It was the winter of 1987 and I was working at the startup Worlds of Wonder when Hasbro invited us into their showroom in New York City during Toy Fair. For an aspiring toy inventor, it was a dream come true. Technically, with our two number-one hit toys, we were their competition. But I have never forgotten how the Hasbro employees made us feel, because they were so warm and welcoming.
Thirty years later, that same spirit of openness is alive and well at Hasbro. Since the leading global play and entertainment company launched its open innovation platform Spark in 2016, it has received thousands of idea submissions from U.S.-based fans of its approximately 1500 brands.
As of this fall, fans in five additional markets — including Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong — now have the opportunity to share their creativity with Hasbro as well. Spark will be rolling out to other hubs for innovation, including countries like Germany, Israel, and Brazil, as “soon as possible.”
Why is Hasbro expanding its platform for everyday people to share their ideas for new products with them? The answer is very simple: Because it knows the best ideas can and do come from anyone, anywhere.
In an interview, Jared Wade, Hasbro’s senior vice president of design innovation, told me that there are so many great ideas coming to the company from the outside, they want to make it even easier for creative people to get in touch with their inventor relations team.
When it comes to valuing the contributions of independent inventors, the toy and game industry has been leaps and bounds ahead of the rest for a long time. In the past, though, there were barriers for aspiring toy and game inventors to overcome, including needing to hire an agent for representation.
Today, that’s changed. Online submission portals like Spark have made the process of figuring out who to share a new idea with and how much simpler for inventors.
“Taking those barriers away and making it as easy as possible benefits the creators and it benefits us in that we’re getting the best ideas in the world,” explained Wade.
Typically, submission portals for invention ideas are not unlike black holes, in that it’s unclear what and when (if ever) an inventor can expect to hear back about their idea. Spark is different.
Leo Taylor, an amateur board game designer turned professional as of four years ago, described his experience using the Spark platform as a “pleasant surprise.” Taylor is the co-inventor, co-owner, and designer of Just Playing Games who came to Hasbro through the Spark platform. He is currently working on developing several games for Hasbro, some of which are on sale now.
Taylor had always heard that pitching big toy and game companies was an uphill battle, so he didn’t bother. On a lark, he decided to submit a video of one of his games to Hasbro using Spark. He put time and effort into the video, including hiring a professional film photographer.
It worked. Soon thereafter, he received a call from Tanya Thompson, a game scout in Hasbro’s inventor relations department. She was impressed by the video’s quality and wanted to learn about him. Did he have other ideas? She welcomed him with open arms, he said.
“It was, out of the gate, a relationship building,” Taylor said.
Here are my takeaways from my interview with Wade and Taylor for toy and game inventors:
— Focus on producing a 60-second video that captures the excitement and fun of your toy or game. Like Wade says, there’s nothing like a good video.
“If you’re able to convey how to play with the toy or game and get across the fun in that early video — a little sneak peek into that commercial moment, that moment under the tree or when the kid unboxes it and sits around the table with their family — that’s magic,” Wade explained. “That’s the spark that really can draw attention to an idea.”
Put another way: Focus on showing the impact your idea has on the final user. (Instead of merely what the item does or what it is made out of.)
Hasbro is looking for “revolutionary innovations” via Spark. Meaning, new ways to play, be it how to use a material in a new way or how to create a new experience.
Taylor doubled down on the importance of taking the time to craft a nice pitch, as this may be your only opportunity to make a great first impression.
— Be ready to send a prototype in the event that they request to see one.
— Be open to receiving feedback and taking your original idea in a different direction. Relationships are extremely important in this industry, especially because people tend to stick around. Having a positive attitude and being a team player will set you apart. Be the kind of person people want and look forward to working with. A two-way street is required for open innovation partnerships to succeed.
“The most valuable thing we have is not the idea itself, but the relationships that keep those ideas coming and building,” Wade said.
— Seek out and pitch companies like Hasbro that have embraced open innovation and are truly looking for your ideas.
— Intellectual property is not required to submit an idea to Spark.
Another prerequisite for becoming a successful toy and game inventor? Tenacity and passion. This industry is full of extremely creative people. Competing against them is not for the faint of heart.
It’s commendable that Hasbro is making it easier for people around the world to share their creativity with them!