Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Beauty of Toys

Dear Readers,

There's a pile of toys sitting in my living room. A couple of Fancy Nancys, an Elmo, a Tumbles, a cow and a moose (they're a couple) and some night vision goggles. They're not mine. Well, they're mine but I don't really play with them. Other than the Elmo and the Tumbles on rare occasion.

These toys came my way via various PR and brand managers who sent them upon request. Most of these toys appeared with me on a TV or web show. Some, like cow and moose, just found their way to me somehow.

The amazing thing about all this is that a year ago, I didn't know much about toys. Now, I have become an official toy expert. Not only am I a contributing editor for Toy Wishes Magazine, but I often appear on TV or online talking about the hottest toys for nieces and nephews of all ages. And I feel confident I know my stuff. Or at least I try.

Of course, there's that incredible Gifts section on SavvyAuntie.com that lists the best toys we've seen this year. Yes, it's nearing 2009 and we're already scouting for the best of the new year. And by we I mean me. Because I'm still a one-woman show. (Although after the new year, I am welcoming @savvychrista and @savvydebi as part-time interns and they are going to be a tremendous help!)

My point about my becoming a toy expert in less than a year is that if you set your mind out to do something, to be something, and if you work hard enough, you might just be able to achieve it.

I learned that when I began working at L'Oreal in 2002. The beauty industry is pretty incestuous. When I thought about getting into the industry just a few years before I landed the job at L'Oreal, a woman who had been in the industry forever told me that if you weren't 'born' into the beauty industry, it was almost impossible to get in. Beauty execs move from one company to another, or are lifers at their first. Rarely do people enter the industry after entry-level.

But I got in at a senior level.... and knew little about cosmetics other than my own passion for them. But I learned. I studied. I inquired. I went to makeup counters and watched. I read research data. I scanned the internet for cosmetics news. I dove right in. And became a beauty expert.

The toy industry reminds me a little of the beauty industry. There are a few independent brands with some winning products, but mostly there are just a few larger companies that own a significant number of toy brands - just like in the beauty industry. And just like the beauty industry, it's tough to get into the toy industry if you weren't born into it.

Both industries thrive on innovation - but true innovation is rare and fleeting. A truly innovative product has never been done before, and it often takes either a small, nimble company, or a rich mega-company, to produce and launch it. And as technology gets easier to replicate, an innovative product doesn't own a category for too long before a copy-cat comes along to steal part if its thunder.

Finally, technologies are often replicated between brands of a larger company. Just like you'll find similar technologies in mascaras across mass and prestige makeup brands, you'll notice similar technologies sweep across toy brands. For example, this year it was hard to find a toy that wasn't motorized in one way or another.

Elmo Live! by Fisher Price is the latest incarnation of our ticklish furry friend, and is really life-like. Or toddler monster-like. While a few steps above the original Tickle-Me Elmo, Elmo Live! is still a motorized plush.

Playskool, a division of Hasbro, and a wonderful Savvy Auntie sponsor, launched Kota the Triceratops, the motorized dino that little kids just love. And Playskool's Tumbles, Biscuit and Butterscotch were also favorites of kids for whom the basic plush is no longer the only option. And Tonka, another brand associated with Hasbro, has a real winner with the Tonka Bounce Back Racer which sold out quickly.

Non-tech toys also made it big this year. Bakugan, a trading card/marbles/action figure game based on the anime series of the same name, caused quite a stir among school-aged boys. And the hackysack-like Myachi, took ten years to become and over-night success.

Alex Toys, a leading crafts brand, launched it's Alex Jr baby plush baby products and I instantly fell in love with the gorgeous colors and designs. Somewhere between pastels and prime colors, the toys are really a delight to look at.

Of course, there are smaller, independant companies that I see a lot of promise for as well. Tedde - the 'un-mass' produced teddy bear company, really has an opportunity to reach an audience that is looking for a different toy to give a unique child.

