'Every Time You Solve One Problem, There's Another Three For You': Exploding Kittens' Quest to Stay Ahead of Coronavirus
Tami Abdollah is dot.LA's senior technology reporter. She was previously a national security and cybersecurity reporter for The Associated Press in Washington, D.C. She's been a reporter for the AP in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times and for L.A.'s NPR affiliate KPCC. Abdollah spent nearly a year in Iraq as a U.S. government contractor. A native Angeleno, she's traveled the world on $5 a day, taught trad climbing safety classes and is an avid mountaineer. Follow her on Twitter.
For Elan Lee, cofounder of the Los Angeles-based tabletop game company Exploding Kittens, signs of trouble began in January.
As the novel coronavirus swept through China during planned factory closures for the annual new year celebration, Lee started hearing ominous rumbles that factories just might not be coming back online. With 200,000 now unfulfilled orders, the creator of the immensely popular, crowdfunded Exploding Kittens game was worried.
"We started noticing in January that we were going to very quickly have to remove our reliance on China to produce anything at all," Lee told dot.LA.
The company looked at factories in Mexico, Poland, and the U.S. that could potentially produce cards in an effort to diversify its supply-chain away from sole reliance on Chinese factories.
But as Lee started preparing to manufacture the cards elsewhere, China started to come back online. Meanwhile, the virus started to sweep through the rest of the world, country by country the cases popped up.
"China went from 'you cannot get anything done here, go to other locations in the world instead', to all of a sudden, 'we have the fewest new incidences of coronavirus here'," Lee said.
On Thursday, China announced that for the first time since the outbreak of COVID-19 began in Wuhan in December, there have been no new locally transmitted cases in the country. Still, cases outside of China surged.
Lee's experience trying to fill surging orders for his card games is just one story of many. With the global supply chain dependent on China, businesses have been thrown into disarray — and the U.S. economy has plunged into recession. Businesses have scrambled to find factories to fill orders, frequently unable to move quickly enough to avoid the virus's spread.
Lee did end up doing print runs in factories in Poland and the United States, but the company has returned to printing exclusively at Chinese factories because, ironically, they're the only ones who can reliably print cards now as other nations struggle to contain the outbreak.
Photo courtesy of Exploding Kittens
Rather than working with two factories, Exploding Kittens is working with eight of them — all of which are operating at a percentage of full capacity — as the country has slowed the reopening of factories to prevent a resurgence of the virus. Lee said last week he ordered 1 million cards, or five times the number of cards he usually does, and plans to do so every opportunity he has just in case.
With ports clogged up all over the world and customs delayed, "even though we have boats on the water, it doesn't mean they're going to arrive in time," Lee said.
The original Exploding Kittens card game has sold 9 million copies worldwide, but it's one of many popular games designed and sold by Lee's company. The newest addition to the company's collection of tabletop games is "Throw Throw Burrito." It's a mixture of a card game and dodgeball, with a — you guessed it — burrito to throw around. Throw Throw Burrito is quickly moving into position to dethrone Exploding Kittens as the best-selling game in the world, Lee said.
The company distributes to retailers all over the world, in Canada, the United States, Australia, Europe and Asia, in 29 different languages, "but each one of those locations has their own supply chain issue that has to be solved individually," Lee said.
"My team hasn't slept in two weeks, because every time you solve one problem, there's another three for you," Lee said.
The silver lining, Lee said, is that there's continuing demand for game night and the product is successful, so the company should be able to survive the next few months. What happens after that is unknown. Exploding Kittens has seen its own form of exponential growth with a 40% increase in its sales over the previous week, and a 20% increase the week prior to that.
"What's happening is people are forced to stay at home right now and they want to play games," Lee said. "We happen to have one of the most popular games in the world, so our game sales increased. That's all great. That's the demand side of supply and demand.
"The ironic part is that it is the same thing that's creating demand that's shortening supply. This one virus has created quite a problem for us because it's unbalanced the two parts of the equation in a pretty substantial way."
