During my time at NYCC, I came across a company called Jazwings a website that lets you submit product ideas which if popular enough, would be turned into a kickstarter campaign and potentially more. I sat down with Judd Zebersky, the CEO of Jazwings to discuss how the website works. The following interview has been edit for clarity:
Mikhail: Judd, thank you so much for taking the time out to speak with me. Jazwings is a really interesting idea. I’m going to let you describe it because it’s kind of like Kickstarter but to the next level. Tell us about it.
Judd: Jazwares is a little bit different than a crowdfunding type of site. We are as you could imagine the prequel and the sequel to crowdfunding but we do work with the other crowdfunding sites. First off, I think I should explain that Jazwings is a sister company to Jazware, which makes toys that most people know. We make toys based on many licences you might recognize such as Adventure time, Sonic the Hedgehog, Mortal Kombat, and Minecraft. We have a brand now which is doing really really well called tube heroes; which is based on popular Youtube celebrities/personalities. We work with many different artists and creative people throughout the world. We’ve found out that they tend to be under served.
We decided that we should build an app to fix that. We decided to make an app that can support these creative folks wherever they are; regardless of how much money they have and regardless of who they know. It has been two years since we started building this app and it’s ready to be shared with the world!
Mikhail: Sure, let’s take a step back. Obviously you have a lot of experience, you guys know what you’re doing on the manufacturing side. Take me through the process. Let’s say I have an idea for a toy or a game and I go Jazwings.com. What’s the next step, how does the process work?
Judd: So the first step you do is you sign on and you become a creator, you pitch your idea on Jazwings and with your idea, the more information you give the more people will likely vote for it. After it gets supported by fans on the site and you get through one hundred percent of the needed votes…
Mikhail: Let me ask you right there, needed votes? How many votes do I need?
Judd: There’s an algorithm, I’m not exactly sure but it’s a lot of votes. What we’ve found when we just opened the site on Monday (Sept 28th), a couple of ideas in three days have already received seventy percent of the votes. After the voting process is done then it goes to a Jazwings panel and we decide whether we want to bring it to the next stage. That next stage is a crowdfunding campaign.
Mikhail: Let me ask, the panel, who is the panel comprised of?
Judd: The panel is comprised of people within Jazwares who are experts in licensing, product manufacturing, and retail. People used to looking at different ideas.
Mikhail: Right, so the panel tells me they think my toy is amazing. They love it. What’s the next step?
Judd: Well, what we’re always looking to do is to make a brand statement. So for the next stage, we would go to a crowd funding site and we would create a perfect campaign, which is not an easy thing to do. We would look at your product or brand idea or comic book and try to build a story. That would allow us to understand what your idea would mean in the product version.
Mikhail: Gotcha. Now obviously a lot of Kickstarter campaigns fail and you hear about it all the time, they don’t meet their goals or what not. How much control do I as the creator of the toy have over the campaign that’s going to be launched on Kickstarter?
Judd: That’s a very good question. We expect all of our creators to be actively involved with their campaign and before we launch any campaign on any crowdfunding site we do our own analytics and we look at what is being presented. We use a lot of experts to make sure before we launch any campaign that it makes sense, not only as an item but also as a brand.
Mikhail: So basically you would say, “OK based on your toy, we think it would be a good idea to set the goal to, let’s say five thousand dollars.”
Judd: That’s exactly right. So what happens is, assuming you come up with an idea and it’s a toy but you have a comic book story behind it, we would take that and we would build a campaign based on a couple of different criteria:
A) What’s the demographic you’re trying to reach so we are able to speak to that demographic?
B) Does it have consistency, a brand can you make different types of product within this item. We don’t do anything that we believe is vulgar or something we would not endorse ourselves and be proud of.
Mikhail: That was actually my next question. So obviously you have a lot of experience with toys; Minecraft, Sonic the Hedgehog, etc. What if someone had more of a mature themed idea and not necessarily a plushie but maybe something gritty or something darker? Is that still something that you guys would back?
Judd: Well we would back anything that we believe was an authentic brand that made sense. Our products have worked with brands that run the gamut. Everything from One Direction and Star Wars to Mortal Kombat. We do things that we believe that we can be proud of and we’re not proud of anything we consider vulgar. Does that answer your question?
Mikhail: It does, so let’s say your Kickstarter is successful, it meets its goal. Is there another step after Kickstarter?
Judd: Once the Kickstarter or other crowdfunding site is successful with your campaign, as a bonus the creator gets five thousand dollars. Also, the creator gets a five percent net revenue participation fee which is very big (Editor’s note: Judd is referring to 5% of the net revenue of the successful Kickstarter campaign here). Jazwings will invest all the money in funding the campaign in all it’s aspects: funding the ad space, funding the product at no risk to the Creator and will fulfill any and all Kickstarter promises. Jazwings don’t expect to make much money out of the process but the Creator will not only make five thousand dollars but also five percent net revenue.
Mikhail: That’s pretty good. So I make the net revenue, is there another step? If it’s successful what’s the next step in the process, if any?
Judd: There’s two more things we look at. Think of phase one as the voting phase. Phase two is the support phase which we consider crowd funding and after the crowd funding stage, there’s two places you can go. The third phase could be the Jazwares phase, where Jazwares will build a brand out of it. The way that Jazwares looks at a product is they want to have real estate at all the retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, Toys R Us. Additionally, we want to have real estate worldwide, not only in the mass market chains but also smaller chains like EB Games or Hot Topic. So we would make a brand, a product and the creator will share five percent of the net revenue for that. The other phase, which can happen at any time since we will be constantly monitoring the site. If we see an idea that is out of this world that we feel to be a monster; we call it a monster brand and at that point there will a hundred percent effort on Jazwings part to make content which can be animation, live action, stop motion animation. We will have a full outbound licensing program which would include T-shirt or sleepwear or whatever would match the brand. Of course we would be making toys as well as other types of things.
Mikhail: Let me let me take a step back and just ask really quick about ownership. Let’s say the Kickstarter phase is successful but then I as the creator, I want to take the product somewhere else. Is that an option or does Jazwings, you know because they’ve invested into the product control the toy or the brand or whatever the case may be?
Judd: That’s a very good question. First of all the way we want the creator to be involved for the life of the brand and their idea. They will get five percent participation for whatever revenue streams there are. So for example, let’s say Jazwings is able to get a T.V. show deal and the revenue streamed a lot of money. Even there, the Creator will share in the net revenue of that revenue stream. So the answer, the quick answer is Jazwings wants to be a partner long term because they invested in this brand. If we take a look at why Jazwings was created, it was to grant creators access to the community to make their idea become a worldwide brand.
Mikhail: I mean obviously this is only been around for a week so it’s still sort of the Wild Wild West of the Web site and anything can happen but you know, to our readers out there, now’s the time to get in on this because your idea could be the next big one. Do you have any advice for creators or someone who has an idea? Any approach that you would recommend?
Judd: Sure! What we found even though it’s Thursday and it really launched Monday, silently launched, we’ve had a lot more fans as well as creators come out on the site so we’re very pleased. But what we find is that the creators that come up with a story are the most successful. It can be as comic book or some type of visual that goes along with the product idea. The more content or outside influences that they can provide with their idea, the more likely it would gain support from the fans.
Mikhail: Very good advice. Judd, thank you so much for your time and I think I speak for everyone to say we look forward to see what comes out of Jazwings.
Judd: Thank you very much.