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Ep. 323: Making Your Business “Toyetic” with Toy Designer, Azhelle Wade

Azhelle and I talk about:

  • Azhelle’s path to a career in the children’s toy industry. 
  • The process to walk people through how to change how they're thinking about things
  • Why you need to be creative in solving your customer’s problem
  • Why you need to talk about things from your client's perspective and not your perspective.

My favorite quotes from Azhelle:

  • “I teach people how to combine the healthy content you're absorbing, with the toy that you're trying to create.”
  • “If you have a toy idea and you want to turn it into a toy business, you come to me, I'm your girl.”

Shannon Mattern: Thank you so much for being here today on pep talk. Did I say her name wrong? I always ask. And I forgot to ask how do I say it as shell? Yeah. Perfect. Okay. We'll do that over again. Okay. So we'll get started in three, two, one.

Shannon Mattern: Azhelle thank you so much for being here. OD pep talks for side hustlers. Can you let our audience know a little bit more about you and what you do?

Azhelle Wade: Sure. Um, I have been working in the toy industry. That's the children's toy industry for over 10 years. Um, I started out my career just working as part of an, uh, product development team and new product development team at a company called horizon group USA. And throughout my 10 year career, I moved up through the ranks. I moved across and kind of changed my position from designer to like product developer and eventually got to the position of being a VP of brand and product at a toy company. And recently I decided that I was going to step away and do something on my own and go toward more of the educational aspect of helping other inventors become patented and do some of the things that I've done in my career.

Shannon Mattern: Okay. That is so fascinating. I wanted to dig in, I want to dig a little more into a couple of things. Like I want to know, you know, what led you on the path to even like getting a job in the toy industry. And then I'll ask you all the questions about like, okay, what, what was this decision to leave and go out on your own really? Like, so let's kind of start in the way, way back of, you know, what led you to the toy industry in the first place? Right.

Azhelle Wade: I always loved kids from the very beginning. I thought, I think the first job I thought I would have would be a teacher. And then I went on to thinking I'd be like a child psychologist. Then I actually, um, in college, ended up majoring in exhibition design and I thought, Oh, I'll do like children's exhibitions. And then I heard through the exhibition program, um, I had went to the fashion Institute of technology at the time and that's in New York city and I heard that they have a toy design program and I was like, that's sharp. And my teacher at the time was like, yeah. And they make good money. Like that's a real good industry. And I was like, no way, no way, can there be money? And in the toy industry, like why would you be able to make a good living off of having fun?

Azhelle Wade: Like that just didn't seem to add up to me in my head. Um, but I looked into it and I actually, I took, um, there was like an extra class. You could take like an intro to toy design while you were in another major. So I took that class and I got to know the chair of the program. I told her like, I really want to do this. And I designed some horrible toys. There was so bad. Like one was a brownie, it was just bad. It was so bad. But eventually I got, I applied to the program and I got in and, you know, that's it, that was just kind of the happenstance way that I fell into the toy industry.

Shannon Mattern: Oh my gosh. That's I love that. And you know, I think just even pointing out that, like you designed horrible toys at first and still went forward, like we all start, like whether you're, you know, designing a product or a service or whatever, like we all start out with like the thing that's like just sucks. Like we don't out of the park the first time. Oh my gosh. I love it. I'm sorry. Go ahead. No, go ahead.

Azhelle Wade: I remember my very first, um, episode of my podcast, where I talk about the first time that I was sitting across from someone and I was just like, why did you let me go into this industry? I was like trying to come up with ideas. And I was like, I shouldn't be doing this.

Shannon Mattern: Uh, I, yeah. I mean, we all have like that moment of like a, I'm a total imposter B, this is never going to work, but I want it to work so bad that I'm willing to get through the part that feels terrible to get to the good stuff.

Azhelle Wade: Yes. And I had to say it like that whole experience is probably why I want to do the toy coach and, and teach because I didn't know how to think and that, and it's like, if you don't even know how to fix the problem, you can't address it. So I literally just felt like I knew I was doing something wrong, but I didn't know what it was. And there was nowhere to, to find out there was no resource to figure out what it was that was wrong with the way I was approaching toy design. And it wasn't about like what you learned in school, like the techniques, like how to illustrate your ideas, how to build them in 3d. Like that's what I was learning, but it was more how to even come up with the ideas that is what wasn't being taught.

Shannon Mattern: Oh my gosh, we need to talk about that. So, so how, how did you, um, like how did you discover that? Like you had to come at this a different way, right? Like, or what process or what process do you walk people through to change how they're thinking about things?

Azhelle Wade: Right. The, the thing I realized I was doing a lot was I was looking too much at my competitors and starting like starting from a place of looking at a competitor product and saying, how could I make this better? Like, that was not the way to go about it. But I think for a lot of, um, inventors, you always start with a problem for any, in another industry, you usually start with like the problem and you try to solve a problem. And I think I was trying to do that with toys, saying my competitors were the problem. Like, how do I fix, how do I make this better? Right. But that is not at all where you have to start, you have to start with kids and just watching them play and, and seeing what kind of things they like to do, what lights them up and what they do naturally, what toys, they kind of like invent without thinking about it.

