Caitlin Gutekunst talks about Creativity, Inc., the Company of the Week for the Bloom Report
About Creativity, Inc
Creativity, Inc is one of the most prolific design and development studios working in the toys and entertainment industry today. Since 1998, we have helped produce an estimated 7,000 products, from interactive toys to mobile apps, games, smart home devices, and voice-first app experiences. That’s roughly 200-300 projects each year!
Creativity helps our partners engage and delight millions of children and families worldwide through our work. Many of these products have found phenomenal success in the toy industry, earning 130+ TOTY nominations, 37 TOTY category winners, and 5 best overall TOTY awards. Creativity has also helped our partners receive recognition outside the toy industry at venues like Best of CES and Best of SXSW Interactive, and our voice design work has earned us the status of Recommended Agency by Amazon and Google for their voice-first conversational AI platforms.
While the type of products that we produce vary, the energy with which we approach each project remains surprisingly consistent: we are passionate about creating delightful and intuitive product experiences that balance fun, simplicity and function, so kids of all ages can experience magical moments every time they play.
(Creativity’s wall of toys greets visitors in our San Carlos, CA office.)
Creativity was co-founded by Charles and Sally Albert in 1998, when sound and light features exploded in the preschool business. Charles’ background as a professional musician and sound engineer was a perfect fit for the moment, and with his team’s support he enabled designers to deliver more excitement in their products than ever before. Based in the heart of Silicon Valley, Creativity became a bridge between toys and high tech. Our services quickly expanded outside audio to meet our clients’ needs for programming, sourcing, gameplay design, and more.
Today, Creativity works with nearly every global toy manufacturer big to small, as well as many of the largest kids’ entertainment brands and tech companies. We specialize in electronic products and digital content for kids and families, helping with any stage of the development process from concepting through to factory-readiness and even ongoing maintenance post-launch. Our San Carlos office features three state-of-the-art recording studios, seventeen sound design rooms, a model shop, and a design loft, where audio specialists work alongside programmers, puppeteers, composers, and design specialists.
When entering the office, many of the products we have developed are proudly on display on a massive wall; the numerous Tickle Me Elmos and musical instruments, LeapPad, Furby, and full line of ToothTunes and HitClips cartridges would make any Millennial parent nostalgic for the early 2000’s. Also present are some of the biggest hits from recent memory, including Zoomer, Hatchimals, Fingerlings, My Special Aflac Duck, Jurassic World Alpha Training Blue... the list goes on!
What might not be obvious when scanning the shelves are the countless more product experiences that can only be experienced digitally. In addition to developing thousands of custom audio SFX and songs, Creativity has produced mobile app and connected play experiences, including voice-first apps and connected products powered by Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
(KidKraft’s Alexa 2-in-1 Kitchen, a voice-enabled playset
introduced in February 2020, is the first Alexa Gadget.)
Enabling New Conversations with Voice-first Tech
In 2017, Creativity partnered with Google to help build their library for kids on the emerging Google Assistant platform. Creativity launched three proprietary interactive experiences for kids, Ding Dong Coconut, Strangest Day Ever, and Jungle Adventure, which continue to engage hundreds of thousands of users each month.
Powered by our core competencies in audio, programming, and design, the success of our first voice apps enabled a whole new business unit to bloom alongside our toy development studio, widening Creativity’s client base. In the past four years, we have produced over 25 of the most successful branded conversational AI experiences on Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, such as Netflix’s Talk to Dustin From Stranger Things, The Wiggles, Disney Hits Challenge, and also experiences for Coachella, ABC’s American Idol, Mattel’s UNO Braille, and YouTube.
Coming soon in July, Creativity is launching several new proprietary interactive voice experiences. The first of these apps, Toy Doctor features fully-voiced audio and original music compositions like “Wash Your Hands,” as well as a rich graphic interface for screened Amazon Echo devices and mobile phones. Though the app doesn’t mention the coronavirus directly, it was purposefully themed around doctor play to enable kids to have better conversations around health and safety during the pandemic, addressing anxieties they may be experiencing during this difficult time.
Also in development are several interactive companion devices to Amazon Alexa, Alexa Gadgets, which offer functionality that stretches beyond voice control. The first of these connected toys, KidKraft’s Alexa 2-in-1 Kitchen and Market playset, was unveiled in February 2020 during New York Toy Fair. Featuring RFID-connected accessories that trigger fun sounds as a child cooks meals, checks out at the grocery store, and plays games, this playset serves up a whole new way for kids to role play and interact with a toy and the Amazon Echo in a safe, controlled environment.
(BriteBrush™ was unveiled by Wowwee during New York Toy Fair in February 2020.)
