On this week’s episode of Inside Outside Innovation, Brian Ardinger, Inside Outside Innovation Founder sits down with the creator of Pictionary, Rob Angel. Rob is a speaker, author, and entrepreneur and author of the new book Game Changer: The story of Pictionary and how I turned a simple idea into the bestselling board game in the world.
Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast that brings you the best and the brightest in the world of startups and innovation. I’m your host, Brian Ardinger, founder of Insideoutside.io, a provider of research events and consulting services that help innovators and entrepreneurs build better products, launch new ideas, and compete in a world of change and disruption. Each week we’ll give you a front row seat to the latest thinking, tools, tactics, and trends in collaborative innovation. Let’s get started.
Interview with Rob Angel, Creator of Pictionary
Brian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I’m your host, Brian Ardinger and as always, we have another amazing guest. Today with me is Rob Angel. Rob is the creator of Pictionary. Welcome to the show, Rob,
Rob Angel: Thank you for having me, Brian. Appreciate it.
Brian Ardinger: You’ve got a new book out called Game Changer: The story of Pictionary and how I turned a simple idea into the bestselling board game in the world. I wanted to get some insights into what it was like to create something from scratch and something that’s well known throughout the world. Let’s start at the early stages of your entrepreneurial journey and how you took paper and pencil and created a million-dollar business. Tell us a story of how you became the creator Pictionary.
Rob Angel: It’s a long story, but the ultimate was that I was always open looking for ideas. I was always an entrepreneur and just waiting for my opportunity. And that came in the form of one evening. My roommate said, you guys want to play a game. We said, sure. Why wouldn’t I want to play a game? And he called it charades on paper. We just sketch words out of the dictionary to each other. I’m 22, just recently graduated from college. 22 years old. And we started playing and I stay up all night for several nights in a row. At this point, I’m thinking this would make a good board game. And that was the genesis. That was my first shot with Pictionary. And I didn’t start working on it for another two years, but that was the genesis.
Brian Ardinger: Have you always been entrepreneurial minded or was this something this was a stroke of genius, stroke of luck that pulled things together, that you decided to start a business around
Rob Angel: A little bit of both. Most things are a lot of hard work, but I’ve always had the mindset that I was going to work for myself. My father got fired when I was 19. And I thought if this executive, who I looked up to, my father is my role model could get fired. I wasn’t going to let anybody have control over my future. And so, at that point, 19 years old, I said, okay, I’m going to do my own thing. And that kind of put me on this path of being an entrepreneur and to take care of myself.
Brian Ardinger: Talk a little bit about starting a board game, if you’ve never been in the game business, or I guess any business, if you’ve never been in that industry and that before. How did you go about thinking, well, there’s something here and how can I incrementally such that I can create a business around it?
Rob Angel: Yeah, I think that’s exactly the point. I mean, how many times have any of us had this wonderful idea for something? You get it? You ever walked out of a shower and thought Oh my God, here’s my million-dollar idea that never got started. I think a lot of times that’s because we overthink the process. Overthinking all the different steps to get there. And that’s what happened to me. Is that I started thinking of all the steps necessary to put picture in the store shelf. I mean, physically, I could, I could visualize that, but I couldn’t get started because I couldn’t think straight if you will, over-thought all the steps.
So, I broke it down to its first easiest step. And for me, I think for a lot of us, that’s easy to digest. Digesting business plans and marketing plans and all these other things that I knew, nothing about, was too much. So, breaking it down. I said, okay, what’s that step? And it’s making the word list. And for me, that was pretty simple because everything I needed was right there. You know, I didn’t have to overthink it again, that a paper, a pencil, and a dictionary. Went in the backyard. And I started writing down the word list.
The first word I came to was aardvark. I wrote down the word aardvark, and that was my first Pictionary word, but that’s how it got started. And so when you’re thinking of ideas and you’re thinking of things, it’s not necessary to have everything in place. I didn’t. Just know that it’s easy to get started. Write down a word, get a Go Daddy domain name, whatever it takes, just to take that first step. And then just get excited about that first step. And that’s when it gets started.
