Dominic Crapuchettes has led an interesting life. He captained an Alaskan salmon fishing boat for 12 seasons, but dreamed about starting his own board game company. One night Crapuchettes and his crew were caught in a storm and their boat took on enough water to submerge the batteries in the engine room. All of the electronics went dead, including the navigation system .
“I was forced to the outside bridge to guide our boat by the North Star and I vowed that if I survived I would stop fishing and start the company of my dreams,” Crapuchettes recalled.
In 2003 Crapuchettes followed through on his resolution and started Bethesda-based North Star Games.
“North Star Games publishes board games for the mass market that are sold at stores such as Target, Toys “R” Us and Barnes & Noble, and will be available in more than 20 countries starting next year. Our secret is three-fold: Simple rules, lots of social interaction and concepts that are different from anything else on the market. Our flagship product, Wits & Wagers, has won 33 awards so far.
“Since we began, our revenue has grown by more than 100 percent every year. For 2011, our revenue will be a little more than $3 million. We expect it to be more than $5 million for 2012. We have hired four new employees this year, bringing our total to nine employees, and we are in the process of hiring another to manage our supply chain.
“We are having a difficult time figuring out how to grow while maintaining our entrepreneurial spirit. We want to both give structure to our operations and give our employees the flexibility and authority needed to be creative and excel at their jobs.”
Asher Epstein, Managing Director, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship
“This is a problem that so many startups face. I think you need to focus on getting the right people and having the right team in place. I strongly suggest you be critically involved in all of your hiring decisions at this point — it isn’t something I’d delegate quite yet if I were you. Make sure you are hiring the employees because they are a good fit for the company as opposed to a good fit for the company’s budget. Don’t jump the gun and hire someone who doesn’t fit all of your criteria. You might justify it because they are the right price, even though they aren’t the right quality, but that is almost never the right decision to make for the company.
“Your next problem is creating an incentive structure that rewards entrepreneurial and creative behavior within North Star Games. There are actually a lot of simple things you can do to create this structure that can really make a difference. One thing I’d recommend is celebrating a great idea or decision of the week. And when someone makes a bad decision, don’t punish them — turn it into a teaching point.
“Another thing you could do is reward employees with $50 gift cards to restaurants or popular stores or with a lunch out on the boss. It’s amazing what these gestures will do to make someone feel good about their accomplishments.
“You could also implement a more complex compensation structure to reward these types of successes. If someone makes a decision that makes you more money or saves you money, you could give them a percentage of that as a way to incentivize them to continue making these good decisions.”
“I’ve thought about a more complex compensation structure before, but my fear is that people will just try to get the bonuses and other important things will get lost in the mix.”
“You could offer equity in the company as the bonus. That way, everyone benefits if the company is doing well, and nobody benefits if the company isn’t successful in the long run.”
“Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I thought you had a ton of helpful advice that I plan on taking into great consideration.”