FOR THE NEXT MILLENNIUM
Copyright 1999, Richard C. Levy
Richard C. Levy
Richard C. Levy & Associates
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Since we licensed our first product, Star
Bird, to Milton Bradley, January 1, 1978, the toy
industry has changed, pushed by technology and economics,
in a restless, volatile atmosphere. A dramatic paradigm
shift has taken place, and inventors who don't understand
and adapt will be left behind like last Christmas' toys.
Just as companies and retailers are re-inventing
themselves, we inventors must do likewise or risk
The skill sets required to succeed today involve much
more than technical talents. Manufacturers are no longer
dependent upon the same kinds of products. Witness the
explosion of licensing, interactive media and new
technologies. Business models have changed. The marketing
departments, not R&D, drive product. (Actually, it's
the trade that's the gating authority.) Wal-Mart sells
more toys than Toys R Us. There are uncertain executive
hierarchies. Hasbro and Mattel, once toymakers, are
global entertainment conglomerates.
While inventiveness remains a very critical element, I
find myself depending more and more on business skills I
learned and honed, and contacts I made as an executive
and producer in the feature film and television
We must give more consideration to developing extensions
to existing lines or product based upon brands. Except
for Furby, which, as Kipling would say, "is another
story," our recent products are based upon marquee
brands: Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus (Mattel);
Chicken Soup for the Soul (Cardinal); Warner Brother's
Trivial Pursuit (Hasbro); Uncle Milton's Ant Farm Game
(Great American Puzzle Factory) and the Duncan Yo-Yo key
chain line (Basic Fun).
We must work closer with our licensees, doing whatever is
required to bring product to market. This can range from
being a de facto project manager to writing and editing
instruction manuals, etc. In my case, it has meant less
ideas generated and prototyped, but a higher percentage
of placements and introductions because, I believe, of
this value add I give with every product. It comes under
the heading of taking care of your customers.
It is the cross-pollination and synergism of corporate
intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs that results in
commercialized product. If any link in this often complex
and serpentine chain breaks, projects can flag.
Positioned inside, an inventor can often be the adhesive
that holds things together when problems arise, people
lose focus or worse, confidence.
To further complicate matters, we once created concepts
for people with a nose for product, risk takers
passionate and genuinely excited by innovation. Today we
see more and more companies run by financial types and
MBAs whose logic and over-analysis deftly immobilizes and
sterilizes ideas. They spend less time with the inventor
community and more time with the investment community.
They can't grow evergreens, because each year they plant
a new forest. It's a pump-and-dump, day trader mentality.
In 1998, I addressed a prestigious business school. In
the audience were 130 graduate students and professors. I
asked the future MBAs: "How many of you have an idea
you'd like to see commercialized, something for which you
have passion?" Not a single hand was raised.
A few weeks later, a toy inventor to whom I told this
story was talking to his son's fourth grade class. He
asked the group of thirty-six, 9-10 year olds the same
question. Every hand went up.
What happens between elementary and business school, I
may make the subject of a future essay but, suffice it to
say, for better or worse, it has changed the way our
industry does business.
Richard C. Levy has created and/or developed and licensed
over 150 concepts, which have combined retail sales of
over $1 billion. He has authored numerous books,
including the critically-acclaimed Inventor's Desktop
Companion (http://www.aspensite.com/ibc/inventors-desktop-comp.html), and Inside Santa's Workshop: How Toy
Inventors Develop, Sell and Cash-In on Their Ideas,
co-authored with Ronald O. Weingartner.
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