Brian Ardinger: So, you’re excited after the first step, you start moving the ball down the path, so to speak. No business gets off the ground without hitting some obstacles. Tell us about the first time you hit an obstacle and decided to keep going through it, even though it was challenging,
Rob Angel: There’s always obstacles. And as I say, it wouldn’t be any fun if there were no obstacles, because it just makes you tougher. It made me tough. First obstacle was to find partners for me. I started working on the game and I had somebody join me, the business side, business end, and he quit. And so, I’m back to square one and we all know our limitations. We have to acknowledge. And I had to acknowledge the fact that I didn’t want to run a business. And so, when this gentleman that I thought was going to be the guy quit, I had to find somebody else.
But what I found was that I found somebody that was aligned with my vision. I mean, when you’re talking, you know partners, and you’re talking about business, not just finding somebody that could cross the T and dot the Is and somebody that shares your passion and your vision, and that’s what I’ve found in my partner and that set me on the path. Kept me on the path. Shall we say.
Brian Ardinger: So how did you go about finding a partner? Did you actively start going out, looking for somebody to help co-found this with you? Or was it serendipitous or talk us through that step?
Rob Angel: I think everything is serendipitous, we chalk it up. You chalk it up to, Oh, you know, I found the right guy and I found it. But I think serendipity has a lot to do with everything. Actually, the gentleman who quit did a play test and his friend showed up, and when I met him, it was like, Oh my goodness, it’s almost a visceral reaction. I knew in my gut that he was the right guy. I mean, you know, people know when the right thing is happening. You kind of get, you know, break out a little sweat maybe or your heart rate races. Has that ever happened? Of course, that’s happened. Because you know what is in front of you. What is transpiring is the right thing. And that’s what happened when I met Terry my business partner.
Brian Ardinger: Can you talk about some of the skill sets that you developed as an entrepreneur, as you’re growing the business, that you either wish you had earlier on or some of the skills that you should be cultivating if you’re looking to be an entrepreneur.
Rob Angel: To be an entrepreneur, you have to be open. It’s a mindset. The skill set was, I didn’t know what I was doing. I looked at that as a positive and a negative. That I didn’t have the necessary tools. I mean, I was a waiter and there was no internet. So, I couldn’t figure out how to make things happen except for what felt right. But I had an open mind that when something went wrong, I kind of knew something was going to go wrong. So, I didn’t panic.
When you panic, you know, right, it’s that panic mode where, oh my goodness things aren’t going exactly as I planned. Well, nothing goes exactly as you planned. It just doesn’t. That’s life in general. And so, having the right mindset to do that and not panic so that you can center yourself and keep moving forward. And with skillset you just got to keep moving forward and work hard.
Brian Ardinger: Were there times when you almost packed it in or decided that this wasn’t going to be the right path or were you always confident in the ultimate outcome?
Rob Angel: That’s the question. I didn’t know what the outcome was going to be, but I was passionate about Pictionary. So, there were many times where I was exhausted. I mean, you ever been so tired where it mentally and physically, where it’s just too much. And that’s what happened to me, but I developed this love of the game, the love of my partners and love of what we were doing. And that came from passion.
But that took time. It was just constantly moving. It was constantly moving forward, and it built up over time. So that got me up in the morning. Because for me, passion faded, not my passion for everything, but it turned into a love of what I was doing and that kept me up and got me up.
Brian Ardinger: So, when you were building out the idea, did you do a lot of customer discovery or did you just know in your gut that there was something to this that you’re building? Or how did you go from nothing to that first customer?
Rob Angel: A lot of faith, but we did a lot of play tests. So, we took the game before it was an actual game and played it with family and friends. I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just the fact that I was drinking beer with my buddies that made it fun. That’s the thing about business and ideas. It could be a lot of fun, but unless you really test it out and see if anybody else is going to buy it, then you may not want to proceed.
