Jersey Pop: Trivia game tests state knowledge

By Kenna Caprio

Addicted to the “Trivia Crack” app on your smartphone? Jessica Harris, director of student life at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Metropolitan Campus, has an alternative. Her new iPhone app “Jersey Pop” — a trivia game all about the Garden State — debuted last fall. The app is the culmination of four years of hard work, which was kick-started by her success in the Rothman Institute’s Innovation Challenge in 2010. Armed with a passion for all things New Jersey, Harris composed trivia questions after work to create the “Little Box of N.J. Trivia.” Then she went digital.  

Jersey Pop logoFDU: How did you come up with the Jersey Pop idea?

Jessica Harris: The iOS app Jersey Pop is inspired by an original game I created, “Little Box of NJ Trivia,” which won the FDU faculty/staff category in the Rothman Institute’s Innovation Challenge in 2010.

I’ve always had a penchant for New Jersey history and culture. Throughout my life, I’ve lived in 11 different towns in the state and had the opportunity to immerse myself in southern, central, northern and shore regions. Every state has its strengths and individual sense of pride, but New Jersey isn’t just a state to me — it’s a state of being.

During a visit to Chit Chat Diner in Hackensack, N.J., years back, I played with their Q-and-A game, made by Restoration Hardware, and began thinking about what topic I would choose for a game if I worked for their company. I figured there’s got to be something valuable and marketable about the “New Jersey experience. ” We’ve got reality shows, magazines, epic movies and television series, countless cultural icons, not to mention all of the things that make tourism one of the most lucrative sources of income for the state. Why not try to make my own game? So I simply started writing questions at night, after work. In two months, I’d finished 400 questions and was ready to go to production.

I met many challenges trying to get Little Box into the marketplace and figured maybe I should explore the online marketplace, since there are fewer restrictions. This was the genesis of the Jersey Pop smartphone application and brand. Along with the game, I manage a blog and several social media accounts revolving around the brand.

FDU: Why keep the focus solely on New Jersey trivia?

JH: New Jersey is a unique demographic; it’s entirely classified as metropolitan, the only state in the United States of its kind. Its inhabitants are reflective of that environment and have a rich history of immigration, making for interesting neighborhoods, traditions and perspectives. Its geography lends itself to just as much diversity in landscape and lifestyle, depending on the zip code. We tend to be fiercely loyal to what we love about living here, despite the challenges. I’m a lifetime N.J. native, so of course, my first instinct was to cover this market. However, I am totally open to expansion should the project take off.   

FDU: What are some sample questions?

JH: “The final episode of ‘The Sopranos’ was filmed at this popular N.J. ice cream parlor.”

  1. Holsten’s in Bloomfield
  2. Halo Pub in Princeton
  3. Ice Cream on 9 in Howell
  4. Applegate Farm in Montclair

"What is the most popular destination for international travelers flying from Newark International airport?”

  1. London, England
  2. Toronto, Canada
  3. Toyko, Japan
  4. Cancun, Mexico

“During the former New Jersey Nets transition from New York and from the American Basketball Association to the National Basketball Association, where did the team play while waiting for the completion of the new sports arena at the Meadowlands?”

  1. Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Rothman Center
  2. Monmouth University’s Boylan Gym
  3. Rutgers Athletic Center
  4. Madison Square Garden

“Many of us can’t forget the legendary Pabst Beer Bottle water tower atop its factory in Newark, visible from the Parkway, now long gone. Before its life as a beer bottle, it served as an ad for this Hoffman’s soda.”

  1. Root Beer
  2. Cola
  3. Sparkling Tonic
  4. Ginger Ale

FDU: Why did you decide to enter the Innovation Challenge?

JH: At that time, I had just completed the printing of Little Box of N.J. Trivia and was eager to gain some exposure for recognition as I pitched to potential buyers. I received an email on behalf of the Institute announcing the competition and figured it might be an unusual entry: I had visions of esteemed faculty entries in a pile next to my submission about a trivia game and wondered if I should press “send.” I’m glad I did — it was a wonderful recognition!

Little Box NJ TriviaFDU: How is the game received? What does the Little Box version consist of?

JH: People are always intrigued by both the traditional and smartphone versions and aren’t shy to test their knowledge. I’ve noticed it brings out that competitive nature that most New Jerseyans share. Teachers specifically like the game for their classrooms and I’ve had success in private sales. Both games feature over 450 multiple-choice questions about New Jersey's pop culture, food, iconography, legends, history, oddities, notable people/places and more. Little Box has 4x4-inch game cards, encased in an acrylic box with graphics. Jersey Pop has a totally different look but the content is the same.

FDU: How did you decide to turn the original version of the game into an app?

JH: I have met lots of challenges trying to get the Little Box into small and large stores. Most companies don’t want to (or just flat out won’t) work with small operations like mine. They place minimums on the amount of products you carry, your net worth and sales, and many other requirements I can’t meet yet. Small stores don’t like walk-in pitches and aren’t in a position to take chances on unknown products. I had no prior experience in the game or toy industry or capital to help launch a major brand. Yes, it’s a great product, but I understand their position. Moreover, I have limited time to work independently on personal projects due to the full-time responsibilities I have at the Office of Student Life. I needed another avenue to keep moving the game forward, and in a way where technology could do a lot of the work for me once I got it developed and running. For example, Jersey Pop, as opposed to Little Box, has a Twitter capability featuring "Let's Discuss" questions, which generates buzz about the game.

FDU: How did you develop the app?

JH: One of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had working on both the original game and the smartphone application is learning while doing. I knew absolutely nothing about how to make toys or computer programs when I started. I simply started with a passion for New Jersey and an idea. I’ve literally learned everything I know now one step at a time through independent research, cold-calling experts in various industries, getting technical information, supplies, quotes, legal guidance and forging relationships to build each product from the ground up. My experience with vendors and community partners through my student affairs career gave me the skills to apply to a new venture. While it’s great to be successful, it was the failures that taught me the most through my work. My mistakes cost me time and money, but I gained valuable experience as a business owner.

FDU: What's your ultimate goal with the app?

JH: My goal right now is to continue gaining a following and strengthen sales. Producing other state versions is definitely a possibility. Moreover, I’d like to figure out where I can really go with the brand; I really enjoy writing for the blog and would like to see what opportunities could arise from that. I’ve been amazed how many international readers I’ve gotten about New Jersey topics; this year I’ve had people from over 50 countries checking it out, so that’s exciting. Similarly, I have some international sales of the app, which prove N.J.’s worldwide appeal!

FDU: Would you design another app in the future?

JH: Sure. Now that I know all the steps it would be a lot easier next time around. I never look at life in absolutes; I might get inspired about something else and try something completely new again. Right now, I’m just enjoying the ride.

FDU: Do you encourage others to tap into their entrepreneurial spirit and enter a campus challenge? Why?

JH: Absolutely. Just like I tell our FDU students, I believe we should always be prepared to step outside our comfort zones. Putting your work out there for others to judge takes courage, but the feedback and support from those involved with the Rothman Institute was critical to building my confidence.