Surround yourself with people who you respect and admire. Collaboration is the key to success.”
Shannon Swindle is Partner & Director of Operations for Utter Nonsense, overseeing marketing and strategic partnerships for the company. As a result of her self-taught PR efforts, Utter Nonsense caught the attention of a buyer at Target, leading to its distribution in all 1,800 stores nationwide. Leveraging her experience as a mom and former teacher, she managed the development of the newest version, Utter Nonsense: Family Edition, with her brother Tim. She previously worked in higher education at Valparaiso University, has a background in international studies and has lived in several different countries. Shannon is passionate about play-based learning and would like to develop more games for children in the future.
Where did the idea for Utter Nonsense come from?
My brother, Tim, and his friend, Dave, created Utter Nonsense: The Inappropriate Accent Game, which we’ve just updated and rebranded as Utter Nonsense: Naughty Edition. It was funded on Kickstarter in August 2014. The original version has become a successful adult party game and is best suited for ages 18 & up.
We heard from several people that they loved the game, but wished they could play with their kids, so Tim and I developed the Family Edition, which was released in June 2017 and is sold exclusively at Target.
Utter Nonsense is based in Chicago and the games are made in Battle Creek, Michigan. Tim and I run the company together and we are self-published. We both feel incredibly lucky that we get to help people laugh for a living.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My typical day varies depending on the time of year and what we’re working on. When we were in the product development stage for the Family Edition, I lived (and dreamed) in phrase cards—there are 450 in the game. I spent most of my time reading, selecting and organizing phrases submitted by our writers, then editing and tweaking the phrases, and finally creating new content using ideas/themes inspired by everyday life. We wanted a mixture of word play, current events and pop culture and I would wake up with new ideas for phrases that I dreamed about during the night. Developing the Family Edition was so much fun because I was able to use my personal experience as a mom and former teacher to help make the game enjoyable for both kids and adults.
When the product development stage is over and the game is in production, then it’s all about marketing, PR and brand awareness. Since we were a start-up on a limited budget, I had done most of the PR on my own for the original game. But we were in a time crunch with this release and needed more firepower, so we hired a PR firm to help us with the launch of the Family Edition.
Currently, we work hand in hand with our PR team. They do the majority of the pitching, then I send all of the samples to press & media, influencers and bloggers, and Tim and I share interview requests. The brother/sister team seems to set us apart from other entrepreneurs, so I like to include a hand written note from both of us with every game we send. I believe the personal touch is important when developing relationships with writers and reviewers. I also like to follow up with a thank you note after someone has featured us.
How do you bring ideas to life?
My brother, Tim, is really good at strategy, coming up with new ideas and thinking outside the box. Most of the time, he has an idea and asks me to run with it. To begin, I spend a lot of time on research; then I focus on development. Bringing ideas to life is probably the favorite part of my job because it’s the most creative. For example, he wanted to release a holiday expansion pack this year, and asked me to handle it. First, I reached out to our printer for a quote and a deadline. Then I reached out to our head writer and graphic designer to discuss the project. They got back to me with their ideas. I gave my feedback, did some fine-tuning, asked Tim for his opinion and approval, and the Holiday Pack was born. Finding partners you respect and enjoy working with is incredibly important when bringing ideas to life. Teamwork truly does make the dream work.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Social gaming. I love to see people put down their phones and come together for simple, yet creative fun. It’s about making memories and connecting in a meaningful way, not just liking each other’s facebook posts.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I’m very detail-oriented and keep track of everything—all of our contacts, press, inventory, sales info, promos, reviews, new ideas, etc. I have several Google Sheets open at once and enter data constantly throughout the day.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Always fight for what you believe in. Don’t be afraid of what people think. You have to listen to your inner voice and stand up for what’s right, even if you stand alone.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Lefties are the only ones in their right minds.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
How about three things? Be kind, work hard, show gratitude.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Connection. “Connection is why we’re here. It gives purpose and meaning to our lives.” (Brené Brown)
We would not be where we are today had we not connected with people. Tim went to Minneapolis to meet our Target rep and buyer in person, which has led to a close relationship with Target. I visit our manufacturer in Michigan on a regular basis to oversee production, meet with our account manager, and pick up games. Tim and I both believe in developing meaningful relationships and we’ve connected with some very talented and awesome people over the last three and a half years. In fact, most of my mentors in the toy & game industry are female and I am forever grateful for their guidance.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Our printer made a mistake on the back of five cards, but I didn’t catch it when reviewing the proofs. There were five accent cards in the first run of the Family Edition that have the correct accent on the front of the card, but it says “Phrases” on the back instead of “Accents.” Tim had been out of the country when I reviewed the proofs and when I discovered the error. We talked it through with our printer and he told us we had three options. Ultimately, we decided to own the mistake and display it loud and clear on our website instead of redoing the whole run. Since the printing error didn’t affect the game play in any way, it wasn’t as bad as we first thought. To remedy the mistake, we asked our printer to make a custom cellophane packet of the five “correct” accent cards. And now we send a packet to anyone who reaches out via our website. Lesson #1: Always have more than one person review proofs. Lesson #2: Everyone makes mistakes, be honest, then find a way to fix it.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A better, more efficient way to track press. Right now you either have to set up Google Alerts and manually enter the info into a spreadsheet or pay for expensive PR software like Cision. There has to be a less time-consuming, more cost-effective way to keep track of press.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I brought my 6-year-old son with me to the Chicago Toy & Game Fair last weekend. He loved playing a game there, called Klask, which is like magnetic air hockey. I wanted to buy it for him for Christmas, but they were all sold out. So I asked the inventor, who happened to be there from Denmark, if he would sell one of their samples to me and he said yes, but there was a waiting list. Fortunately, the people who were on the waiting list never showed up, so we got the last Klask game from the inventor, who signed it for my son, and who shared the meaning and history behind Klask with us. It wasn’t $100, but it was the best thing I’ve recently purchased.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Google Docs. I couldn’t live without them. (See #5.) I have at least 10 spreadsheets open at a time, sometimes up to 20.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World” by Chelsea Clinton. Although this is a children’s book, as a female entrepreneur, I believe it’s important to teach children about women who persevered in the face of adversity. As a single mom, it’s especially important to me for my son to read stories of strong women who are determined to make a difference. “This book shows readers that no matter what obstacles may be in their paths, they shouldn’t give up on their dreams. Persistence is power.”
What is your favorite quote?
“Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.” – Amy Poehler
- Running a business requires you to wear many hats. In order to grow your company, you must be willing to step outside your comfort zone and take risks. As a result, you’ll discover skills you never knew you had.
- Surround yourself with people who you respect and admire. It’s also important to work with people who have different talents and perspectives than you do. Collaboration is the key to success.
- Sometimes you need to turn off technology, gather around the table with family and friends and have fun together. Unplug. Interact. Reconnect.
- Every woman has a voice. Don’t be afraid to use it. If you don’t stand up for yourself, no one else will. May 2018 continue to be the year of women standing up for themselves.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.