Alfred and Sarah Mai were tired of playing the same games during game night, so they took matters into their own hands. Between a stroke of luck on social media and a lot of hard work, their games bring people together for game night around the world.
Avid party game lovers Alfred Mai and Sarah Keokham Mai weren’t feeling the games they’d played with friends when they hosted game nights at home, so they decided to create their own. The couple, in their late twenties at the time, living and working in San Francisco, set out to design a game they felt was missing from the game night cannon.
“Our initial mission was to connect people through games and to get people off their phones, get people off TV, and have people interact and have great conversations with each other,” says Alfred, whose father migrated to the United States from China and also started his own business, an auto repair shop.
Knowing nothing about party game production, Alfred and Sarah spent long nights on the internet, reading everything they could about graphic design and print manufacturing, and watching tutorial videos. Then they researched manufacturers, hoping to find one who was willing to produce their smaller-than-usual first order.
By late 2017, they had created a brand called ASM Games, and a party game for adults called, These Cards Will Get You Drunk. They described the game as a “fun adult drinking card game that will have you and your friends LOL-ing.” Turns out creating and mass producing the game was the easier part. Getting their product on store shelves? Much harder.
“We thought that the hallmark for success for our product was to see it on the store shelves of physical stores,” says Alfred, “so we called every retail buyer that we could. We went on LinkedIn, and we stalked every buyer that we could.”
After numerous social media direct messages, emails, and phone calls to retailers went unanswered, the couple decided to take matters into their own hands.
“We said, ‘Why don’t we skip the middleman and go direct to customers who shop in Amazon’s store?’” Alfred recalls. “We don’t need a contact. We don’t need a connection. We don’t need a friend’s friend who’s a big buyer at a big-box retailer to give us validation that this is the product that people will love. We can go put it in Amazon’s store and let customers decide whether it’s a product that they love.”
One viral tweet
Once they listed the game in Amazon’s store, they set out to market it in every way they could by approaching public relations agencies, pitching the game to editors, talking to social media influencers, and running social media ads. They also continued to work full-time. Their efforts led to a few sales here and there, but nothing the couple considered significant.
Then, in late 2018, Alfred was at work when he received a phone call. It was a friend asking if he’d seen the publicity that These Cards Will Get You Drunk was getting online. A Twitter user had posted photos of some of the game’s cards, along with the words, “Who’s trynna play?” For some reason, the tweet caught on like wildfire.
“I pulled out my phone, and I saw that the tweet had been retweeted thousands of times overnight,” he says. “And when I checked my sales, we had sold more in the last two hours than we had the entire year leading up to the tweet. We were the number one bestselling product in the toys and games category in Amazon’s store...I ran out of my office in downtown San Francisco and called my wife.”
The game quickly sold out thanks to all the attention it was receiving on social media but how would the young business keep up? Alfred and Sarah, who had just recently gotten married, met up at a bar where they discussed what this meant for their business. Before leaving the bar, they made the joint decision to quit their jobs and turn what was a side project into a full-time venture.
When I checked my sales, we had sold more in the last two hours than we had the entire year leading up to the tweet.
Game night growth
“It takes months to produce the products, and it takes one or two months to ship it and to have things delivered into warehouses,” Alfred says. “Our biggest fear was that when the products were back in stock, would that momentum die out?”
Plus, restocking meant spending a considerable amount of money. They would have to pay the manufacturer, shipping logistics handlers, and warehouses to store their inventory, upfront. It was a big risk for the newly-married couple at the time. What if they spent all this money and customers weren’t there when the product returned to warehouses?
“That was a huge gamble that we had to take,” Alfred remembers. “But we decided that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and so we went all in. We put all our savings in and bought as big of a manufacturing order that we could, brought it into the US, shipped it to Amazon, and hoped for the best.”
The couple’s gamble paid off. Over the last five years, they have added five more games that appeal to different demographics like kids, and families with young children. They’ve also reached fans around the world.
“Amazon is, by far, the biggest foundation of our growth,” Alfred says. “There’s still tax and regulatory compliance that we have to follow overseas, but with the flip of a button, we’re able to sell in countries like Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, Canada, and Australia, and that has really accelerated our growth.”
Working around life
A lot has changed for Alfred and Sarah since those early days, especially with Sarah stepping away to be a full-time mom to their toddler. Owning their business allows Alfred to plan work around his life and not the other way around, like when he wants to take his son to the zoo on a weekday. Being an Amazon seller helps too, with all the access to support that sellers have.
“Leveraging programs like Fulfillment by Amazon completely lifted this huge operational burden off my shoulders,” he says. “We’re able to sell our games to people in Germany and have it delivered in one or two days. And I know nothing about Germany or where things go or how things are. Amazon handles all of that for me.”
What started as an idea to fill a gap in the market is now a successful, worldwide business, all thanks to a great idea, and a little help from a viral tweet.
“Like a lot of entrepreneurs, I never expected this to be a full-time business,” Alfred says. “I think a lot of people say, ‘You’re able to go to the zoo on a Tuesday afternoon, you’re so blessed.’ And I am super blessed. But they definitely don’t see the beginning of the business, the risks that we had to take, the savings that we had to pony up for a gamble on something that may not have worked, and all the work that goes up leading into it.”