Toy With It

Advice from an experienced toy inventor about coming up with and developing your ideas

Larry Schwarz started his inventing career years ago-when he was a kid, actually, and he had a habit of taking his toys apart and then gluing the parts back together in different configurations. Even when he was in law school, Schwarz couldn't resist doodling his toy ideas on notebook paper. And so, in 1997, he gave up his law career and formed Rumpus Corp., now a multimillion-dollar New York City toy company with 36 employees.

Schwarz comes up with ideas all the time-in fact, he filled 26 notebooks while in law school. So how is he constantly able to come up with fresh ideas when most people struggle to find just one? It all comes down to his inventing philosophy: "I think toys should be fun. I look for toys with an open approach that kids can find their own way to play with. I want kids to be surprised, and I want the toys to be unpredictable."

And Schwarz's inventions are anything but predictable. Two of Rumpus Corp.'s biggest sellers have been Gus Gutz and Harry Hairball, which kids can reach into to pull out all sorts of surprises: spleens, livers, hearts and nine other organs from Gus Gutz, and goldfish, a mouse, a parakeet, hairballs and other unexpected pleasures from Harry Hairball. Even the packaging is fun-the boxes are configured so that kids can cut them up and turn them into their own toys.

Schwarz, 31, uses this "fun" philosophy to guide him throughout the entire idea-to-invention process. Here's how it works: He creates the ideas and then gives them to a graphic artist, who ships the drawings off to a factory to make samples. When the samples arrive, he and his staff look at the product to see how it could be changed. What about focus groups, product testing and outside input? Schwarz doesn't use those tactics. Kids don't see the toys until they're ready for the company's interactive Web site (www.rumpus.com), where Rumpus toys are exclusively sold.

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This article was originally published in the August 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Toy With It.

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