Finally, companies are making great strides in developing toys specifically for Special Needs kids, or realizing that their traditional products are developmental for those kids as well.

I am eager to see what 2009 will bring for toy innovation and how the economy will shape the industry. What will be this year's Webkindz, Guitar Hero or Wii Fit? Will technology play an even greater role, or will consumers lean toward basic toys as the economy brings them back to basics at home?

I'll be attending the Toy Fair in New York in February and will have a better idea then. I'll share all the new innovations with you as I learn about them myself, here and at SavvyAuntie.com. Plus, this year I'm launching a still hush-hush way of telling you about all the latest, hottest gifts for kids. It's coming soon and I can't wait for the reveal!

In the meantime, I have Elmo and Tumbles to keep me company. And yes - having great toys does make me a very cool Savvy Auntie. Just ask my nephew and nieces. They're coming to play this week.

Auntie Melanie

PS Please join our Facebook Fan Page! There's more there!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Holidays from Savvy Auntie

Dear Readers,

Thanks for being there to support me as I launched the company of my dreams - SavvyAuntie.com!

Happy Holidays!

Auntie Melanie

Happy Holidays Facebook Friends and Fans!

Happy Holidays to the Savvy Auntie Facebook Friends and Fans!

Happy Holidays Twitterati!

Happy Holidays to all my Friends on Twitter - from @SavvyAuntie!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

FOX-y Auntie

Dear Readers,

I appeared on my third segment of the Fox News Strategy Room today. The show is online-only at FoxNews.com/strategyroom daily from 9-6PM EST. I have been on the Lite Lunch nel from noon-1PM. It's kind of like The View, but we're nicer to each other. Really.

What's great about this show is that while I appear as Founder of Savvy Auntie - and often get to tell the viewers what it's all about - it's frankly just a wonderful experience learning how these segments function. We talk about pop-culture stuff - like celebrities we love to hate (I chose the entire cast of The Hills) and famous autographs we cherish (Jaclyn Smith from Charlie's Angels - which spurred a whole Charlie's angel spoof for about 15 seconds of air time). I love the banter and energy in the room. Plus - I'm meeting fantastic people which is one of the best parts.

And the best part of all? Realizing that all this exposure is coming just 5 months after the launch of SavvyAuntie.com. It truly humbles me that so quickly after introducing the Savvy Auntie brand to the world, that I create enough interest in my persona to be asked to repeatedly appear on this show. And on The 10! Show on NBC. And more to come...

The Savvy Auntie brand will grow into books, video and other media extentions. In the meantime, I am having the time of my life. I wonder what took me so long to take life into my own hands?! If I can create this type of success in 5 months... imagine what I can do going forward?!

No worries if you can't imagine it. I've been dreaming about this for years and I see it all coming true. Day by day. Lite Lunch hour by Lite Lunch hour....

If you're thinking about starting your own company...even while you keep your day job and start small...just imagine. Envision. See your dreams come true.

And work really, really hard. Be nice to everyone. And it will all fall into place.

Imagine that.

Auntie Melanie

PS - That's me, third from the right, this past Monday.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Great Press

Dear Readers,

I've been getting some great press lately. And I don't have a PR agency supporting my PR efforts, so I am very fortunate. Some have asked how I am doing it. Well, it's good to have a strong product, and a season twist (gift giving) as well as a first break on TV.

I had a PR agency helping me launch the site back in July, and they did land me a few great 'gigs,' like my initial NBC's The 10! Show and a Better.TV appearance that I recorded last week (and will appear on 12.23.08). I've managed to "up-sell" the NBC 10! Show (local 11AM show in Philadelphia) a few times and have done several Gift segments there, which are fantastic (although a bit of a schlep from NYC).

The first 10! Show appearance helped get me a great opportunity to be a Contributing Editor to Toy Wishes Magazine. This wonderful role has enabled me to have air time on WCBS in NYC and on Fox New Strategy Room just last week (a streaming online news show) and there may be more appearances before the end of the year! Thanks again, Gareb!

