Ask a Genius: How Travis Hancock went from 9-to-5 to board game boss

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Ask a Genius: How Travis Hancock went from 9-to-5 to board game boss
Pictured: Holly, Travis and Margo Hancock.

Travis Hancock was working a day job like the rest of us in 2015. He and his wife, Holly, were developing a board game called "Salem," based on the Salem Witch Trials in their spare time. It might have stayed a side project, but they launched a fundraiser for the game on Kickstarter and unexpectedly received $100,000.

Hancock has since quit his day job and works full-time on games under the couple's company, Facade Games. They've just released their third game, Tortuga, and the company has earned more than $1 million in revenue.

Our conversation with Hancock is the latest edition of Ask a Genius, our regular series of talks with brilliant people.

What were you doing before making board games?

I worked at an ad agency helping small companies with their digital marketing (things like search engine optimization, search ads, social media).

When did you know it was time to quit your day job?

We launched our first game on Kickstarter as a side project. We totally weren't expecting to make a business out of it, but it took off and raised $100,000. I saw that as an opportunity to leave my job and continue developing games to see where it would lead. At that time my wife was also working as a teacher, so we had her salary and benefits to fall back on as well.

What was the hardest lesson you learned transitioning from a regular job to running your own business?

I'm a perpetual optimist, so nothing has seemed too hard, actually. I'm pretty self-motivated, and I am good at making time to socialize, so working from home has been totally cool. I'm also a trial-and-error kind of guy, so I don't mind diving in to learn the "hard lessons" as I go.

How do you budget?

We use a separate checking account for "life" things like groceries, clothes, entertainment, and then the main checking account for things like bills, mortgage, insurance. Having the separate "life" budget forces us to not overspend in areas where it's easier to do that. It works really well! When there is leftover money in the main checking from a good quarter, we'll plan things like trips or put more of it away into retirement accounts.

What is it like to run a business with your wife? How do you separate marriage things & work things?

Super fun! She's my favorite person in the world, so it's great that we get to spend more time together. We swap babysitting our daughter and working, so that each of us can focus on our areas of expertise. We also make sure to "clock out" when necessary so that we don't bring work into normal life too much. Having a physical office in our house also helps — keeps work at work.

What did you use the Kickstarter money for?

Money raised on Kickstarter is used to manufacture the game, and for shipping the game to our backers. Leftover money is used to produce more copies so that we can sell them throughout the following year on places like Amazon or our website. We also put some of that money toward our living expenses so that we can keep making games.

How would you advise people looking to start a successful Kickstarter campaign?

Browse Kickstarter and see what is working and what isn't. It's easy to pick out the quality campaigns from the not-so-quality campaigns. Also notice that each successful product is unique and engaging. You need to make something that will stand out, because Kickstarter is flooded with mediocre things.

What is your secret time- or money-saving tip?

I work in half-hour chunks. That helps me really be in the zone during that half-hour. And if the half-hour ends and I'm really in the zone then I'll keep working. Or if I need a break then I'll take a break. Makes a full day a little less daunting. For money saving: Stop buying garbage. Garbage takes many forms, but learn to be a minimalist. Everything you buy should have a good purpose. Otherwise it's going to clutter up your house and empty out your wallet. I'd rather spend money on savings/retirement for the peace of mind it brings, and on amazing experiences like traveling and visiting family.

Finally: Plug something people should buy/read/watch.

Well I'm pretty partial to our three games, Salem 1692, Tortuga 1667 and Deadwood 1876. You can learn more about all three games at our website, facadegames.com.

This interview was lightly edited for clarity.

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Image: Travis Hancock