Jason Neitsch sits in the common area of Concordia University’s Hole Academic Centre. He wears track pants and a pink athletic sweater. What sets him apart from the other students is the fact that the silver laptop he carries is covered in Pikachu stickers.
Yes, Pikachu, the famous yellow hero of the Pokémon card game, online games and 2019 feature film featuring the voice of Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds.
Neitsch isn’t just a massive fan of the Japanese card game. He’s transformed that passion into a legitimate high-tech business, with an automated online system that trades hundreds of thousands of game codes per month.
It all began when he was a junior-high kid.
Not content with simply collecting cards to be used in the globally popular game, he made a few cents here, a few cents there, selling unused codes. In each pack of cards, then and now, there’s a card enclosed with a code that can be redeemed for a virtual “pack” to be used in the online version of the game. People who have extra codes, or don’t play the online version of the game, can make a few extra cents per card by selling them. There’s a virtual trading world out there. A few cents a card may not seem like a lot, but, for dedicated collectors, it adds up.
When Neitsch got enough dough together from selling his codes, he started to buy more from other Pokémon fans. The sales were completed via Facebook and e-mail.
But there was a problem. It’s impossible for any one man to respond to thousands of emails. “I just couldn’t keep up,” he says.
And then, he had a eureka moment. What if there was a single, easy-to-use virtual clearinghouse in which Pokémon fans could sell their codes? Users can log into the app, Poké Awesome Code Catcher, and get anywhere between a dime and a quarter for each code. The codes are then sold online for a profit.
Neitsch’s company, JN Cards, is a collaboration between he and five others: One of them is in Toronto, another in New Hampshire, someone in North Carolina and two people, get this, in Slovenia. Oh, and Neitsch is still a student in Concordia University’s Bachelor of Management program.
Neitsch sought mentorship and advice from Concordia’s Centre for Innovation and Applied Research.
“It is incredible to see CUE students be successful in their own businesses,” says Dr. Manfred Zeuch, Concordia’s vice-president of external affairs and international relations. “As a campus community that supports our students in their entrepreneurial endeavours, be it academic or extracurricular, we are excited to be able to offer business advice, services, and network connections to students like Jason.”
How’s this for the online nature of modern business? He’s actually only met one of his five collaborators in person. But they discuss the business daily via Facebook.
“What brought us together? Our love for Pokémon,” says Neitsch. “We might not (average) 4,000 submissions from users every month, but we’ll get close.”
And how popular is Poké Awesome Code Catcher? In December of 2019, the site received 1,900 submissions — users submitting batches of codes. In January of this year, that number rose to about 3,100. In February, it went to 4,800.
While making a margin of sometimes a dime or a quarter per card might not seem major, this is a business designed to run on volume. And, if there are other online games that rise in the future that use redeemable codes, the platform can be adapted for them.
“Right now, the idea of using codes is unique to Pokémon’s online system,” he says. “If other games go that route, it would be an option for us.”