Entertaining and compelling real-life stories with valuable
lessons on how to succeed in business and in life.
The author is successful business, real estate, and media entrepreneur Dick Kazan.
Published on June 29, 2010

Today: How high school dropout Chris Haney co-created one of the most popular games of all-time.

If you’ve ever heard these words: “You’re not good enough, not smart enough and you’ll never amount to anything,” you’ll especially relate to today’s story.

Chris Haney dropped out of high school at 17, and often claimed it was his biggest mistake. “I should have done it at 12,” he would say. But fortunately his dad worked for the Canadian Press news agency and got his rebellious son a job there as a copy boy.

Later Chris was in charge of its photo departments in Ottawa and Montreal and then became the picture editor for The Montreal Gazette. Along the way, he met Scott Abbott, a Canadian Press sportswriter.

On the evening of December 15th, 1979, the two buddies Chris and Scott were playing Scrabble in Scott’s Montreal home. Having some beers and a few laughs, the two men began discussing how profitable Scrabble must be, and they wondered whether they could invent a popular game.

As they talked, it turned out the two of them had a passion for trivia and within 45 minutes sitting at the kitchen table, they sketched on scratch paper an outline for a new game.

What was the name of this game? Trivial Pursuit.

The guys got excited and after bouncing the idea off their wives and friends, made a major effort to raise what they guessed was enough money to create this game. They guessed at the amount of money for neither of them were businesspeople. They raised $40,000 from 32 investors.

You may be thinking the game was a huge winner and of course everything quickly fell into place. It didn’t.

Chris agreed to write the questions and answers but before the Internet and search engines like Google, this was a huge project.

Even though he and his wife had a baby and another one on the way, Chris was so excited with the potential of Trivial Pursuit, he quit his job and for nearly a year living on the Costa del Sol in Spain, and using reference books, he wrote six thousand questions and answers.

Also writing questions and answers were Chris’s brother John and Ed Werner, an attorney friend.

Investors were critical of Chris living on the Costa del Sol at their expense and the venture could easily have fallen apart at this stage. Yet it got worse. What seemed like a good idea when they tested it among family and friends got a cold reception from toy industry experts.

Veteran toy industry businesspeople were skeptical the public would buy a game in which if they could not answer many of the questions, would feel stupid for even playing. Chris and Scott got repeated rejections from them.

But the questions could be made as hard or easy as the public would like.

What are Trivial Pursuit questions? They fall into six categories but here is a sample: “What U.S. state boasts the most cars?” (California) “What are Alvin, Simon and Theodore? (Chipmunks) “How many days after John F. Kennedy’s assassination was Lee Harvey Oswald shot?” (2).

But as their investor money began to run out and emotions ran high, it looked like the venture would fall apart and Chris, now out of work and deeply worried about how he would support his young family at one point suffered a nervous breakdown.

Despite these seemingly overwhelming problems, the project went forth. In a clever marketing tactic the game was mailed free of charge to famous people, who had been made answers to some of the questions. Of course many of them took an interest and raised the game’s visibility.

The first 1,000 retail copies sold out and the demand for the game became electric. It seemed the experts had been wrong and in 1981, Selchow & Righter, the maker of Scrabble and Parcheesi offered them a lucrative contract for the North American licensing rights.

The game exploded in popularity and by 1984, 20 million copies had been sold. And the public’s appetite for trivia continued. By 2008, when the game was purchased by Hasbro for $80 million, customers had bought more than 100 million Trivial Pursuit games in 33 countries and the game had been translated into 17 languages.

But on May 31st of 2010, the game of life ended for Chris who passed away at the age of 59 from kidney disease. However, he had long overcome financial hardship as he played golf as often as six days a week on his own golf course and enjoyed his vineyards and racehorses.

From our perspective, he and his buddies showed us the value of persistence, as they never quit when the experts told them they would fail and even when their money ran low, they kept going. It also reminds us that some of the best ideas come from simple circumstances.

Success Tip of the Week: If you have a passion, make this the week you pursue it, even if only to explore its merits with others. Its potential success is in your hands and within in your heart.

In the next KazanToday: A Jewish man who bravely confronts the Israeli government on behalf of Palestinians.

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Many of these short, inspirational success stories are about people from all walks of life who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve remarkable results. These stories contain practical advice and a recipe for success for each of these renowned individuals. Some of their stories may help you to avoid some of the costly and time consuming mistakes that many of us make in life and at work. Learn from some of history's greatest winners on how to become a winner yourself, no matter what the obstacle, and no matter how daunting the task before you may seem. Good luck!
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