What do you do in the industry?
I invent toys and games which help children form into healthy, free thinking, strong adults. I value play patterns that let children build skills, use their imagination, and have a ton of fun doing it.
Most people don’t realize that play is a basic human need. Like food and water feed the body, play feeds the spirit. Play enables humans to practice making decisions to see outcomes. The more play is aligned with situations a person might find in real world the more beneficial play is. This is why play is so important to us. And also why the Toy Industry and CHITAG play such an important roll in society.
What is your claim to fame in the industry?
I invented a marker that cuts paper when you draw with it. Draw a picture of a dog and boom, you can pull a paper dog off the page. It’s sold millions.
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
I entered the toy industry when 4 Adults lied to me and 1 kid told me the truth.
To test a new microprocessor I made the dumbest toy ever made. I wan’t trying to make a toy, I was trying to test out a new microprocessor. It made some noises when you pressed some buttons. Simple stuff, inputs generated outputs.
We were hosting a party at my home. Lots of people where there. And several people asked what I was working on. There were 4 Adults and 1 kid talking to me. I took out the terrible toy and said, “I’m testing out a new microprocessor so I made this.” Each adult told me it was amazing and that I should bring it to market. By
the time the 4th adult chimed in, even I started to believe the lie.
Then I asked the kid, “Hey, what do you think.” He was about 6 years old. He looked me right in the eye and said, “It sucks!”
I laughed and told him I agreed and that he should get two pieces of cake for telling the truth!
Once I saw how easy it was to get honest answers about products, from the kids who will used them, I fell in love with the toy industry. Who doesn’t love the brilliant honestly of a kid telling you if they do or don’t like what you made?
What are you working on now?
Right now, as I write this, I have several projects on my drawing board. They are toys that move kids into the real world and place them in fun situations. They are Hero Play toys.
Yeah, digital is cool. You can pretend drive in a Formula Race, pretend Battle Aliens, pretend Smash Pigs all simply by moving just your thumbs.
But the world is even more fun. We have battle toys that boom and bam and let children experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Vanquishing your best friend is way more fun than a leaderboard no one sees. The smiles that burst on everyone's face when they play with my prototypes is awesome.
What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?
I see too many companies dumbing down their toys. Kids are smarter than most adults think. Adults frequently underestimate the intelligence of children. Adults think that kids don’t know or understand. But spend some time with kindergarteners and you quickly see their innate genius.
As kids get older they learn to moderate what they say and do so as to avoid getting yelled at. School teaches that. And this is the reason kids seem less intelligent than they are. They’re afraid to express what they really believe and think.
I see there being a revival in toys that promote real play. It will come from smaller companies that care more about children than pennies. It will foster play as a tool to build kids up.
We’ll still see hucksters hawking Fidget Spinners as Focus Development tools. But we’ll also see smaller companies, and progressive large companies, taking risks by making seriously fun toys that promote interaction, competition, skill building, and engagement.
What advice would you give a young adult graduating from high school or college today?
Get out of the herd. Yes, its uncomfortable to be different. But it’s worse to be boringly average.
And yes, people will laugh at your new ideas and your dreams. Don’t worry about those people. They were the dusty people laughing at cars while they fed their horse oats; taking days to do trips that cars took hours to complete. Understand, to make change you must be different.
Yes, people don’t like “different.” And yes, you may take a little abuse through the process. But don’t take it personally. It’s not you. Those people just don’t get it.
Your job is to dream big and find the people who do get it. Those are the people you go to battle with, raise the pirate flag with, celebrate the wins with. Go for your big dream with the right people.
What’s your workspace setup like?
My lab has CNC Mills and lathes, 3D Printers (SLA and FDM), Laser Cutter, Vacuum Chamber, Molding Machines and lots of tiny specialized tools, many of which do just one job. This enables me to quickly go from an idea to an initial prototype.
I’m also excited that I CNC mill Printed Circuit Boards to make electronics toys and products. It is not uncommon for me to have an idea in the morning and a prototype later that day. Obviously the first prototype is just the beginning but the quicker you get to prototype version one, the quicker you get to prototype version 2.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
My job has stages of rewards. When I first come up with an idea, it’s like drinking a milkshake. That burst of excitement when you grab the cold cup and press your lips to the straw waiting to taste all that deliciousness.
Next I make a prototype and see if my idea actually works. Everything that works in your head doesn’t work in the real world. But, often, at two in the morning, I get to see the invention work for the very first time. This is exciting. I feel privileged to be the first person on the planet to experience my prototype working. It’s an
My next surge of excitement comes when I see someone else use the prototype for the first time. If they enjoy it, it starts to feel real. Like I did a thing.
And finally, when someone purchases something I made, I feel gratitude. I think, “Wow, they liked it so much they’d share their hard earned dollars to experience it, to own it, to be a part of my world. That’s amazing!”
This process is the most rewarding part of the job.
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
A major problem I’m working to solve is within the toy industry itself. Too often great concepts are torn apart by committees who value “lowest cost” more than “playability.”
Playability is far more valuable than a low price. And yes, products need to be affordable. But too many companies forget the lessons we’ve learned from Apple. Remember how everyone was trying to make cheap cell phones and Apple successfully launched the most expensive phone ever. What happened? People chose playability over low price.
When a toy is licensed by a company, many companies will kill features to lower the product’s price point. Some of these features don’t matter. But some of them greatly matter. And removal of these features can kill a product. When a product dies the company usually blames everyone except the committee.
Playability should be king. Cost should be a factor. But a cheap crappy toy will never outsell a more expensive amazing toy.
What and/or who inspires you?