The Entrepreneur Podcast
The Entrepreneur Podcast

Episode · 1 year ago

Being Comfortable in Your Own Shoes with Ben Varadi of Spin Master

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Spin Master is one of the great Canadian success stories. Go to any corner of the world, and you will find young girls and boys playing with Spin Master toys. Ben Varadi, HBA ’94, was there at the beginning, running manufacturing (despite having little expertise in the area). Today, Varadi is the company’s Chief Creative Officer, and his unique strengths have found a perfect home in the art of toy making.

In this special episode of the Entrepreneur Podcast, Varadi joins Eric Janssen, HBA ’09, MBA ’20, to share his fascinating journey from leaving university to helping create one of the biggest toy companies in the world, and the lessons learned along the way.

Mhm. Yeah. Yeah mm. You're listening to the entrepreneur podcast from the western Morrissette Institute for entrepreneurship powered by I. V. In this series. Ivy entrepreneur and ivy faculty member ERic Jansen will anchor the session. I've spent the last few months asking hundreds of individual contributors, managers, entrepreneurs what the top skills to be teaching young people are and how we should be teaching them. And the answer has come back resoundingly how to deal with rejection and resilience. Today's conversation is with Ben Verratti, who is the co founder and chief creative officer of spin master toys Today, a publicly traded company with a market cap north of $4 billion with 1600 employees globally. They're well known for toys like to sketch air hogs, Pop Patrol Rubik's cube and back again. And with more nominations for innovative toys than any other toy company in the world. The creative mind behind all of this is Ben Barati. Now you'd think that someone who's won the E. N. Y. Entrepreneur of the year award and featured as a top 40 Under 40 executive is an odd choice for the topic of resilience, given the crazy grise of spin master toys, but every single story Has its dark corners that we're going to dig into today. So in this episode Ben shares his story of how he got started at spin master and highlights not just his successes but also his failures along the way, including how he lost $100 million. Ben shares his lessons on feeling well and how to develop resilience. I hope you enjoy listening to this episode as much as I enjoyed having it. Please enjoy this conversation with spin master toys. See Ceo Ben Variety Ben Variety Action. Thank your superpowers aren't limited the building successful companies he can also shred guitar and piano To top it off the bench. Actually figured in October of the year from 1999 top 440 executive for his amazing achievement. Get yours now they're flying off the shelves around the world comes to show each sold separately batteries not existing. I think Ben, I love it. Thank you so much. That was an exact replica of my life. Is that exactly how it went exactly like that? I love when the teams take a little bit of a risk and read the crowd a little bit. I think they pegged you as a guy who wouldn't mind a fun video. So nice work team battery. So thank you so much. Thank you. Where do we find you, Ben? Where are you today? I'm in the basement 20 ft below. I'm in uh, my studio. Yeah, a little bit of music on the side. I I got a bunch of keyboards. They're designed to hold up garbage bags. That's that's basically that's how it goes. Lot of synthesizers and stuff. I just, you know, collect for fun and play for fun. So it's always been a good outlet for me since I was a little kid. That is awesome, rarely, rarely, you know, on video. Do I find someone that out that out does my basement setup? But like you are, you win, you win this game. Well, the good news, I don't have to change my background, right? I see all these people have these creative background. So I I just this is my background. Yeah, that's awesome. That's awesome. Well, we appreciate you joining us, Ben, thank you so much for the time. I know the group is really excited. I'm excited. I think your your company and your toys have been a part of me growing up. I think about the devil sticks that still sit at my cottage. The beat up air hogs toys, the stretch armstrong that, you know, I busted apart when I was a kid eventually. Like these are the toys that defined me growing up so I busted apart. I busted apart of stretch armstrong too. So I played with it also. Yeah. Oh yeah, I played it out. It wasn't a defect. I played with it until it broke, you know what it is inside? No, it's corn syrup. Oh, that's interesting, stretch armstrong, interesting, interesting. Okay, one of your students to snuck in there a new, I know you you're not a student, although I never would've guessed you look exactly like one. I'm here for your support. Thanks. We do. I need it. I need it. I see a lot of faces here. Yeah, we've got 62. This is arguably, I say, the most entrepreneurial group at ivy. So these are students that, you know, have ambitions of either starting a company right out of school or are probably the ones that are going to do it one day. So this is, this is the audience that you've got today, Wow, that's perfect, that's that's my kind of audience. So help us rewind Ben when you were in hb two sitting with these students, Where today, where were you at? Where was your head at? What were you up to? Well, it was are you guys first or second year? 2nd year. 2nd year. Okay, so I didn't know what I wanted to do, I...

