The Big Quit - South Yorkshire council worker resigns to launch board games company Teleporthole Games
His hours have doubled, his income has disappeared and intergalactic gherkins dominate his thoughts - but Andrew Klinkenberg is a happy man indeed.
For he has given up a job in local government to start a company making card and board games.
With no experience in the industry, he is at the beginning of a long journey in a competitive field that could end in failure.
But he has a supportive family, experience as a business adviser and, above all, passion.
He may be doing 70-hour weeks developing his first commercial game - Attack of the Intergalactic Gherkins - but it doesn’t feel like work, he says.
WHAT IS THE BIG QUIT?
Andrew, aged 42, is one of thousands who have changed jobs as a result of the pandemic - the ‘Big Quit’ as it is sometimes called - with many launching out on their own.
His new firm is Teleporthole Games Ltd. And, so far, he’s proof that if you’re doing something you love, you’re not really working.
He said: “I was stuck in a rut working for the local authority - as so many are. There are a lot of perks, although you trade off salary for conditions and security.
“When I decided to go, my colleagues at RiDO were very positive and wished me good luck. They appreciate there’s more to life than working for the council.”
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In his 17 years at Rotherham Investment and Development Office he advised thousands of firms, including Gulliver’s which spent millions on Gulliver’s Valley theme park in the borough.
But he was always drawn to start-ups, he says – people building something from nothing.
Pandemic lockdowns that threatened to ruin many firms saw his own workload soar - and led him to ask himself if there was something he might enjoy more.
There was only one answer to that: making board games for a living.
For the last six years he has designed and made them as a hobby, revelling in the need for strong design, robust rules, imaginative gameplay and the interaction between people physically in each others’ presence.
He also redesigned old games, such as 3D chess, and even installed a laser cutter in the shed.
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Attack of the Intergalactic Gherkins came to him in a nightmare, he says.
Finally, in March, he resigned, leaving without a payoff to live on savings with his wife Liz. Their two kids are co-opted as testers.
He said: “I’d play with friends and they’d say, ‘this is amazing, have you thought about turning it into a business?’.
“Liz is happy for me to give it a shot. At the end of the day, I might fail, but I have to try. I worked for many, many years and felt I deserved the opportunity to take a year and see what happens.”
HOW DO YOU GET FUNDING?
A Kickstarter ‘crowdfunding’ campaign - where people chip in small amounts - raised £1,500 in its first week to pay for manufacturing.
And he’s lined up local companies including Dice Sports in Thurcroft and Patriot Games in Sheffield, potentially benefiting the local supply chain.
‘Gherkins’ will be on commercial sale by the end of January. He’s also working on his next game ‘Dog Pirates’. A third will follow and the aim is to produce one every six months, get them all on sale and bring in the money.
Andrew said: “The small firms don’t see each other as competition. The market is big enough for everyone. We help to test each others’ ideas, it’s a very nice working environment.”
The industry is believed to be worth £8 billion a year in North America alone and is growing at eight per cent, with interest continuing despite the end of widespread lockdowns, which caused a big sales spike.
Part of that, says Andrew, is that games are better these days.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH CLASSIC BOARD GAMES?
The old ones, such as Monopoly, simply take too long or are a bit samey. Modern games have more interaction, better artwork and layout, better stories and can be over quicker. They’re also more co-operative, players do better if they work together, which makes them more fun, he says.
In the old days, he would have had to submit his game idea to a big publisher who would take a large cut.
Now, thanks to the internet, he can raise funds from, and ship products to, people all around the world, although most are in the US.
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He added: “Brexit has all but done away with EU customers. I can ship to Australia cheaper than to Europe.”
Andrew had help from his old colleagues at RiDO, specifically start-up business adviser Julia Millea, who helps run the free Launchpad scheme.
One big message was that he had to ‘get himself out there’, and today he spends up to a third of his working life building his profile on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linkedin. He has more than 1,000 followers in total, including 750 on Insta since joining six months ago.
But surely as an ex-business adviser he must have some advice for himself?
He said: “Take it a step at a time. Don’t be too hard on yourself, you’re going to have some tests, deal with them and move on.”
Andrew also received a £500 grant from UK Steel Enterprise which paid for him to attend UK Games Expo.
WHERE CAN YOU GET FREE START-UP ADVICE?
Anna Smith, programme manager, said enquiries had gone up since the pandemic.
She added: “For some it’s about spotting a gap in the market and capitalising upon it and for others, it’s the prospect of escaping the rat race and transforming a hobby into a way of earning a living.
“Whatever the reasons, if you are thinking of launching a new business, or unsure how to grow I would encourage any new or aspiring entrepreneur to access the free help and support available through the Launchpad programme."