Inventors Bryan Wilson, Sara Farber and Will Sakran talk Snarkas, Tickle Pup and Burstin Bubble Clouds
Hi guys, hope you’re all well! Before we dive into some of your exciting recent launches, what prompted you to start inventing together?
Will Sakran, Owner & Principal Engineer, Metre Ideas and Design: Sara and I used to work together at Fisher-Price in Manhattan. I joined there in 2002 and Sara joined soon after in 2003. Sara headed up the content design group and I was doing electrical engineering. I left in 2009 to strike out on my own and this is where I’ll pass it over to Sara and Bryan…
Sara Farber, Partner, Galactic Sneeze: Bryan and I are married. We met in 2007 and we knew quite quickly – maybe on our first date – that someday we’d want to make something together. Well here we are 16 years later and we’ve made one kid and lots of toys and games.
Bryan Wilson, Partner, Galactic Sneeze: I work in advertising as an art director/creative director, and at that time I was at BBDO NY doing a lot of projects for M&Ms – TV commercials, promotional games, comic books… Fun, playful stuff.
SF: In 2008 I was laid off from Fisher-Price – along with a lot of people – and was hired by various other toy companies to develop play patterns and intellectual properties to wrap around inventor concepts. That gave Bryan and me the idea to start creating our own products – and Galactic Sneeze was born. We lived in Brooklyn in the same neighbourhood as Will, so we’d often run into each other.
WS: I was doing my own stuff, and Sara and Bryan were publishing their own games and doing some inventing.
BW: We self-published a couple party games, but we’d also been pitching toys… It wasn’t our core skill set so we’d photoshop an image together and say: “It’ll be great – it’ll look kinda like this… And it’ll work kinda like that…”
The companies would say “That looks fun, but we’d like to be able to hold that thing you’re talking about!”
Anyway, we had this one idea and we met with Will to see if he could help us build it. He said: “I don’t know, but I’ll try!” The next thing you know we had a working prototype and since then, we’ve pitched tons of concepts together.
So great that you’re now TAGIE-winning inventors! Congrats on that!
SF: Thank you! When our names were called for Toy Innovator of the Year, we were in shock. I had to pull Will up out of his chair. This award is a huge honour and we feel super fortunate to be a part of the inventor community and get to do what we love.
WS: Yes, it’s a total thrill, and we’re very grateful.
BW: Inventing is a hustle. We’ve worked really hard over the past 10 years… and there have been a lot of ups and downs. Sara and I have gone from being known as “The Schmovie guys” – Schmovie was the first game we manufactured – to legit toy and game inventors. Or at least, too legit to quit.
Ha! And how does the – now award-winning! – collaboration between you three work?
WS: Well, we all come up with and contribute to the ideas, but I also prototype most of the toys, especially if they have a mechanism or electronics. Bryan does the graphics and pitch videos, and builds most of the game prototypes. Sara develops play patterns, writes content and is the one who keeps the train running on the tracks.
BW: To paraphrase Wu-Tang Clan, we form like Voltron and Sara happens to be the head.
SF: We do a lot of brainstorming on Slack. We have a different channel for each concept, so we can easily throw ideas in there and come back to old concepts too. We have like 50 channels in there. Slack is a fantastic tool, especially if we’re all working remotely.
BW: And it’s free, right?
WS: Not anymore. I’ve been paying for it for a long time!
SF: Ha! Oh, how much do we owe you!?
Will, you best check they’re not using your Netflix account too. It’s a slippery slope.
SF: We’re also secretly living in Will’s attic!
Ha! And why do you work well together?
SF: We all have similar sensibilities and a similar sense of humour. And we have complementary skill sets – all three of us have a different area of expertise.
BW: And we’re good friends!
SF: I always joke that I have a work husband and a real husband, although my real husband is a work husband too.
There’s the headline – ‘Sara’s two husbands’.
WS: People see Sara and me together all the time, so I hope they don’t assume I’m Bryan!
Ha! Well, if nothing else we’ve cleared that up! Right, let’s dive into some of the toys and games that you guys have invented together. I want to start with You Had One Job, that you licensed to Goliath. How would you pitch this one?