I remember saying people later on they’d come to me with a game idea. They weren’t very good. And I said, well, would you buy this? They’d say no. But other people will. So yeah, you’ve got to have something that works. I mean, passion is great, but you also have to make sure that the product or the vision or the app or whatever it is, serves a function. Are people going to buy it?
Brian Ardinger: So, you built Pictionary. At some point you sold it to Mattel in like 2001 or whatever. What was that like selling your baby to someone else? And what was that process like?
Rob Angel: That was one of those stop moments. Good and bad in my life. I’d been with Pictionary for 20 years by then. And it was a part of my life, but it was time and I had moved on a little bit. I’d had a family. And so, my priorities changed. When the opportunity arose, I took it. You have to know when it’s time. Sometimes we’ll run a business longer than we should. Stay with a nonprofit longer than we should. For me, it was time. It was still tough. I mean you woke up the next day. Oh my what have I done? But it was the right move.
Brian Ardinger: So, I’m curious to get your thoughts on board games. There’s a resurgence going on, whether it’s COVID or I think it probably started before that. What are your thoughts on this recent resurgence move away from video games and some of the other stuff to more traditional board game environment?
Rob Angel: It was definitely happening before COVID. I think it’s that the term is high-tech high touch. I mean, the more we’re looking down at our phones, the more we don’t want to look down at our phones. We want to track that, touch, and communicate. We want to do it and games gives people that opportunity to do that for not a lot of time commitment.
And I think people were heading away from full time on their phones, full time on their technology. I wanted to reconnect, and I think that’s just a function of the planet right now. It’s shifting a little bit, all the current problems, notwithstanding towards that. Will the pendulum go all the way back? I don’t think so, but is it a nice respite to the process accelerating? Absolutely.
Brian Ardinger: So, are you seeing any new trends or anything that’s exciting you about the world today in either in entrepreneurship or in the entertainment space?
Rob Angel: Oh yeah. Use the technology of the day, it’s like state-of-the-art, as they say, and there’s all kinds of tools that people can use now to create music, to create board games, to create movies. And so, there’s all kinds of new ways to be creative and tapping into those, I think is just going to enrich everybody and enrich the opportunities that we have to engage, have fun, and to just participate.
Brian Ardinger: So, let’s talk about the book. It’s called Game Changer: The story of Pictionary and how I turned a simple idea into the best-selling board game in the world. It just came out. What made you decide to write a book and what can people expect to find in it?
Rob Angel: It was time. I did Pictionary many, many years ago, and I wanted to share my story of how me as a 23-year-old waiter, I dared to create the dream, to create the biggest selling board game in the world. And the story tells the ups, the downs, the tribulations, and the obstacles, both business and personal. So, the book just tells that really fun story. And there’s a lot of business lessons in there as well.
Brian Ardinger: Well Rob, I’m excited to get ahold of it and I encourage our audience to take a look at it as well. If people want to find out more about the book or more about yourself and that, what’s the best way to do that.
Rob Angel: You can find it on Amazon under Game Changer, Rob., on Amazon. Or follow me in social media, @theRobAngel on all those social media platforms and join me on the ride.
Brian Ardinger: That sounds great. Well, I appreciate you being on Inside Outside Innovation to share your story. I have one last question though. Have you always been a good artist?
Rob Angel: You know, uh, I like to say Mr. Pictionary, can’t draw. I’ve got a lot of talents, a lot of skills, but having me on your team is not to your advantage.
Brian Ardinger: Well that’s good to know because I’m a terrible drawer. But I do enjoy the game quite a bit. Rob, thank you again for being on Inside Outside Innovation. I appreciate you coming on and talking to about what you’re doing now and what you did in the past with Pictionary and look forward to continuing the conversation in the future.
Rob Angel: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
Brian Ardinger: That’s it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.
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