SBDC Advising helps create game plan for successful launch

Aziz Makhani, soccer referee and creator of KickShot

Aziz Makhani, soccer referee and creator of KickShot

Written by Hope Tinney

PULLMAN, Wash.—Motivated young soccer players can improve their skills by kicking the ball around, but how do they improve their understanding of the rules of the game. At a higher level, how do they use those rules to their advantage?

It’s a question Aziz Makhani, a youth and adult league soccer referee, has been pondering for years.

Too often, he said, young players seem confused by the technical aspects of the game, or a penalty call, and confusion leads to frustration. During a game he tries to educate as well as officiate, he said, but he knew there had to be a better way.

Then, in 2011 he had a middle-of-the-night epiphany and soon after he started his own business, Sports Cards and Games, as a platform to launch a soccer board game that emphasizes the technical components such as throw-ins, slide tackles and headers—as well as scoring goals. That game, KickShot, is now available online at Kickshot.org and perhaps at a soccer fundraiser near you.

Makhani said dozens of people have helped him move KickShot from idea to market in little more than a year, but Terry Cornelison, a certified business advisor with the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC), has been his go-to resource from the very beginning.

Makhani has more than 20 years experience in product development, marketing and sales, mostly in high-tech and engineering firms. But, creating his own small business to develop and market a board game from the ground up was a new experience. Being able to call or meet with Cornelison to discuss a question or concern—at no charge—was a huge benefit, he said.

From the beginning, Makhani said, Cornelison has been a sounding board, a resource for additional expertise, and a trusted advisor. “He never says, ‘That’s a bad idea,’ Makhani said. “Instead, he says, ‘Have you thought about that?’”
Makhani wanted to focus on the game itself, but Cornelison advised him to take a step back and focus on his business plan—his mission and vision statements in particular. Did Makhani want to create one board game or a sustainable business? If his goal was a business, he might want to explore opportunities to expand the brand to other deliverables, in the way that Angry Birds now glare forth on everything from lunch boxes to sport shoes to sunglasses. The key to it all, though, is the board game.

At the simplest level, Makhani said, players try to score goals (or defend against them) with the roll of the dice. At the next level, players use a subset of cards to move the ball up and down the board with specialized techniques such as headers, throw-ins and bicycle kicks. KickShot also introduces referee signals for specific infringements such as direct free kicks, penalty kicks and offsides.

At the most advanced level of play, each team has a total of 71 cards to play, both offense and defense, and 13 different action cards.

The final version is the result of countless revisions to streamline the rules, retain the educational focus and boost the fun factor. He reached out to soccer players, board gamers, teachers, coaches and anyone else he could think of who might be interested in KickShot.

“Community outreach has been an amazingly enjoyable journey for me,” Makhani said. “The title of my talk (to various groups) is ‘It takes a community to develop a creative product’ and I really believe it.”