An Exclusive Interview with THE Mark Carson
Can Fat Brain’s Mark Carson Tie a Cherry Stem with His Tongue? Yes he can. And that isn’t even the most interesting or off-the-road bit about Mark. For starters, I love that he and his wife went to preschool all the way through high school together (so romantic). When his 10 year old son suggested he start selling toys online Mark listened and founded Fat Brain Toys. Another Mark tidbit, he listens to Weird Al Yankovic in the car. And, there is more. I’ve known Mark for many years, but I never really knew Mark apparently! Read on…
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
My entry into the toy industry came quite literally because of my kids. For my son Adam’s 10th birthday, way back
in 2002, he received a small set of Geomag - a high-quality magnetic construction set. With a some birthday money burning a whole in his pocket, he was searching online for a bigger set of Geomag. Struggling to find them online, he suggested that we build our own website to sell them…and so we did! Over 13 years later, we still sell Geomag plus 7,000 other quality toys and games from manufacturers all over the world.
What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?
The obvious worry is too much screen time for today’s youth. I’m a tech guy, so I appreciate a good gadget as much as anyone. But I also know the valuable skills that I learned only through good old-fashioned hands-on play.
On the other hand, the focus on STEM and STEAM is a very encouraging trend. In a lot of respects, it’s given a definable name to what we’ve been promoting for our entire company’s existence.
What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas to you?
For us it’s all about innovation. While we’re observant of current trends in toys and games, we’re more interested in what HASN’T been done before.
What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
That’s a toss up between my coveted Hot Wheels collection and my interlocking toy bricks (similar to LEGO, but not LEGO).
What does your typical day look like?
I guess the exciting part of my job is that very few days are “typical”. I collaborate with my team on technology, marketing, product development, design and many other areas, so no two days are alike…and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had and what did you learn from it?
I worked as a graphic “artist” at a trophy shop during college. While I was hired for my creative skills, I would sit at a desk for hours each day coloring in the lines of the output from a defective laser printer. I learned that I should more carefully read job descriptions!
What inspires you?
Creation. I learned a long time ago that as long as I’m actively engaged in building something meaningful, I’m happy. Whether that’s contributing an idea to a new toy, building a brand, constructing furniture in my garage, or writing a useful piece of code, I’m inspired by the challenge of creating something useful from scratch.
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up and how did that influence who you are today?
I grew up in a small community in rural Nebraska which had profound influences on me. First and foremost, my wife Karen and I went to school together from preschool all the way through high school! But being from a small town, you’re not only encouraged to participate in activities…it’s almost a requirement. I played four different sports…played in the band…participated in theater and clubs, and received indispensable one-on-one attention from teachers. I feel very fortunate for all those experiences.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
I’m very trusting by nature and assume that everyone is acting in good faith - but of course that’s not always the case. I’d like to think that I’ve learned, but occasionally I admit that I still make the same mistake.
What do you read every day, and why?
Email! I wish I could say that I read daily affirmations or inspirational books, but the only thing that I consistently read is lots and lots of email.
What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?
My Messages app on my Mac. As more and more communication is moving from email to text, I love the ability to reply to texts without the use of my thumbs!
How do you jumpstart your creativity when you find yourself stalled on a project?
Talking through creative challenges with the other brilliant members of my team is always a first resort. But I also love looking to parallel design universes for inspiration. If we’re stalled out on a toy or packaging design, I might stroll through store aisles of cooking gear or other household products looking for innovative designs, textures, and materials.
When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Our product development meetings inevitably force multiple LOL’s. When you get a group of creative types together and tell them to “brainstorm”, things can get out of hand in a hurry.
Are you named after anyone?
No, not really. But I’m proud that my oldest sister Denise got “naming rights” for me.
Do you have any kiddos?
We have three wonderful kids who have served as inspiration for our business from day one.
Do you have any pets?
We have two dogs, a 16 year old Jack Russell Terrier and a 7 year old Golden Doodle. They’re wonderful too!
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
I still listen to Weird Al Yankovic in my car and can quote “Amish Paradise” from heart.
Do you play any musical instruments? If so, which one(s)?
The trumpet. Does “Rock Band” count?
What’s your favorite cereal?
Honey Bunches of Oats.
What’s the first thing you usually notice about people?
I really have no idea. I’ll have to take notice of what I notice!
What is your eye color?
Kind of blue…kind of green…mostly grey.
Do you prefer scary movies or happy endings?
Definitely happy endings.
Summer of Winter?
Hugs or Kisses?
What’s your favorite TV show?
House of Cards or Silicon Valley.
Favorite movie of all time?
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
What’s the furthest you’ve ever been from home?
Do you have any special talents?
I can tie the stem from a cherry into a knot with my tongue (if that counts as a talent).
What are your hobbies?
Running. Hiking. Photography.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I’ll know when I get there!
Thank you for taking time to answer our questions thoughtfully and with a sense of play!