Azhelle Wade: And then from there, the thing that I like to teach is you have to absorb a ton of content and content that's like separate from the toy industry, just completely separate content, books, movies, TV shows, um, even video games can inspire magazine articles, conversations with friends, like deep conversations that are separate from the world of toys, anything. Um, because once you spend your time absorbing all of that, that content and good content, like creative information, like new information, when you go and you sit down and you're like, okay, I need to design a beach toy. You might remember that you had a conversation with your friend and they were talking about how the waves come and crash and destroyed their kids' beach toy. And then boom, that might make you think like, well, why can't there be a beach toy that protects them from that, but also adds an element of play. So that's what I teach people how to, how to combine like the healthy content you're absorbing with the toy that you're trying to create.

Shannon Mattern: I love that approach so much. And I'm just like, I'm just sitting here thinking like, you know, you apply that to toy design. I'm thinking like, when I'm creating like a new program, product or service, you know what I see my, uh, my listeners and my audience do is like, okay, well I want to be a web designer. I'm going to go look at what every other web designers doing. I'm going to like match my packages to that web designers package. But I'm going to like name it a little bit different, add this little feature and I'm going to like, change my price or like whatever, or just apply different branding. And really, it's just like the same things over and over and over again. But what nobody did is go to the people who are buying the web design and saying like, what is it that you need? How are you talking about this problem? How are you struggling? How are you? And they don't even, they don't care that you're going to like give them like security plug it. Like that is not on their radar.

Azhelle Wade: Yeah. It's so true. And you can, and if you draw inspiration from somewhere else and you'll bring in something fresh, like say, say, I was saying, Oh, I'm drawing information from toys. And I see that inspiration. And maybe how you lay out that web design offer, people will say, Oh, that's interesting. That's different. I've never seen it done that way before. And it just will catch their attention. So yeah. I like that idea. You can apply it to anything. Yeah.

Shannon Mattern: Oh my gosh. I, that, that thinking is like not how can I compete with what's currently happening? It's how can I focus on the PR the consumer first and come up with something that's going to, you know, like, like you said, like they can't articulate to you what they need, but you get to like, be creative in solving that problem. Yeah.

Azhelle Wade: Yes. Yeah. And it helps if you're the, the kind of content that say your, your customer is absorbing. So for me, if it's kids, some of the content that I absorb is just like unboxing of toys or like cartoons or movies that are kids' movies, because you want to kind of be a part of their world a little bit so that when, when ideas start coming to you, maybe they're inspired by like the Sonic movie. Maybe they're inspired by the unboxing of a, of a toy product, but you want to allow, you know, anything from their world and even from outside of their world to inspire your new toy ideas. As I like to say, unlocking your great toy ideas. Oh my gosh.

Shannon Mattern: So good. So I want to like switch gears to like how you went from, you know, employee to entrepreneur, right. Side hustle to self-employed like you're, you're, you've worked your way up to the VP at your company. And tell me more about like, what even sparked you to think that you could go, would want to go out on your own.

Azhelle Wade: Right. Um, I've always been very entrepreneurial before the toy coach. I have a company called customize me, and that's a convertible event where a company, so that was my first real heavy, um, journey into entrepreneurship. Right. So that is where I learned all of my lessons made all of my mistakes, spent all of my money and like really figured out what it means to market your ideas and yourself and all of that stuff. So I'm still, I still do it on the side, but because I've realized because of the things I've learned, I realized I had to do it differently. So it's, it can't take up the kind of time it used to. Right. I'd see something different. But when I was, so I'm working in the toy industry, I remember I met, I started meeting inventors that had really great ideas and they just kind of didn't know what I, as an executive needed to see in order to consider their ideas as something I would partner with them on.

Azhelle Wade: And because of my experience with customized me, eventually, I like almost similarly to the way that ideas are like floating around in your head. And then they just kind of eventually combine, um, I just started realizing like, wait, I could actually market package and maybe even sell this, like this educational piece. And so at first I was like, let me just start something free. Let me start the podcast, let me start to educate and inform and also get my thoughts and my ideas out there. Um, and from there, uh, I just started to learn so much and I started to connect with so many other people in the toy industry that it started to be the situation where, okay, I love my full-time job, but I also really love this podcast. And then it started to be, what's really feeding my personal growth more. And then it started to become this podcast.

Azhelle Wade: And, um, I decided, you know, I kind of talked to my boyfriend about it and thought when to see what he thought about the idea of like me just doing this full-time and because, you know, that's really risky since I had nothing really planned. I just had an idea. Um, but he supported it. And so as soon as I had the opportunity, I was like, you know what, I'm just going to make the leap. I'm going to try to shift my career into something that's maybe more educational and marketing oriented around toys. Um, focusing on inventors, focusing on toy entrepreneurs. I like to say, if you have a toy idea and you want to turn it into a toy business, like you come to me, like, I'm your girl. Right? Um, so yeah, that is what made me, it was just, what's feeding my soul. What's teaching me, what's helping me grow. And that's the direction I wanted to go in.