Of all my appearances, the Fox News Strategy Room was perhaps the most fun. I didn't have to bring a series of toys and gifts to showcase... it was just me talking on panel with smart people. We talked about the Golden Globes, Jennifer Aniston's recent 'naked' photos in GQ and toys. It was so much fun! And the best part? They asked me back again right after the show! So catch me here http://www.foxnews.com/strategyroom/ tomorrow (Monday, December 15th) at noon-1PM EST.

There is no doubt that I am very lucky. But to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson: "The harder I work, the luckier I am." I'll be writing a post soon about how the best way to achieve success is often to work hard. Very hard. Boy do I know it.

Auntie Melanie

PS - Check out my Top 10 Savvy Holiday Gifts of the Season! http://www.savvyauntie.com/link/top10holiday08

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Over the Moon

Dear Readers,

My last post - on how I am managing the milestone of talking to investors - drove a lot of emails and comments. All very positive, supportive and helpful. So thank you. I've since gotten better educated, more interest from potential investors, and a greater sense of confidence around the whole milestone.

In the meantime, I still struggle as a female entrepreneur in a male-analytical dominated world.

My friend, Patricia Handschiegel, a woman entrepreneur who never seems to sleep, is doing a series in the Huffington Post, where she is a regular contributor, on The New Power Girls. She recently asked me to weigh in on how "instinct" plays a role in my company. Naturally, there is often a difference between how men and women start and manage their entrepreneurial ventures. Women, by nature, are often more instinctual (and less analytical) than men.

And we live in a Man's business world.

It's no surprise that the original computer spreadsheet, upon which the ubiquitous Microsoft Excel is based, was developed by men. It's no surprise that the golf course is the cliche networking activity. Most CEOs are men. Most investors are men. Most people in technology - the industry in which my business is based - are men. There are fewer women entrepreneurs than men entrepreneurs.

And that's because, in my humble opinion, the cost/benefit analysis of an entrepreneurial venture is often calculated within a spreadsheet. And most women don't live in spreadsheets.

Innovation was never born out of a spreadsheet. You simply can't calculate the risk of innovation because by definition, it's never been done before. So we look at market size, growth potential, and then throw in ebitdas and three ways to 'project' the future and take the one in the middle. And we expect major success based on calculated projections.

When looking at a valuation for my company, I asked a male friend helping me flesh some things out this (fair) question: "
How can I possibly responsibly project what will happen? Aren't projections basically a guessing game?" Yes," he texted back immediately, "But no one can guess as well as you."

I don't like guessing. I like envisioning. I like setting tough goals and meeting them. For example, my plan was to look for a literary agent for my children's book two months after I launched SavvyAuntie.com. Thanks to Chris Webb, a Twitter friend, I found my agents two weeks after I followed up on my plan.

When I worked in the non-profit world 12 years ago, I planned to increase participation in a program that I believed - with a some major re-branding - could increase 1000x fold. Sure, I had a plan. And I set a budget. And I hired help. Still, no one believed we would make it. No one was as determined as I. But I had envisioned the success. For me it was no longer a business goal; it was reality. I don't shoot for the moon. I live on the moon and wait for everything to catch up. And we increased participation by 998%.

My boy-genius friend, Eric Kuhn, said recently: "I start at the top and work my way up." That's why he's a genius.

The truth is, business plans worry me. Not a day goes by that something doesn't change everything. Some of those things I control. Some I don't. What never waivers is the end-goal. Not matter how rocky the waters - I know what I am sailing towards.

But I know that I can't fight it. As a business owner seeking investor support, I need to speak in analytics. My new and incredibly helpful friend, Rich Caccappolo, sent me the "10 Slides every entrepreneur should have." I am going to do that now.

In the end, I live in Man's world. But that's okay because there are lots of Power Girls shooting for the moon.

See you there, girls. And yes, there will be martinis. Savvy Auntinies to be precise.

Auntie Melanie

Friday, December 5, 2008