One thing I have learned over the last few years is that you can literally create, design, build and sell (or at least try to sell) any idea extremely quickly and with a very small initial investment. All you have to do is take advantage of the available technology platforms and services and think global infrastructure. And what was only accessible to large corporations a few years back is now available to individuals as well. The democratization of global commerce so to say.
I am just launching a new product for Christmas, the “26 Popular Children’s Games from Around the World,” a little side project of mine that literally took six week to conceive, bring to life, produce and offer up for sale on Amazon. I’d like to use that project to illustrate my point.
I have three young children who are biracial and who live in a German-American household in a cultural environment (the US) that is increasingly divisive and intolerant. And that bothers me. Through my upbringing I’ve learned the value and benefits that come from living in and learning from other cultures, and I feel that it is my responsibility as a parent to instill those same values in my children. And as a parent, I know that the best way for a child to learn is through play.
So a few weeks ago I came up with the idea to create a set of cards, where each card would describe and provide instructions for a popular game in one of 26 countries around the world (“Catch the dragon’s tail” from China, “Rooster fight” from Brazil, etc., etc.). Each card would also include a picture of the country’s flag, the shape of the country, and a greeting in that country’s language, as well as a couple of fun facts to serve as a conversation-starter between parents and their children about that country and its culture. I also wanted the games to be low-tech (no tablet or app), require a minimum of accessories (kids in Africa or rural Laos don’t have access to much, yet have the most fun), be appealing for various age groups including adults, and be gender-neutral (I have two boys and a girl).
The first step was to run this idea by a few friends, my wife, and my kids. I admit that this form of market research (and concept validation) is fairly rudimentary, but everyone’s spontaneous reactions and input were enough for me to pull the trigger and decide to invest some time in it. And as I mentioned, this is a side project for me, something I wanted to produce, so commercial success wasn’t my primary objective.
Week 2: Curating the content
Week two was mainly spent researching popular children’s games from around the world and asking my international friends for their own recommendations (the marketing buzzword here would be “crowdsourcing”). Identifying the games and curating the content for the cards took me a total of three or four evenings (I do have a day job, after all).
Week 3: Creating the game
Week three was spent designing and creating the game, or having it designed and created, to be accurate. Ten or so years ago, I would not have been able to move forward with the idea beyond this point. I don’t have the skills required for that, nor would I have had the budget to afford the experts I’d need.
But now we live in a global economy, where a global pool of very talented people in every imaginable field is only one click away. My preferred go-to platform (there are others) is Upwork.com , an online marketplace for freelancers that I have been using for years to hire experts for proofreading, design, web or Facebook app development, transcription of interviews, presentation and infographic design, e-commerce projects, and any other “expert” need I have.
The platform enables you to post a job and its requirements and then “interview” and select a freelancer based on their bid, their previous work and the reviews they have received from other customers. If you feel comfortable enough, you can expand your pool of potential candidates globally, which often allows you to hire someone with the same level of qualification at a lower rate. Payment happens through the Upwork platform, so no risk there. The vetting and recruitment process is similar to what you would go through if you were looking for an expert in your neighborhood, except that it happens online. The briefing process is identical, and the more specific and precise you are in your briefing about your expectations, the better the outcome, especially when dealing with someone for whom English isn’t the native language.
I’ve been using the platform for several years now, and most of the freelancers I work with on a regular basis have been found there.
For the artwork on the box and the back side of the cards, I got very lucky. I wanted to end up with something that would stand out and also have meaning. Sheila Darcey, a friend and an extremely talented businesswoman and artist, was generous enough to allow me to use one of her creations. Sheila uses art as a form of daily meditation and as a way to tap into her unconscious mind. The piece we chose for the game is about the energy that flows between us and within us and was created in collaboration with her nine-year-old daughter, whose energy comes through in the color choices and strokes. It couldn’t be more perfect for the cards. And my wife and kids loved it.
Thanks to Upwork, the cards were designed and aligned to the printer’s specs by someone in India, and the web work as well; the proofreading was done by an editor in the United States, and to help me set up the Amazon store I also used someone based in the US.
So by the end of week three, everything was approved and ready for printing.
Weeks 4, 5 and 6: Printing and shipping
You have come up with an idea, you’ve created a prototype, you’ve hired experts to help design it and you’ve created the template. The next stage is production.
This is where a platform like Alibaba.com comes in handy. I’ve noticed that many people in the US are still not familiar with Alibaba and what it can do for them. Alibaba.com is basically the online platform for global trade. It made the news (again) recently for reaching $25 billion in sales on “Singles’ Day” a big shopping event in. Alibaba connects you with manufacturers from around the world that can produce whatever you want based on your unique specs, at phenomenal prices. You want to create a kayak with a built-in cooler and TV? Or create your own custom family board game or card game? Or build and market an electric bike for $500 (Sondors)? Or buy a tuk-tuk for slightly over $1,000? You can do all that with Alibaba, and much more.
Here too, all the vetting, selection, interaction and payment happens via Alibaba, which significantly reduces your risks. And if you’re not familiar with global shipping and customs rules and regulations, that’s no problem either—Alibaba or the producer will take care of everything for you. All you have to do is provide your delivery address and pay.
For a previous project, my Positioning-Roulette flash cards, I had identified and worked with a printer in Shenzhen, just outside of Hong Kong. Their customer service is outstanding, the quality of their printing is amazing and their prices are hard to beat. We tend to always criticize the low quality of Chinese manufactured goods, but I’ve learned that when products are of poor quality, it’s usually because of US/Western retailers and manufacturers trying to lower costs and not because of the Chinese manufacturers’ inability to produce high-quality goods. In fact, let’s not forget that the iPhone is also manufactured in China.
The printing took three weeks after approval, which is slower than usual due to the global Christmas rush, and the shipping took four days.
Week 7: Up for sale on Amazon
Once the cards had been delivered to my doorstep, all I had to do is head to FedEx (or any other delivery company, you choose) and ship the cards to one of Amazon’s warehouses, from where they are dispatched to several warehouses across the country for faster delivery (hello Amazon Prime). FedEx obviously has a deal with Amazon, so the Amazon prearranged pricing is amazingly low compared to what you’d have to pay as an individual.
The Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) option is a fantastic service, but Amazon enables its sellers to do their own fulfillment if they prefer (although they do have to adhere to strict quality and speed requirements).
Seven weeks after I thought about this product idea for the first time, it was available for sale on Amazon. Total investment? A few hours here and there, a strong global network of experts and a small budget.
I don’t know if the cards will be popular and sell. If not, I will get a tax write-off, will have learned
something new along the way, and in the process will have employed half a dozen freelancers from around the world. Also, I will have enough birthdays and Christmas presents for the next 15 years. But seeing my kids’ excitement when all the cards they helped to conceive were delivered, and giving my daughter the first set, as promised, have already made it worth everything.
I believe that we are slowly evolving from a “creative workers’ economy” to a “creator’s economy,” where the difference will be made not by those who can come up with an idea and just talk about it (“Charlatans”) but by those who can envision and execute an idea quickly (“Hustlers”). The infrastructure is already in place and accessible to companies large and small as well as to individuals—most people just haven’t yet caught up with the reality.
Oh, and in case you’re interested , you can buy the cards on Amazon.