...really had no idea and I and I was interviewing in a whole bunch of different places. So I interviewed at bain and I interviewed, I remember they asked me how many chocolate chips are they asked me how many elevators were in the city of Toronto and I said well I just call city planning and ask and the interview ended. And uh and I interviewed at what's that big advertising firm out of Chicago, what are they called? I don't even leo Burnett, Leo Burnett. I did 18 interviews with Leo Burnett and they didn't hire me at the end, they said and I phoned them and I said well why did you guys hire me? And they said because we felt you were too unorthodox and I said aren't you supposed to be an orthodox for advertising? And they said not on the account side. So that ended that. And so when I graduated Ivy I really didn't have a job and then I got called by merchant banking. One of the Canadian banks called me to come in interview at the merchant banking division. I asked what was merchant banking in that interview ended? So I really, I didn't have I didn't have a lot of, I mean I could have taken something, I could've got something but I really came out not knowing what I wanted to do and I wasn't that stressed about it because uh I got a great education and I figured eventually something would line up and I did sort of think that I would ultimately end up doing something on my own. So that's that's where I was. So if some of you don't have any idea of what you want to do, I think that's okay, I think that's okay because things uh so how did you originally, was it Anton and running? Who approached you? Did you guys know each other from before? How did that moment, the first connection happen? I didn't know Rainn N. I met Anton in business school. So him and I both went to at that time it was called, I don't think it was called ivy right, Which is called the the western business school. So Anton Anton and I met each other and we became friends at business school and then after business school he said to me, will you regret and I are doing something, will you come and be a part of it? So I did. And I ran manufacturing for the Earth but I didn't know anything about manufacturing less than zero. And I had an amazing arts teacher at West at Western. His name was burnt wood and he was, I don't know if you ever met America, He was an incredible guy. I sat in the back row and he spoke very quietly. I didn't hear a word he said all year, I thought he was great and uh, he was like a classic Western guy, you know, Harvard graduate and he sort of mumbled and he retired my last year. So he was already like 75. Anyway, I knew nothing about ops and I went in and I was running the factory and we were hiring at that time the Ontario government had a program where you could hire unemployed people or people in homeless shelters for something like $3 an hour and they would pay the rest up to minimum wage. So we hired a whole bunch of homeless people and I remember I was really drowning, the thing took off and we'd never ordered supplies before. I mean I knew sort of like basic terms that I learned in business school, like, you know, whip and uh, and raw materials and all that kind of stuff and finished goods, but basically we didn't really know what we were doing and I really didn't know what I was doing. And the funniest thing is we have these different stations that made earth buddies. So the first thing is you would take the hosiery, you put the sawdust in the hosiery, then you'd actually, the first thing at the beginning is you would cut up the hose because it was actually still in pantyhose form, so you'd have to cut off the underwear and then cut the legs into five body, you know, the leg would cut into five parts that made one that made five bodies, five Earth buddies. So we took that and then that would go to the sawdust station, you put the sawdust in, tie it up, then it would go to have it formed so they'd make the nose and then it would go in it, so it would go from station to station. And the funniest thing is we didn't have any suppliers. So the line was constantly shutting down. So like for example, the eyes would, we ran out of glue and so I would have to like drive to the local hardware store, I'll take everything you got. So it was, it was quite an adventure. And one day this homeless man knocked on my doors that I can see you're having some problems and I'm happy to help you. And it turns out he was 50 years old, huge guy, you know, half a mouthful of teeth. And uh, and he said, I worked in manufacturing and he ended up really being my savior. His name was bob and bob fully understood the manufacturing process. And he, like, I came in the next morning, I didn't have any. I just said, sure you can help me. I came next morning at charts all over the walls for each station, outlining the working process when our raw materials, we're going to run out, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. And so that was sort of like we got up and running and then we slowly built up to being able to do, we went from making, You know, 60 units on our first day or 50 or 10, I don't even remember to over 20,000 in a 24 hour period, all in downtown Toronto in a warehouse space in downtown Toronto.