Shannon Mattern: I, that is just, I'm sitting here thinking you said so many things. I was like writing, writing them down because you are the epitome of someone that is like, I am going to, you know, one follow my passion, but also in a very, very niche way. You know, you're focusing specifically on toy inventors. And one of the things that I hear from my audience all the time, cause like I teach DIY web design marketing and different things and they're like, Oh, well, you know, I can't niche down because you know, for whatever reason and just like, this is the epitome of, you know, really owning that. Like I'm going to be basically a business coach for toy inventors, marketing coach for toy inventors. And I mean, I don't know if that's exactly how you would describe yourself, but you know, I it's just, there there's one.

Shannon Mattern: There is there someone out there for everyone, for every interest, for every hobby and two it's like, there is also a podcast out there for every interest in every hobby. And I also tell people, it's like, just go find these, just go find them, like there's connect with these people, like build your network of other people doing the same thing that you want to be and getting in front of those audiences because they're out there for you. No matter, no matter what, like how niche it might be. And the nichier the nichier the better, right? Yeah.

Azhelle Wade: Yeah. I agree. You know, I wasn't nervous about niching to toys because that's literally all I done, but I was, I did have that moment of fear. Like if I niche and that's why I actually say inventors and entrepreneurs, because inventors sometimes don't see themselves as entrepreneurs, even though they are an entrepreneur, sometimes don't see themselves as inventors, even though they are. So it was really important to me to like, specify that I'm here for both. But a lot of times, because I'm an inventor, I'm a three times patented inventor, inventors. Think like she's just for me. And I have to actually tell entrepreneurs, like, don't worry. Like, like I'm here for you too. But I do agree, like focusing on your niche, it's, there's so much content out there. People like it when they can trust someone and they can trust you when they feel like you're an expert. So if you focus on one thing for me, toys, um, people are gonna feel like I'm safe here. I can listen to this person because I'm not only, um, trying to license a toy invention, but I'm also trying to start a toy business. And this person understands both sides of that. So instead of trying to get information from one part of the internet and another part of the internet, they're going to find a home in me. Um, because I'm combining those two things. So that's the power of really niching down.

Shannon Mattern: Yeah. Or they're not going to go to someone who just teaches like general patent general licensing general, you know, like that might be their first foray into trying to figure it out. They're super overwhelmed by it because they don't know how to apply it to their specific situation. And then they're like, there's someone ally here, there who does this? Just for toys. That's yeah,

Azhelle Wade: My girl, exactly. It's been nuances. You catch them in the nuances.

Shannon Mattern: So good. So good. You said something else, um, that I wanted to circle back to your, like, you know, you have all these ideas just floating around and then eventually they combine and I was like, that's inspiration like that. That is something that I think, um, me personally, I am guilty of not giving myself nearly enough time to do the work that you described earlier. Um, of like just the creative consumption of content. Yeah. Not giving myself any time as an entrepreneur to like take space for that, but then also to not take the space for, um, uh, just letting the ideas float around and combine, I like what you

Azhelle Wade: Just said, creative consumption. And now I'm going to read it

Shannon Mattern: Creative consumption of content. So if anybody else listening is taking notes. Um, yeah. So what you just said, I was like, you know, this, this podcast is called pep talks for side hustlers and we get stuck in the hustle sometimes. Oh my God. Yeah. And what you said without saying it like, right. What I heard was you have to take time. Oh yeah. For intentional creative consumption of content. And then you also on the flip side have to take time to like, let those ideas float around and combine, like, I stay hustling all the time. You're just going to be following what everybody else is doing.

Azhelle Wade: That's so good. That's good. I like that.

Shannon Mattern: That's all you, I just pulled it together, but I like what you said,

Azhelle Wade: You stay hustling all the time. That part is good. Cause that people are so proud of the hustle, but the hustle ruins creativity.

Speaker 4: Ooh.

Shannon Mattern: Onto something though. And I don't know about you. I'd love to hear like those early experiences for you of like, you know, working, building your costume, um, costume business, starting the, the toy coach and the podcast and all the things like, were you intentional about giving yourself that, that creative time, or did you fall into the hustle trap too?

Azhelle Wade: So what I noticed about costumes me recently was that I totally did fall into the hustle. And I also fell into just being, um, just like have I felt I was too stuck to my plan. So I said, I designed it. I ordered the amount of clothing that I thought I would need to sell through. And I didn't leave any room in that process to review clothes with my intended customers, get their feedback, make changes and then relaunch. So that is something that I pushed so much on my students. Like you ha like, don't think that this first iteration of your product is going to be the iteration and buy thousands of pieces of it. You want to buy just enough that you can sell it, make a profit, hopefully, and get feedback like that feedback is what's going to help your business keep going.

Azhelle Wade: Because I think what, what, what makes a lot of businesses fail is they invest too much too deeply into one concept, one idea, one format, and then they don't sell it all through. And then that puts the rest of the business at a halt. Whereas if you invest a little bit, you get a little bit of sell through to get feedback. You make it better. You do that process again, you get more sell-through then you can keep building. So I definitely noticed I did that a hundred percent with costumer me so focused on the hustle, not focused on re-inventing and giving my audience what they needed when they needed it. So with, um, the toy coach, I am doing the opposite. Um, but it's, it's really hard because you do have to hustle to get things done. Right? So what I'm actually struggling with right now is I have all of these great ideas.

