Cornhole, also known as bean bag toss, is an international game in which teams take turns throwing small bags filled with dry corn or beans into holes on a board. When Mike St. Martin noticed that it was popular with families and could be played both outside and inside, his inventive mind began whirring. He wanted to capture the feel of the game, without the size of the board and the throwing distance. He came up with a “miniature” version that could be played indoors, and that eventually lead to his original game, PlingPong.
St. Martin, a principal civil engineer at Loucks, never thought of himself as a game developer, but he isn’t completely shocked by the new title. “I have always been full of ideas, mostly related to solving problems…as a kid I used to love playing Trivial Pursuit and thought it was so cool that it was invented by some guys sketching it on a pizza box,” he says.
Mike’s wife, Amy, is a realtor, and they make a perfect pair in creating and selling PlingPong. “She was key in getting the word out on social media and face to face at our events. People gravitate towards Amy. She is always so fun and engaging,” Mike says. Amy was also key in the development phase of PlingPong. She handled their family life, allowing Mike time to focus on design.
This isn’t the first item the St. Martins have produced. In 2005, they created Hot Charms, plastic charms that connect on to a silicone Livestrong-type bracelet. The charms also helped autistic children and their caregivers communicate. “It was very satisfying to know we helped make something that helped many people,” Mike explains.
“We were sitting in the packed funeral of a good friend who died way too young from cancer. I walked out of the funeral and said to Amy, ‘We have to take the leap and invest in the 3D printed prototype and see where we can take this,'" Mike explains.
Designing the game with a 3D printer was smart, but tricky. The balls bounced off the bottom of the cups so Mike modified the sides of the cups to fold inward, to catch the balls more effectively. “We printed several versions before settling on the fifth one for our prototype that was on Kickstarter.” Mike and Amy started the group funding campaign to raise money for production, but sadly, it failed. However, the campaign caught the attention of some toy companies and the St. Martins landed a contract with Buffalo Games.
The game’s development process was sometimes overwhelming but, according to Mike, worth it. The St. Martins encourage other entrepreneurs to take the leap and go for it.
“It still feels like a dream,” Mike says. “Someday soon we will walk into our local Target and see it on the shelf!”
Mike and Amy St. Martin
Ages: 47, 45
- Background: Mike, civil engineering; Amy, real estate sales
- When the idea caught: In February 2016, Mike and Amy were playing with family and friends, ranging in age from 18-68. After three hours of play, everyone wanted to buy one for each of their children and their family. The St. Martins’ 18-year-old kept asking if he could have friends over because they all wanted to play as well.
- I wish we’d known: “That success on Kickstarter typically requires key social media partners ahead of time to make a huge splash when launching.”
PlingPong is a table top game that takes 15-20 minutes to play with 4 players. It requires a combination of the luck of Plinko and the skill of Ping Pong.
The objective is to eliminate other players cups by bouncing balls over your own cups into theirs, all while avoiding the deadly, black cup in the middle. The design has 25 square cups on a holding platform and balls for each player. Mike’s first prototype had a wooden base and plastic flower pots for cups. Their family played with that version while gathering positive feedback. When building the next version, he fashioned everything from plastic which could stack and nest for easy packing.
You’ll find PlingPong exclusively in Target stores by mid-summer 2017, and in other retail stores by 2018.