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Washington Business Journal
Executive Profile

Jim Moran's new career is all fun and games

A Coast Guard Academy career aptitude test first pointed Jim Moran in the direction of teaching, but it wasn’t until 2016 that he made education a full-time gig.

That year, he filmed himself and his daughters playing with his mathematics instruction dice, which he designed by combining his love of games and competition with the field of mathematics. 

The response was overwhelmingly positive. A Kickstarter to fund mass production of the dice surpassed its humble goal of $4,000, and Arlington-based Semper Smart Games was born.

Now, Moran, who has retired from the Coast Guard, is out with his first board game, Election Night. The game — which combines lessons in math, civics and geography — has been awarded the Parents’ Choice Gold Award. The company has sold more than 2,000 games, which are available in small toy and game stores in more than a dozen states.

What are you most proud of? I had a big part in saving a lot of lives in the Coast Guard. Other than doctors and first responders, not a lot of people get a lot of opportunity to have life-saving impact.

What’s one of your most memorable moments with the Coast Guard? I did a lot of drug interdictions in the Coast Guard when I was stationed in Puerto Rico on a small patrol boat. We were chasing what we were told was a drug boat one night, and it was before a lot of people understood that migrants were being trafficked this way. A boat capsized, and we had to make a lot of quick decisions to save lives. There were kids involved — it was a pretty harrowing experience to save 22 people.  

Best business decision? Not making any business decisions fast. I got a booth at Toy Fair in New York in February, which is the biggest toy fair in the Western Hemisphere. I had many, many people try to be my online salesperson, my regional salesperson, my ad distributors. I’m glad that I wasn’t too impulsive.

Favorite game? When I was a kid, it was Dungeons & Dragons. Right now, it’s Codenames. It’s been around for a while, but now my daughters are of an age where they can play it within a group. I think it really increases communication skill, and it even increases appreciation and maybe empathy for how other peoples’ minds work. 

What’s a game in your family that can really test family bonds? I hate playing Apples to Apples with my extended family in-laws because they love it, but they all have these long historical cues with each other. Interestingly enough, they hate Risk. Probably because of the zero-sumness of it. I think Risk is actually banned from their house. 

What’s your hidden talent? My wife was really impressed one day when, after hiring an interior decorator to do some window treatments, I decided that I would do three rooms of window treatments. I picked fabrics out, did the valances and constructed them myself. 

Guilty pleasure? I am a sports fan. I grew up in western Massachusetts, so I’m a New England all-around fan. My daughters are in competitive travel soccer. I have recently found I like watching them score goals as much as I ever loved watching Tom Brady throw touchdowns. 

What’s your go-to good-mood song? My daughters actually have a pump-up song playlist. There is a version — a parental lyrics version — of “Lose Yourself” by Eminem. Also, the Dropkick Murphys’ “I’m Shipping up to Boston” or the other one that’s on the list because it had a good result before the game was “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” by The Gap Band. 

Favorite book? “NonZero.” The old classic by Robert Wright. It basically talks about that theme that the success of humanity will be based on our ability to find “non-zero-sumness.” 

Since you’ve left the Coast Guard, do you have a boat? No! No, no. I saw a lot of destruction and angst with that. I love the shore. I love the water. A boat and a place on the shore? I think I would be so stressed it wouldn’t even be funny. I’ve seen too much. 

Jim Moran 

Founder and creator, Semper Smart Games 

  • Age: 50 
  • Residence: Arlington 
  • Education: Bachelor’s in government, United States Coast Guard Academy; master’s in engineering management, George Washington University 
  • Family: Wife Heather, two daughters 
  • First job: Picking cucumbers at 13
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