“We needed to raise 15,000 euros with our Kickstarter campaign, but we ended up with much more.”

Always wanted to solve a murder case? With Crimibox you can. You receive a police file in the bus – complete with witness statements, interrogations and photos of the crime scene – and you go looking for the perpetrator yourself. The murder is 100 per cent fictional, the case horribly true to life. Founder Jimmy Cowé is an ex-police officer. Here Crimibox already has a loyal fan base, after a successful Kickstarter campaign now the conquest of America beckons.

Blood is thicker than water. Jimmy Cowé worked for the federal police for twelve years, but in the meantime he also ran a catering business with his girlfriend. “We sold our business a year after our twins were born. Delivering meals to companies early in the morning, going to the police station in the afternoon and taking care of two more babies, it became a bit too much. But I’ve always been brooding on ideas for my own business. That’s really ingrained.”

One of those ideas was a box that you could get Hello Fresh delivered to your home. Only it didn’t contain ingredients and recipes, but a real-life police record. Using the evidence, you could then solve a murder yourself as a hobby detective.

“I then set up a modest market survey: a Facebook ad to sound out whether there was interest in such a box. I paid 200 euros for it, and I got 1,200 mail addresses.”

Chatbot gives away clues

In the summer of 2017, Cowé launched his first murder case. The concept caught on and the Crimibox proved to be a popular Christmas present. A year later – when he joined Birdhouse with Crimibox – Jimmy quit his police job and became a full-time entrepreneur.

“Each new box is super intensive. You have to think up the murder case, the scenario must be realistic and watertight, it must not be too easy to solve but not too complex either. That quickly takes a month to a month and a half.”

“The work also goes far beyond just putting the police file together. If, for example, the murderer is a self-employed pharmacist, we build a website for his pharmacy. We develop a dozen sites around each murder case. Suspects also have profiles on Facebook or on Instagram, where players may find clues to solve a murder. We even have a chatbot that players can get clues from.”

Fictitious murder, real-life police file

Does Jimmy draw on his own extensive police experience for the murder cases? “Don’t expect real cold cases in a Crimibox. All murder cases and all police records are 100 percent fictional, let that be clear. I guard that boundary very strictly. (laughs) And I have more than enough imagination to think up new murders.”

“My background does help to make the police files and the murder investigation as real as possible. That is the great strength of Crimibox, I think. As a player you have the feeling that you have a real file in your hands, with photos of the crime scene, witness statements, video interrogations, … You can do phone taps or house searches at suspects, but only if you can provide enough evidence. Just like in the real world. (laughs) Only the mountains of paperwork I left out, it has to remain enjoyable.”

Responding to the true crime hype

Meanwhile 20.000 players have already solved (or tried to solve) a murder case via the Crimiboxes or via the cheaper digital version of the murder file. Next stop for Crimibox: America. “True crime is hugely popular in the US,” Jimmy clarifies. “Netflix makes series about real murders, there are thousands of podcasts that go along to find the perpetrators of murders. It’s a market with huge potential for Crimibox.”

By the end of the year, Jimmy hopes to have 1,000 players in the United States. In order to develop and produce ‘Missing in Jericho‘ – as the first American murder case was christened – Crimibox launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. “People could do pre-orders, but they could also lend their name to a character. Companies could, in exchange for their support, figure in a murder case. We had to raise 15,000 euros, we ended up with 17,000 euros.”

Never a boss again

Jimmy went from a particularly hierarchical environment (“more bosses than colleagues in the police force”) to a start-up where he is the only boss. “I couldn’t do anything else. But trading a job as a civil servant with a lot of security for a start-up with zero security, that was a leap of faith. My first hire was not an easy step either. Suddenly, not only your own future, but someone else’s as well is in your hands. That did get me a little stressed, to be honest.”

“The fact that all the founders at Birdhouse are in the same boat is a huge backer.”

“The fact that all the founders at Birdhouse are in the same boat is a huge backer. You see, every startup has the same struggles. You build a network of mentors and other start-ups you can always fall back on. For advice on major decisions, but also for tips on the best social secretariat or other practical matters.”

Jimmy already had seven years of entrepreneurial experience with his catering business, but even then Birdhouse remains a great asset, he emphasizes. “For example, Birdhouse Services helped me with the financial plan for Crimibox so I could get the bank loan I needed to grow my startup.”

“Birdhouse Services helped me with the financial plan for Crimibox so I could get the bank loan I needed to grow my startup.”

Ambassadors and guinea pigs

That Crimibox is growing so fast, Jimmy attributes, not only to the team – one permanent employee and two freelancers with a lot of imagination – but also to the close community. The very first fans are ambassadors that most brands can only dream of, says Jimmy. “They manage our community on Facebook AND they are guinea pigs. Each new murder case first goes to our 5 first players. If they can’t crack the case, crack it too quickly, or notice misses along the way, we know we need to tinker with the murder case.”

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