Designing the Future of Play: Funfare, LLC
Creativity never stops innovating. Each year, we travel the world to spot trends in technology and play, and brainstorm how we can meet the tough design and safety standards required for kids’ products while adhering to the price point demands of parents and retailers. Our clients trust us to help prototype and solve some of the most ambitious design and technology challenges present today.
To provide a path for these new product ideas to hit the market, Charles and Sally Albert co-founded Funfare, LLC, an innovation studio powered by some of the same talent that has made Creativity so successful over the past 20+ years. Funfare has licensed products to Fisher-Price, Mattel, Hasbro, LeapFrog, Playmates, Far Out Toys, Sassy, and more. Notable products include Monopoly Live and Battleship Live, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’s Stretch ‘n’ Shout action figures, LeapFrog’s Ball Poppin’ Piano, and Barbie Fairytopia Fairyoke Wings. Funfare also readily partners with other successful toy inventors working today.
(Creativity team members Bob Hardy, Jessica Wu, and Caitlin Gutekunst at HardwareCon 2019.)
Building Community in the Post-Pandemic Climate
At Creativity, we believe that innovation can come from anywhere. In that spirit, we readily look for opportunities to participate in interesting conversations and expand our community to include people from diverse backgrounds and industries who are passionate about play. We are members of the Toy Association, Consumer Technology Association, Women in Voice, Women in Toys, the Children’s Media Association, ChiTAG, and many development groups. Our leadership team frequently speaks at conferences on the topic of designing great product experiences for kids, including CES, HardwareCon, New York Toy Fair, WIT’s Empowerment Day, VOICE Global, Project Voice, and more.
We also look for ways to build community in and around the Bay Area to promote an entrepreneurial and tech-oriented spirit in our industry. When the iPad lowered the barrier to casual gaming for younger kids, Creativity founded a successful meetup group, Silicon Valley Apps for Kids, and launched the World Congress of Play, a conference series held in San Francisco in 2014 and 2015 in partnership with Global Toy Experts. Both groups were designed to include talent from outside the traditional toy industry so we could work across industries to reimagine how play will evolve for future generations of kids.
Today, Creativity manages a meetup series group called Digital Kids, which hosts panels of thought leaders on topics ranging from voice activation to designing successful UX research for kids. Since the pandemic, we have shifted many of these conversations online, and now have new members from the east coast and international attendees join our conversations. We would love to invite new voices to these discussions and present on engaging topics with us!
(Creativity team members in September 2019)
We Believe in Play
The toy industry has faced tough challenges in the past few years that sometimes makes it hard to prioritize product innovation and solve tough (read: expensive) design challenges. I continue to be inspired by our industry’s resilience and dedication to the kids we serve, and look forward to discovering the fresh new ideas that our industry brings to the market each year. I can’t wait till we can all gather safely at the next toy fair and celebrate these wins together.
While each person’s experience is unique, it can be said that we are all undergoing a collective moment of stress as we are separated from our loved ones and have witnessed the lines of communication in our government and our own communities break down. But we have also found ourselves with more time to spend together at home. Families are experiencing moments of joy during this pandemic together, breaking out board games, adopting new technologies, developing new skills, and learning more about each other than was possible before – often thanks to all of you!
As we continue to find new ways to engage, communicate, and play together, we are encouraged to consider what makes us human and seek connection and new sources of inspiration in each other. At Creativity, we feel incredibly fortunate to be able to help our partners empower families to play together and stay young. The spirit of childhood is, in some ways, all about living in the moment, and the joys of discovering new moments of inspiration in every day. We hope you continue to channel your inner child as we work through this challenging time together. Please reach out and say hi!
Caitlin Gutekunst, Senior Director of Marketing and Development, Creativity, Inc
Bio: Caitlin Gutekunst is a versatile business development executive with 10+ years of experience helping global brands like Disney, LeapFrog, Mattel, Viacom, Google, Amazon, and Netflix open untapped audience engagements and revenue by launching new consumer products and activating global strategic partnerships. She is the Senior Director of Marketing & Development at Creativity, Inc., an award-winning design and development studio that has helped their partners develop and launch over 7,000 products, from interactive toys to conversational AI apps.
Caitlin is passionate about new technology innovation and helping brands and consumers to adopt them. She works actively to build and strengthen the many communities she supports. She is a member of the Consumer Technology Association in their Robotics Advisory Group, and Artificial Intelligence, Smart Home, and Diversity & Inclusion Working Groups. She is an advisor and Board Member for Women in Voice and also a member and mentor for Women in Toys, Licensing, and Entertainment (WIT). She serves as a judge of the KAPi Awards for the Kids@PlaySummit during CES, and co-founded the Digital Kids meetup group in San Francisco where she lives. In 2013, she was honored with the Rising Star Awards from WIT and from Licensing International Association.
When she is not on the road, you can usually find Caitlin at the opera house, up in wine country, or sailing San Francisco Bay.