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Growth Hacker puts startup success down to literal roll of the dice

Considering the fickle nature of startups, a board game based around the industry seems like a natural fit.

With high risks, high rewards, and an elaborate set of strategic and interpersonal rules, the startup lifecycle looks for all intents and purposes like the guide to a particularly challenging RPG.

Tell me this doesn’t already look like a tabletop game. Photo: StartupCommons.

Tell me this doesn’t already look like a tabletop game. Image: StartupCommons.

Now, Brisbane gaming enthusiasts Jillian Schuller and Tanda’s Alex Ghiculescu have developed Growth Hacker, a “cheeky” board game based on the local ecosystem. To win, budding entrepreneurs must face “market crashes, disruption cards, sneaky competitors and the dreaded IPO” as they grow their startups over seven years, or 20-30 minutes our time.

The idea is basically there’s a currency, which is bitcoin, and everyone has employees,” Ghiculescu said. “You employ your hipsters, hackers and hustlers, [and] using those you can buy stuff like a standing desk, or you can go through an IPO, for example, and after seven years, whoever has the most bitcoins wins.”

“It has a lot of inside jokes and content based on people inside the community,” he said. “For example there’s the standing desk card, there’s a [local stalwart] Christopher Drake card, all the other sorts of things people will hopefully find funny.”

The team are already amateur game-makers, having previously won Australia’s first “Freedom Weekend” with the satirical libertarian game Cards Against Communism, and made a life-sized Settlers of Catan game.

The life-sized Settlers of Catan game. Photos: Alex Ghiculescu.

The life-sized Settlers of Catan game made via a hexagonal rug. Photos: Alex Ghiculescu.

They developed Growth Hacker at Startup Weekend Gold Coast in mid-Novemeber, where they came in second to another game, the augmented-reality-cum-collectable-card-game Genesis AR.

And while Ghiculescu and Schuller have a genuine love of gaming, the idea to pitch a board game at a Startup Weekend came from Schuller jokingly suggesting it as an alternative to tech startups.

So it sort of started off a joke, like wouldn’t it be funny if we made a board game instead of an app or whatever anyone else is going to make on the weekend,” Ghiculescu said. “And it turned into ‘wait a minute, there’s actually, probably a business model in…making board games for people who usually go and make apps. “

Ghiculescu and Schuller went on to develop a proto set of cards through InDesign and print them off on regular cardboard, although they hope to raise enough money via their Indiegogo campaign to create professional versions of the game.

They also pivoted from a much more realistic version of Growth Hacker to a shorter, more enjoyable game. Ghiculescu said that players could originally do a lot more in one turn, such as teaching new skills to employees, but this was changed because it would practically not be as much fun.

With accessible imitations of entrepreneurial rules such as capital raising and valuation, the new Growth Hacker aims to capture the spirit of a startup’s journey with a healthy balance of the minutiae.

“It’s a tradeoff there and a lot of that tradeoff comes with the gaming and timing, the balance between fun and realism,” Ghiculescu said. “So we rounded down a little bit, now it’s sort of, at the moment the average game goes for about 20-30 minutes. It’s like a dice and card game, a bit of a party game almost.”

To finance a professional version of the game, Ghiculescu said they would need between 50-100 pre-orders. The Indiegogo campaign, which runs until January 2016, has thus far earned $1,225 of a  $2,500 goal, and, if successful, will finance a March rollout.

Regardless of the campaign’s outcome, Ghiculescu remains dedicated to the idea and hopes to run gaming sessions at River City Labs over the new few weeks. He said his experiences with  Growth Hacker thus far should highlight the opportunities Startup Weekend offers outside of traditional tech ideas.

“It’s definitely interesting, as everyone who’s doing Startup Weekend and stuff, that are doing this regularly, there’s just so many business opportunities that are not just making another app for food delivery or whatever,” Ghiculescu said. “Which I guess is the default approach when you’re going into these things.”

This [was] really cool, taking a business model, which I knew nothing about, and figuring out what it actually takes to make a board game, and actually going out and trying to do it,” he said. “And then having this physical box that we can open up and play now is pretty cool.”

About Chris Woods

Chris Woods (@tophermwoods) is the Tech Street Journal's Editor-in-Chief. He lives in Brisbane, has worked in places like Sydney and New York (State of), and will someday update his media-news blog.