Mr. Tate studied computer science as an undergraduate at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh before moving to the United States, where he earned a master’s degree from Tuck Business School in Dartmouth. When he finished his MBA, he took a job with Microsoft, in the suburbs of Seattle, just as this software maker was growing into one of the most powerful companies in the world. Soon, he appointed one of the company’s most prominent employees: the future CEO and Chairman of the Board, Satya Nadella.
In the 1990s, during the heyday of multimedia CDs, Mr. Tate oversaw Microsoft’s catalog of reference titles, including the Encarta Encyclopedia and Bookshelf, a comprehensive collection that includes Roget’s Thesaurus, American Heritage Dictionary, Familiar Bartlett Quotes and the Chicago Directory. style. He eventually became the kind of entrepreneur residing at the company, launching five new internet companies within Microsoft in four years, including Carpoint, a car-buying service, and Sidewalk, an electronic city guide.
He left the company in 1997, hoping to become a disc radio jockey based on the strength of the Scottish brogue. But after the test failed, he decided to develop Cranium, and build a new company, Cranium Inc. , with Mr. Alexander, a former associate at Microsoft.
When they finished creating the game in late 1998, toy stores and other traditional retailers had already stocked their shelves for the holiday buying season. But one afternoon, when they met for coffee at a Starbucks in Seattle, Mr. Tate had another idea: What if they sold the game through the coffee shop chain?
“His idea was to sell the game not where the games are sold but where our customers are,” said Mr. Alexander. “Most of the people we were going to would never set foot in a toy store.”
Through an acquaintance, Mr. Tate arranged a meeting with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, and soon Starbucks was selling Cranium in stores across the country. Later, Mr. Tate and Mr. Alexander arranged similar deals with Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, both of which at the time were known primarily for selling books, not games.