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Zorb founders’ side hustle: A personalised board game all about your family

4 min read

The founders behind one of New Zealand’s strangest businesses used the lull caused by the pandemic to develop a new side hustle.

Brothers David and Andrew Akers, the masterminds behind Zorb, have developed a board game they hope will spark a dose of family banter around the country.

It’s essentially a trivia game with the twist that all the questions included are personalised to the family participating.

With the help of Rotorua-based app developer Salt + Tonic, the Akers brothers developed an app that allows purchasers of the game to enter questions that are specific to moments in their family history.

“You can distribute the app to the rest of the family and they can all enter some questions into the app,” David tells the Herald.

These questions are then sent to the manufacturing team, who print out a fully customised version of all the question and answer cards used in the game.

The board and the box will also be personalised with photographs of the family.

The aim, says David, is for members across generations in a family to share stories and anecdotes from their personal history.

“Sometimes you’ll get the older people who will come up with stories from their youth that the younger people didn’t necessarily know about, which is kind of cool,” he says.

“Hopefully, every question will tell a story too. You don’t want them to be dry like: what year did grandad come to New Zealand? You want the questions to bring back memories.”

The founders are hoping to raise $100,000 for the Family Trivia game through a Kickstarter campaign, which will run for a month from this week.

Since its launch, the project has already raised nearly $4000 from 24 backers.

There are a number of tiers determining what pledgers get in return for the support. Those who pledge $20 or more will be given a voucher at Zorb Rotorua, while those who pledge $150 will get their hands on a full version of the board game, including 75 question and answer cards.

There are also a number of more premium options, including an augmented reality version of the game that allows for the inclusion of audio and video clips in addition to the questions.

David does, however, expect most supporters to opt for the $150 version.

“The great thing about Kickstarter is that it allows for a bit of market research and fundraising at the same time. If we get 1000 people supporting us, then that will give us the confidence to go for it.”

The board game isn’t likely to take over the day job of Akers brothers any time soon, with the pair still fully committed to the Zorb business they founded more than two decades ago.

The success of the Zorb business after its launch in 2005 saw sold on to investors a few years later. However, the business story went full circle in 2019, with the Akers brothers buying it back and merging it into their Ogo operation.

Zorb Rotorua wasn’t spared the dire impact of Covid-19 on the tourism industry, with revenue reducing drastically as border restrictions ending the steady stream of international visitors that had long visited the site to roll down a hill in a giant plastic ball.

“We lost a huge part of market overnight,” says David.

“Things like the wage subsidy were massive in terms of keeping staff on and the business going.”

The low visitor numbers did, however, lead to a decent amount of downtime and it was during these periods that the brothers developed their new idea.

“The good thing with a board game is that you can actually put a lot of creative energy into it without necessarily burning through a whole lot of cash,” David says.

They’ve also been working on a range of other ideas – some of which won’t make it as far as the Kickstarter stage.

“We’ve started building some hot tubs and we’ve built spa covers. We’ve also come up with a ‘Zorb in a box idea’, where you put all the gear you need into a container and ship it overseas so that someone can set up a temporary Zorb site. But we eventually came back to the board game.”

With the return of local tourism, business is again picking up for the Zorb team but there are some important differences.

Whereas there was always a big spike in summer and during the school holidays, the visitor numbers now tend to fluctuate a bit more as Kiwis travel from around the country to Rotorua.

“We’ve kept all our core crew on, but we also call casuals and students to pick up some work when we need them.”

While the past 18 months have been tough for every business in the tourism sector, David remains an optimist and says it’s always possible to find opportunity in adversity.

“The struggle is real and everyone has had to tighten their belts. But whereas other industries and countries are doing it really tough, the fact that people can still come visit our business and roll down the hill is pretty awesome,” he says.

“It reminds me of the old days when the farmers had some of their subsidies removed and they had to diversify quickly. And now we have people curious about food and creating new products.

“Those challenging times do hopefully bring out something creative and something innovative that we can produce in this country.”

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