One Down, Three More to Go
As Lee worked to address one problem, another loomed. The company had planned to hold its first ever "Burning Cat" convention, with 200 vendors and roughly 4,000 to 5,000 attendees, including game inventors and other tabletop game enthusiasts, in the second week of May. But on March 9, Lee said he had to make the call to cancel it so that attendees and vendors would have enough advance knowledge.
"It would be completely irresponsible for us at this point to ask a large group of people to come together," Lee said.
The company put a note on its website with a crying cat saying it was forced to delay its inaugural convention by one year. Lee said everyone would get a full refund.
"The whole team was running toward this thing for 18 months. We were just putting final touches on it and to do that was really heartbreaking," Lee said. "We were really hanging a lot on this" in terms of discovering the next big thing in tabletop gaming.
A note on Exploding Kittens' website states that the company was forced to delay its inaugural annual convention.Image Courtesy of Exploding Kittens
A New Way to Card Game?
In the meantime, the company has been exploring alternate ways of delivering new card game content with an unreliable supply chain and diminishing inventory amid surging demand, that includes investing more in digital offerings, potentially allowing people to get games on their phones and to connect with others — perhaps quarantined elsewhere — to play.
The company is also exploring games it can produce over the next few months that are lower impact, have fewer cards, can be done locally or perhaps even printed out at home.
"There's a lot of constraints that yield amazing creativity, and right now we're dealing with some pretty massive constraints," Lee said.
Exploding Kittens has a paid app, but is also working to get a new, free version of their app into the Apple App Store that would allow players from around the world to connect to play a digital version of the game. Such an effort was already underway roughly a year ago, but in January the company hit the gas on it, Lee said. The hope is that the free app will be able to launch in the next 30-45 days, he added.
Still, at its most basic level, Exploding Kittens is a card game company. Its bread and butter is having people stay home and enjoy a game with family or friends.
"That was a really great message when life was normal, but now that it's enforced or mandatory, things have gotten a little strange," Lee said.
Do you have a story that needs to be told? My DMs are open on Twitter @latams. You can also email me at tami(at)dot.la, or ask for my Signal.
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LA Tech Updates: TikTok pays Creators as Rivals Dig In, Amazon Reportedly Eyes Sears, J.C. Penny Stores
TikTok Doles Out Money to Creators, Batting Away Rivals<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ0ODQ3Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMzI2Nzc5OH0.nqOLhJhVWxeEzL1-Bs6w7LNxiiNnnx0-o7rlFhF1f1w/img.jpg?width=980" id="b7b3a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="624f145b0a9bfe26d79eb69af3533a7e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>Tiktok announced today the first receipts of a $200 million creator fund including several Los Angeles-based app stars. It comes as the social app faces<a href="https://dot.la/instagram-reels-2646902459.html" target="_self"> increased competition</a> from those trying to<a href="https://dot.la/triller-2646853219.html" target="_self"> lure away talent </a>and the threat of an outright ban.</p><p>The company has promised to up their funds for rising U.S. creators to <a href="https://dot.la/does-tiktok-pay-2646841503/tiktok-promises-2-billion-for-creators-over-3-years-as-rivalry-with-facebook-heats-up" target="_self">$1 billion </a>over the coming three years. </p><p>Among the 19 selected so far is Los Angeles-based <a href="https://firstname.lastname@example.org?lang=en" target="_blank">Alex Stemplewski</a>, a photographer who shares the impromptu photo shoots he has with strangers in public with his 9.6M followers.</p><p>There's also <a href="https://www.tiktok.com/@lgndfrvr?lang=en" target="_blank">Justice Alexander</a>, one of the top Latino creators on the app, who captures quick video of the many pranks he plays on his girlfriend and daughter with his 5.4M followers.</p><p>Well-known TikTok-er <a href="https://www.tiktok.com/@daviddobrik?lang=en" target="_blank">David Dobrik </a>recently gave away a Tesla to one of his more than 20M followers <a href="https://www.tesmanian.com/blogs/tesmanian-blog/tesla-model-3-giveaway-david-dobrik-results-video" target="_blank">as part of a sweepstakes for the most heartfelt story</a>.</p><p>The Creator Fund will open their applications in the middle of the month for anyone 18 years or older looking to expand their work on Tiktok. To be considered, creators must have 10,000 followers or at least 10,000 video views in the last 30 days and follow community guidelines.</p>President Trump recently signed an executive order that will ban the Chinese-owned company by September 20th unless it's sold to an American company before that date. TikTok has responded by threatening legal action.