Azhelle Wade: One of the exciting things I'm working on is a creativity app. I like for helping you come up with ideas. But even, even that it's like, how do you, um, decide what I'm going to allow myself to like go off on a tangent creatively and create, or, you know, how am I going to, what am I going to focus on hustle on? So, I mean, the, the solution I've kind of come up with is basically your bread and butter. Like anything that's bringing me new leads, anything that's bringing me income. Like I hustle on that. Like, let's say 70% of the time. And then, and most of the time, honestly, I'm realizing now anything I want to do. That's beyond that beyond what's bringing me income is going to have to bleed into what normally would be like my free time, which might be the weekends, which might be after hours on Fridays, just until I create something with those ideas. And I feel like people think I don't want to work too hard. Like I'm doing my own thing because I want to control my life. But you have to see those creative tangents, like that is your life. Like, that's part of the, the, the beauty of you. Like, you want to enjoy the creative process of building ideas and coming up with new ways to do your business. Like, I don't think there's anything wrong with using some of your weekend to do that.

Shannon Mattern: Uh, yeah. And like, it's a hobby, like you said, it's a creative tangent is something that like it's tangentially attached to your business. It could become a part. It, maybe it won't who knows, but like, if you give yourself the time to explore, how is that any different than like go doing some other random hobby that's like non-business related.

Azhelle Wade: Exactly. Exactly.

Shannon Mattern: Yeah. Um, gosh, there was something, something that like came out of that, that sparked something in me. It was, um, just related to related to the, um, the revisions. Like not the river, you didn't say revisions, but like iterations, iterations, iterations. Like, I don't know, like, I don't know about, you know, inventors specifically, you know, where you're actually making a physical product, there's more at stake. Um, or maybe I could be totally wrong. Um, it feels like there's more at stake because you're buying product. You're, you know, you're not just like putting together pixels on a computer and, and, you know, which is a little bit different with digital products, but like the, the pressure that we put on ourselves that we have to get it right the first time and that like, it's all on us, on our own to like come up with what's right in our own brain.

Shannon Mattern: Right. Without, you know, like you said, allowing for, you know, I'm gonna, I'm gonna come up with the first draft and put it out there, like my best first draft, put it out there. And part of the process is the feedback and be open to the feedback and be asking for it. And you know, I, what I see so many people do that struggle is like, Oh, I put it out there. I didn't get the response that I wanted. That must not have been the right thing. Let me completely start over, still in a vacuum with no input from anybody else.

Azhelle Wade: Yeah. I think people forget how picky we are now. I mean, there's so much content. Yeah. People are very picky. So it does take a lot of iterations to get it just right. That they're going to be like, Oh, take my money. Like, I want that. That's amazing. Like, yeah, sometimes they're like these viral stories that go viral and that happens. But if you're starting from square one, people need all of their fears answered. They need to be spoonfed. Why they need it. They need to be made, feel made to feel that it's okay, that they're spending money on it. I mean, you can expect to get all that right. Working in a vacuum on your first try. Like, I totally thought I would do that too. And when I remember when I released my very first, um, customized me like a sequined leggings, which everyone loved, and I had great responses on my Facebook ads for them, but people thought they were too expensive.

Azhelle Wade: And at first I remember thinking like, Oh, well I just have to change my ads to like go to people that have more money. And while that is an option, I was remiss to not pay attention to the fact, like I have a group of people here that are interested and maybe what would be better for me to do is to look at my sourcing and see if I can source this to be cheaper so I can make it cheaper for them. And I feel like people forget to do that bit where they get so stuck on their idea where they're like, no, this is how it has to be. These are going to cost this much and, and just leave it there, you know?

Shannon Mattern: Yeah. So just to back up a bit, like, how do you even find the audience to put the thing in front of, you know, you mentioned Facebook ads. Is that like a tactic that works really well for, for, um, your niche? Yeah.

Azhelle Wade: For toy inventors. So for toy inventors and entrepreneurs, I've seen they, if they're going to go the public, um, like advertising route, they go a lot of Kickstarter Crowdfunder type platforms. But before they launch on those platforms, they are building up a following, which would be like an email list that they build off of Facebook or off of Google, maybe even LinkedIn. Um, but there is also an entire other side of the Twitter industry, which involves in-person now online trade shows where you set up like a physical booth, almost like a craft show, and you have your product on display and you hopefully partner with sales people to make appointments with, um, representatives of retailers so that you can talk to these retailers and say, look at this new product I've got, it's perfect for your store. Here's why you should have it. And just kind of pitch yourself that way. So it's they do online if they're doing crowdfunding and Kickstarter, but usually that starts like months, maybe even a year in advance with like trade shows and email list building and things like that.

Shannon Mattern: So it's a long, not necessarily a long road, but like you need to plan for the runway of launching this toy.

Azhelle Wade: Yes. And then I also want to say as an inventor, there's a whole other world, there's a whole other route. Um, there are specific trade shows specifically for inventors so that they can go and they can take their concepts and show them to big companies. And that is a whole other like relationship building, um, trying to get on their list as one of their inventors that that can submit to them. Like they have, um, online portals you can submit to, that's just a whole other realm.

Shannon Mattern: So what is the difference between the entrepreneur and the, and the inventor? Right.

