How We Are Learning to Start a Toy Company

The not-for-profit group, Teen Entrepreneur Boot Camp, started a toy company to create a real-working business model to teach entrepreneurship to high school students, and to fund the program through the sales of the products.

Students at Stuyvesant Highs School in NYC recently unveiled the first product from this program, a children's activity book called Flip ‘N’ Check™. It is a new way to play dry-erase activity games for children 5+. The idea for the Flip ‘N’ Check™ method was donated to the project by Dr. Wexler, inventor of the game Connect 4.

The profits earned from sales of Flip 'N' Check will be used to offer this free program to new teams of students.

Aug 20

Our Sales Strategy at NY NOW Trade Show

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by Ayumi H.

Most exhibitors at trade shows offer a “Show Promo” to move their product and entice buyers to place an order on the spot. We decided to lower Flip ‘N’ Check’s MSRP from $14 to $9.99 based on feedback from our retail stores that it seemed overpriced and was not moving quickly off the shelves. We learned from other product developers in our booth that it’s not uncommon to overprice your product when introducing it to the marketplace. Even though the negative comments were hard to take, we felt Flip ‘N’ Check will eventually do well in the marketplace because of the enthusiastic response we have gotten from kids who have play tested our activity games.

Initially our plan was to debut the Mad Libs version of Flip ‘N’ Check at Toy Fair 2015, but we decided to offer it as a refill pack at the NY Now Show to test buyers interest. They loved it! We sold almost as many refill packs as books. Expanding our product line also helped us to double sales from the last show.

We are off to ship our orders and will anxiously await the sales results of lowering our price point to $9.99. 


Pitching to Buyers at Gift Show

by Ayumi H.

Today was day one at the gift show! It was a huge success. We made six sales today, all thanks to Kitty and her fantastic pitching. Today, Billy, David, Kevin, Joey and Jonathan visited the booth as well. From my observations, pitching is an art. We keep an eye out for anyone who takes a long glance towards the booth. Then we approach the potential buyer gently, as to not scare them away. They may walk away with a quiet “no thank you”, ignore us completely, or approach us, curious. If they are interested, our pitch needs to be concise and brief, letting the demonstration of Flip ‘N’ Check speak for itself. Finally, if we are successful, they’ll order 12 or 20 books, and ta-da! We make a sale.

The addition of the label “Mad Libs” really helped push Flip ’N’ Check to buyers. Today seemed to be more of a buyers day than a press day, so very few press kits were taken from the press center. Talking to sellers and looking at their products revitalized the child in all of us who attended the gift show. We took breaks throwing balls at a target, flicking frisbees and touching some Thinking Putty.


Preparing for the NYNOW Gift Show

by Ayumi H.

Kitty and I went over to the Javits Center to set up our booth for the NYNOW Gift Show. After building the table and setting up our backdrop, we discussed the design of the booth. We decided, in order to attract viewers from all angles, to have two POP display boxes angling outwards. To our horror, we then realized that our banner was far too large, and we had to get it redone. We met with the sales reps for our booth, and talked to some of the sellers near us. After finalizing the booth design we ended the day by heading over to the press center to deliver our press kits. The press center was filled with rows and rows of shelves containing press kits of various shapes and sizes.


Aug 9

Penguin’s Head of Production Shares Her Business Acumen

By Kevin W.

Today we visited the production department of Penguin Books to learn about the process of manufacturing, and to better prepare ourselves for when we begin manufacturing large quantities of Flip ‘N’ Check - Mad Libs books . Pam started off by giving a general background of Flip ‘N’ Check and our company, while Kevin Ni gave a skillful demonstration of how Flip ‘N’ Check worked.

Nadine Britt, head of the production department, started off by talking about the importance of “costing out your product” beforehand to make sure everything is affordable. Within these expenses, it is crucial to include overhead costs necessary for a business to function. Some examples would include rent, advertising, insurance, storage space for merchandise, and more. These will usually add up to around 30% of the total price, although overhead costs vary largely depending on the situation of a company. If the product ends up being too expensive, it is usually a good idea to take a look at how you can lower the unit cost the product- and in the case of Flip ‘N’ Check, that could include ordering larger quantities from manufacturers or changing specifications.

Afterwards, we had Nadine critique Flip ‘N’ Check as a marketable product. She thought that for the title “Flip ‘N’ Check Classic Games”, the term “classic games” was too vague, since people want to immediately know what is inside before they buy something. She suggested clarifying by adding “mazes, crosswords, word searches, and more!”, and thought that would drive more people to buy the book. She loved our tagline, “Play, Flip, Check!”, but thought it was backwards on the back of the book. Finally, she thought the cover artwork was a little too busy, and that we should make it simpler by taking away unnecessary artwork and focus on the essentials.