Amazon Wants to Use Sears and J.C. Penny Stores as Fulfillment Centers: WSJ<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkzMzU3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1OTUxNDQzOX0.2jvZQNPg69Ok14O5ag1zX33kbKt1aD8iK7bz4EJVw3k/img.jpg?width=980" id="bb2d6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4918cc13e6e261fe485e6ddcf2185d78" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />live.staticflickr.com <p>Amazon is in talks with mall operator giant Simon Property Group to convert Sears and J.C. Penney department stores into package distribution centers, according to a report from <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/amazon-and-giant-mall-operator-look-at-turning-sears-j-c-penney-stores-into-fulfillment-centers-11596992863" target="_blank">The Wall Street Journal</a>.</p><p>The discussions come as Amazon continues to grow its e-commerce empire which has helped contribute to the downfall of brick-and-mortar retailers including Sears and J.C. Penney, which both filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. That trend accelerated with the pandemic as malls closed and millions of consumers rely on Amazon for online shopping.</p><p>Shares of Simon Property Group, which has 21 malls in California including the Del Amo Fashion Center, Brea Mall and Ontario Mills, jumped on the news. The company is set to report earnings after Monday's market close. </p><p>Adding more warehouses would help Amazon speed up deliveries as the company plans to offer its Prime members 1-day delivery of their orders. Amazon<a href="https://ir.aboutamazon.com/news-release/news-release-details/2020/Amazon.com-Announces-Second-Quarter-Results/default.aspx" target="_blank"> posted $5.2 billion in profits in the second quarter</a>, doubling its bottom line from the same quarter a year ago, despite spending more than $4 billion on COVID-19 initiatives.</p><p><a href="https://www.geekwire.com/2020/amazon-reportedly-wants-use-sears-j-c-penney-stores-fulfillment-centers/" target="_blank"><em>This story was originally appeared on GeekWire.</em></a></p>
Join us on Tuesday, August 11th at 11:00am PST for an exclusive dot.LA Strategy Session: Is the Green Rush Over?
California is the world's largest legal pot market, generating nearly $3.1 billion in spending in the Golden State alone. But cannabis-related businesses in the U.S. live in a legal-limbo, operating in this strange gray area between federal laws that make marijuana illegal and states that have decriminalized its use and sale entirely. This has led to sometimes difficult choices, workarounds and issues with which the cannabis and cannabis-linked companies are forced to contend.
Hilary Bricken, Partner of Harris Bricken
Hilary Bricken, Partner of Harris Bricken<p>Since joining Harris Bricken in 2010, Hilary has earned a reputation as an exceptional and fearless business law attorney. Hilary's clients—start-ups, entrepreneurs, and companies in all stages of development—value her bold approach to business strategy. Hilary also appears before city councils and community forums, where she advocates tirelessly for her clients.</p><p>In 2017, the American Bar Association (ABA) named Hilary one of the <a href="https://www.americanbar.org/news/abanews/aba-news-archives/2017/07/aba_young_lawyersdi/" target="_blank">top 40 young lawyers</a> nationwide and before that <a href="http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/news/2013/12/14/newsmakers-of-2013-deal-makers.html" target="_blank">The Puget Sound Business Journal</a> named her as one of only seven deal makers of the year. She was by far the youngest and the only private practice attorney to garner this honor. Hilary was also named one of "<a href="http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/print-edition/2015/09/11/2015-40-under-40-hilary-bricken.html" target="_blank">40 Under 40</a>" leading businesspeople by the PS Business Journal. In every year since 2014, Hilary has been chosen as a "Rising Star" lawyer by Super Lawyer's magazine.</p><p>Major media outlets like the New York Times, VICE, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Business Insider, CNN, Rolling Stone, Forbes, MSNBC, and Bloomberg all have turned to Hilary for her on-the-ground perspective on cannabis laws. Hilary's <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0M4Fse1Ioaw" target="_blank">Tedx talk</a> on "big cannabis" (see below) has garnered more than 50,000 views and she also authors a weekly column for <a href="https://abovethelaw.com/tag/hilary-bricken/" target="_blank">Above the Law </a>on marijuana policy and regulation.</p>