SF: It’s inspired by the old drinking game, Thumper. Everyone gets a job card, which has things like ‘Zombie’ or ‘Pirate’ – funny jobs! You then have to create a gesture that best articulates that job – and show everyone else how to do it.
BW: So if my job was ‘Pirate’, I might hold up one hand like a hook and yell ‘Arrggghhh!’. If your job was ‘Cowboy’, you might mime a lasso and shout ‘Yee-haw!’
SF: Then everyone starts patting the table to create a beat… One person starts things off by doing their ‘job’ – by making their gesture – and then doing someone else’s job. So I’d mime my job, and then I’d mime ‘Pirate’ to pass things onto Bryan.
BW: Then I’d do my ‘Pirate’ move, and then the ‘Cowboy’ to pass it over to you… It gets faster and faster, back and forth around the table, until someone makes a mistake.
SF: When someone messes up, everyone turns to them and yells “You had one job!” and they have to take a Performance Review card. These make people do things like draw a new job, or everyone passes their job to the left… So it becomes tricky to remember which gestures are still in the game – and who’s doing what!
BW: Chaos ensues! And it’s great because you can play this if you’re five or 95.
Love it. And you mentioned this was inspired by a drinking game?
SF: Yes, Thumper is a classic game but we wanted to make it trickier and include the element of players changing what they had to do. Meanwhile, we had the name ‘You Had One Job’. We thought it was a great name for a game but weren’t quite sure what to do with it. When we decided to merge that name with this game, it gave us the context that these are jobs you’re performing. Then the Performance Review cards and the graphics all came intuitively from there.
BW: Sometimes we have a name first and try to find a mechanic that fits that, and sometimes it’s the other way around, but we had both existing independently. We just had to mash them together.
WS: That’s happened more than once now actually!
Nice. And away from games, you guys have collaborated on a few toy projects too. Let’s start with Tickle Pup that you licensed to MGA. How did this come about?
SF: We have a dog named Tinker who is a rescue. When we first got her, we were looking for her tickle spot – you know… that spot where you scratch and it makes the dog leg’s kick in a really funny way. Well, she didn’t have one! It got us thinking that could be a cool feature for a toy. It’s such a hilarious adorable thing that everyone can relate to… We couldn’t believe there hadn’t been a plush dog out there already with that feature. And then Will made this awesome prototype…
WS: I made the mechanism and added it to an existing plush. We had it up and running pretty quickly. We added a few more features to it and everybody loved it; they got it right away. People just wanted to hold it and play with it.
SF: It was a great fit for MGA. It works really well with their Rescue Tales line. And although it seems like a swerve because Bryan and I have done party games for so long, Will and I worked on toys like this back at Fisher-Price. We have years of experience on interactive plush.
Back to your roots! It looks fantastic. I also wanted to talk about Funrise’s Burstin’ Bubble Clouds – this looks incredible. It’s a machine that creates cloud-filled bubbles… I’m sold! What’s the story behind this one?
WS: We received a brief for bubble concepts. It wasn’t a space we’d ever really thought about. It was winter, and I’d put this cool mist humidifier in our kids’ room. I was in there watching the mist, and I started to think about combining a bubble machine with a cool mist humidifier… What would happen if they gave each other a special kiss and created something that filled bubbles with vapour!? That was the origin of the idea.
You’ve made it sound delightfully simple with your ‘special kiss’ analogy! I imagine designing that was quite a tough ask.
WS: It was – and we were under a bit of time pressure too because of the brief. The sizzle video we made had a little smoke and mirrors going on – but we wanted to show what it would look like if a mist-filled bubble popped. I was standing in my kitchen with a hose to the humidifier and blowing bubbles! That said, I knew it was possible and I’d mapped out how it would work in my head. We worked with Funrise to get the initial electronics together and I have to give their team a lot of credit. They did a lot of the heavy lifting because, tech-wise, it’s pretty demanding.
BW: I also want to give a shoutout to TinkerTini. Trina has given us briefs from smaller companies and they’re often in categories we hadn’t thought of working on. We have something really cool coming out in 2024 with a company we’d never worked with before, in a space we were new to. That also came via a brief from Trina.
