Aylesbury dad's holiday invention going global: Meet '˜Mr Jask'
Tenacity, patience and rolling with the punches - that's what makes an entrepreneur, and former warehouse manager turned board games mogul Shaun Delaney is a prime example.
Shaun, 61 invented Jask - a strategy board game which requires common sense and general knowledge to triumph.
Over the years Jask has become Shaun’s full time job - and it is now available in stores including John Lewis, Waterstones, Foyles and WH Smith, has licensing in Russia and New Zealand and the entrepreneur has also created travel and children’s versions of the game which have even been used in schools.
Described as ‘a cross between Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit’, Jask was invented by Shaun on a fraught car journey shortly after his divorce in the early 2000s.
During the trip the solo dad struggled to entertain his three young children Justine, Abby and Kerry as they travelled to a holiday in Cornwall. He would later christen the game in honour of his beloved daughters, using their initials to spell the name.
Shaun, who patented Jask in 2003, said: “I was divorced at the time so it was only me in the car with the kids.
“So I was on my own, I’ve got three daughters in the car and I had to try and keep them quiet - so I just tried to think of trivia questions like ‘name me an animal beginning with B’ and that’s how it started.
"Then I found out that their geography was absolutely terrible so I then made up questions like ‘name me capitals of’ and ‘countries beginning with a’ and stuff like that. We did that and it whiled away quite a bit of time.
“Then when we got down to Cornwall it was raining for three days - so typical dad I’d taken my chess and drafts - as dads do - but they wanted something that was a bit of fun - so I got an 8X8 squared board and put letters on the board - then I’d got some counters and I played against them to start with. And they loved it.”
Born in Aylesbury, Shaun’s early life saw him suffer a crippling blow, when a serious injury ended his burgeoning tennis career when he was ranked highly in the country, as Bucks Tennis champion, and a county squash player.
Speaking of the incident - which he says taught him not to give up, Shaun said: “I tore my cruciate ligaments, which are what they sound like - crucial.
"The problem was I didn’t realise how bad it was until I tried to come back - I’ve had a replacement knee now because it was too arthritic.
“If you’re doing a job at 19 and you twist your knee it doesn’t matter, but if you are a sportsman it really does, it’s like being struck off from your job. It was crushing.
“But I didn’t give up completely with tennis - I went to coach in Germany for two years when I was 20.
"I’m a very competitive person, and when I came back from Germany I went to work for the Aylesbury Grammar School as a tennis and squash coach - in that period of time, in four years we were unbeaten in all squash age groups, and schools national squash champions for four years.
"It’s all about perseverance and adapting and not giving up, and that’s what I’ve done my whole life.”
And that wasn’t the last time that Shaun would face adversity - in 2009 he was made redundant from his role as a warehouse manager when the company he was working for folded - and realised that, in the financial climate of the time, he would have to think creatively to provide for himself and his girls.
And that’s when he remembered the trip just a few years before. He said: “I was kicking around trying to find something to do and then I suddenly remembered that in 2003 I’d patented Jask.
“I’d forgotten about the game basically - but when you are made redundant you have to basically consider your options and I thought - I’ve done this and I want a change - I don’t want to be in a warehouse anymore, why not do this game and go at it that way.”
“So basically I couldn’t find many jobs at the time, so I did other warehouse jobs which was 2pm until 10pm, which isn’t great hours - but it meant that in the morning I could then pursue Jask which is what I did.
“Then I got to such a point when John Lewis and Waterstones took it as well - I basically knew that I could do it full time, so therefore I could give up my job.”
And it’s been a hard road, the original board game prototypes came back from the manufacturers with errors, and aside from that Shaun has had to teach himself about a business which he previously knew nothing about.
To make the business a success he has had to master and learn about a whole raft of processes including design, marketing, barcoding, finding a reliable manufacturer and that all-important sales pitch to potential retail outlets.
Shaun now gets the game orders manufactured in China, but has been vocal in a personal crusade to try and get a better deal for British businesses.
He said: “I’ve written to politicians asking what they can do to make it easier for five UK firms to keep their businesses in this country and not have to go abroad, like I have had to do, to cut down their costs.
“I have detailed a way to give British companies an advantage, say in terms of tax breaks, because this country must be losing so much business overseas.
"I don’t know myself what the exact answer is, because I am no expert - but I am hoping someone in power will help find a way to provide support for the British entrepreneur.”
But there have been light-hearted moments, the archetypal image of a family playing the game on the back of the Jask box feature’s Shaun’s daughter Abbey, her fiance Lee and Shaun’s best friend Graham and wife Lucy, imortalised forever.
And Shaun described the nerve-wracking process of selling himself, and the product to retailers.
He said: “The pitches to the shops are like Dragon’s Den. You are talking to someone who really tries to catch you out with tricky questions, but if they like what they hear they are in.
“Luckily they did like what they heard. Once I managed to get in a few shops, it gave me credibility and it was easier to sell to other retailers.”
He added: “Sometimes you’d get a buyer who would absolutely love the product, and then they would change jobs or no longer be working in that area and you’d lose out. It’s hard because for every order I have to pay for the items to be manufactured beforehand, it’s a risk, but it’s been worth it.”
The future is bright for Jask - and Shaun says that the pitfalls along the way have made success all the sweeter.
The firm is now looking ahead to Christmas, and working on doing deals with American buyers - which would open up a giant new market.
Shaun added: “It’s fantastic that I have managed to break into the overseas market now - lots of people around the world really believe in the game and think it’s going to be the next big thing.”