Tanya Hoke, Managing Director of Galen Diligence
Tanya Hoke, Managing Director of Galen Diligence<p>Tanya has more than a dozen years of experience managing investigative due diligence for clients in industries ranging from pharmaceuticals and manufacturing to financial services and consulting. She has been advising investors in the cannabis industry since 2015, and focuses on issues relating to fraud, money-laundering, compliance, and corporate governance. Tanya is a Certified Fraud Examiner, a Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist, and a licensed private investigator. She has served on the National Cannabis Industry Association's Banking & Financial Services Committee and the State Regulations Committee. Tanya received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Swarthmore College and a Master of International Business degree from the Fletcher School at Tufts University, where she serves on the MIB Alumni Advisory Board.</p>
Brad Rowe, Director of Compliance, Operations and Regulations Analyst of Rowe Policy Media
Brad Rowe, Director of Compliance, Operations and Regulations Analyst of Rowe Policy Media<p>Brad has designed, implemented and delivered a dozen public policy research projects over the last six years through his time running BOTEC Analysis, at UCLA and with Avenu/MuniServices Cannabis Compliance and Support Services and Rowe Policy + Media. Brad is Lecturer of Public Policy at UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and recently started teaching Cannabis Policy and Society, the first of its kind in the country. </p><p>He serves as Advisor to the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative, coordinating the Criminal and JuvenileJustice Research team and the California Cannabis Data Collection Project. He sat on the CommunityAdvisory Committee for the Los Angeles County Department of Health's impact assessment on cannabis. </p><p>In 2020 Brad has taken on the cannabis "dosing problem". To help naive and legacy consumers dose new cannabis products predictably and reliably. The HowHi App Data Project provides evidence based insights into the Quality, Duration and Amplitude of the cannabis experience. The variables are crowd-sourced via experiential self-reports on iOS and Android interfaces. </p>
Andrew Freedman, Senior Vice President at Forbes Tate Partners
Andrew Freedman, Senior Vice President at Forbes Tate Partners<p>Andrew brings vast experience from his three years as the State of Colorado's first Director of Cannabis Coordination. During this time, he developed distinctive experience effectively implementing voter-mandated legalized adult-use and medical cannabis while protecting public health, maintaining public safety, and keeping cannabis out of the hands of children.<br><br>Andrew's role in developing a successful operating model for cannabis regulation and stakeholder collaboration was identified as one of the reasons for the State of Colorado's success in implementing adult-use cannabis legalization by the Brookings Institution. Governor Hickenlooper has gone so far as to praise Andrew's work while on national television, stating, "Andrew Freedman, who came in and helped us once it was passed . . . [has] done a remarkable job of creating a regulatory framework."<br><br>Andrew has received national recognition for his leadership. Men's Health Magazine named him one of the 30 most influential health influencers of the last 30 years. He was recognized as one of Fast Company's "100 Most Creative People in Business" in 2016. He has been featured on 60 Minutes, NBC Nightly News, The Today Show, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Governing Magazine, and dozens of local stories throughout the nation and internationally.</p>
Tami Abdollah, Senior Reporter at dot.LA
Tami Abdollah, Senior Reporter at dot.LA<p>Tami Abdollah is dot.LA's senior technology reporter. She was previously a national security and cybersecurity reporter for The Associated Press in Washington, D.C. She's been a reporter for the AP in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times and for L.A.'s NPR affiliate KPCC. Abdollah spent nearly a year in Iraq as a U.S. government contractor. A native Angeleno, she's traveled the world on $5 a day, taught trad climbing safety classes and is an avid mountaineer.</p>
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