On the topic of manufacturers, Nadine suggested always expanding our options to get as many quotes as we can from all the factories. Afterwards, we could use the strategy of comparative pricing, and as a general rule throw out the high and low prices, and go with the middle. For very low quotes, Nadine said it throws up serious red flags. While they may end up being perfectly fine, it is always better to carefully investigate before choosing a cheap manufacturer.

To end our meeting, Nadine finished up with the topic of press and publicity, which has been a serious issue for our product. We know that kids love Flip ‘N’ Check through extensive focus group testing, but the issue is actually having a parent in a store pick up the unfamiliar product and buy it. Nadine suggested online newspapers as amazing for free press, and paying for Amazon and Google front pages if we felt that it could help.

As a last tip, Nadine suggested changing the price to $13.99, as a simple trick used to make products seem cheaper. Our meeting was short but super informative, and we will definitely keep these ideas in mind as we rush to prepare for the NYNow gift show.image

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Aug 8

Tips From NY NOW’S Publicist

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By Ayumi H.

We started off the day with a meeting to allocate assignments and establish the plans for the day. Our main focus was to prepare for our upcoming exhibit at NYNOW, a trade show at the Javits Center where buyers from all over the country come to purchase products for their retail store. We also worked on editing our Mad Libs stories in preparation for our focus group with summer school students at PS 50 in Spanish Harlem. We all broke off and worked on our various tasks and re-grouped later in the afternoon to discuss our progress.

We watched an educational video on PR strategies by NYNOW publicist Cathy Steele, and learned valuable information about press kits, planning ahead to be featured in editorials and magazines, and the importance of a sell sheet.  

We took Cathy’s advice to include social media in a PR strategy, and vamped up our Twitter and Facebook activity to draw more attention to our product. I personally researched all of the press that will be attending NY NOW in order to determine which reporters would be interested in writing about us. In preparation to write our own press release, we examined ones written by Penguin Books, and found them to be very upbeat, and we especially like how they used spaces within the release mimicking a real Mad Libs story. The two students who wrote our press release found the article Cathy recommended, “How to Polish Your Press-Writing Skills”, very informative. (http://www.homeaccentstoday.com/article/381048-polish-your-press-writing-skills )

Students who worked on editing our Mad Libs stories said they polished the stories by adding more nouns and adjectives and less verbs to make the stories more funny. We looked at real Mad Lib titles, and found to our surprise that they were very simple and straightforward, like “My Trip to the Zoo”. We added existing Mad Libs artwork to our stories to make the look of our stories more exciting for the kids who will participate in our Focus Group.

Today resulted in a very informative and productive day in preparation not only for the trade show, but furthering the production of the Flip ’N’ Check Mad Libs book.


Combining Mad Libs & Flip ‘N’ Check Brand

By Jonathan Li 

Today we worked on designing a book cover for our 2015 Mad Libs version of Flip ‘N’ Check. Graphic designer, Natasha Marcos, stopped by our WeWork office, and gave us some helpful tips. She said people usually read in a Z formation, and suggested we eliminate some of the artwork to make it less busy and more clear on how to play Flip ‘N’ Check. We brainstormed ways to combine the Mad Libs and Flip ‘N’ Check brand into the book design. We decided to remove the old game images and have a clean picture of the book being flipped by a Mad Libs character. The cover is coming along nicely.

Not only did we work on the book cover today, but we started to prepare for the NY Now Gift Show where we will be exhibiting on August 17-20. One of the students contacted 4 different buyers from all over North America. She reached out to the following buyers:

  • Brilliant Sky Toys, a franchise of 15 stores in the South.
  • The Learning Express.
  • Mastermind Toys, a chain of stores in Canada
  • Toys ‘R’ Us.

We’re also trying to publicize our tumblr blog by tagging our posts with as many related words as possible so people can see our blog. We decided on using the tags: entrepreneur, FlipNCheck, entreprenership, startup, teens, NYC, madlibs, and even #bacon to try and spread our product and have people know about it.  So be sure to check out our new tags such as #FlipNCheck to see fresh news every week!


Aug 1

Focus Group at P.S. 50

By D. Yao

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Today, the Flip ‘N’ Check team was given the opportunity to introduce our Mad Libs version of Flip ‘N’ Check to students attending summer classes at P.S. 50. The focus group consisted of students in grades ranging from 1st grade to 3rd grade. Although the Mad Lib Flip ‘N’ Check product is targeted for older children, we were able to gather useful information for ways to improve our product.

The opportunity to introduce our product to actual children who are seeing the new Flip ‘N’ Check was valuable to gauge how successful the product will be when launched and to see what improvements should be made. The feedback that we received from the students and teachers were mostly all positive stating that our product was really engaging and seemed like a product that they would actually play. According to the teachers, our product was able to enhance the parts of speech that the students were already introduced to already.