Absolutely – and let’s be sure to chat about that item too when we can! Before we wrap up, you also have a new game out with Hootenanny Games called Snarkas. I like the name! How does it play?
WS: Snarkas is a card-matching, card-collecting game for two to four players. It’s great for all ages. It’s based on a middle eastern card game that my dad taught me when I was a kid, which is played with a standard deck of cards. It’s a great game that’s not really well known, so that’s why I wanted to revisit it, retheme it and get it to a broader audience. I don’t have a strong background in games, so I brought it to Sara and Bryan and they really helped evolve it into something else entirely.
When we showed it to Hootenanny, they got it right away. They loved playing it. Once we synced up with them, we knew it was in great hands and if you look at it now, it’s beautiful. They were the perfect partner.
It does look brilliant. Hootenanny are fairly new – what’s the appeal of working with a company like this?
SF: Hootenanny Games’ Alex Kimerling had come from Big G Creative. We’d met him over the years and when we showed him Snarkas, he was so excited about it. He said: “I’m launching a new company and I want this to be one of the games we launch with.” Bryan and I also invented a light strategy game called Floats McGoats which is also with Hootenanny, so we’ve been involved with half of their launch line-up. It’s an exciting place to be.
And the other thing to say is that just because you land a game with a big company, it doesn’t mean it’ll naturally fly off the shelf. Big companies have so many games out; it might be tricky for them to dedicate as much attention to your game as you’d hope they would. What’s special about Hootenanny Games is that they’ve put so much love, attention and resources into every game they’ve produced. They’re working so hard to market them and their line-up is so beautiful. You can feel the love they’ve put into everything – it really shows.
Absolutely. Sara, you mentioned you and Bryan also have Floats McGoats with Hootenanny. It’s another belter of a name! Can you tell us a little about that one?
BW: Floats McGoats is our first abstract strategy game. We were originally inspired by the classic pen and paper game where you have dots on a page, and you take turns connecting the dots to form squares. We built an initial prototype with clay tokens and popsicle sticks… and tinkered with it off and on for years! Now there’s a shark and goat fights and a 12-sided die. It’s super fun! And again, Hootenanny has done a beautiful job with it.
I actually have another game of yours that came with an inflatable goat…
SF: Yes! That’s our Goat Yoga party game published by Kikkerland. We’re thinking of changing our company name to Goat Sneeze instead of Galactic Sneeze.
BW: I thought it was Galactic Goat!
Ha I quite like Goat Sneeze!
BW: I actually threw out an idea for another goat game recently and Sara said: “No! We can’t be the goat company!”
Guys, this has been fun! I have one last question: what’s your most underrated invention?
BW: Will, you should mention Toobalink!
WS: So, when I left Fisher-Price, I developed, manufactured and marketed my own toy called Toobalink. It’s a construction toy designed to work with paper towel tubes and toilet tissue tubes. I worked on it with a very talented industrial designer named Sara Ebert. The whole process was quite an education and I’m thankful that I did it. It did okay – I was able to sell through the inventory – but I realised I should probably focus on inventing and design.
Anyway, fast-forward to May of this year, I was contacted out of the blue by a company called Hearthsong. They had seen Toobalink and were very excited about it, so now I have a licensing agreement in place with them for the toy. I’ve always loved the product and its recycling story, so I’m excited to see what Hearthsong is going to do with it when it comes out next year.
That’s great it’s getting a second life! Congrats! Sara, Bryan, what would you pick for your most underrated item?
BW: I’d say Unicornhole. People love unicorns, people love cornhole – you’re throwing a sparkly horn into a unicorn’s head… It sells itself! And it does sell well with Kikkerland, but I thought every seven-year-old girl on the planet would want one of these.
SF: Clock Block is great too – and this one is actually available for license again. Hint hint! Wink wink! You bet how fast you think you can build things out of blocks under various constraints, and other players can “clock block” you by saying they can do it faster.
BW: We’d love to find a new home for Clock Block as currently designed, or retheme it as something more family-friendly. It’s a unique and super fun game that should be in more homes.
Will, Sara, Bryan – this has been a treat! Congrats again on all of your recent successes – let’s catch up again soon.
BW: It’s always a pleasure, Billy!
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