Jazwares’ David Winter on products, trends and being part of a culture of innovation
David Winter, Head of New Product Acquisition and Inventor Relations at Jazwares, discusses the collaborative nature of how his team works with inventors…
David, it’s always great to catch up. Let’s dive straight in: Why should inventors bring their concepts to Jazwares?
Jazwares has an extensive portfolio of owned and licensed IP that we can partner with inventors – incredible brands such as Squishmallows, Pokémon, CoComelon, and Fortnite, to name a few, and we’re always looking for inventors to help keep the lines feeling innovative and fresh.
Jazwares plays in the top toy supercategories, and if we’re not in one then we’re looking for break-frame; category-buster items from inventors to get us into those spaces! Jazwares has amazing momentum, and we’re growing. We’re firing on all cylinders to leverage our expertise and resources in product development, combined with stellar marketing to promote our products to consumers across a variety of platforms worldwide.
To diversify our portfolio with new brand IP from inventors, Jazwares created a team called BlueJ that’s dedicated to building up and fleshing out the design, play pattern and positioning of inventor product concepts into new brand opportunities. For inventors, the advantage is having dedicated design and development resources for their items where we create custom graphics, build models, and design presentations of inventor concepts to get in front of our leadership team.
With more than 250 inventors globally, and over 25 businesses in our portfolio, we’ve staffed up the team with new talent that have a passion for people and product. Lauren Mershon and Brian Thornber joined the inventor relations team to help connect inventors to the opportunities in the licensed portfolio, and are also part of BlueJ to craft product concepts into entirely new brand candidates.
It sounds like a great set-up! Can you share with us a bit more about what you do there within BlueJ?
BlueJ – Jazwares’ Blue Sky Design and Development division – is headed up by our EVP, Michael Rinzler, and together with the VP of Design, Stefanie Barone, I co-lead the team that plays, designs, and strategises product concepts into new brand opportunities for the organisation.
Inventor Relations is front of house to the inventor community where my team looks at all the concepts and selects those that have that extra ‘special something’. After the review process, I put on my Business Development hat and play with BlueJ. It’s here that the team establishes the vision, builds out the play pattern, and designs the overall direction for inventor items.
My counterpart, Stefanie, leads a talented creative team – Eric Yanovich, Kristi Bluhm and Adam Ostegard – to bring the visual and physical elements to life. Together, we’ve greenlit some incredible inventor items which we’re very excited to one day have the chance to share with the world.
We look forward to hearing about them! And how often are you reviewing inventor items?
Roughly every month, we put together a concept review of all our top candidates for evaluation, in a well-designed presentation, with all the bells and whistles. This has allowed us to act swiftly to secure hot items, stay nimble and be opportunistic to product concepts as soon as they come in the door.
What’s also fantastic about BlueJ is our collaborative process, as well as our direct line to leadership to greenlight inventor items and turn them into brand opportunities. These are huge pluses for inventors to think of Jazwares for their product concepts – plus, we have a load of fun doing it together!
Yes, let’s not undersell the fun aspect! We’re in a trend-driven industry, so what do you, and Jazwares, do to stay on the cutting edge of trends?
In my opinion, by virtue of our licensed brands in the gaming industry, Jazwares has an incredible pulse on social media, emerging influencers and digital trends. I think we recognise that the channels of communication are evolving, and the way kids play and interface with content creators shapes the lens we use to evaluate product concepts… How well does this demo on social?
Does it lends itself to viral-social-sharing?
In addition to a huge swath of young talent at the company keeping things fresh, BlueJ also spearheads a few initiatives that keep our team and the organisation on the pulse of all things trendy as well as has its ear to the ground to all new product/brand launches at retail.
As for myself, I’m fairly addicted to several subreddits, Imgur and various toy and tech blogs to round it out.
David, this has been great. One last question; we often talk a lot about creative cultures at companies. What is the culture of innovation like at Jazwares?
In my role, I interface with almost all the cross-functional teams at Jazwares – from brand, design, and product development, all the way to sales, finance and legal. One thing that’s stood out to me is everyone’s passion to innovate… Innovate new brands, innovate our product, innovate our contracts and, most importantly, innovate our processes. Jazwares is a company built on partnership, and it’s by virtue of the people that work here that we see challenges as opportunities.
We like a challenge, and inventor items can sometimes be that challenge – new mechanisms, new chemistries, new transformations – it’s often the things that no one has ever seen before.
That’s what’s so motivating about being here at Jazwares – the collective ambition to the push boundaries of what we’re capable of is going to launch us even further as a company. I think inventors have taken notice of that, and I’m extremely proud to be a part of this team.
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