What if a chain-reaction toy could defy gravity? Doozi’s MD, Mike Goldman, talks ZipLinx
Mike, your work literally jumped to my attention at London Toy Fair this year… The lovely team on the John Adams stand showed me ZipLinx. How would you describe it?
I’d start by sharing the tag line, ‘High-Flying Chain-Reaction Fun!’ and packaging front panel call-out: ‘Domino Play with Jumping Action!’… Then maybe, ZipLinx is a unique chain-reaction activity toy… It brings together construction and design play while truly delivering on a “WOW” payoff! Another way I like to explain an aspect of ZipLinx is “Launch a Doodle!”…
“Launch a Doodle?”
Right. We all know Magna Doodle – which was one of my product lines when I was a product manager at Tyco Toys… You create a design then wipe the screen clean to create another. Same with Etch A Sketch…
Well, ZipLinx can also be considered a 3D version of that play. Create your own ZipLinx “Doodles” – then by launching, you’ve created a clean “canvas” to now create another! There’s a video showing this online…
Got it! I’ll be sure to put in a link at the end! Now, I must say, I was very calm when this conversation started… What I should’ve said is: I LOVE ZipLinx! Just love it! So I’m very excited to ask: where did this idea come from?
Simeon Tiefel, a brilliant product developer and inventor, is part of the Doozi team. He developed the concept many years back as a totally new approach to chain-reaction play. He’s always looking for what hasn’t been done yet, and how to create the simplest, most reliable and least expensive proprietary design.
And do you know roughly what the thinking was?
The thinking was that dominoes rely on gravity… All they know is how to fall down – which they do quite well! In a similar fashion, Marble Run sets, which are really fun, are also all about gravity. But what if there was a kid-friendly, chain-reaction toy that would “defy gravity”?
I don’t know what I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting that…
The original design was a more basic approach. A sophisticated version of the familiar interlocking popsicle sticks that delivered on the payoff but, unfortunately, didn’t go any further than that. Fast forward to 2020… While discussing new development projects, we decided to “dust it off” and see what might be possible.
And when you revisited the original, how did you feel about it?
What was initially inspiring was the payoff. We thought that would be fun and exciting for kids, as well as a great visual for packaging, social and advertising… Necessary to market a new product as we all know. We discovered, however, that the design – at the time – didn’t check all the boxes. Of particular importance was that it needed to be simpler to use and more reliable, as well as allow for more varied play.
So, Simeon went back to the drawing board and redesigned the ZipLinx ‘Linx’ to be the two-piece, band-powered patented design that we know of today. The ‘Power Tower’ design is a feature that I introduced to the mix. Keep in mind, though, that like all toys that go into production, it’s always a team effort. So, the final products were significantly influenced by additional design, engineering and manufacturing team input.
Looking at the Linx pieces – the units themselves – I imagine a tremendous amount of work went into their design. But how much work?!
For this second generation design, there was a lot of tweaking to achieve the desired performance and reliability. Strangely enough, though, not the massive trial and error that you might expect.
No, because Simeon spends a lot of time processing all of the mechanics in his head and then generates a CAD design. We print, test and make recommendations for Simeon to then refine. This will happen a handful of times… We have a system for working together that allows for proving out and finalising designs pretty quickly and successfully. Please don’t get the wrong idea, though! This isn’t easy. It takes a lot of brain power and comes from years of experience and having made countless mistakes and learning from them.
Oh, good lord, no! I’m under no illusions… I think the design is incredible. If you nailed it quickly, I think that would be testimony to great teamwork.
Thank you! Like any great design, though, the Linx may be rather unassuming in their appearance… There’s a tremendous amount of design/engineering packed into each one that allows for their jumping action, how each relates to the other and their resulting exhilarating performance!
Agreed! So… From Rube Goldberg to Domino Express and beyond, chain-reaction machines seem to hold a tremendous fascination for people. Why is that, do you think? What’s the appeal?
I think for some, it’s mesmerising and sometimes relaxing to watch. For others, it’s controlled chaos. For me, it’s all of the above!
You’ve had a long career, Mike. Where were you before you founded Doozi? And besides ZipLinx, for which other toys and games might you be known?
I guess I might be known for Phlat Ball and Zoingo Boingo! And you’re right, I’ve been doing this awhile… So maybe I’ll start at the beginning!
It’s a very good place to start! How did you get into the industry?
My Father – Lee J. Goldman – was a real product guy who started with Kenner in 1949… He claims to have sold Charles Lazarus, the Toys R Us Founder, his first toy! In any case, he loved being in the toy industry… So, I was exposed to, and fell in love with, the industry from a very early age and was fortunate enough to be able to attend New York Toy Fair since I was five years old. The toy business as a career choice was bound to happen for me.
Where have you worked?
I’ve been lucky enough to gain experience at a number of places: Shelcore, Tyco, Mattel, Galoob… I worked on products across all kinds of categories, including Hot Wheels, Micro Machines Z-Bots, and Mighty Max. In 1996, I started Goldman Toy Group, then Tucker Toys soon after.
What kind of products did you do?
We licensed a range of products, including electronics for Mattel, Tiger/Hasbro and Yes… But we also designed and made innovative sports toys.
Including Phlat Ball?
Including Phlat Ball, yes! That’s an evergreen brand… It’s a unique flying disc: when you throw it, it turns into a ball. It was a number one seller; it’s enjoyed sales in over 50 countries.
In any case, Goliath Games bought Tucker Toys in 2018. Some of the core team stayed on as an exclusive product development office. When the exclusivity ended in February 2020, I started Doozi alongside some of the key team members.
Fantastic! I like that you have a skilful, loyal band at the heart of Doozi. I’m curious, Mike: looking back over the years, which invention of yours do you think is most underrated? And why?!
Oh! There were a few, but if I had to pick one, it would be a truly magical, electronic musical toy that we licensed to Tiger/Hasbro in the 90s. Though the product could ‘stand on its own’, they decided to use the Barney or Franklin license, and chose Franklin in the end…
This is Franklin the Turtle?
Right. Franklin was just starting out back then; it wasn’t as popular as Barney… And Franklin wasn’t associated with songs and music like Barney was. So in my opinion, this was the wrong decision… And it never made it past previews. Am I bitter? Maybe a little! I so believed in the product; I wanted to see kids enjoying it.
Great answer! I’ve stolen that question off Billy Langsworthy; I think the answers are fantastically interesting…
I still have the original breadboard model and also a looks-like/works-like presentation model that Tiger did with all of the sculpted Franklin characters. They did a really nice job of executing!
Gosh, I guess that’s of little consolation! We need to wrap this up, Mike, but let me thank you for your time. Lovely to chat… Final question: what’s the most interesting object in your office or on your desk?
The one that gets the most attention is a giant plush that I picked up at our local Zoo. It’s a combination of animals all joined together… Giraffe, Tiger and others. I got it as a visual reminder of the importance of properly communicating with the factory! What could result when the details you provide aren’t clear. And believe me… It’s happened more than once in my career!
Ha! Great answer! Thanks again, Mike. Best of luck with ZipLinx.
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