How A Trivial Pursuit Led To Riches

How do you recognise a gift horse? How can you pick a less-than-obvious winner rather than a pathetic loser?

Some people have a surprising ability, almost a sixth sense, when it comes to making vital decisions. Others… oh, dear.

Take this striking case.

Two fun-loving young Canadians circulated around the bars of a European coastal resort with an offer that was easy to refuse. “Invest a thousand bucks in our project and you could make a million,” they suggested, in between downing considerable amounts of beer.

Everybody laughed and called for another round. Everybody – except one bar-owner. “Why not?” he said and bought a share.

Today he’s a millionaire, for the project he invested in was Trivial Pursuit, possibly the most successful board game of all time – more than 100 million copies of the game have been sold in 26 countries and in at least 20 languages. Estimated return: well over $1 billion.

This is one of the classic rags-to-riches stories. And it demonstrates that opportunities lie around every corner. It’s just a question of recognising them – and having faith in your own judgment.

The originators of Trivial Pursuit were journalists Chris Haney and Scott Abbott. Back in 1969 they were playing Scrabble on a kitchen table when the idea occurred to them that they could invent a game as good.

They took a break from their jobs in Montreal and wintered on Spain’s Costa del Sol while devising their game. They toiled to figure out details and think up thousands of questions, the trivial the better.

Such as: What do you call a female hedgehog? Who shot Abraham Lincoln? What part of an elephant has 100,000 muscles?

They started offering five shares in their project for 1,000 dollars. The usual reaction? Invest in some unheard-of board game? Get serious!

Only one resident of the town of Nerja, near Malaga, where they were sampling the beer and sunshine, took up the offer, a fellow Canadian.

Their savings were vanishing and they were desperate for cash. And when they tried to market their game, with its 6,000 questions about inconsequential matters printed on 1,000 cards, it raised little interest. They lost money on every game they sold.

But then, miraculously, sales began to climb. It turned out that people loved Trivial Pursuit. Soon it was selling by the million.

Within two years cheques began pouring into the bank accounts of the 30 or so initial shareholders, including that of the Nerja bar-owner.

Haney and Abbott became multi-millionaires. Haney, an unpretentious type, liked to joke: “I quit school in Grade 12. It was the biggest mistake I ever made – I should have done it in Grade 10.”

And he laughed all the way to the bank.

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