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Putting Social Health At The Heart Of The Family Firm

Games to Get is a family business that was co-founded back in 2011 by Mark Evans and his eldest son Luke. Mark has a long history of involvement in the family business sector through an assortment of roles and positions which has been invaluable when it comes to building his own family firm. The business is based around the creation of games with a strong underlying purpose of supporting people’s social health. Paul Andrews spoke to Mark, CEO, to find out more.

When was the business founded?

Games to Get was set up on 11th January 2011.

What does it do?

We publish games and provide team building services under the trade mark ‘Sussed’. We chose that name because players have to use their powers of intuition and social deduction to suss each other out.

Our mission is to support people’s social health – a person’s ability to form strong healthy relationships with other people. Not many people know social health is a thing, even though we’re all social detectives at heart. So we conducted some research with the University of Hertfordshire. It shows that social health is just as important for wellbeing as physical and mental health, something that has really come to the fore in the past couple of year with with Covid.

As if to back this up, I received an email from the CEO of a 140-year old family business in December 2020. He said he was putting together a goodie bag to give his employees something to smile about after a difficult year. He asked for 70 of our games to add to it. A few months later a mental health charity told us how they’d sent 60,000 of our cards to over 6,000 workplaces, schools and individuals across the country to help get people talking about mental health. Before that, a school for special needs education wrote to me to say that they had made our card games part of their programme. Christmas 2021, another company asked for 200 games for their staff hamper, because they couldn’t have a staff party.

Tell me a little about the history of the business?

I got the game inventing bug from my dad who used to pitch ideas to toy companies in his spare time. We often used to work until the early hours of the morning. Needless to say, it’s incredibly difficult to create something new that people want. Although I went into banking, I never let go of inventing games as a hobby.

What generation are you and what are your first memories of the family business?

I’m first generation and all I can remember is spending evenings and weekends playtesting and building prototypes and more playtesting. My full-time job kept me working long hours, so it was a case of fitting everything else around that.

Are there any other family members working in the business?

Yes. Luke, my eldest son, is our Chief Product Officer. One of his favourite things to do as a kid was create games for himself and his brother to play. Rose, my wife, is our Chief Operations Officer. She’s always loved playing games, but didn’t ever expect to be involved in creating one. Josh, my youngest son, is our Digital Officer. He’s a massive board game fan as well being the proud owner of our lucky mascot – his dog Chip.

How important was the business in your life as you grew up?

The idea of starting a business was very important. I’m sure it had a lot to do with the fact that my parents both tried to get different businesses off the ground. My mum, who was French, set up a business importing pastries from France. The rum babas were very tasty!

In addition, as the founder of the JPMorgan Family Business Honours, Coutts Prize for Family Business and Coutts Institute, I was constantly inspired by the family businesses I met.

What was your journey into the family business and what do you do now?

I exhibited my first prototype game at a London Toy Trade Fair in the early 80’s. It was a strategy game called Mindz that started where chess left off. Sadly my dad had passed away, but my mum came along to cover the stand while I talked to potential buyers. Although nothing much came of it, I learnt tons.

Over the next ten years, I worked on a number of different game projects. It led to my taking a break from banking to start a mobile games company at the end of the 90’s. Like a lot of other fledgling businesses, it didn’t survive the bubble, but it was an amazing experience. Ten years later, Games to Get was born with Luke focussing on product development. With over 6,000 reviews on Amazon, we seem to have struck a chord.

Today I’m the Chief Susser, which means I do a bit of everything!

What do you think will help your firm stand the test of time?

Planning for the business and the family are going to be key. Although there are massive uncertainties, we all know it’s essential to be able to describe where the business is going and how we’re going to get there. We were very dependent on Amazon sales for the first ten years, but we’re pivoting to other channels now.

We realise it’s just as important to be able to share our personal aspirations to be sure the long-term vision for the business and the family are aligned. It’s also essential to have a sense of purpose. When we get so many varied comments like this ‘We’re a pretty quiet and reserved group of people and rarely talk about anything personal – so this is a great way to get into meaningful conversations in a fun way”, we know we’re on the right track.

