How This Air Force Officer's Invention Sparked an Outdoor Gaming Company

Matt Butler, creator and CEO of Rollors Game Company

Anyone who has ever deployed knows the “hurry up and wait” game. There are intense moments of incredible action punctuated by long periods of waiting for something to happen. And there’s only so much PT one can stand before you start inventing crazy games and competitions. Here's how this Air Force officer invented a wildly popular outdoor game during deployment doldrums.

Matt Butler, a career Air Force command and control officer, grew up in Minnesota and spent his summers playing outdoor games with his family. While he was deployed, Butler invented what the Wall Street Journal referred to as one of the “best new lawn games you’ve never heard of.”

How Rollors was Invented

“The concept came to me while I was deployed,” says Butler. “I was homesick and thinking about being back in Minnesota during the summer, at a lake cabin, playing games and enjoying a frosty beverage.”

Butler developed a prototype in his garage and showed it off to friends. He was surprised when they asked if they could buy the game. It was Butler’s lightbulb moment and he knew he might be on to something good.

Later, Butler made a bunch of sets by hand, and brought them to his church craft fair, where they promptly sold out. He knew he was onto something. To date, over 45,000 Rollors games have been sold, and they are distributed to hundreds of retailers across the US and Canada.

Butler credits the skills he learned in the military to who he is today. He says that veterans should embrace their training, to remember mission planning, assess and balance the level of risk, retain a strong work ethic, and stay focused on the mission.

Connect with Veteran Service Organizations BEFORE You Transition

After more than 20 years of service to this country, Butler is retiring from the Air Force, and he has some advice for anyone transitioning out of the military. He says veterans should research and connect with the numerous veteran service organizations that can help them through, and aid them in finding their next mission in the civilian world.

“If you’re interested in starting your own company, check out the Veteran Entrepreneurship Program (VEP) which can be found at many colleges and universities,” says Butler. “I took advantage of the free program at the Institute for Veterans and Military Family (IVMF) which also has programs oriented not only for military member but spouses.”

Butler says IVMF gave him the foundation and skills to grow and scale his company and to understand the fundamentals of business.

Butler’s Top Transition Tips

1. Develop a plan. Break the plan into short (months), midterm (1-3 years) and long term (4+ years). Use your military training. What’s your plan to get from point A to B?

2. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. Sometimes as military members we think we can do everything on our own, but asking for assistance from a “wingman” or “battle buddy” will ensure you’re more effective in effectively accomplishing your goals or objectives.

3. Utilize all the transition resources that are available to military members. There are quite a few out there but you have to take time to research them. Check out TAP, Boots to Business (for the potential entrepreneur), SCORE, Small Business Administration (SBA), VBOC and VEP/IVMF which I mentioned above.

4. Networking doesn’t happen overnight. First, get a business card with your contact information. Second, get a LinkedIn account and start exploring that network. Third, stop by where TAP is taught and start reading through the materials they have. If you’re looking at entrepreneurship, take the free 2-day Boots to Business course. I did and it’s well worth it. It would give you a solid foundation for business. It’s not going to answer all our questions but it will give you additional resources to expand your knowledge base.

Visit Rollors.com or Amazon to purchase your set today.

-- Sean Mclain Brown can be reached at sean.brown@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @seanmclainbrown.

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