Basically, our first attempt to test the effectiveness of our product proved to be a success and gave us all motivation to make our product even better. We will be exhibiting our product at the Javits Center in the upcoming weeks to come and will be improving our product until then.


Jul 31

Guest Speaker Deb de Sherbinin

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by K. Li

Today we split up into several groups to get ready for our focus group, and also to get ready for the upcoming toy fair. We polished up our Mad Libs and turned them into the format for our Flip ‘N’ Check book and worked on our press release.

We then SKYPED with guest speaker Deb de Sherbinin, President of Kidsmart (www.KidSmartUSA.com) to get tips about launching a kids product. One key point she made was she thought our website was informative about the Teen Entrepreneur Boot Camp,but needed to focus more on SELLING our product. She also added that the easier it isto buy our product on the website, the better. To this end, Deb suggested that we directly include a way to buy Flip ‘N’ Check on the website, rather than linking all the local stores only found in the Northeast area. She advised us not to seek press or mommy blog reviews until our website and Amazon storefront are more buyer friendly.

Although she gave us other tips, Deb de Sherbinin kept bringing back the point that social media can make a huge difference. She told us we can really appeal to moms if we consistently and aggressively use Facebook and Twitter. Adding to that, she told us that using Facebook ads could be beneficial but it does cost money.

We brought up that we were going to the toy fair soon and Sherbinin also told us about the ChiTAG fair that is going to be held in Chicago. She said that many people go there to buy products and she thought it might be a great way for us to demonstrate our product in front of a large group of people. The first thing on our to-do list is prepare our website for buyer activity!


Jul 25

Revamping our business plan

by S. Beldner

Today, we worked to update the Flip ’N’ Check business plan to include our recent partnership with Penguin Books, and our plan to expand our product line by developing a Mad Libs version of Flip ’N’ Check.  For _______ (noun), we changed the target age group from Kindergartners through 
2nd grade to Kindergartners through 4th grade since Mad Libs appeals to a greater variety of ages than our original product intended to- but the more the merrier!

We also noticed that our partnership with Mad Libs creates new key benefits for our product. One key benefit is that our product gives a new twist to how Mad Libs is played. Write the words on the front- then simply flip over to see how the words fit into the story! It is important to update our business plan since it is basically the blueprint of a business. When a business expands, so does the business plan. It is vitally important for us to write the changes the expansion has on our company in order to remind us our business has changed. We also started a press release for our partnership with Mad Libs. We only have a title so far, but we are slowly but surely making progress. 


Jul 19

Day 2: Our Meeting with Penguin!

July 17, 2014

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By K. Wong

Today we met early in the morning to listen to a presentation by Laura, an expert editor of Mad Libs at Penguin Group. Dr. Howard Wexler, who donated the idea of Flip ‘N’ Check to Toys by Teens also accompanied us to listen in on the process of creating a Mad Lib.

Joining Laura was Karl and Sarah, both with tons of experience in creating Mad Libs. At the very beginning of the meeting, Laura gave us a specially created guide on writing Mad Libs, which was thoroughly informative and full of surprising tips. One crucial suggestion she gave us was to write the Mad Libs as you go along, rather than simply writing a paragraph and going back to take out certain words. In other words, “always write to the blank”. This helps prevent the story from being too long, and also makes it much funnier to readers playing Mad Libs.

On the topic of choosing a topic for Mad Libs, Laura suggested we write about things we personally love or have experience with. Since inspiration for a Mad Lib can truly come from anywhere, even “the labeling on a package box”, she encouraged us to constantly look around and read everything for inspiration. In addition, because Mad Libs are so universally appealing to all age ranges, Laura suggested that we go after things that are trending and understandable to everyone. Some other tips and tricks she gave us were : 1) nouns and adjectives are the bread and butter of Mad Libs, 2) use verbs and adverbs sparingly, 3) use names of well known people and things, 4) clichés and catchphrases work extremely well- and on the topic of that, 5) Variety is the spice of life. Experiment with format, ideas, perspective- anything you can think of! Mad Libs are meant to be entertaining, and having twenty Mad Libs all about the same subject in paragraph form will quickly become boring.

To finish off the meeting, we brainstormed topics relevant to the audience of Flip ‘N’ Check, such as school, mythology, and amusement parks. We then all had a lot of fun working together to create a Mad Lib on the topic of “email from your grandmother”, and we got to see that forming a Mad Lib is spontaneous and heavily edited as you go along. Our meeting with Penguin Group was super helpful, and we will be sure to keep their tips in mind as we prepare to all write our own Mad Libs tomorrow.


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