When Richard Tait and his partner, Whit Alexander, started Cranium in 1998, the two Microsoft alums had a simple goal: to lighten and enlighten people’s lives by building a “brand for the brain.” Their flagship product is the Cranium board game–and their loyal fans are called Craniacs. More than 2 million copies have been sold, and Cranium won the prestigious Toy Industry Association award for “Game of the Year” in 2001. Cranium has become a worldwide phenomenon with localized versions in 14 different countries.
Grand pooh-bah, Cranium
FROM RICHARD’S ORIGINAL ENTRY:
Tell us what you do (or what your team or organization does) and the specific challenge you faced.
Cranium is a small company competing in an industry dominated by Hasbro and Mattel. It competes by moving smarter and faster than its competitors with creative distribution, word-of-mouth marketing and innovation in a once stagnant industry. In 1998, Richard Tait co-founded Cranium, Inc. and embarked on a mission to build the “brand for the brain” through games that lighten and enlighten people’s lives. Along with years of experience creating award-winning software products for Microsoft, Tait brought with him a desire to change the rules and operated at a speed difficult for others to replicate. The company quickly developed its first product, Cranium. However, being new to the game business, they didn’t realize major retailers make game-buying decisions in February, not in June, when Cranium was ready for distribution.
What was your moment of truth?
Faced with the reality of having no place to sell Cranium, Tait and Cranium co-founder, Whit Alexander, went to Starbucks for a latte and a brainstorming session to determine how they were going to distribute the game. Even in the early stages, Tait and Alexander had a very clear vision of who their most logical first customers were–educated, affluent, “dating yupsters”–and when Richard looked up, he saw them all waiting in line for coffee at Starbucks. They then realized they should take Cranium where their customers were rather than where games are traditionally sold. That decision changed the course of the company and this distribution pattern now identifies Cranium’s pioneering partners–other retailers that target 20- to 30-somethings. Tait and Alexander selected Starbucks, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble as ideal pioneering partners, and decided that if they were to partner with them, it would guarantee the company’s success. Through Tait and Alexander’s aggressive outreach, all three became launch partners for Cranium.
What were the results?
More than 2 million copies of Cranium have been sold worldwide, and the game received the prestigious 2001 Toy Industry Association’s Game of the Year award. Cranium Cadoo, a kids’ version of Cranium, and Cranium Cariboo, an ideal first game for preschoolers, have won a combined 12 national awards. Cranium continuously gives back to the community, distributing $700,000 to 50 organizations offering after-school art programs for at-risk kids throughout the U.S, U.K. and Canada. Additionally Cranium is becoming an international phenomenon with localized editions in 14 countries worldwide.
What’s your parting tip?
Orville Wright did not have a pilot’s license: don’t ever be afraid to bend, or even break the rules.