Cranium Founder Richard Tait’s New Big Idea

By Matthew Halverson March 7, 2012 Published in the March 2012 issue of Seattle Met

FOUR YEARS AGO when Richard Tait sold Cranium, the independent and insanely successful board game company he founded with Whit Alexander in 1998, he was lost. He opened a business incubator, Boomboom, in Pioneer Square, but still nothing clicked. A restless entrepreneur almost since birth, he was suddenly out of ideas. Then, thanks to a kick of inspiration from the burgeoning local fútbol fanaticism, he had a revelation: Develop an all-natural energy drink specifically for the soccer mad. And from a space in Capitol Hill that sports an indoor soccer field, Tait and his new partner Alex Rosenast launched Golazo in 2011. He’d found his idea—and rediscovered a passionate pursuit of invention.

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Every journey I’ve gone on, I’ve created a church for that culture. So with Cranium you walked through the front door and it felt like a game. At Golazo when you walk through that door I want you to think, “Where’s the ball? Can we kick it around?” We want to be reminded every day that that’s the religion that we subscribe to.

When I was a boy, I had this paper route in Helensburgh, Scotland. Over there we eat something called a bacon butty; it’s a roll with rashers of bacon inside it. One day I was delivering newspapers and I could smell this bacon. And I thought, Wow, what if I combined the delivery of the newspaper with fresh rolls and bacon? Could I create a new experience that would allow me to build my business? It went nuts. People loved it. And I loved it. So I think what drives me is that I love innovation, I love invention. And, you know, I like making coin.

Often for me it’s a door that closes that results in a different opportunity. I wanted to work for Apple when I was in business school. I didn’t get an interview with them and I ended up working for Microsoft. Fantastic chapter in my life. When I left Microsoft, I wanted to be a radio DJ. When I was a kid growing up, there was this DJ called John Peel. He broke the Sex Pistols, Sham 69—everything that I was passionate about at that time. So I went to Bellevue Community College and took DJ classes. It didn’t end up working out, but if that dream hadn’t stopped, I wouldn’t have turned around and invented Cranium.

I feed off of pressure. I like feeling that sense of urgency to come up with an idea. I need to feel like, Okay, by tomorrow I gotta have something. Now the whole idea doesn’t come at that moment. But it’s when you start feeling that evolution. Ideas evolve. They’re like a cellular structure. And those moments where you really have to push through and make a big improvement, I like that.

During this journey to create Golazo I invented an energy drink for women. At that point the energy drink business was going crazy, but as far as I could tell there wasn’t one that spoke to women. I thought, Okay, I’m going to try to do that. We brought in focus groups, and very quickly it became clear there was a better opportunity somewhere else. To begin with I’d called it Guzzul Girl, which was just wrong on so many levels.

The early testing process for any product is really hard. You want people to be brutally honest because that saves you time. But at the same time it’s like, I stayed up all night to do that! Have you ever held up your baby and had someone tell you it’s ugly?

I was not a big fan of the clay in Cranium, but Whit was. He said to me, “Wait until you see someone put their hands in that tub of clay. It’ll be the eyes of a four-year-old that look back at you.” Sure enough we were in this house with a prototype, and this guy who was in his 40s takes out the tub of clay, puts his hands in it, and he has this crazy, youthful look in his eye. And Whit looks at me and says, “I think the clay’s going in.”

Disappointment is the difference between expectation and reality. If you go in with expectations too high and reality falls short of it, then somewhere in that gap is the disappointment you’re going to have to deal with. I’m always pushing for high expectations, so yeah, disappointment is hard for me. But I deal with it a lot. Optimism has to be regulated.

There’s a great quote from Steve Jobs that goes, “Why join the Navy if you can be a pirate?” I only discovered it recently, but it has given me permission to step into my own skin and feel comfortable to say, “Yeah, I spent my life being rebellious and disruptive and taking a different path.” That’s who I am.

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