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Interview with David Yakos of Salient Technologies

Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?

I was introduced to the T&G industry when I met Tanya Thompson at an event called HATCH. As Co-Owner of a design firm, Salient Technologies, and a serial inventor, I had been developing in most other industries. She told me all about the world of play. I quickly shifted most of my attention and imagination towards play. I quickly became submerged in the industry after visiting ChiTAG soon thereafter. There is no place more fun than finding that the Toy & Game is where your passion and talents converge.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Playing the Game of Life with my kids the other day, my son was presented with the choice of his career, an Actor or an Inventor. He climbed up in my lap for a snuggle while he thought about it and said, “Dad, I want to be an inventor just like you”. I may have had a little tear squeeze out. I tried to convince him, “No, be the move star!” thinking he might make more money and that’s what I wanted to be when I was a kid. Surprised that “inventor” even an option in the game, that it was his choice, or even a possibility real life for that matter, I think I want to be that when I grow up… yeah an inventor.

What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?

I love seeing science, art and engineering working its way back into play. I believe the maker mindset was there back in the 80s… in a time kids built their own forts, swords and armor. I’m starting to see more maker and adventure driven play. There is an interesting element of tech that is also being introduced, the kind of tech that Data from the Goonies would have killed for. Being able to program, customize and digitally share creations is in interesting trend. I see many of the popular toys being connected to the movie industry.

What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas to you?

Don’t get to attached to just one idea… and don’t forget to have fun.

What was your favorite toy or game as a child?

My favorite toy as a kid was my box of craft supplies. I loved making everything like paper shoes, hovercrafts and popsicle stick people. It was called making crafts back then. Today I think we call it Maker.

What does your typical day look like?

I wake up in a log cabin in Montana, sip my espresso and a moment with my family before heading 9 blocks to my office at Salient Technologies. I spend the bulk of my day working with our amazing team of designers and engineers thankful that I love my job. We spend a lot of time working on company’s new products, in fact on average, 1 every 2.16 days in 2016. That seems to take a good portion of my day. I try to invent something new every day as well. Even if I don’t act on the idea, I at least write it down. Outside of work, I enjoy paining, making, drawing, hiking and fly fishing. We find tons of outdoor activities to do as a family or friends in Montana.

What inspires you?

This wonderful planet is never short on inspiration if you don’t forget to look for it. I find myself on hikes in the Beartooth, traveling with my family, or simply taking time to reflect and explore my imagination. I’m convinced that most adults are embarrassed to imagine anymore. I find my kids are extraordinary at entering this world. I’ve seen my sons turn Barbies into rocket launchers and my daughter nurture a family of pinecones. I try to live in this world of imagination when it comes to making toys. The moment you start giving an inanimate object a voice or sound effects, it becomes alive and morphs right before your imaginative eyes.

Where were you born, grow up and how did that influence who you are today?

I was born a cheesehead in Racine WI but claim Bozeman Montana as home today. I have been fortunate to have lived in many places around the globe from seven different states to countries like New Zealand and Costa Rica. Travel and the immersion in other cultures is an education all its own. It is helpful to remember there is a whole world outside our immediate circle of influence. I think just knowing that can shift your global world view and help expand your influence.

What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?

I really appreciate of my computers, tablets, 3D CAD tools (specifically SolidWorks), laser cutter, 3D printers and techy toys. They really streamline our inventive process at Salient. Being able to take an idea from imagination to production at this rate is unprecedented. That said, I find myself going back to the old-school tech; colored pencils, markers, clay and paint brushes. I find that getting an idea down on paper is the most important step in the process of creation. It is the fastest way to get ideas out and the first step in getting them to reality. Also, it lets me use the artistic side of my brain which can be rewarding since the engineering side often wins out.

How do you jumpstart your creativity when you find yourself stalled on a project?

If I’m stalled on a project, I usually just jump onto another one. There are enough ideas to keep moving forward on something. But, if I must keep moving on one idea, I find it helpful to make prototype and play with it. Even if the prototype is just a rough cardboard mock up, it at least helps me imagine it better. I also find it is helpful to present it to someone. Often, just verbalizing it helps cut through to the solutions needed.

Do you have any kiddos?

I have 4 minions. Isabella 9, Liam 6, Clive 4 and Elora 9 months. I’m learning there aren’t too many things that are as great as raising kids… especially with the help of my wife Kari who is more and rad.

Do you have any pets?

I have a roaming beagle named Lola and barn cat named Uncle Jake

Do you play any musical instruments? If so, which one(s)?

I play guitar and piano a little but love to play harmonica… not country music, country music is the worst.

What’s your favorite cereal?

Rice checks turned into puppy chow.

Favorite book?

Alchemist by Paulo Coelho or Perelandra by CS Lewis

Favorite movie of all time?

The Princess Bride is the best ever… it includes fencing, fighting, giants, and true love.

What’s the furthest you’ve ever been from home?

8, 024 miles between Bozeman Mt and Bluff Point, New Zealand

Do you have any special talents?


What are your hobbies?

I’m active outdoors with hiking, hunting, fly fishing and mountaineering but found most reciently I love to paint. We turned our guest room into a painting studio and maker space. It helps to have a designated area to make and paint.

What’s next?

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