Game invented by an Aylesbury man that your family could be playing this Christmas
PUBLISHED: 16:55 23 November 2015 | UPDATED: 16:55 23 November 2015
Your family could be playing a game invented by an Aylesbury man this Christmas. Steve Cohen went to ask him some questions
Divorced dad Shaun Delaney knew he had to think fast to keep his three young daughters entertained when it began pouring with rain during a holiday in Cornwall. So he took out some cardboard from his car boot - and came up with a new board game.
Now 15 years on, that very same game, called ‘Jask’, is stocked in hundreds of shops across the UK – and Shaun has just begun marketing it worldwide. He describes Jask as a cross between Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit, or a Snakes and Ladders based on general knowledge rather than luck.
Shaun, 58, from Bedgrove in Aylesbury, who gave up his job in 2014 to devote himself to promoting Jask full time, recently sold it to a distributor in Christchurch, New Zealand which is about to distribute 1,500 games. Jask can also be seen nestling on the shelves, along with the likes of Monopoly, in retailers such as Hamleys, John Lewis, Fortnum and Mason, Fenwick and Waterstones.
Shaun, a former manager at High Wycombe Squash Club, has invested modest amounts of his own money to try to make his beloved game a success, and now his hard work seems to be paying off. “I am absolutely thrilled that it appears to have caught on in New Zealand,” he said. “I am also discussing a deal at the moment in Holland and Russia, so it is really exciting to realise that I might now be capturing an international market.”
But this is all a far cry from its humble beginnings in the early 2000s when driving rain confined him and his young family to staying indoors on what had promised to be an idyllic holiday to Cornwall. “We’d brought chess and draughts along, but my daughters weren’t interested, so I came up with a game which was both fun and educational to play,” he recalled. “I grabbed some cardboard from the car and just made it up then and there. It started out as a few markings on the piece of cardboard and my kids absolutely loved it.”
Shaun explained: “Essentially, players land on a letter on the board and are then asked to name as many things as they can beginning with that letter - anything from capital cities to words which sound the same but are spelt differently. My three girls loved it so much that they asked to play it again the next day. It was then that I realised I might have stumbled upon something really good.”
Shaun then set up slowly producing his game into a product that could go on sale in shops. He titled it Jask in honour of the initials of his daughters - Justine, Abby and Kerry. The S came from his own name.
“Luckily, I had a friend who was a printer and he knocked up a prototype for me. I also enlisted the services of professional designers who made sure the box looked attractive, which is incredibly important,” he said. “Then I made the big decision to get it made for real. The first batch of a thousand was made in this country, but it was extremely costly.”
Shaun, who was also working full-time as a warehouse manager, set about persuading shops to stock his product. “The pitches to the shops are like Dragons’ Den,” he said. “You are talking to someone who really tries to catch you out with tricky questions, but if they like what they hear then they are in. Luckily, they did like what they heard. Once I managed to get in to a few shops, it gave me credibility and was then easier to sell it to other retailers.”
Shaun was asked to appear on the real version of the BBC Dragons’ Den show, going up against another game at an audition. He narrowly lost out, but in some ways is glad he didn’t make the TV show. “It would have been fun, but even though I believe in Jask, it would have been immensely difficult to convince the panel it was viable because it has taken me so many years to get it to where it is. It has been a progression as most big retailers want to see at least three years retail history before they commit. It’s not a traditional success story because I have invested time and money in this and I bet many entrepreneurs would run a mile from that commitment, but I am at last recouping my investment and am really close to the big time.”
Jask is now produced at a factory in China at a much cheaper rate, enabling Shaun to get a better profit margin, and he is hoping that his years of work and investment will begin to pay off for him. He has also just produced a travel version of the game.
“I gave up my post of warehouse manager a year ago. I don’t have the safety net of getting money from a full time job, so that’s a bit scary. But I know I have got everything in place to provide me with more than a good living.”
Shaun’s experiences have led him to campaign to try to get a better deal for British businesses. “I’ve written to politicians asking what they can do to make it easier for UK firms to keep their business in this country and not have to go abroad, like I have had to do, to cut down their costs,” he said. “I have detailed a way to give British companies an advantage, say in terms of tax breaks, because this country must be losing so much business overseas. I don’t know myself what the exact answer is, because I am no expert – but I am hoping someone in power will help find a way to provide support for the British entrepreneur.”
But as we approach Christmas, Shaun is putting these issues behind him and concentrating on really making Jask the big hit he firmly believes it deserves to be in everyone’s festive stocking. “It’s fantastic that I have managed to break into the overseas market now,” he added. “I really believe in my game and think it’s going to be the next big thing.”
To find out more about Jask which retails for £25, see jaskgames.com.
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