When Frank and Michael Silva were kids growing up in Manalapan, they'd invent games to play outside while ducking out of Thanksgiving clean-up chores, but they never dreamed one of their childhood creations would end up in retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond or in NFL locker rooms.
The game was QB54, or Quarterback 54, a simple game that addresses a simple problem.
“When you go to a football game, you kind of want to play football,” Michael Silva, Co-Owner of Team Silva Enterprises LLC said, referring to fans’ desire to play football in the backyard or a parking lot before a game. But most tailgates have cornhole, kanjam or some other tangentially related activity.
“QB54 is a complete game of football, without the tackling, built into two folding chairs,” Silva said.
The game, which utilizes common equipment at tailgates or outdoor events, conveys the spirit of a professional football game. Touchdowns, throwing, interceptions, kicking and dramatic comebacks are all incorporated into the game’s rules.
QB54 appears to have touched on consumers’ interest. The Silvas’ have found widespread acclaim for their adolescent invention.
The brothers grew up in Manalapan. Frank Silva has since moved to Georgia while Michael relocated to Kendall Park. The two had their families meet up in New Jersey for Thanksgiving 2015 and for old time’s sake they broke out their childhood favorite which at the time they referred to as “The Quarterback Challenge.”
A neighbor asked what they were playing. They had never shared their games with others, assuming most people wouldn’t be interested. They were wrong. The neighbor played with them for three hours straight.
The neighborhood success inspired Michael Silva to bring custom-made kits to local sports tournaments. The reaction was convincing. Regardless of time or place, crowds of families would routinely join up and play.
“All these parents from different towns started walking by asking ‘What is this? How much is it?’ ‘Where can I buy it?’” Silva said. “After that I knew we had lightning in a bottle and had to go after it.”
The brothers initially bulk-ordered sets of 500 foldable chairs from China and custom assembled each set as orders came in, but their success quickly exceeded that operation. They now coordinate with a different manufacturer who fully assembles kits before shipping them to New Jersey.
After their early success they launched a Kickstarter campaign in September of last year, but they self-admittedly “asked for too much.” Of the $25,000 asked, just under $700 was raised, but it wasn’t a total loss.
A producer for ABC’s “Funderdome,” a television show about funding projects hosted by Steve Harvey, saw the Kickstarter video and contacted them offering a spot on the show. Suddenly their childhood creation was in front of 4 million people for network television.
The brothers have been blown away by the reception, and they’ve focused on how they could improve the strength of their product while also acknowledging potential weaknesses.
In the market of outdoor activities, the competition is not so much other products but rather other businesses that could ride the coattails and make their own version of the same product.
“I don’t have the expertise to go after someone that counterfeits our game, that’s always a concern, but you can’t run a business in fear,” Silva said.
He continued to say that their kit’s professional quality distinguishes it from potential competitors.
Selling directly to customers isn’t the only revenue source they’re pursuing. The brothers have made co-sponsorship deals with companies operating in New Jersey such as The Greene Turtle’s North Brunswick location or the snack brand company UTZ. They’re open to more co-branding opportunities, suggesting brands closely associated with football, such as Anheuser-Busch would be a perfect fit.
They’ve also reached out to nonprofits such as Play for Freedom, an organization dedicated to helping veterans transition into civilian life using physical activities and building team-based camaraderie.
“There’s a group of vets that can’t participate [in traditional sports],” Silva said. “Sure, if you can run and walk you can play but if you have amputations or injuries you can’t. Our game is perfect.”
Through Play for Freedom, Michael Silva was introduced to former New York Giants Wide Receiver Odessa Turner, who recorded a testimonial for QB54 after seeing its versatile use for both veterans and as a tailgate game. Contact with Turner led to the game being brought into the New York Giants’ and Dallas Cowboys’ locker rooms.
The Silva brothers still have items on their wishlist, such as co-branding with the NFL and NCAA or widespread retail store availability, but for the amount of success they’ve seen in one year they’re pretty confident things will only get better from here.
“We’re gaining tremendous traction,” Silva said. “All the money we’re making in our profits, we’re pouring back into the company. We have to keep the money in the rocketship.”