Gray Bright - LEGO, Time Travel, NASA, 1,500+ Products!
What do you do in the industry?
I’m lucky enough to have been involved in the research, design, development, management, manufacture, supply, launch, and retail of 1,500+ CE hardware and software products. Spent over a decade working for a large format electronics retailer (head of product development) then manufacturing consumer electronics under license for Mattel, Activision, Fox, Nickelodeon. Once living in LA, I of course worked for will.i.am because that’s a clause in your LA rental agreement, then a design studio for Google / Uber, and currently creating a small electric scooter rideshare competitor to Bird and Lime.
What is your claim to fame in the industry?
I’m member to a small group of people who have performed stand-up comedy for NASA at Kennedy Space Center during a live rocket launch (is there more than 1 member in that group?)
What are some of your long-term goals?
I’m a maker who loves the intersection of entertainment, technology, and play. Developing products and experiences fulfils me, whilst performing inspires me. Short term I’d love to be involved in projects such as LEGO Masters, and long term I have an unflinching desire to build a time machine.
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
My dad worked for Mattel, he then owned a few toy stores while I was growing up in Australia, so from the age of being able to ride a bike I was working in the stores, stocking shelves, using archaic POS machines, and transacting customers with click-clack - wow I can’t believe I still remember the name of those credit card machines. Getting on the shop floor experience from around 8 onwards, which by the way I think is now totallyyy illegal to make a kid work like that, however it did engrain the retail ecosystem deep in me, it taught me how to buy, market, and sell.
My first solo retail business started in grade 4 when I would purchase Warhead candies at the local store for 5 cents, then sell them at school for 10 cents, hitting 50 points margin at 10, not bad at all! Sadly I got in a lot of trouble from my teachers for this salesmanship, presumably the thugs running the school canteen didn’t want little Gra distributing delicious goods on their turf (and yes my name was Gra back then, only in later life did the ‘y’ in Gray get added).
What are you working on right now?
I’ve created a dockless rideshare system similar to Bird and Lime, and am exploring deployment locations, along with future mobility devices - maybe one day scooters will self-park?...
What are some of your short and long-term goals?
I’m a maker who lives for the intersection of entertainment, technology, and play. Developing products and experiences fulfills me, whilst performing inspires me. Short term I’d love to be involved in projects such as LEGO Masters, and long term I have an unflinching desire to build a time machine.
Mary tells me many of the creatives at LEGO read these interviews, so I'd like to take this opportunity to
Dear literally everyone who works / knows people / once had coffee
with someone from LEGO,
Can I host your show, yes, great, thanks, let's start filming tomorrow.
Watch my show reel!
What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?
I first hand saw the devastation Toys-R-Us entry into Australia under the ‘World 4 Kids’ entity had on local business in the late 90’s. Retail is harder than ever, and with the recent total demise of Toys-R-Us, it casts a worrying shadow on local toy retail, and the entire supporting ecosystem.
What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas to you?
Think your toy through, and if someone doesn’t buy it, you make it yourself, contract manufacture it, self-distribute, there’s so much opportunity to start small these days, the secret is this - with the internet & alibaba.com you’re halfway there!
What advice would you give a young adult graduating from high school or college today?
Make things. Always build stuff. Learn to sell products and experiences. Do not listen to the crowd. Start small, aim big, like crazy big, you may not get there but so many things along the way will occur. And finally, don’t listen to me, or anyone else.
What does your typical day look like?
Recently I’ve been working with a team of freelance developers based in China, so I’ve been working 11am – 4am (4pm-2am PST matches their regular work day). It makes for an odd sleeping pattern, however you can develop, review, and ship code so much quicker if you work this way with your overseas team.
What’s your workspace setup like?
Right this moment I’m surrounded by some small desktop robots (arm style) and live streaming equipment as I build a new recording studio. A few feet further away is about 10 electric scooters, some that beep loudly if you walk to heavily past them (the accelerometer alarms are currently too sensitive).
