Dan Klitsner - From Toil-It To Bop-It
(Picture of the award for the toilet cleaner bottle - and with the original Bop It)
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
I graduated from Art Center College of Design in Industrial Design with aspirations of creating sleek toasters and teapots or stylish tech gadgets. However, I quickly discovered that the teapot design jobs were all taken, and being afraid to say no to any freelance work, ended up landing jobs in the less glamorous category of bottle design which included ergonomic toilet bowl cleaner bottles. As I watched my career starting to slide down the toilet I answered an ad looking for a freelance industrial designer for Discovery Toys and began a very satisfying 5 year relationship, designing several dozen pre-school toys and products and allowing me to flush bathroom cleaning supplies from my client list. Although toilet rims may be less clean as a result, I still can’t help but feel it was the right decision.
What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
My favorite toys have always been games. And my favorite games have always been those that involve a group of family or friends sitting around a table, and of those games my fondest memories are of the ones played with cards. Growing up I loved playing Rummy, Spoons, Spades, etc, so although its not a specific product I always answer this question as “a deck of cards” because I think it turns the people you are with into the experience and memory instead of focusing on the toy itself.
What does your typical day look like?
Weekdays I get up a 6:30 am, have a double shot cappuccino from our Nespresso machine then hit a tennis ball with a friend from 7-8am. Come back and have a quick breakfast with my family, then around 9am I ride my bicycle the 20 miles from Marin to SF, over the sketchy bike lane of the Golden Gate Bridge, making annoyingly scratchy phone calls to the east coast filled with wind and road noise from my “bike phone” while I continue around the Marina and arrive at the KID Group studio in downtown San Francisco around 10am where I have another double Cappuccino from the Nespresso Machine there, change out of my bike gear, sit down on the couch and check in on my Words With Friends games, scan through the morning emails and around 11am start thinking about where to go for lunch.
We have a team of 4-5 designers and interns so I try to check in on the 10-15 projects we have in progress and change whatever I decided the day before. At some point I usually wander into the shop and start hot gluing and duct taping old toys together to combine them into new toys that we can license to big companies or stare at the 3-D printers making real parts out of magic string, and around a 6pm the commute process reverses, riding the 20 miles back to Marin. (Full disclosure - it’s an electric assist bike but I try to look like I’m exerting maximum effort as I pass the serious bikers going uphill).
What inspires you?
I am inspired by the way every person thinks a little bit differently, and how one little notion or fresh comment can open up an entirely new direction. Especially the uninhibited honesty of children, particularly my own.
Where did you grow up and how did that influence who you are today?
I was born and grew up in Walnut Creek, CA. When there were still Walnuts and Creeks there. I spent a lot of time exploring and enjoyed sports and outdoor activities. Went to a great public school system which had a lot of arts and crafts programs that influenced my artistic nature.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
About 8 years ago we (KID Group) invented a device called QIGO - a USB flash drive that was essentially a “Cloud Drive” that stored content in the cloud instead of the flash drive. We were so into it that we tried to launch it ourselves instead of our normal licensing route and we failed with flying colors. What we learned was that we have great ideas but we should stick to licensing or need great marketing and investment partners if we want to launch our own concepts in the future.
What do you read every day, and why?
My text messages. Because I am really bad at reading my emails. But if you mean books or articles, I listen to audio books on my 2 hours of bike riding every day and enjoy everything from historical fiction to sci-fi.
What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?
Lately I have been using the adobe sketch program on my IPad Pro with a stylus. Before that it was double stick tape.
Do you have any kiddos?
Together my wife Alicia and I have 3 boys, ages 17,22 and 24 and one girl, age 18. The boys are all studying or working in design related fields and our daughter is undergrad in bio-med.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Cheddar & Sour Cream Flavored Ruffles.
Do you play any musical instruments? If so, which one(s)?
I play bass in a couple bands. One of them is a Pretenders tribute band. As with most tribute bands the best part is the name: The Pretender-ers.
Do you have any special talents?
I can blow relatively large and buoyant spit bubbles with my tongue.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
A Vacation Journalist. I keep a sketch book and create illustrated journals of family vacations, conferences, and musicians at music festivals and concerts, and even some toy industry events and people in some of them - my wife and I have a website called IllustratedTravels.com . Our retirement plan is to get travel agents to invite us on exotic trips to illustrate other peoples vacations.
What I learned from inventing Bop It was that it worked because it animated the player, and for that reason I believe that the key to its success is that it is as much fun to play as to watch other people play it. My partners Gary and Brian and I have been working for 3 years on a new app that is about to be released called HipSync. It is essentially like lipsync but for your body. Whereas Bop It was “Do what you hear” this is an app where it slows down videos and you simply “Do what you see” and in 60 seconds plays back a video of you perfectly synced at full speed. Cracks me up every time. We have partnered with the folks behind American Idol and Dancing with the Stars for content and it’s probably available by the time this interview is published so check it out and post some videos!