Alumni interview: Natalie Podd (BSc 2011), Co-creator of Board Game, ‘Confident?’

After graduating from the University in 2011 with a Maths degree, Natalie Podd spent five years working as an actuary before taking a career break and going travelling with her partner, Ceri. They spent a year climbing mountains, exploring salt flats and trekking through rainforests. As well as coming home with a whole host of incredible memories, the pair also managed to return to the UK with a fully formed idea for a new boardgame.

The couple launched the game, entitled Confident? in 2018 and, after receiving positive reviews, were quickly noticed by John Lewis and Waterstones. Here, Natalie explains how the game works and talks about the reality of balancing a more traditional career alongside running a small business.

How did you and your partner come up with the idea for Confident?
We had the inspiration for the game when we were in a very remote part of the Amazon jungle without any possible distractions from internet or phones. We were canoeing along a river, and Ceri asked me if I knew the population of Brazil. Rather than give one answer, I said between 150 million and 200 million people. The idea of answering with a range rather than one number really intrigued us, and for the rest of the day we made it into a bit of a game; we’d ask each other thought-provoking trivia questions, then answer with a range, trying to make our ranges as small as possible while still being confident that we were right. We instantly thought it would be a good idea for a board game, and over the next few days, we fleshed out the idea and even came up with a name for it – ‘Confident?’.

Could you tell me a little bit about your career?
As well as working on Confident? I’m a business transformation consultant at PA Consulting. There I’ve worked on a wide variety of projects, from helping an insurer protect themselves against cyber risk, to guiding a global confectionery manufacturer to becoming more environmentally friendly.

In the early days, I juggled my role with developing the game, working evenings and weekends to come up with questions, refine the game rules, create branding and design and negotiate with manufacturers. In 2018, we decided to invest our own money into the game, by printing a few thousand copies and selling them on Amazon. We got great reviews and sold out of that batch in the first Christmas, and by Christmas 2019 we were in John Lewis and Waterstones.

This Christmas we’re launching in the USA and I’ve taken a six-month sabbatical from my consulting role to focus on the game. We’re also trying to improve our environmental sustainability – at the moment we plant a tree for every game we make and the paper in our games comes from responsible sources, but we plan to do more and more each year.

What initially made you want to attend the University of Bristol?
I was keen to get out of London and try somewhere new, and Bristol University has a great reputation, so I went to visit the city for a day. That was all it took. I remember walking around the Clifton campus thinking – this is me.

What was your fondest memory from your time in Bristol?
There are so many, some that stand out include: the Goldney summer ball, the University ski trips, a memorable lecture where they poured a pint of Guinness to illustrate partial differential equations, and graduation day in the Wills Memorial Building.

How do you balance a full-time job alongside your entrepreneurial pursuits?
There are peaks and troughs in the board game industry, and you work very long hours at particular points in the year. The first few months of the year are very busy as that’s when we plan our manufacturing for the following Christmas, attend toy fairs to negotiate deals and update our designs. The middle of the year is quieter, then the final quarter is hectic as the vast majority of our sales come at Christmas, so we do a lot to promote the game. Last December we spent every weekend at John Lewis stores pitching the game to customers. It’s tiring but rewarding and helps us better understand what people like and don’t like so that we can improve. Christmas day is extra special for us now as we know that our game is bringing joy to thousands of people (we hope!).

Ceri was also able to switch to a full-time role on the game earlier this year which has given us a better work-life balance, and my current sabbatical is giving me time to prepare us for Christmas and develop things like expansion packs. We have loads of ideas and there are always things to do, we’re just limited by the time and energy we have to put into it!

How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted your business? What is it like being an entrepreneur at the moment?
Board game sales increased at the beginning of lockdown as people had more time to spend at home and were looking for fun activities. We were well placed as our game is easy to play remotely. It’s been great to see new people, who normally only play Monopoly on Christmas Day, introduced to the world of board games.

On the flipside, it’s impacted our supply chain with some factories slowing down production and being forced to work in different ways. There’s also a lot of uncertainty about the future – who knows what we’ll be allowed to do at Christmas and what this all means for consumers and the economy.

What’s been the most challenging thing about turning your idea for a board game into a reality?
There’s a lot more admin than we expected, from handling paperwork, to managing imports & exports, accounting, manufacturing and logistics – without even mentioning the legal and regulatory requirements. Figuring this all out can be quite time consuming and takes away from the time we can spend on the creative side. But we really value the freedom and autonomy that running our own business brings.

Can people play Confident? online or over video conferencing during periods of lockdown?
Yes definitely! We’ve created print-at-home components to make it easy for people to play over video calls, and we’ve launched digital question packs so people can download new questions and new ways to play.

To find out more head to www.confidentgame.com

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