Steve Starobinsky on Gel Blaster, Gel Blaster and Gel Blaster!

by The Bloom Report | 27 Sep 2023

Biographies and Interviews


Hi Steve! Thank you for answering a few questions. For the few who might not know, what are your roles and responsibilities in our industry? 


I have my dream job building a new active entertainment concept and play pattern overall here at Gel Blaster.  My official title is SVP of Trends and New Markets and I’m working on building new ways and places to play Gel Blaster.  As we continue to grow the company, I’m also looking into other categories of Play that we can bring our unique brand of engineering, marketing, and innovation.  


What is it about the Toy and Game Industry that you love?


I very much believe in the power of Play and its healing abilities.  I think we have the opportunity to rewrite the outdated codes as a society and actually schedule Play as a means of well being and community.  I’ve always thought of myself as Kid@Heart because I see toys through the perspective and innocence of a child.. It’s really helped me build a reputation for knowing what's Next on the Play horizon and to spot trends in consumer society.  


What is your claim to fame? 


 I don’t know if I’ve reached fame in this industry just yet but a lot of the brands I have worked with definitely have, including the agency that first gave me a chance to see the world - Diverse Marketing.  Other brands and products that I have helped bring to market include Pop Sockets, Hex Bugs, Eggmazing, Minecraft Toys from Think Geek, Tonies, Mind The Gap, and now Gel Blaster.


What has been your biggest achievement?  


Gel Blaster.  Creating an entirely new category in product and being “chased” by the biggest companies in Play is very validating.  We are creating an active play pattern that meets kids where they are at (video games) and gives parents what they want - active off screen time. 


What was your biggest failure?  


The brand that got away was.. Dude Wipes lol!  We met them at the Atlanta Show early in their entrepreneurial journey and had the chance to represent them; didn’t quite fit in our line package at the time and now they are one of the best growth stories in CPG!


Do you have a mantra that you live by?  


If you love what you do, you don’t work a day in your life.  


Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry? 


 I owe my Toy journey mostly to my big brother in the big brother/big sister organization Ryan Logan.  He got me a job at Funrise when I was 16 years old working in the warehouse during my summer breaks there, I got an incredible opportunity under the tutelage of Toy Industry hall of famer Arnie Rubin to get into sales.  Then was lucky enough to be mentored by one of the truly great sales and relationship builders in the business in Greg Hardin and Diverse Marketing.  Now I am learning under brilliant tech and engineering entrepreneur Colin Guinn building a toyetic gaming company.


What are you working on now? 


Business and product development for our new active entertainment division; really enjoying learning about a new tangent industry to the business of play.  


What has kept you motivated to stay in the toy industry? 


I LOVE NEW.  I LOVE TRENDS.  There are so many trends to observe, harness, deploy in our business as consumer age in and age out of the traditional toy business.  And now we have adults actually embracing play, wait til seniors age back into – we have a lot of Play to sell! 


If you look back at yourself 10 years ago is this where you thought you’d be? Where did you think you’d be? What changed? What went right?  


10 years ago I wanted to be a part of the next big company in Play – and it's exactly what I’m doing.  I feel grateful and honored to be working in this business and feel that a lot of people are cheering me on. 


What was your favorite project to date? 


Broken record, Gel Blaster. 


What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?  


I very much believe in the senior market over the next half decade – this consumer group will be very much advocates of Play.  I see kidcercise as a major trend where we camouflage calorie burning with play.  Tarot cards and the spiritual world is a new segment of Play that I believe in and as a new Dad I look forward to learning from look forward to learning the baby business through my son (who just turned 1!) .


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


You can’t be too close to the elephant.  You have to stay objective and see the entire super category and how you're positioned within it for you to have a chance to sell in and more importantly sell through.  


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


You are your own channel, brand, designer, copywriter – folks want to see and learn about your authentic story.  They don’t only want to see the good.. Be vulnerable and continue to say YES to things you’re scared of. 


What advice do you have for people starting in the industry? 


Be in front of the customer and end consumer as often as you can. A friend in the industry told me that sales is a contact sport and I have very much embraced it.  

(Steve Starobinsky, Jay Foreman and James Zahn)


Do you have a typical workday and how does it play out for you? 


We live what we preach.  Every day at 12:30pm an old school bell goes off at our office and everyone get 90 minutes to Play - I like to do Yoga, surfing here on Lake Austin, Ping pong, and board games in our lounge! 


What’s your workspace setup like? 


Two screens and a neat bar for quick huddles in my office and zoom calls.  A few plants and luckily an awesome view of Lake Austin.  


What is the most rewarding part of your job? 


Building amazing programs with our retail partners and seeing them win with our brand.  But my fave moments is when I see parents and grandparents playing Gel Blaster with their kids.  We all look for ‘Magic’ in the toy industry – usually defined by a transformation that is not understood by a child when it happens – with Gel Blaster, the transformation happens to the kid at heart – they transform into the 9 year old version of themselves and truly buy in and LET GO.. and PLAY! 


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


Never a bad gig, because I’ve worked in the toy business since I was 16 but definitely worked with some tough people and tougher buyers.  I find solace in working with difficult people as they are just as tough on my competition.  If I can break through and win them over I protect and insulate my brand or product. 


What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?  


Teaching America about a new product play pattern with as many nuances as Gel Blaster is the hardest challenge yet – there are so many features and benefits that a 30 second spot doesn’t encompass the full ecosystem of play. 


What and/or who inspires you? 


Anthony Bourdain, Pharrel, Prince, KidSuper, Kendrick Lamar, and a lot more – I love people that live their purpose.  


What excites you? 


 New BOLD flavors.  I love to eat and to experience creativity through food. 


How do you recharge or take a break?  


My favorite thing to do is walk the streets of a new city and be inspired by the randomness I find.  I always stop in that little shop, I always get a haircut in a new city - barbers are the keepers of cool and will give you great insights. 


Where were you born? 


Kiev, Ukraine 


What was your life like growing up?  


My mom gave me an amazing up bringing when we came to America.  She learned the language while cleaning houses and eventually got her nursing degree.  She signed me up for the Big Brother/Big Sister program and that was truly life changing for me.  


What are your favorite childhood memories? 


We immigrated to the US in 1991 and my first toy memories were being able to afford a Hawkman action figure after weeks of savings.  And of course my cousin’s hand me down toys - Thundercats and Legos! 


Do you have a nickname? 


KID@HEART, Sparky – and Steve as my real Ukrainian name is Rostislav.  


Do you have any kiddos?  


YES!  My son just turn 1 years old - his name is JET! 


What is your favorite way to waste time on your phone?  


My favorite game is clash royale – its like real time chess meets warcraft with different characters that have unique powers and attributes. 


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


How fast they walk.  I think fast walkers are better at business. 


Do you prefer scary movies or happy endings?  


I prefer dystopian movies and sad ending.  I believe it important to feel the entire spectrum of human emotion and art/cinema allows for that without real world pain.  Parasite and Old Boy are two of my favorites.  


gel blaster interview play

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