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Leila Nosrati - Pulp Fiction, Inventor Advice and Chocolate Avocado Pudding

What do you do in the industry?

I am an ex-retail buyer who now does inventor relations & product acquisition. So technically I guess I’m still a buyer, but now I help buy ideas before they’re finished products. I have always gotten a thrill out of identifying new retail opportunities or reimagining previous lines to make them more relevant for newer consumers or for different categories of business.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The part when I get to call someone to say yes! When I have to say no, it can still be rewarding if the inventor is open to feedback. Sometimes it sparks something new for them, or encourages them to pitch the item elsewhere because they might find a better fit. If someone has thoughtfully submitted a concept, I think it’s important to provide them with something constructive, whatever direction that may take.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on applying my retail background to help small and medium-sized companies grow their businesses by connecting with inventors. This practice of licensing external innovation, which has always fueled the toy industry, is something I would like to bring to more consumer products verticals. Manufacturers outside of the toy industry should take serious notice of the incredible pool of talent in the inventor community.

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

What’s the new word for networking? Whatever it is, do it. Whether you’re new or experienced, attend ChiTAG. It is a veritable goldmine of people who want to help you, and the conversations you’ll have about trends, the industry, and everything in between is priceless. Join Women in Toys, even if you’re not a woman. But don’t just join -- go to the networking events and talk to people, or sign up for Empowerment Day and mentoring! We are fortunate that the toy industry is relatively small and the people in it are nothing short of awesome. Take advantage of this!

Know your market and your audience. Before you pitch, do your research. Study retail. Without being creepy, stand in a retailer’s aisles and listen to consumers as they shop. Talk to people, Google ideas and go past the first and second pages of results. Know your competitive set inside out. This always applies in reference to your end consumer. However, it’s equally important if you’re looking to license your invention to a manufacturer. Show them that you’ve thought carefully about their business before you pitch them. If you don’t have a wish list for a particular manufacturer that you want to pitch, study their current and past lines carefully, while at the same time looking for holes, or “white space,” in the categories in which they operate. Then ideate and develop against that space.

Break the rules for fun. In this retail environment, more than ever, being original and different will win. How? For the category that you’re in, what are the rules, or the norms, and how can you defy them in the name of fun? When I was a buyer, the more a new product stuck out, the more it broke the “rules” of its category, the higher my sales forecast. Remember Frozen? Believe it or not, before the movie came out, some marketers were worried about a movie that featured two princesses and not one. There was a fear of splitting sales! Ha! And remember Monster High? That was a major coup for one of my former colleagues because few people other than her believed that freaky-looking dolls would sell (even though we already had the equally freaky example of Bratz -- sorry Isaac Larian!).

Where and how do you fit in? If you are fortunate to have more than one company interested in licensing your product, think about what the item will mean to each company. Where will your product rank in importance when you look at their entire product line within the category? Bigger is often better, but not always. Also, who do you want to have a relationship with? The idea is to develop relationships based on quality and on going back to each other with more needs and pitches. One other important factor to consider because of the state of American retail is the international reach of the manufacturer, and how they will work to “translate” and market your product in other regions. Again, this goes back to studying your market before you pitch.

Test before you pitch. And not with your family and friends! Please find people who are not going to be concerned about hurting your feelings. Be creative and resourceful -- say you need a bunch of 8-year-old girls, then find a local Girl Scout troop and ask them to play with your new game or product. Go to your local library and see if they’ll host an event for local kids to come play. People love inventors, and they love being a part of creating something new, and they certainly love giving their opinions. Find a way to get honest feedback -- it’s priceless.

Listen to constructive criticism. When you do get a “no,” don’t take it personally. Ask why, not with the intention of changing their mind mind, but to understand. Sometimes it’s easier to articulate what a licensee is looking for by describing what they’re not looking for. If they are studying their competition, they might even have suggestions about a licensee that might be a better fit. You never know what can be sparked by parking your idea in someone else’s brain. Listen carefully, and if the feedback is good, incorporate it as you iterate your concept.

I have a lot more to say about this, and I will happily share my thoughts in a ChiTAG white paper.

What is the worst job you’ve ever had and what did you learn from it?

I spent part of a summer working at my mom’s dental practice. Let’s just say it taught me that I am not cut out for the healthcare field. And it reinforced what I already knew about my mom -- that she is the kindest, most patient and gentle person I'll ever know.

What was your favorite toy or game as a child?

Monopoly with my cousins was always a favorite, and it played a big part in my interest in real estate. I want to say Barbie, but unfortunately, my sister had a habit of giving the dolls facials, and invariably she used some chemical that smeared the eye paint and made a horror show out of their faces. I am still scarred by that! Collecting Smurfs figures (it was the 1980s!), too! But my most prized toy possession is Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web, which my mom made out of clay. She is the most creative person I know, and luckily my daughter has inherited her inventive genes!

What do you read every day, and why?

Flipboard! I am a content junkie, so bringing together all my favorite news sources and adding in the social content is a real time saver.

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

Without a doubt my smartphone. For starters, my sense of direction is terrible so I would be lost in my own neighborhood without Waze or Google Maps. I wish I wasn’t so glued to it all the time, but that’s one of my own shortcomings. I’m grateful that we live in an age when we get to walk around with so many incredibly useful apps, and with virtually instant access to any piece of information we could ever want, in our pockets! And, yes, I do also use it to watch cat videos.

When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

This morning. My husband’s sense of humor kills me, and luckily my kids got theirs from him. Sometimes I laugh just by anticipating what he’s going to say next.

Are you named after anyone?

No, but according to Facebook there are approximately 13 other Leila Nosratis in the world, and I like to pretend they were all named after me. One day I hope to invite them all for dinner. My poor husband!

What advice would you give a young adult graduating from high school or college today?

Travel! Go experience other cultures, eat new foods, make friends with people you’d never otherwise meet. There will always be time for work, but you are young and unencumbered for a few short years. For the high school set, I’d advise against going into a lot of debt for your college education. No undergraduate degree is worth a six-figure set of shackles in your 20s.

Do you have any kiddos?

Two! Our 13-year-old son is a lover of books, history, and civics, and our 10-year-old daughter is a budding inventor who can never have too much scotch tape or cardboard at her disposal. Both are curious, fun, affectionate bundles of love. I wish I had 10 of each of them!

Do you have any pets?

At the moment we have one very sweet and lovable cat, DC. He likes to sit in the bay window and show our neighbors his junk. Sadly his brother, Marvel, recently passed away, making the hug-to-cat ratio in our house is a little too high for his tastes. We’re contemplating getting him a new companion soon.

What’s in your fridge?

My scary attempts at “healthifying” desserts. My family would say that my chocolate avocado pudding is legendary.

What’s the first thing you usually notice about people?

Their countenance. Smiler? Scowler? RBF? I often find myself making up stories in my mind until I actually get to know the person.

Hugs or Kisses?

We are a family of huggers. So if I hug you at a trade show instead of shaking hands, forgive me -- it’s in my blood.

Favorite movie of all time?

Pulp Fiction. I think I’ve seen it at least 17 times and have all but memorized all of the dialogue between Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega. Terrible people, fabulous movie.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I joke with my kids that I will be a crotchety old lady who sits in a corner in her rocking chair, petting her cat and eating Ben & Jerry’s by the pint. What I really want to be is a world-traveling grandma with enough energy to explore every corner of the world. I have been told my sense of humor is that of a 4-year-old, so in that respect, I hope I never grow up.

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