Tara: Please could you tell me a little bit about your background ie. Did you train in product design, as an engineer etc and what were your first jobs
Bill: I studied natural resources at a small liberal arts college named Sewanee in Tennessee, USA. Directly after graduation, I went to Ecuador for a 1 year and 1/2 of traveling and working as a naturalist guide in the rainforest. I returned to the US, and 8 months later went back to Ecuador to open a restaurant, coffee house and hostel named The Magic Bean www.magicbeanquito.com. My father was a physician with a creative mind. He continually thought up ideas throughout my childhood, and this continues today. I must have inherited this desire. To create something elegant and simple that is new to the world puts me in the clouds. Frequently I discover that the idea is new only to me, but, every once in a while, I see that I truly have come up with something special.
Tara: When did you first start creating ideas for toys?
Bill: I remember thinking up a toothbrush with a screw-in handle that held toothpaste. Twist the dial on the handle(like a chap stick) and the paste would move forward and come out of 3, one-way valves just below the bristles. My father ran it by his patent attorney and he said it existed. I was in the 8th grade and that was 28 years ago. I wonder to this day if it really did exist. As far as toys go, I invented a toy frisbee for dogs in 1993 at the age of 25. It had an appendage sticking down from underneath the disc in the center. The idea was to make it easier for the dog to pick it up. The frisbee would fly, land and tilt, giving the dog an area to bite. I got a US patent and I made a video in Ecuador, then showed the video to various pet manufacturers at the annual trade show. A company named Ethical Products really liked the product, and manufactured it. It did not do that well, I think because the stick broke easily and there were no re-orders.
Tara: How do you get inspiration for the toys you invent/design?
Bill: Different ways. Sometimes it’s completely random, like when I see an object and something in my mind gives me this instant feedback of a cool invention. Sometimes I’ll work on a specific challenge that is on a company’s wish list. I’ll work my brain intellectually, I’ll use imagery to spur ideas, I’ll rest. Sometimes nothing comes or I should say nothing unique. After some time of this process, my head will hurt and I’ll have to give it a rest. It’s then that something magical usually happens.
Tara: Do you work to specific briefs from toy companies or if not how do you find out the type of products they are looking for?
Bill: Yes, they call them wish lists, and they’re not so easy to come by. They’re quite useful, as they focus my thoughts and creative energy.
Tara: How do you present your toy ideas (do you use drawings or create prototypes)?
Bill: I work with an agent. I send him brief descriptions of concepts and he provides feedback. If he thinks a concept is licensable, we discuss it by phone to figure out the best way to present it. To him, renderings and a working model are ideal, but models cost a lot. Sometimes
Tara: Do you need technical knowledge of how to make the toy work or is a concept enough?
Bill: For me, the concept has been enough. Working with an agent is essential because they have the contacts and are strong at presenting the concepts.
Tara: Can you share any toy concepts that you created?
Bill: Most all of my toy concepts are still being presented to companies, meaning that they have not been licensed. We signed a license agreement one of the top manufacturers just before this economic crisis. It was wonderful. We received a huge advance, and just the thought that the product that we invented would be on the shelves had me walking on the clouds. They were even going to have TV commercials for it. The day I received word that it was canceled was a gloomy one. But that’s the business. It’s tough, and one needs thick skin. We’ll license it one day because it’s a great concept. It just takes time
Tara: Have you always used an agent to sell you ideas into prospective companies?
Bill: Yes, see above
Tara: How did you go about finding an agent?
Bill: I used a book called the Toy and Game Handbook Richard C. Levy, Ronald O. Weingartner, as well as online searches. I also called to speak with my top five.
Tara: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a toy inventor?
Bill: Keep the day job, have patience. Don’t get into this if you cannot handle rejection. It’s part of the process for everyone
Tara: What commission percentage can a toy inventor who licences their idea expect to receive?
Bill: The standard royalty is 5% gross wholesale, but each company as there own way. The companies will fight hard to keep this low, and to limit the products that pay you a royalty. For example new lines. Another good reason to have an agent that knows the nuances of the business. It took us 3 months to work through the agreement I discussed earlier
Tara: Is there one toy that you wish you had invented?
Bill: I think the Wii system is just amazing
A tough blow for toy inventor Bill Ward
Bill: I came up with this concept, received approval from my agent, built a test model and discovered that it tested beautifully. There was nothing in the market like it at the time. Just before presenting it to Fisher Price, I opened a magazine to discover a brand new product by Lamaze of Learning Curve that was almost identical. A tough blow for sure. The Lamaze product has won several awards and has sold millions of their product.
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