Thijmen de Schipper Breaks Free
(Thijmen de Schipper of Yulu Toys)
What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
When I was very young I actually played with PLAYMOBIL a lot! I remember going into the woods with my PLAYMOBIL playset that had a teepee, covering it in mulch to hide it from the cowboy cart that was racing by with six horses and them nasty gunslingers. I loved creating my own stories, I even wrote them down in a little booklet that I still have! During my university days, we bought a huge world map, sand stripped the table and glued it on top of our coffee table as a massive Risk board. A weekly battlefield was organized. These days I like to chase bouncing balls – particularly in team sports like football and racketball, my favourites.
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
While attending University in the Netherlands in 2014, my Yulu partner Jochem Van Rijn and I successfully sold our first company to the Netherlands government. That definitely opened several doors for us; many people began supporting and encouraging us to start something new.
We decided that our passion was to try and create new game play experiences that people had never seen before. Although we knew the games business was very difficult to break into, we so deeply believed in our concepts that we decided to go for it!
Our first major launch was a product called “Helix” which was based on a game I played my first semester as an exchange student in China. We love competitive activity games and based on the feedback from industry experts we were able to turn a most traditional yard game into a modern play experience. We collaborated with Dutch University, set up production in The Netherlands and traveled around the world to sell Helix. We moved to Hong Kong/China to set up our offices and began mass production shortly after we graduated. During this time, we were extremely fortunate to meet great people and gain amazing mentors, all of whom had invaluable experience in the industry.
What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas to you?
Always playable is our motto: you have to be able to play to get proper feedback. Get the product in the hands of children as soon as possible and focus on the negatives to keep improving and tweaking the concept. By having fast iterations and small incremental change you can figure out if hypothesis are correct. If you wait too long before testing, a small assumption at the start can turn into a huge failure at the end of a long development process. Test assumptions early on and you will eliminate big failures at the end of a long development process.
What does your typical day look like?
I’m not sure that there is a typical day in the toy business! On average, most of my day is focused on product engineering and product design; this is the foundation for our company. However, to be able to build a product that is ready for a market launch you need a lot of team members with different disciplines, like advertising, graphic design and financials. But the most important part is building an ambitious team with “A-players” that are ready to make a change.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Thanks to the immediate feedback you receive online, you get to see pictures and videos of smiling kids every day! Every product that we ship is a smile on a face, so it’s extremely rewarding make a positive impact.
Seeing kids play with our toys is also rewarding. Some of our team was recently in a Target store where they overheard parents and kids talking in front of our end cap. The kids were saying, “Hey mom, I saw this on YouTube -- it looks like so much fun!” I also love hearing from customers on social media and seeing their photos of how they are playing our games. Our #BreakFreeChallenge is getting some awesome exposure on social media; it’s super cool and funny to see how they are interpreting game play!
What and/or who inspires you?
My parents. J My father, he always comes home with quirky little gadgets that he believes are going to be the biggest hit. It’s hard to understand where it’s coming from, but he is often spot-on. My mom has always had amazing planning and organizational skills. Their commitment and confidence is a great inspiration to me.
Where were you born?
I was born in a very small village in the Netherlands without any traffic lights. You could play football, hockey -- all outdoors, anywhere anytime.
When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Playing Cards Against Humanity with my team was hilarious.
Favorite movie of all time?
Everything that has to do with James Bond! The movies and especially James Bond’s “GoldenEye” on the Nintendo 64. . . best game ever made! I keep watching these movies because they have great inspiration for our Spy Code game line.
Favorite TV show?
“The Office US.” It’s sad to say it’s extremely funny to recognize the office jokes that you see in that show.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
James Bond so I can teach kids how to become a super spy!
A good father -- and enough freedom to be a part of my family. We are working very hard launching Yulu and don’t really have much time for family right now. But once we’re stable, we’ll have time for family and friends.
(Yulu Break Free Lifestyle Game)