I met Charlie and Sally some years back at PlayCon. You couldn't have missed Charlie, he was bandaged from head to toe (slight exaggeration). He attributed it to a bad fall near his pool, but it looked like he had been in a good fight and knowing Charlie, he won. Charlie and Sally have worked in many parts of our industry. When you visit their CA offices, there is a wall of product that towers up 2 floors and the length of wall – it is massive! Find out what makes them tick!
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
I’m a musician, audio engineer and producer who played and wrote music, owned and operated recording studios and produced recordings. When interactive digital media were new, I started composing music and doing sound design for platform games and CD-ROMs. One of my clients, Sega of America, under Tom Kalinske at the time, had a toy division. I discovered a need for creative audio expertise combined with mastery of digital interactive development. I was lucky to work on some high profile products early on, and found an opportunity in a great industry I was able to make a significant contribution to. I was already 40 by then – it’s never too late!
What trends do you see in games?
I see many, but not sure I’m qualified to predict where they will lead. They include the trend towards casual games, “snackable” games, “collaborative” (versus competitive) gaming. Another is the marriage of physical and digital, in which I see three threads: One, adding digital gaming to an inherently physical product – like a doll or pet robot with “tamogochi” or other gameplay built on. Two, adding a physical component to an inherently digital game, like a Guitar Hero, dance mat, or Wii or Kinect type games. Three, a marriage between the two, like the Anki cars, Skylanders, Sphero or Infinity. The last is where there is much to come and I expect breakthroughs – it’s still early. How about a robot as fun to play games with as my brothers were - but hopefully without all the fights and injuries? No, wait, the games I’ve always enjoyed are games that bring people together. I’ve never been much of a solo gamer. So…what is the softball or Monopoly of the future?
What about toy trends?
One is “back to basics”, as mobile platforms in particular become dominant play platforms for digital play and content. This is seen in the success recently in basic construction (Lego) and crafts (Crayola and Rainbow Loom). An opposing trend is towards more complexity and high tech integration of physical and digital – blurring the line between “toy” and “game” more and more, as the cost of tech goes down and tech pervades our lives –and brings toys to life.
What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
Piano, bicycle, deck of cards, tape recorder… and I suppose anything resembling a weapon.
What musical instruments and music do you play?
Guitar and piano, R&B, Jazz, Rock, Blues
What does your typical day look like?
2-300 e-mails, daily flow of incoming projects and production. We work on about 300 products a year on the service side of our business. I review every proposal and invoice, as well as many details of production. We brainstorm new ideas and review invention projects almost daily and try to stay on top of what’s happening in the industry - including brands, opportunities, tech and trends. I travel often. I look forward every day to working with our amazing team and our clients and partners.
What inspires you?
Love, laughter, intelligence, creativity. The natural joy, wonder and innocence of small children. Life inspires me. People inspire me. Music, comedy, new ideas, anyone sharing a passion, smiles. Nature inspires me. Travel. I’m a cheap date for being inspired. I cry at the “triumph scene” in every movie (but work hard to hide it).
Where did you grow up and how did that influence who you are today?
I grew up? Are you sure? I was born and lived in Caracas, Venezuela until I was 7, on a farm in New Hampshire until I was 10, and then in Nassau in the Bahamas. My three brothers and I played like crazy, endangering our lives pretty much daily. I had a great childhood, which influenced me in several ways. I grew up comfortable with freedom, risk and responsibility. Because most of my childhood was spent overseas in Venezuela and the Bahamas, I have always been used to diversity – in culture, language, race and geography. The contrast with childhood in our society today is notable at two extremes. On the one hand, tremendous freedom – roaming for miles even when very young, the “be home for supper” type thing, and at the same time very strict discipline and high expectations – spanking, grounding, nothing less than an A, shoes shined, bed made all that stuff of that era.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
I have made countless mistakes! I’m a mistake machine. I make them every day. The most important lesson was learning to be OK with making mistakes, accept them as part of growth and innovation, focus on the learning opportunity, keep getting better.
What do you read every day, and why?
I read a lot of e-mails! This is how we run our business. I read online news headlines every day to stay in touch with what’s happening, and I skim social media such as Facebook to keep up with friends – including industry friends.
What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?
Practically speaking, it’s my laptop and the app is our proprietary product database, which is an incredible software platform built entirely in house by the geniuses we’ve been lucky enough to hire. Emotionally, it’s a tossup between my Baldwin Grand Piano and my Fender Stratocaster. They help me stay sane every day. The need to create music has continually spawned the most wonderful tech since the dawn of history.
When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I laugh out loud all the time. Playing with our 3 kittens. Or watching Modern Family.
What advice can you give to inventors presenting ideas to you?
Research what’s been done before, think about the commercial or how to sell in store from the package and try me. And be real about the price point and cost.
What is the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?
Working in the back of the store over Christmas hauling boxes of liquor and wine (I was about 15; things were different back then, especially in Nassau). I learned I’d better stay in school! But every job I’ve ever had, including that one, has been rewarding.
What else do you do when you aren't working on films or games?
Play music. Travel. Hike. Camp. Eat out, socialize.
How do you jump-start your creativity when you find yourself stalled on a project?
Play piano. Talk it over with others. Get away from the daily grind (airplanes are effective, as long as there’s no Internet). Take a walk.
How did you and Sally come to work together as a husband and wife team?
We tried it once when we were first together and it didn't work the first time. After 15 years of marriage, independent work experiences, parenthood and basically growing up, we were ready. It was Sally's idea to launch this company - on the condition that she be part of it and keep an eye on me!
How has working together as a married couple worked out?
It's fantastic, and key to our success. Sally is co-CEO and runs finance, HR and administration, as well as sharing the overall strategic and project management overview. We work well as a team, and complement and balance each other with differing skills, experience and temperaments. It's a bit of a Yin and Yang thing. I have learned so much from Sally, and I could never trust anyone more - which is essential to working so closely together in business. My own past experience with partners has been checkered or worse in most cases. With Sally, our interests are naturally in perfect alignment; our energies are totally focused on our success together.
Your business card shows "Creativity, Inc." and "Funfare, LLC". What's the story behind that?
Funfare, LLC is our invention group. We're passionate about inventing, and we enjoy partnering with many of the top inventor groups. Licensees include Hasbro, Mattel, Fisher Price, Playmates, Leapfrog and many others. Hopefully more to come! Creativity provides work for hire development services, and is the larger part of our business in terms of volume. We have contributed to over 5,000 products for nearly every major toy company in the world, including 50 TOTY nominees and winners.
If I knew, I’d charge you! I love what we do, and just work hard at getting better and changing with the times, trying to see around corners.
Thanks, Charlie and Sally, for a terrific interview!