Azhelle Wade: So an inventor is usually someone who's inventing either an IP, which could be a cartoon series or personality, um, or somebody that's inventing a physical products that would be patented, um, protected in some way. And so that's an inventor. Someone who's making something brand new from scratch, from scratch. And usually the inventor will work with a manufacturer and, and partner with them to produce the product so that they, so that they don't have to actually manage the production. They just get a cut of like royalties based on sales. So the inventor, I'm sorry. So the entrepreneur is actually the person who usually takes on the responsibility of manufacturing and distributing their product. And that product could be an invention. It could be a custom invention, but it also could just be a more eco-friendly version of a toy. It could just be really clever branding. Um, I have a good friend, she did a line called little rebels, and they're just like little plush characters of famous women, uh, really empowering, famous women, like, um, Amelia Earhart and things like that. So you know that if you're going to take on the manufacturing and working with factories to get that done, then you're more of an entrepreneur and you're building your own toy business.

Shannon Mattern: That makes sense. Okay. So I can see why your leg, Oh, you might think that you're just an inventor or you might think that you're just an entrepreneur, but like these kind of overlapping key areas and I can help both of you a hundred percent. Yeah. Uh that's that's just fascinating. And it's just, you know, one of the things like, you know, I teach web designers how to actually like get clients, you know, market themselves, all the things. And I blazed my own trail as if there was nobody out there to help me. Cause I did not understand like the whole concept of like hiring a business coach. Like it was back in 2014, 2015. I was just like, I just want to be a freelancer. I'm gonna figure it out. I'm going to bang my head against the wall for however long it takes to, you know, get through all the hard parts and you know, it's like, why do that? When you can like go work with someone who can just like unfold for you, here's everything that you need to do. And also I know where you're going to like step into the fire pit that you don't even know is coming for you. Right.

Azhelle Wade: Yeah.

Shannon Mattern: So I just think that it's such a, you know, it's, it's, it's a unique, I don't know, it's probably not a unique thing that we're doing in 2020, but I feel like a lot of people, you know, are out there listening and might have an expertise that they're like, well, who would even hire me to do whatever it's like, think of all the stuff that you've gone through to figure out like what you are able to teach people, you know, as the toy coach on your podcast, through the coaching and consulting and everything that you do, which is your 10 years of experience, plus more than life experience, you know, that you're just like picking up and packaging up and saying, Hey, guess what? I can help you navigate this. Like anybody listening to this podcast has that inside of them somewhere with something that they're good at.

Azhelle Wade: Yeah. Definitely because you don't realize what you know, because you know it so well, it's like second nature and it's so funny. You can save somebody thousands and time and years, um, by giving them like a paragraphs worth of information, you know? I mean, like it's, it's incredible. So, I mean, if I had known, even, even if I had known now, what I know about the fashion industry, from what I experienced with costume wise, me, it would have been a very different experience and I'm not a full on fashion person. So I can only imagine when somebody who's really from the fashion industry could really teach just to help guide, to make, just to help me make smarter decisions along the way. So that's what I hope to do just to help toy people make smarter decisions along the way and more informed decisions, just knowing what it means. If you choose to go with a factory in Taiwan versus the factory in China, like what does that actually mean? Oh yeah. And,

Shannon Mattern: And just, you know, on the flip side, as the person who's thinking like, Oh, I'm just gonna like figure it out on my own. I'm just gonna like blaze my own trail. It's like, that's awesome. You can do that. But like that is the hard road.

Azhelle Wade: It's a hard road. And then the problem is because the world is so like, there's so much information online. It's also the slower road. Like everybody else is getting their information from somewhere quickly. So if you want to go the slow way and waste your time and your money go ahead. But you're going to be at a disadvantage.

Shannon Mattern: Yeah. I mean, eventually you will make all the mistakes. Eventually you will figure it out. Eventually you will get there, but like why, why, why do it the way I did it at the beginning? Like I, you know, in, in the past couple, like I always invested in things to help me, but just like a little dab. Like I just like, let me just dip my toe in because if it doesn't work out, then I didn't like make that big of a commitment. I don't feel like I failed that much or wasted that much money. Like I did that for the first few years where I was just like my, um, opinion about myself is more important if this doesn't work out, then it working out. And then I was just like, you know, as I, as I grew up as an entrepreneur, I was like making this investment in my business is just like me really doubling down on my commitment to myself. So true that I'm gonna make it happen no matter what. And also like giving myself the gift of not having to go down the hard road

Azhelle Wade: And knowledge. I mean, Oh my God, I just noticed you have that lamp. And I have the same one in my room, but anyway, giving yourself that knowledge. I totally agree. Yeah.

Shannon Mattern: So you have, uh, something that you call like making your business toyetic Oh yeah. And I would love to know what that means,

Azhelle Wade: Actually, it's making your toy Toyota, but I really like the idea of baking your business. Toyota. Can I feel like I could apply that to my business, but um, thank you for that thought. That's a great thought, but yeah. Making your toy. So I on this is my second episode of my podcast, where I talk about making it Toyota. Um, so there was a person named Bernard Loomis and he was big in the toy industry and he is known to have he's credited with coming up with the term Toyota, because he mentioned to Steven Spielberg that his movie, the third, I think close encounters of the third kind was not toyetic and wouldn't work for a line of products. So what does that mean? It basically means that the property wouldn't lend itself well to turning it into products that would be sold and distributed for children, meaning that they didn't have like personalities that could be identified, uh, identified with children.

