Julien Sharp, Founder, Funnybone Toys
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
I spent my early adult life as a Cruise Director and entertainer on ships all around the world. I learned to love games because if the weather was bad on a day spent at sea, games were vital in making sure people had a good time on board. We used not only “mainstream” games but we also got really good at making up games. I really honed this skill on one particular cruise – it was a 60-day South America cruise, with over 40 days at sea! And – the ship was a new one, and had very low stock of games in the library, and no place to get them in the (Spanish-speaking) ports we were visiting. So….. my team and I got really, really good at making up games!
So, starting a game company seemed very natural - and when I ended up in Denver in 2010, it was the perfect environment for a startup. In 2011 the company was founded, design started that summer, and in 2012 the first “Art of Card Games” series was launched at Toy Fair in New York.
What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?
I’m very excited to see the public’s interest in tabletop (board) games on the rise! When we started, we primarily designed our games for the museum market, and it’s been a blast to take our “art inspired” high design focus and apply it to games that are appealing to an even wider market in the years since we founded Funnybone Toys.
*What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas to you?
For us, every product needs to have a “story” – we have an inspiration story for everything we produce. Games we license or distribute need to have their own good story to fit into our brand.
What does your typical day look like?
I’m running this company as the only “full time” employee. I am sales director, marketing and social media manager, billing and collections specialist…and chief game developer. There is no “typical” day for me since starting Funnybone Toys.
Where were you born?
Indianapolis, Indiana. I got my B.S. in Business from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. It’s been fun to go back and see Indianapolis as the home to GenCon!
How do you jumpstart your creativity when you find yourself stalled on a project?
In the short term, when our team is at an impasse, we go sing Karaoke in NYC! When I feel a real dip in creative energy, I head to Japan. I’ll be going for my fourth time in September (in a 2 year period) and have not only come back with more general inspirations – I’ve also been able to find products in Japan to distribute in the US!
Do you have any pets?
Our pets are our “kiddos” – a dog and a cat who are best friends. I love to watch their inter-species friendship. I think the dog thinks he is a cat, and the cat thinks he is a dog!
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
In addition to Japan travels, the biggest pleasure outside of spending time with my spouse and pets is SKIING! It’s my favorite sport in the world and when I lived in Denver, I took a lot of phone meetings in the lodge of my favorite ski resort.
What’s the first thing you usually notice about people?
The handshake! I’m a fan of a firm, welcoming “glad to meet you” handshake. If no handshake is involved, I notice people’s expressions – whether they are “open” and confident, or closed off.
Summer of Winter?
WINTER! WINTER! (Skiing!)
What’s the furthest you’ve ever been from home?
I’ve been so fortunate that my work – both before founding Funnybone Toys and after – has allowed me to travel to every continent except for Australia and Antarctica. Travel to other lands has shaped my entire life and I’m a strong advocate for international travel for American youth.
Do you have any special talents?
My singing voice got me my first job on a cruise ship over the Christmas holiday of my freshman year in college. When I graduated as a “singer with a business degree” it allowed me to rise through the ranks of entertainment on cruise ships – and to travel all over the world. I had musical grandmothers on each side of my family and I’m lucky to have gotten a little of their genes.
What are your hobbies?
I may have mentioned skiing once or twice in this interview…. I didn’t learn until I was 39 and I’ve had private instruction for several years to catch up with my spouse, who learned at age 5. I’m at my happiest carving down a hill.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
A mentor. I spent a lot of my life being a jack of many trades and a master at none. Working in the toy and game industry, I feel like I’m focused on the things I do best. It would be such an honor and personal achievement to someday mentor other people might be at the point that I was in 2010-2011, when I was just starting and had so much to learn.
Our company is at an exciting crossroads, having entered the “adolescent” phase, growing from a pure startup. We have some exciting plans toward our growth and we feel these will bear fruit in 2017-18.
Thank you for taking time to answer our questions thoughtfully and with a sense of play!