process like that, you really don’t know how to describe it to somebody. It’s a roller coaster. Within a day, within an hour, you’re literally like, screw it, I’m not doing the book. This is just crazy. Then 20 minutes later, they’re like, hey, we’ve got cover ideas, what do you think? This is going to be the best book ever. It’s just like this bipolar roller coaster of whatever.
Casey: That’s awesome. I think there’s a interesting nugget of wisdom, not that we should tell everyone listening here that they should go out and spend tons of money right away, but it’s very interesting what you said about having skin in the game because I felt the exact same with my board game. I designed three pieces of art, three to $400 a piece. It wasn’t like some crazy investment. It wasn’t like my life would be ruined if I walked away, but that was the skin in the game where I was like, okay, I’m doing this thing. I put money down. I’m paying people. That’s an interesting inflection point, I think, in the journey, is once you have that skin in the game, you’re like, okay. Then you’ve got to go through those tough moments.
John: That’s part of deciding that this is going to happen. I’m doing it. Whether it’s, you make that decision and then you pay the money, or you pay the money and then you make the decision; either way, it’s within milliseconds, I think, of this is a real thing. This is happening. You just buckle up for the journey. That’s really it. For other people where, I’m creating something that was going to be out in the world to sell, that’s maybe a different process, but if you just enjoy writing, well, then it doesn’t even matter. You have an income. You’re not going to be homeless and out of food because your book didn’t land right. It’s fine. It’s just you enjoy writing. The process is what’s the beauty of it? The creative, the writing, the doing it is what you enjoy. If you phrase it as, I enjoy, blank, then no one’s going to judge it. Casey says, “I enjoy creating board games.” Nobody says, “Man, that board game is terrible.” No one would say that because you’re not even asking for approval. I don’t care if you like it or not. I enjoy it. It’s that easy, and it takes the weight off of all of our shoulders.
Casey: I love that man. A quick, maybe cap this with a hypothetical question. If money was no object, money’s no object, you basically have all the money you could ever want, what are you doing every day? What are you waking up and doing every day if money is no object?
John: That’s a great question, man. I think re-watching all of Notre Dame football games, every day, and then eating ice cream while I do it because I can just buy new whatever body parts fall apart when you eat too much ice cream, which I’ll probably find out soon enough, to be honest. Yeah, and then probably just helping others, helping others do the thing that they love to do. What I think would be just an awesome show is like Dirty Jobs, Mike Rowe, but it’d be John Garrett, and I come and help you play board games and design a board game or whatever, and then we talk and do that. Then it’s somebody else ballroom dancing. It’s somebody else painting, whatever. It’s just helping other people light up. That’s always a cool thing. That, in between watching football games.
Casey: I love that. Yeah, I was thinking about that question. I was like putting myself in that headspace, and I’m kind of the same way. I feel like when you first are in that headspace, you’re like, I’m going to travel. For me, I’m like, I’m going to play basketball and board games and just all that kind of stuff. You’re like, okay, that would be good for probably about three months. Then I’m going to really be like, I need to do something purposeful. What’s the next chapter?
John It’s a combination, for sure. Well, this has been so much fun, Casey. Thank you so much for being a part of What’s Your “And”? This is awesome.
Casey: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. It was great.
John: Totally, and everybody listening, if you want to see some pictures of Casey’s work or connect with him on social media or a link to his board game, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. Everything’s there. While you’re on the page, please click that big button, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture. Don’t forget to check out the book.
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