Azhelle Wade: They didn't have a lot of like bright colors, maybe patterns that could like lend themselves well to toys. And also that maybe the characters themselves don't have a lot of accessory pieces or maybe transformable qualities that, um, could help them in inventing a toy. Like what can you add to this toy to make, to give it more play value, to give it more things that a kid could like take apart or experiment with or things like that. So that's really the essence of toyetic. Um, I did a little bit of digging and I came up with like toyetic principles. Um, I think I came up with four Toyota principles. Now I did this based on the power Rangers because they were just a really popular, um, personality. So the first triadic principle, um, that, you know, just making this up, but I think it's really smart.

Azhelle Wade: So first principle, um, is you want to make sure that your toy has distinct character personalities. The second is you want to make sure that there is an opportunity to scale your toy concept or toy idea by theme. The third is that, like I said before, you want to make sure there's an opportunity to give your toy character specific accessories. So that's something that you can build on in the, in the development process of the toy. And finally, number four, you've got to think about, um, does your toy, or even your game have a lot of opportunities for surprise conflict. So surprise conflict is going to be the thing that keeps the kid interested when they press this button. And all of a sudden it does something different than it did like two presses ago and like the toy lights up or breaks apart or something like that. So, um, those good, those four training principles are going to help make sure that you keep your toys Toyota and that you develop a property or, or an, or an invention that can be applied to multiple, you know, toy lines, multiple categories, things like that.

Shannon Mattern: I love that. So it's not just like, it's a one and done concept where you've just invented this thing that is now just the thing. And you have to keep engagement in the one thing forever

Azhelle Wade: [inaudible] then that won't be the case and you can expand on it, but if it isn't then yeah, that's the case and that's all you have.

Shannon Mattern: It can totally, totally be applied to business though. I think too, thinking about like, you know, your branding and your product suite, like, you know, when people are like, Oh, but everybody else does this. Okay. How can, like, how, how am I any different? It's like, you are different, you know, everybody makes figurines or whatever, whatever kind of like action figures, but they're all different. They all have that unique personality, like virtual assistant business, every business, like everyone has like, like that unique, distinct personality. And like, when you try to sanitize your personality out of your brand, because for whatever reason you think it's not professional or it's not right. Or people won't take you seriously. I feel like you have like a really big disadvantage in trying to like stand out from everybody else. Okay. Go, go do the next one.

Shannon Mattern: Just even like scaling, scaling, scaling by theme, you know, just even making sure. And it's a little bit different, but just making sure that like, you're not just selling your time, right. That you're selling your intellectual property, you're able to, um, you know, it's able to kind of transcend however you're available and then your character specific accessories. It's just like, you know, you have your signature line or your signature product, but then what are some of these, like other things that you have added to it that you can also sell on top of that? And then I don't know the surprise conflict. I was like, I don't think I want my experiencing surprise conflict, but maybe in my business, I want to create some opportunities for me to do something a little different, but I always did it

Azhelle Wade: Well, surprise is something you want to keep to have play be surprising, exciting, and engaging. So it's like surprise lives or something,

Shannon Mattern: Or like surprise bonuses. Yes. Yeah. I love awesome. So good. Oh man. We have to talk more often. I know. Right. It's so good. Oh, so I want to, um, just ask you, you know, with your clients and, you know, the process that you take them on, like, what are some of the common, um, roadblocks that you see as they're moving along this journey of growing their business?

Azhelle Wade: Um, I guess this would be better for my students, for people to actually reach out to me, to the podcast they have. They're also varied. I mean, once, once you hit, um, the point where you're ready to take your idea to China, usually it's China right now anyway for manufacturing, but that could change so many questions about protecting your IP meeting, um, safety standards and regulation standards, and just, um, how to maintain control over your product quality. So I think everyone's biggest concern at least on the front end, because I'm sure on the backend it's sales, but on the front end, it seems to be finding a manufacturing partner that you feel comfortable with and knowing how to communicate with them. Yeah.

Shannon Mattern: And what about their mindset? Like what are, what are, what are some of the mindset hurdles that you see come up, um, with your, with your students? You know, are they, um, you know, do they have that imposter syndrome pop-up or they're like, I'm not even sure I should be doing this. Do they have these Christ's crises of confidence or is it like, you know, they're so, um, so far on this path that they've kind of like gotten over that, those early hurdles.

Azhelle Wade: There's like one word to describe this, but they're very, so they're very passionate, like off the bat and they're very, they tend to be those personalities where the like go getters. Right. Um, but then sometimes that blinds them to, um, what they may be the easier road because they get so passionate. They're like, I'm going to just start my own company, you know, like, they're like, I'm just going to go here. And sometimes it's hard to get them to think about, okay, you totally can do that. Like, I'm not saying you can't, I'm not saying it can't be successful, but is that really what you want to do? Because the biggest question they never ask themselves, um, is do I want to have a toy company or do I just want to collect mailbox money and royalties and come up with more ideas? So the biggest difference, I don't know if I specified from being an inventor and an entrepreneur is an entrepreneur is usually somebody who has one brand that they nurture and they bring up from, you know, as a, as it's a baby.