What values are important to the family and the business?

Innovation has always been a strong value of ours. In the beginning it was about creating new products to expand our existing range of games. Last year we started a series of online focus groups with 100 people from different walks of life that we didn’t know. Some of them were families, some were friends, but a lot were work teams. We’d host, they’d play test and eat pizza in their lunch break, or crack open a bottle of something at the end of the day. The feedback was so positive, it gave us the idea of launching a virtual and in-person team building service. Studies show that the better teams know each other, the better they work together.

Entrepreneurialism is another key value. With that in mind, we’re launching our first Kickstarter (crowdfunder) in June. Luke is leading the Project. It’s a new Adventure Personality Game set in a fantasy world. Players tell the story of who they are by the choices they make. We’re very excited about bringing more families, friends and colleagues together to have the best conversations they’ve never had.

Do you build the family ownership into the marketing and brand narrative and if so, how?

We’re big believers in promoting the virtues of being a family business. We talk about it in discussion with suppliers and customers. We feature it on our website and marketing materials. We think being part of the family business community can be a major competitive advantage. It’s also a great conversation starter. We’ll certainly be bigging it up for the Kickstarter!

What do you think makes working in a family business special?

Working towards a common goal with people you trust and care about is hard to beat. We don’t think twice about putting in the hours to make the business a success, because we’re all involved in the decision making. Although it’s not easy, it’s very rewarding when we’re able to make things happen together.

Are there any disadvantages associated with working in a family business?

Lots. Deciding what is best for the family and what is best for the business can mean different things, so it’s important to discuss whether it’s family first or business first. In addition to that, there are all sorts of risks associated with a lack of rules relating to the ownership and management of the business. Generational transfer is probably the biggest challenge. I was a big believer in equal shares for the next generation, but that’s changing because no one else agreed. Ultimately, family risks are much easier to anticipate than business risks, so it’s important to talk about them.

Have you taken any particular steps in terms of governance to help protect the business for the future?

As a former family business adviser, and previous chair of the Family Firm Institute, governance is never far from my mind. It takes on a different slant, of course, now that I’m a small business owner. Suffice to say, some of what we do is formal and some informal.

For example, we don’t have it written down anywhere that I’m Mark to my sons when we’re in the office and dad when we’re at home. (It’s made all the more confusing by the fact that we work from home!) But it does help to know which hat we’re wearing when we speak to each other. Similarly we don’t have a family council in place (there’s only four of us), but we do meet regularly in person and online to make decisions and keep everyone in touch with what’s going on.

At the other end of the spectrum, we’ve adopted certain structures like the Games to Get Charities Trust. That’s because we decided to donate 10% of our profits to charitable causes from the start. Today our giving is very much aligned with our mission to boost social health. This year we’re supporting Age UK (Herts) and the Fiorentini Foundation that helps disadvantaged children via the performing arts.

Is there a next generation in the wings?

Yes, Luke and Joshua are both involved in the business. They started on a consultancy basis before taking on defined roles. In addition to their passion for games they each bring unique skills and a different focus. We talk a lot about what they want out of the business and how we should plan for succession. Ultimately, we all believe in the ‘principle of excellence’ at the top. That’s another value of ours. And it means my position is under review just as much as anyone else’s!

What advice would you give to anyone in the next generation considering joining their family firm?

I’m a big believer in giving the next generation the opportunity to flourish outside the family business. I think having the chance to experience different industries, corporate cultures and management styles can be invaluable. Luke and Joshua have both done a few things outside Games to Get. I’ve no doubt they will want to do a few more.

If you could talk to your younger self before you joined the business, what would you say?

Focus on what you’re good at. Although I learnt a lot from setting up the mobile games company, I didn’t understand software well enough to make it a success. Today I can find my way around the basics of Adobe Creative Suite, but I’m happy to let my sons take the lead in everything from mobile app to website development. That said, I’ve still got a bit to teach them on financial management!

If you could sum up the family business in three words, what would they be?

Social Health Matters

Find out more about the business by visiting their website here


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