Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
I entered the industry in 2007 when I manufactured my first toy, the RC Color Bug. The Color Bug was a radio-controlled art toy where the child would snap a marker into a ladybug-shaped toy and, with a remote, the child would be able to create free-formed art on a piece of paper. There were a lot of fun moments during this time but none as rewarding as receiving a picture from the teacher of a wheelchair-bound boy, showing that boy using his feet to direct the Color Bug–nothing will likely ever bring me more professional pride than knowing my toy helped a mother hang her son’s art on the refrigerator for the very first time.
What are you working on now?
This past June, I launched an animated kids’ show on YouTube, Saving Soup. For over two decades, it’s been my dream to be in the children’s edutainment space. Achieving that in a real way this summer was an exciting and terrifying turning point in my career. The episodes are rolling out somewhat slowly while I’m becoming more fully immersed in this new world. In addition to the animation, itself, I am also in the process of developing a product line to further expand the Saving Soup brand. I’m wearing plenty of hats right now but also building a fantastic team of talented people to bring this dream to life.
What advice would you give a young adult graduating from high school or college today?
Trust your gut. The world will tell you what life is supposed to look like. It will tell you what kind of education is expected, what your relationships should look like, what kind of career is acceptable, and how things “should” be done. While this advice is often well intended, it can also be limiting—especially to a creative person. In order to create something new in this world, sometimes you need to do what has not been done. People who tell you why you can’t or shouldn’t are giving advice from their own place of fear. Do not allow their fear to squash your dreams. Take a chance. Take all the chances.
What does your typical day look like?
Is there such a thing as a typical day? I’ve learned that I need some time to get into a creative headspace so I tend to spend my mornings either doing yoga or working on social media content. This gives me time to fire up my creative engines and get me ready to tackle the most pressing task that day. Some days, that means plotting out future storylines, reading scripts or reviewing current phases of animation. We currently have several episodes written and recorded with the cast, which gives me time to focus on online marketing and homing in on how to connect with the consumer. There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not learning something new!
What is the worst job you’ve ever had and what did you learn from it?
I worked in the telecom industry for several years and watched people getting laid off on a regular basis. It was an extremely negative environment. While I managed to work with a number of good people, I learned that a paycheck is not worth the misery of working at a job that doesn’t feed your soul.
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
How to make the perfect meatball.
What and/or who inspires you?
I am always inspired by the origin story. Saving Soup evolved into this concept of problem solving, failure and eventual success. We all need to be reminded that failure is just a part of the creation process rather than something that should stop us in our tracks.
How do you recharge or take a break?
Sugar. My recharging usually involves some kind of sugar.
What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
I had this great wooden Barbie house that my aunt made. It was pretty common to find G.I. Joe driving up to steal away Golden Dream Barbie for a ride in his cool jeep. I learned not to ask too many questions when he dropped her off.
What was your life like growing up?
I was raised by a single mom who owned a Christmas store. I started working at the age of 4 “merchandising” the toy department….aka unpacking and randomly placing toys on the shelves that I could reach. I was lucky to have my own personal Santa that loved the store so much he would come in every December for a surprise visit. I was basically raised to be an elf, so I suppose my life path should surprise no one.
Are you named after anyone?
I am named after my grandma, Gwen Austin. I grew up living with her which always made for fun confusion. She was asked on playdates and I crashed more than one ice cream date with my Grandpa. When I was little, I remember getting the Publishers Clearing House mailer delivered to Gwen Austin. While I knew it was for my grandma, I teased about being the winner. She always promised that she would split the winnings with me if we ever won. We never did win but I promised her that one day, our name would be “up in lights”. Naming my company Gwen Austin Studios was a way to keep that promise to her and keep her legacy alive.
What’s your favorite TV show?
Right now, my husband and I love Schitt’s Creek and Ozark but I will admit that I will gladly re-watch episodes of Boy Meets World with my kids any day of the week.
What’s your beverage of choice?
A half-and-half margarita on the rocks with sugar on the rim. It’s half lime and half strawberry – a perfect balance.