What do you do in the industry?
I run Fishco Innovation, an invention and design service that develops concepts for licensing to the toy industry. Originally established in Brooklyn in 2008, we now operate out of a repurposed 18th century farm in New York’s Catskill Mountain region. This setting provides a work environment of inspiration and fresh outlook that is essential to designing mechanical and optical solutions that we specialize in.
What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
Fire. Just kidding. (but not really) Tough to single out just one, but Mego Star Trek figures and anything space-themed such as Mattel’s Major Matt Mason figures and playsets. A little before my time, but I received a mess of this stuff as hand-me-downs, and I couldn’t get over how cool it all looked. It was a world of 1960’s jet age styled space hardware, a translucent moon base, vehicles, and glowing aliens. No TV, film or comic tie-ins, but there’s been talk of a film from time to time.
G.I. Joe was also a huge influence. When I was in charge of inventor relations at Toy Biz, I had a meeting with Don Levine, the creator of G.I. Joe. I remember being totally star struck as I walked him through our showroom, and got to show him some action figure tech that I was working on at the time.
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
It was never part of the plan. I had an industrial design gig at a fairly toxic workplace during the ‘90’s recession. I wanted out, and nobody was hiring. The placement office at SVA, my art school in New York called me about an opening at an up and coming company called Toy Biz. They needed a “toy wrangler” for toy commercial shoots. The position required model making and set work, and it immediately sounded like a dream job. I was hired on the spot, and made an immediate career switch. My training was in packaging, 3D design and graphics, so on the non-shoot days I did catalog layout and showroom display. Before long I was building the Toy Biz model shop and running it.
What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?
I’m both excited and worried about IoT toys with perceived AI. I’m a big home automation buff, and like the idea of integrating AI into toys. Alexa, Cortana, Google and Siri provide an interesting user experience, but are more artificial than intelligent. They are supposedly learning and improving as they go in order to provide a more seamless rapport. It’s no secret that there’s someone behind the curtain pulling levers with our data, but what could really be done with it? The Twilight Zone voice in me wonders if our consciousness can be uploaded over time, to be sold back to us later in a creepy-ass toy product, or worse….
What advice can you give to new inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas?
Don’t fall in love with the one concept you think will be a hit. Step away. Work on other stuff. Come back to it later with a new perspective. Pick it apart, have others critique it brutally, and build on it. Let it take on another form if need be. Still love it? Repeat the process.
What advice would you give a young adult graduating from high school or college today?
Embark on a career walkabout by working the gig economy. Take weird little freelance jobs. Explore, and do what you love. Make mistakes often, almost deliberately, and with reckless abandon. Learn to embrace failure, as you’ll learn more from failure than from success. Hear opinions from others, but don’t let them drive you. Seek out mentors along the path….
What does your typical day look like?
Wake up early and immediately procrastinate. Read tech news, organize the lab, and build something that seems fun, and provides an instant gratification teaser. Force myself to answer email, and tend to the grownup duties and obligations. I’ve been working alone these days, so it’s difficult when self-discipline is the only grownup in the room. Reward myself by returning to the fun projects, and keep at it until the wee hours.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Soon to be a thing of the past, but there’s nothing like the thrill of walking into Toys R Us and seeing kids and adults freaking out over something I designed.
Where did you grow up and how did that influence who you are today?
I grew up in Westchester County, a distant suburb outside of New York City. For whatever reasons, I found it to be kind of a boring place. There was no Internet back then, and in order to experience culture effectively, you needed to physically go somewhere, to seek out like-minded people with creative backgrounds. I moved to New York at a young age, and struggled to afford to live there. Just being there, building my designer chops was like Disneyland for me. I now feel like surrounding yourself with influences that take you out of your comfort zone inspires a great deal of personal growth.
What and/or who inspires you?
Jan Menting, my grandfather, inspired creativity. He came to the U.S. from the Netherlands in the early 1950’s as a young rock star graphic designer. His mentors were exiled Bauhaus designers, and he made a name doing poster art for KLM, concept work for Mobil, and display work for Hanes. Today, I work in what was his design studio in upstate New York. He had a lot of friends with diverse creative backgrounds that would visit him here. There were multiple sculpting, painting and carpentry projects in progress at any given time. I was exposed to this industrious atmosphere from a very young age, and Jan was the catalyst. Also, my father, Bill. He was a third generation auto mechanic, who inspired my work ethic, and mechanical sense.
What do you read every day?
New York Times, The Guardian, The Onion, and tech news sites.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
During senior year in high school, I bailed on the original plan of attending art school. I got the impression at one point that there was no money in an arts career, and felt that I could be creative as an electronic engineer. I always hung out in Radio Shack and built things like guitar effect pedals. Etching circuit boards and soldering were fun skills to learn. Turns out I was terrible at math and despised programming. This is how I learned that there is no formula for success. No one knows your strengths and limitations better than yourself.
What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?