What are the benefits of the Waterbug Business Model? David Galiel of Elbowfish Board Games has first hand knowledge.
David Galiel of Elbow Fish Board Games: Supporting the local creative economy.
Name of Business: Elbowfish
Years in business: 4
What the business does: Design, develop and publish board games that make you think.
What was the path that led to your business? I have a long entrepreneurial background and was involved in a pioneering massively multiplayer online game in the late 1990’s. I was also the director of the Boston Computer Society Virtual Reality Group in the early
’90s. After 9/11, I shifted my work to helping nonprofit organizations and government agencies adopt and use new media technologies more effectively.
In 2013, my older daughter, who had majored in game design at Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD), approached me to start a game company together. She introduced me to the new renaissance of board games. We decided that it was a good way for us to bootstrap the company and establish our brand. We launched Elbowfish as equal partners, published our first two games, and then she decided to pursue other work.
Meanwhile, I had fallen in love with non-digital gaming, and decided to continue to grow Elbowfish as a board game company. We now publish both internally-designed original content, as well as developing game designs that are brought to us by other creators.
For example, one of our next games, Shipwrecked, is based on an original concept and design by Matt Kirby, inventor of Apples to Apples, now published by Hasbro. Apples to Apples has sold over 20 million copies to date. Shipwrecked is the first Kirby game in over a decade, and I was fortunate to be able to bring together some of the best artist, illustrators and game designers around to craft it into the game we will be launching soon. These include world-renowned art director, designer and illustrator Lee Moyer, and former Disney sculptor and Laika conceptual artist Lyla Warren, along with veteran game designer and publisher Levi Mote.
What’s working now? Jackie’s “Waterbug” model, with a solo entrepreneur at the center collaborating with other independent creatives, is a perfect match for Elbowfish. It supports our goal of supporting the local creative economy.
We have already worked with three visual artists/illustrators, two game designers, two videographers, a writer, several actors, composers, an attorney, a bookkeeper and even some goats! (Portland’s pigmy goat herd were featured in the Kickstarter video for JUX, our collaborative storytelling game).
Do you have any advice?
– Remembering that I have a lot of experience to draw from and that I should trust my instincts;
-Realizing that I do not have to build a traditional, top-down game studio with high overhead and headaches. Instead, that I can grow Elbowfish and reach sustainability using the Waterbug model;
– Recognizing that Elbowfish already has significant intellectual property/tangible assets. This is in the form of the quality original art, character design, and major investments of time and expertise from designers, business consultants and others in developing a quality brand identity and individual game brands. This has not only helped me revalue the business from a financial standpoint. It has also made me appreciate what I, with the help of so many others, have successfully built in just a few years. We often forget that side of things, and look only at the challenges and speedbumps along the way.
Which class did you take from Jackie?
Encorepreneurs and Solopreneurs.
What was it like working with Jackie? I’m 58. I have been in business, mostly for myself, for over 35 years. I have read many books, attended many talks, and participated in many workshops about business development and entrepreneurship. Most of them were not worth the cost – including the ones that were free!
I can honestly say that working with Jackie has been, from the first meeting, the most productive professional development I have ever experienced in my career. It has literally transformed my approach to my own business development. The class was, like her one-on-one consulting, extremely valuable – very high signal-to-noise ratio. The quality of participants was high as well. I think we learned from one another almost as much as we learned from Jackie and the other presenters.
Jackie has a unique gift of cutting through the clutter. She identifies core value in every conversation, and helping to see the next logical action item that will produce tangible progress. And, she does this while balancing frank, realistic critique with empathy and genuine concern about your success. It is a rare combination.