I’m glad Sara and Bryan found one another and the world is better for it. They are partners in love, marriage and creative work and run their company Galactic Sneeze together with the help of their daughter Sadie. I first met them four years ago when they launched their SCHMOVIE game at our ChiTAG Fair. Among the many things I learned from their interview is that if you lift a rat by its armpits, twirl it slightly, and blow on its nose, it gets disoriented and won’t bite you. There’s more, but you’ll have to read on…
Galactic Sneeze website: http://galacticsneeze.com/
What is Galactic Sneeze, and what do you do?
Sara: We’re a husband-and-wife “fun stuff think tank” based out of our Brooklyn apartment. We started off inventing toys and games and pitching them to larger companies. But in the past couple years we’ve also become an indie game publisher. Our family game, Schmovie, is in stores now, and we just completed a successful Kickstarter for our new adult party game, Spank the Yeti, which comes out this fall. Both Bryan and I come up with concepts, then I lead the game content, rule-writing, and business side of things. Bryan does our illustrations, design, prototyping, and videos. Thankfully we have complementary skill sets… neither of us could run this company on our own!
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game Industry?
Sara: I started off in the mid 90s producing educational CD-ROM games for kids… first for a school, and then for Sesame Workshop. There was one particular project at Sesame that had a physical component to it… a “mouse topper” that fit over the computer mouse and added additional playful functionality to a traditional mouse. I became intrigued by the creative challenge of developing play patterns and content for different form factors. This encouraged me to shift my attention to toys. From there I went to VTech and then to Fisher-Price, where I was the Director of Content Design from 2003-2008. Since then I’ve consulted for numerous companies (including Toca Boca, Hasbro, Spin Master, WowWee, USAopoly, Gund, etc…) to help develop play patterns, IPs, and content.
Bryan: My background is in the world of branding and advertising. I was previously an Art Director at the NYC ad agency BBDO, focused predominantly on the M&M’s account. Looking back, I now see that I kept finding ways to work play into the campaigns. I designed a website that enabled folks to create and customize M&M’s characters in their own likeness and then explore a virtual world. For M&M’s Minis, which is marketed to kids, I transformed the print ads into toys and games. Kids were prompted to tear ads out of magazines and fold them into stunt ramps for the candy. And as a tie-in with Star Wars, I created a print ad kids could roll up and insert into the M&M’s Minis tube to transform it into a light saber… the blue side for Jedi, and red for Sith. The fun-loving brand gave me the opportunity to tap into my appreciation and love for play.
Sara and I met in 2007, and even on our very first date, we discussed how we’d both spent years developing other people’s brands, and that someday we planned to create our own. A few years later we took the plunge and launched Galactic Sneeze.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had and what did you learn from it?
Bryan: I grew up in rural Alabama. As a kid, my father was an engineer at a paper mill and I worked there a couple summers as a “spare hand”. I was tasked with any job nobody else wanted to do. I worked at the Ross dryer, which is an oven the size of a building that takes wet mushy pulp, and over a complex labyrinth of conveyor belts, dries it into a long thick sheet of dry pulp to be used in stuff like newsprint and diapers. As the paper dried, lint would fly off and get caught on an endless series of giant metal screens. I’d walk along the scaffolding carrying a giant vacuum hose, open up the doors, reach into the furnace, and try to scrape/suck the lint of the screens. There was no air conditioning, and it was summer in Alabama. I worked the swing shift, so I was often climbing around vacuuming at 3AM, 12 hours into a 16-hour shift. To make it infinitely worse was the ever present stench of decomposing matter that you could smell for miles around.
What I learned: 1. How paper is made. 2. This was not my dream job.
Sara: Although I wouldn’t consider this to be my worst job, I’d say my most unusual job was working in a rat lab my junior year in college. I was a behavioral biology major at Johns Hopkins and had to fulfill a certain amount of lab credits. So I assisted on a study examining the effects of varying levels of food intake on memory. My job was to run rats through a maze, force them to go in a particular direction, and then test whether they went the correct way on subsequent runs. I entertained myself by telling the rats jokes and speaking to them in French. This experience was pretty pivotal, as it made it very clear to me that I needed to work with other people in a creative field… rather than solo (not counting the rats) in a research setting.
