What exactly do you do in the industry?
I like to tell people, “I make cool stuff.”
That means I get to work with a team of super-talented people to create products that will entertain, excite and sometimes even educate kids and families.
Sometimes I’m the designer. Sometimes I’m the catalyst and other people make it happen. It just depends on who is on the team and what company I am working with, but either way, I love it because we are making cool stuff.
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
I have always loved games and I was fortunate enough that a trading card game company called Decipher needed a creative person to manage their art department, so naturally, I jumped at the chance.
What do you think is the key to success in the Toy and Game industry?
I think it’s your “tribe.” I think the people you work with, hang out with and surround yourself with — your tribe — will make all the difference.
I believe if you are part of a great group of people, you will be successful in this industry.
So, make sure that you are around genuinely talented, but still humble, people who are much better than you at what you want to do. I wouldn’t have found success without the help of some amazing people along the way.
If you could go back and give your younger self some advice, what would it be?
Be your best self every day. While it may be hard to understand now, your reputation is going to matter as much as the work you’ve done.
The people you meet as you grow in this industry will almost certainly be someone you meet again later on in your career.
What are you working on now?
I have always dreamed of creating a space where people feel safe taking chances and making amazing things. So, with the launch of my new company, Paper bag Creative, I now have that space.
In the short time the company has been around, I have already been able to help several inventors and a few truly forward-thinking companies, one of which I am working with to bring a line of licensed products to market that is going to absolutely reshape the way people think about this license.
It’s been a fantastic journey getting to this place, and I am so excited for where this new adventure is going to take me.
What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?
I love that board gaming keeps growing and growing in popularity these past few years and that there are a number of great inventors out there creating some truly unique experiences in the tabletop gaming space.
And I’m keeping a close watch on the introduction of digital experiences into tabletop gaming, whether it is browser-based on product-based. Because I think there is a real opportunity to use digital to enhance the tabletop gaming experience, and I believe we are about to see that happen.
What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas to you?
Make it easy for me to meet you where you are and suspend disbelief long enough to embrace the experience you are presenting.
I love what I have seen people do with videos these past few years. It used to be all about sell sheets and the “imagine this is ...,” but now, through video, you really can show your concepts in a way that explains and excites.
Please do not rely on videos alone though. I still want to hear the What, Who, How, and Why of your product. What’s it called? Who is it for? How is it unique? And Why is this going to be the next great game? Just take a moment to set the stage before you start the big production.
What is one thing you wish people in the Toy and Game industry would do more of?
If you are working on a product for younger mothers and their kids, then go to where your target market is. See what they are seeing, learn what excites them and what doesn’t, and then incorporate your research into your NEW product concept.
There have been more than a few times when I felt like someone had the right game mechanic but the wrong theme when the right theme is screaming at them from the sidelines, but they haven’t recognized it yet, because they aren’t looking in the right places.
Do you have a typical workday and how does it play out for you?
To the best of my ability, I structure my day around protecting my most creative times, and I know when those are based on years of experience being me!
In the morning, just as I am waking up, I know that is an excellent time for creativity for me, so I don’t rush through this part of my day. The moment after I wake up through the morning dog walk and my shower, I try to take my time and enjoy it, which means if I have a meeting at 8 a.m., then I wake up at 5:30 to allow for my morning ritual.
If I don’t have any meetings or deadlines in the morning, then I don’t set the alarm at all, my dog will wake me up when she needs to go out, and this will start my day. And I usually wake up before 7 a.m. without an alarm.
I try to do all of my emails and book any business-related meetings from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m., and then if it is a brainstorm-oriented or a creativity-focused meeting, I book those things from 3 p.m. on.
Based on experience, I know that the time I feel the most creative is after 3 p.m. So, this is when I bucket my creative activities, and usually, it’s kind of late when I wrap things up, making sure to take a break in there for dinner and quality time with my family.
What’s your workspace setup like?
It’s often a cluttered mess of toys, packaging, and prototypes on the “Kallax” shelving behind me. On my desk, I have a large monitor, my laptop, an iPad Pro, and an old Intuos tablet that is just collecting dust. As well as a part of a naval submarine that acts as a coffee coaster, and a Tivoli Audio Model One connected to my iPhone so that I can listen to digital radio.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Getting to meet with inventors, who have amazing new concepts, even if they aren't the right fit for the company I am working with at the time. Seeing a great idea and talking with someone who is super excited about what they have created is always energizing for me.
What excites you?
Brainstorming and Ideation are my favorite parts of the process, but I get super excited when I see that concept realized and on a retail shelf where kids pick it up because they love it.
How do you define creativity?
Creativity is the ability to take what is right there in front of everyone and create an experience that no one has seen before and change people in a significant way when they interact with it.
How do you recharge or take a break?
I like to visit contemporary museums and art galleries, and the trip is even better if we get there on a bicycle, with a sketchbook and a hot cup of coffee.
Where did you grow up and how did that influence who you are today?
I was born in Japan and then traveled the world with my family before ending up in NYC at 14 to go to high school, and then after graduation, I went off on my own adventure.
Growing up around the world gave me a genuine appreciation for different cultures, different people, and different methods of communicating, but most of all, it trained me to see things differently.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
Not trusting my gut when it was telling me to "GET OUT!"
I learned that the best voice to listen to is the voice in my head.
I mean the voice of reason in my head, not the crazy one that keeps telling me to buy more bicycles.
Who might be role models for the work you do?
I would say that Tanya Thompson and Dougal Grimes would be role models for how I want to conduct myself as an Inventor Relations professional.
I think they both operate at the highest level, and while they are very different from each other, they are both highly successful, authentic individuals who are great at what they do.
Then on the creative side of things, I would say it's probably Stefan Sagmeister and Joseph Cornell. Besides being a phenomenal designer and artist, Stefan Sagmeister has such a wonderful take on happiness and work-life balance that I can only hope one day to achieve.
And Joseph Cornell is such a mind-blowing artist, and I would venture to say leader in the assemblage movement who was so amazingly skillful at bringing various found parts and pieces together to tell a story.
Honestly, there is no way I can do Joseph Cornell or his artwork justice. It's better that you just set aside a few hours, get yourself a cup of tea (or coffee), and google him. It will be well worth your time to spend some time in that Rabbit hole.
What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?
My iPad Pro.
I love that it now connects to Photoshop using sidecar, and I can drag a file from my laptop to my iPad, sketch out some concepts and drag them back to my computer wirelessly. That has been a game-changer for me.
How do you jumpstart your creativity when you find yourself stalled on a project?
I take a break to work on something else that I am excited and passionate about. This allows my subconscious to work on the other project while my conscious mind is getting revved up working on the new project.
Then when I go back, I will go back with excited and engaged energy that usually helps me break through it all.
When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
A half-hour ago. I laugh all the time. I love what I do and the people I surround myself with.
Do you play any musical instruments? If so, which one(s)?
Not currently, but back at the beginning of 2020, I bought a Ukulele because I thought I would have some time to learn to play it.
I was wrong, but it looks great sitting on the shelf behind me.
What music are you listening to now?
Everything on Spotify right now, from Billie Eilish to Billie Holiday.
What’s your favorite cereal?
What’s your beverage of choice?
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I still want to be me but the 3.0 version.
I have several ideas I am excited about prototyping and maybe show a few friends. In the meantime, I am just going to buckle myself into this rocket ship and see where it takes me.
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