I was going to say it has “a bench with a soldering gun, two spools of wire and a magnifying lamp. Then a desk, telephone, lamp, answering machine, a jar of pencils, but no little black box.” And it you know what film this is from tweet me at @graybright because you’re taste in movies is impeccable!!!
What is the worst job you’ve ever had and what did you learn from it?
I worked on the production line of a candy company in Australia, it was at this job I learnt that bags of mixed colored/flavored candies such as Gummies Bears, and Jelly Beans ARE NOT carefully organized together by dexterous robots, or even simply mixed by mechanical agitators, nope, a human does it, and in this case, me. I would pick up giant tubs of candy, pour them onto moving conveyor belts, and frantically mix them all up before the candy was sent along a series of belts, poured into bags, sealed, and then sent to stores. If you’ve ever had a bag predominantly one flavor, high chance the person working the production line just ran out of time mixing, or simply gave up from exhaustion (as I sometimes did).
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
Time travel, I’ve worked out how to make it go forward, however getting it to pause and rewind is proving much harder than I previously expected.
What and/or who inspires you?
People doing awesome stuff, I mean this across all industry, and genres. For example, everything from watching a good comedian perform, to seeing a rocket launch inspires me.
What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
Voltron, Nintendo (8bit and before that, Nintendo ‘Game and Watch’), Teddy Ruxpin, Rubix Cubes, it took me until 27 years old to finish one, but I still liked them.
Where were you born?
Melbourne, Australia (or as it should be known “head towards the sun, then turn left”).
What was your life like growing up?
As an only child, I built LEGO. I built a lot of LEGO. Then I started pulling things apart, beyond LEGO, such as the family stereo – which I soon realized I had no idea how to put back together, but what was important was exploring the inside of it, seeing how things connected and moved around. From this, around 9 I started building circuits, my first circuit was similar to the design of the game ‘Operation’ consisting of a battery, and buzzer that went off when the circuit made from a metal cloths hanger connected together. In my teens I started making more complex circuits, like electric M&M color sorting devices, and rewired my car with all the sound effect from Daytona USA, and yes, when you went under a toll booth checkpoint, my car would scream “TIME EXTENSION”. You can see some of these inventions at my presentation CHITag presentation here:
Where did you grow up and how did that influence who you are today?
Growing up in Australia, I can do a terrific Australian accent, and living in the US for the last 8 years, somehow, it’s become stronger Australian. My American accent is pretty good, if you rank highly people who sound like they’re doing a terrible impersonation of Matthew McConaughey.
What do you read every day, and why?
Reddit. I find it an incredible way to stay up to the minute on a diverse range of topics, and memes.
Do you have a favorite film?
Back to the Future, it’s my favorite documentary.
What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?
Shazam is heavily underappreciated. My central Password App would halt my life if I lost it. Google Translate is ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE while travelling, especially when the foreign language is not Anglo-Saxon derived.
How do you jumpstart your creativity when you find yourself stalled on a project?
Tighter timelines. If the due date is close, I can burn the candle at both ends with endless creativity. I also love working on airplanes.
When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I laugh a lot, like 3 paragraphs ago had me lololin’ to myself. As I listen to a lot of comedy, a fantastic special I’d love to recommend watching is “John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City” it’s a specular comedy special. I’m a huge Monty Python fan so anything irreverent gets me – also I was lucky enough to perform with Monty Python at London’s O2 arena, the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done!
Are you named after anyone?
Yes, I’m named after #808080 (that’s hex color gag for all my graphic designers our there!).
Do you have any kiddos?
Nope. I am getting married soon, so that’s a start in the right direction.
Do you have any pets?
What’s in your fridge?
So much Coke it’s insane.
Where can we get more?
Hit me on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter (everything is @graybright – luckily when you have a stupid name like the color combination Gray Bright you always get the user name you want).
Note from Mary:
We were honored to have Gray co-present the TAGIE Award for Start-Up of the Year with Tanya Thompson of Hasbro and keynote at both our Inventor Conferences and Young Inventor Challenge!