Azhelle Wade: And hopefully it grows into a teen and adult and it's a super successful business. The inventor is usually somebody who has an onslaught of new ideas all the time. So they're selling those ideas and collecting money. So if you're an inventor and you're coming to me and you're like, Oh my God, I have this great idea. And I just want to like make a toy company for me. It's I have to tell you, are you sure that this is the idea you want to do that for? Cause that road that's a long road and it's a little bit easier because you don't have to wait for someone to say yes to your idea and give you royalties for it. But long-term, that is the expensive and longer, longer path. And you have to be fully dedicated to this one concept to do that. So I think that's the hardest thing for them to decide, like which way do I want to go? You know? Yeah.

Shannon Mattern: Because, you know, I would imagine inventors are like just constantly creating, constantly creating constant, like to then say, okay, now I have to make the decision to like put all my other babies aside and just like pick this one and move forward with it. That's that's gotta be like, but the other thing that you said was like the biggest question they never ask themselves is like, basically, what do I want for my future? You know? Like, I'm so passionate about this idea that like, you know, it's going to be amazing, but what do I want for myself in the future? And I, I suffered from that personally, you know, as I was growing my business, I'm like, Oh, okay, I'm going to bring on team members and I'm going to do this and I'm going to do this tonight. And then I got there and I was like, I don't want this. I want something, um, smaller, smaller and more profitable. And I don't, you know, like I had to kind of realign because I never asked myself that question either. How can I make more money? How can I get more clients? How can I help? And then it was just also like, but too at what cost what's the, what's the trade-off there.

Azhelle Wade: Yes. Oh, that's good. So,

Shannon Mattern: Yeah. Have you, um, have you had those kind of crossroads in your business journey?

Azhelle Wade: No. I mean, I had it in my career. Yeah. I think that's why I went on my business journey. So for so long I have, I mean, I didn't come from a very wealthy family. Right. So money was always my focus. I just wanted the sense of security. Right. I wanted the sense of security. Um, and the more I earned, the more I would say, okay, now I want this next level. Now I want this next level. And then what just starts to happen is you're so reliant on the company that hires you to give you that next step and that next leg up. And at some point I just started to realize like, I don't want to have to beg for my next step up. Right. And I don't want to have to fight for that. I, and, and I don't want to feel guilty for giving 150% of myself because you know, when you're giving 150% of yourself, if you don't feel like you're living the life, you're meant to live while you're doing that, you're feeling bad. You're going to bed feeling bad about your life choices. So I just got to the point where I'm like, okay, I want to give, I have to give 150%. That's just who I am, but am I going to do that for myself? Or am I going to do that for somebody else? And you know,

Shannon Mattern: Oh, I just got chills there because that's everything that is everything. And I think that that's the moment that I had back back in the day when I was like sitting at my day job thinking like, is this really it? Like, is this, what is this worth? What they are paying me.

Azhelle Wade: Yeah. It's such a hard conversation, especially when you're paid. Well,

Shannon Mattern: Yes, exactly. Yes. And then you're like, I feel guilty. I'm a jerk. I shouldn't be grateful for this. Someone would like kill to be in this position and I'm like turning up my nose at it because I want more freedom and flexibility. And, but I can look back now and understand why I felt that way. But, you know, ultimately, you know, I, there was nothing like the certainty of being like, it's very uncertain at first. Like I was not confident when I left my day job, I was, Oh crap. What did I do? Like

Azhelle Wade: How do I get help and share money? Yes. I need money

Shannon Mattern: Benefits. I need health insurance. I need these things. But then as I kind of got over that fear and I was like, I don't need to make all the money all at once for one, I can spread it out. Uh,

Azhelle Wade: Yeah, no, it's so true. Yeah.

Shannon Mattern: And, um, and also like, I am confident in my ability to go out there and do the thing that I do and generate the income and add value and like, just have a bigger impact on people's lives. Like at this time we're recording this in July of 2020, it's going to come out later this year, but it's like, I feel more certain in being an entrepreneur right now than I would, if I had a day job.

Azhelle Wade: I know. Isn't it interesting. It's fascinating.

Shannon Mattern: I mean, I'm curious as to how you feel about that.

Azhelle Wade: So like, you know, people thought I was insane when I said, Oh, it's the pandemic. And I left my job. They were like, are you crazy? Cause when I chose the job, I chose it because I, I mean, I, it's not like I had like thousands of options, but like I did, you know, choose it because I saw that where they were selling their toy products were the locations that in the event of a recession would do well. Like I did think that way because I always liked security. Right. Sure. So, um, yeah, so like I've never thought I would walk away from that kind of security, but I think what happened was being at home with the pandemic and being able to see what I can do on my own. It just started to make me realize that, you know, the office that you have in the building, you come to every day and the team that reports to you are kind of all of these things that are, if you're really an entrepreneur at heart that are just kind of, kind of blocking you from really seeing how much of you is, is causing all of this.

