Was there anything more fun when you were a kid than building a fort?
I know that for me, nothing beat teaming up with my little brother and building a fort out of couch cushions and bed sheets. In the car, a blanket wrapped around us with the windows down would simulate a fort that protected us from the dreaded “Storm!” (Only occasionally would I let my brother slip out and get gobbled up by our pretend tornado).
But the problem with the fort is that there were times, and not a few I might add, when mom didn’t want us trashing the living room or overtaking her couch for the evening. There had to be a better way, right?
Enter August Graube. With a boost later from our friends at Microsoft, Graube re-invented the fort for a new generation and a new time. To say he improved this time-honored kid’s plaything would be an understatement. Take a look for yourself:
Fort Boards is the invention of a creative mind who applied new technology and ideas to a classic problem: How can I take this thing and make it better?
Graube has a background in product design, having studied that both in college as well as in his early career. Like yours truly and so many other entrepreneurs, he was spurred to start his own business after getting laid off from his job. It was then that he had this idea – to re-imagine the kids’ fort by creating an interconnecting system of what he then called “large Lincoln Logs.”
30+ iterations later, and we have Fort Boards.
Graube knew that to be successful, his product had to be “intuitive, easy to use, easy to pack away, and versatile.” But that was easier said than done, and one of the impressive things of Graube the entrepreneur is that he knew he had to get things right before he ever shipped his first product. Between getting the design just so, and lining up distribution, that took a couple of years. “We finally shipped in October, 2015,” he said, proudly.
The other way Graube got things right was by finding the right partners. That not only meant finding a manufacturer who could create his boards per his specifications, but additionally, by tapping into the expertise of Microsoft, who ended up giving Fort Boards a boost in more ways than one.
“For starters,” Graube told me, “my business needed to pivot several times, and so I needed tools that could handle that. Word, Excel, and PowerPoint were my go-to solutions for running my rapidly-evolving business.”
Beyond that, 2016 found Fort Boards entering, and winning, the 2nd annual Microsoft Small Business Contest by submitting a winning video, and business. As the winning caption reads, “Fort Boards gives children hours of imaginative fun (and it saves the sofa cushions from being pressed into service as a makeshift fort).”
Winning the Microsoft Small Business contest has been a boon for Graube’s business in many ways. Not only did he get the $20,000 grand prize, but he also got a suite of software and tools (like Surface Pro 4s) that has allowed him to grow his business and add new employees.
“My costs are down and my sales are up as a result,” he says. And that is not kids play.