What I learned: 1. If you lift a rat by its armpits, twirl it slightly, and blow on its nose, it gets disoriented and won’t bite you. 2. This was not my dream job.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
We’ve made many mistakes along the way. But one of the most entertaining and naïve ones, was our expectation regarding how easily our brands would “blow up” via social media. We’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years building our presence for Schmovie on both Facebook and Twitter. And although our new adult party game, Spank the Yeti, isn’t out yet, we’ve already started to create a passionate social media following for it as well. However, when we first started we though we could just tweet something like this to Snoop Dogg, “Hey @SnoopDogg, what would you call a @Schmovie about a hip-hop meteorologist? Can you beat, “Cloudy with a Chance of Pimpin’?” We thought he’d tweet back something, like “Fo’ drizzle!”, and we’d wake up to a million new followers. We had no clue. So we spent the early days of Schmovie tweeting to celebrities. Best case, we got ignored. Worst case, we got blocked.
Last month, a celebrity with 1.4 Million followers tweeted that Spank the Yeti was a blast, and shared the link to our Kickstarter. We finally had that moment. And you know what? Nothing really happened. We may have gotten a few extra backers that day. We’re not entirely sure.
Building an engaged audience via social media is a ton of work and can be a full-time job.
What does your daughter think of her parents’ business?
Our 4-year-old daughter, Sadie, doesn’t think her parents have a game company. She things the three of us have a game company. We often refer to her as our Galactic Sneeze intern. But really, she’s our Head of Marketing. She takes her job very seriously, and rarely leaves the house without a little purse filled with Schmovie stickers and buttons. When we’re out, she’ll size people up, and if they smile at her or fit whatever mental criteria she has, she’ll offer up a sticker. The best part is this is 100% her idea. She understands the basic business principle that the more games we sell, the better it is for all of us. She’s also convinced that the more money we make, the more candy we’ll buy her. This is not entirely incorrect.
It’s a huge challenge to juggle publishing our own games, pitching new concepts to bigger toy/game companies, freelance projects, and being parents. Thankfully there’s a common thread. The benefit for our daughter is she has the best toy and game collection of anyone she knows. The benefit for us, is we have an in-house test subject and captive audience.
What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
Bryan: The first toy I remember desperately wanting, and then eventually getting for Christmas, was a Millennium Falcon. I knew the box was huge and yet had to be hidden somewhere in the house. I looked behind the washer/dryer, inside the closets, and even checked the cars. It turns out my mom had stuffed it into a giant garbage bag, tied a rope around it, and hung it out of the window of the 2nd floor. Obviously. The toy is a pristine white when it first comes out of the package, but I had learned from an older cooler kid that to make it look more realistic you should “distress” it. So after a year and a half of begging for this toy, much to my parents’ horror I immediately ran out into the front yard and proceeded to art direct it with fistfuls of mud.
Sara: My favorite toys were Speak & Spell, Merlin, and Lite-Brite. My brother is almost 6 years older than I am, so naturally we had different interests as kids and didn’t play together much. I suppose it makes sense I was drawn to toys that would react to me in some way. I also always carried a notebook, and would write stories and draw little characters.
How do you jumpstart your creativity when you find yourself stalled on a project?
Sara: When I’m creatively stuck or need help focusing, I take myself out for a walk. The fresh air, exercise, and change of scenery does wonders. Bryan and I will often go for a morning stroll with the goal of brainstorming a new idea or working through a challenge we’ve been trying to crack. Also, one of the benefits of living in our neighborhood is there’s inspiration at every turn. If you strike up a conversation in a coffee shop, chances are the other person is a writer, artist, or entrepreneur of some sort. Sometimes it helps to hear what people are working on in other creative fields. And sometimes just zoning out on a bench and people-watching does the trick… especially with a coffee in hand. Did I mention caffeine? Caffeine is amazing.
Bryan: I have a pretty big collection of design books and magazines. I’ll spend an hour thumbing through books and placing post-it notes on relevant pages. I draw small boxes on sheets of paper. Then I try to write or draw something interesting in every box. In 15 years of being a professional creative, I’ve never filled 99 boxes and not ended up with a handful of concepts I was was excited to work on. Creativity is a job just like anything else, and it takes doing the work to get to the best stuff.