Azhelle Wade: You think that it's all being given to you by somebody else. And then you, then I think being home made me realize like, wait a second, like I'm making this like, bye, like me. So then I was like, you know, I was just gonna, you know, now I kind of feel leaving it at first. I was freaking out because I mean, health insurance is ridiculous in America and we really needed to get it together. Like I would understand. But other than that, I honestly, now I'm less afraid just because one of the things they should tell myself when I was like really broke is all you have to do is control your monthly expenses. Keep those as low as, as possible. And then the little things that come up here and there, like if you want to buy a course or if you want to eat out, like those are things you can change month to month.

Azhelle Wade: But once I got an understanding of like, okay, these are my monthly expenses I'm to control them. It stopped being as scary. So every opportunity that I see to make money, I'm like, Oh, okay, like, great. Like rent is covered. Like, I'm good. Like everything's beyond that, like rent and my car, like I'm good. And also I have savings, you know? So there's you, I think you should definitely create a comfort for yourself before you step away from your nine to five. That's what I did. But even now I just feel like lucky to be able to do this right now. And there's, I guess what doesn't scare me. And you might think the same thing being on your own right now allows you to pivot a lot faster than when you're working for a company. And when you're working for a company, sometimes you don't know how they're pivoting. So you don't know like if everything's okay until the day it isn't.

Shannon Mattern: Yeah, yeah. Yes. I mean, and, and to go back to what you said, like when you were in a job and someone was giving you a paycheck, it's your perspective of like, Oh, they're giving this to me. I should be grateful when in fact, no, they literally basically hired you to create value for them. And you get to choose who you turn around and go to create value for. And when you do it for yourself, you also get to make the rules. Yes. That part is like the best part. So like go be a free agent. Like why not?

Azhelle Wade: I mean, I guess it's easier once you have experience under your belt, right. It would have been a very different experience for both of us. Had we done it when we first left school for a year?

Shannon Mattern: Yeah. I wouldn't have never, I didn't have the confidence. I didn't have, I didn't have the, I didn't have as much confidence when I did leave, but like right out of school, it's like, Oh, well I didn't ha I didn't know it was an option. It was like my parents, my mom's like, uh, do get good grades. Cause I can't afford college so that they could get into college, figure out how to pay for it. Once you're done. Like the Mark of a good life is like buying a house and having retirement and like not having to be able to pay your credit card bills and your car payments and everything every month. Like that's, that was the standard. Yeah. Like I had to learn over time to like create my new definition of like what, what, what really is a good life for me, which is just freedom. It's all the way around.

Azhelle Wade: Right. It's hard when you see everything, like, I mean, you see your friends on LinkedIn, you see people on Facebook and everybody's like celebrating, I don't know their promotions and their new jobs, even in COVID I'm seeing like, Oh, I just got with Netflix, I'm working here, I'm working there. And I remember the day I was like, okay, Michelle, like you were turning off job notifications because, cause you know, I just have them on all the time. I'm like just, just turn it. And there is a nice like power and competence that comes from that. Right.

Shannon Mattern: Oh my gosh. I could talk to you for like another hour. Unfortunately we have to wrap this up. I have one question that I ask everybody that comes on the show and that is what belief did you have to change about yourself to get where you are today?

Speaker 1: Okay.

Azhelle Wade: I guess the first thing that popped into my mind, I tried to find some other things, but I think this is it is I just had to get over the belief that I was not good enough. I constantly felt like I wasn't good enough. I felt like whatever I could possibly give people, wasn't going to be good enough. So I would hide things or keep things close to the chest until like literally my bosses would say, where is it? Like, what do you have? And I would act like, Oh, I don't know, like this is that fine. And then like, they'd be like, this is excellent. Um, so I had to get over over that. And once I got over that, that's what allowed me to even put out the podcast, which opened up a bunch of doors because it just, I mean, you know, whatever I have, I'm trying to believe that it is good enough. Like I have value here. It is take it or leave it, you know?

Shannon Mattern: Oh, so good. That's the perfect place to wrap up our episode. Can you share with everyone where we can go to connect with you, listen to the podcast, send all of the inventors and entrepreneurs to a gel. Like where can we go to find out more about you,

Azhelle Wade: Go visit the toy You can learn all about me and about my podcast episodes, which will teach you everything about the toy industry. Most importantly, sign up for the toy creators Academy email list. So that's the, that is toy creators, And that is going to be my digital course all about like taking your toy idea, turning it into a toy business. So if you want to learn more about that sign up.

Shannon Mattern: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for being here. I'll link up all of that stuff in the show notes and I can't thank you enough for everything that you shared. It was awesome.

Azhelle Wade: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. This was great. I got so inspired. So thank you. Thank you.

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A cancer survivor, 3x patented inventor, Women In Toys Wonder Woman award nominee, and 1 of 100 Most Influential in Design in 2020’s Mojo 100 publication. Azhelle has worked in the toy industry for over 10 years with companies like Toys R Us, Horizon Group USA, and now Creative Kids, as the VP of Brand and Product. Azhelle launched The Toy Coach when she noticed that too many inventors attend toy shows or pitch meetings with “half baked” ideas that they’d spent too much money on. Her podcast, Making It in The Toy Industry teaches inventors how to keep their toy and game ideas toyetic, cost-effective, and how to answer buyer needs. When she’s not helping inventors and entrepreneurs break into the toy industry, Azhelle enjoys salsa and bachata dancing, sewing costumes, and exploring New York City with her closest friends.

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