You can't even imagine doing that today, wow, wow. So like that was the first, if that was a little side hustle, that was a successful side hustle. 1.5 million. Like, it was, it really was. I, I think, yeah, I think 1.5 million is probably right. The big order was for kmart for 500,000 pieces. And then what happened to me in my life is i it was such a wild ride and at the end of Earth, but I was so tired. I remember on on one of the last days we had to lay off a whole bunch of people because as quickly as it took off it ended. And so I then went with a friend and I worked on, he said there's this thing called the internet and we should do something in it. So we then went, it went into the internet. Our name at that time was called Creative Online dot com. Like it was so easy to get a name, you pick any two words you wanted. And I discovered after nine months we sold our company which and it wasn't worth anything and we still sold it. That's how even at that time the area was really taking off and uh and I didn't really understand it and I didn't like it. And the funny thing, I always joke to him because I still talk to him is we could have done anything and we didn't do anything right. This kind of, it's like it goes to show you, you know, you can have success over here, don't have success over here. Start over here, failed start over here have some success. So that's a little bit of the journey and then Anton Brennan said, well we'd love you to come back. So I then went back and uh we just sort of started into toys, which is a whole other story. And so we've had a lot of awesome speakers come in and guests come in and share with us their stories and uh no shortage of success stories and the, the group circulated your bio in advance and so we have a pretty good idea. We'll get into it later. We have a pretty good idea of some of the winds associated with the company, but I'd love to read off the bat, get into failure because this is like every single year across all of the entrepreneurship classes. The things that students want to hear more about is failure. Tell me about the fails. So any like epic ones, any epic ones come to mind than massive failures. I fill it. We've had some massive failures. So the funniest thing, I'll give you guys a real good one. So in 2000, when was the meltdown? 2010? Yeah, 9000 2009. So we sailed through 2009 2010 with a huge success because that's when we launched back again. So it took us 15 years to have our overnight success. So we finally had like a real runner And in 2011 We basically took $100 million, tore it up into single dollar bills and threw it into the sewer. And so that year we had to write a check back to the bank personally to sort of guarantee the loans that we had. So what happened? We grew too fast and we, we didn't watch all the signs and I think we were drinking the kool aid of our success and so we had this huge success when the world was crumbling. We didn't invest the money. Well we invested the money badly and we hired too many people too quickly And we took some bad bets and we lost 100 million bucks, wow. So massive cash flow shortage that you had to shore up individually. Yeah, it's really check back to the bank after coming off like this incredible high, wow wow. Yeah, lots of failures along the way. And and the thing about failure is you can brake failure up. I mean you guys have all seen failure. I mean there's there's personal failure, there's failure with relationships, there's failure with in sports, there's failures and things you do. There's failures in business, Right? So so there's lots of failures along the way. These are the business failures, failures I'm talking about. So we should, I'm sure every one of us is familiar with failure in some way, shape or form And success because you're in this program. So therefore you have had success. You're already in the top .1 of Canadian students, right? Don't inflate, don't inflate this. Sorry, sorry. Yeah. Um Take me back to 2001. So I try to do a little digging here and, and it seemed like my read of it. Maybe this is, you know, retrospective storytelling as we like to do. But Sort of reading through the timeline of when you started the company. Of course, I'm sure there were like inevitable ups and downs in ebbs and flows. But 2001 I saw something happened with the key charm cuts. And I noted that as maybe a potential first like commercial failure for the company that you write about on your website. What was that all about? Yeah, well it was a failure. It was a small doll line. We I mean we did failures before then. This was a good one. And so was we probably, it was our first foray into like a real, really competing against Mattel and Hasbro, the big players and we developed a small doll line, spent a lot of money in tooling, lot of design money and it failed. So I mean, listen, failure...

...again, I break it down because there's, you know, you can fail as a company, you can fail in a product line. I think failing in a product line is something we got used to pretty early because our business we're in is a big bet business and you know, even if I'm amazing at my job, I think my odds of failure, I'm still only succeeding one out of every four times really. So we learned to fail very early on, which I think was was really good thing because it wasn't like we had all this success time want, you know, one after the other after the other after the other. And uh, and then all of a sudden we failed 10 years in and it sunk us. I mean, we we learned pretty early on how to fail, which brings me to one of the lessons that that I'm, you know, that I've sort of learned along the way that I'm happy to share with you guys, which is don't let your failures define you and similar, similarly, don't let your success is defined you because failure and success at the end of the day, it's it's very fleeting. I mean, even success is very fleeting and it comes and it goes and it comes and it goes along the way. And so what you really have to get yourself into very quickly is enjoying and appreciating the journey and not getting too married to your ideas, whether it's a product idea, a business idea, marketing idea, whatever it is. I mean, you have to be flexible through the whole process through your career. I mean that doesn't mean you don't have conviction and see things through, but I think knowing when to jump off and knowing when to keep going, it's a skill for sure, Right? So you have to keep keep checking the data, keep checking the facts in front of you, keep checking your intuition, keep checking with others. Keep doing your research. Not too much, but enough that you're you have all the dad in front of you to allow you to make a reasonable decision. So Ben, you said one in four failed. Does that mean literally like one in four that actually make it out of the building and get onto the shelves? Our product failures. What I'm guessing, but that's probably accurate. I would say one in four, Sometimes we've had more, sometimes we've had one in 61 in eight and then sometimes we've had two out of five fail, which brings me to another point, which is at the beginning, the level of risk you take is gigantic, right? Because You've only got one product and then you launch another product, you're essentially launching your company over again in a way. So you always want to make sure you're not blowing your brains out. If you don't have to, when you start, you have nothing to lose, you have no choice. You're, you've got the gun to your head, right? But as you start to gain success, a guy told me really early on over a pastrami sandwich, he said to me, don't take a risk so big that you, if you're wrong, you'll sink the company and I've never forgotten that. And there's a lot of truth now, I wouldn't say it's a rule I would take that could never be broken. There are times when you have to take a risk because the company is on the line because if you don't take that risk, you won't be around. But I think as you start to gain success, I think the one thing we've done well is we've been pretty good at managing The company, preserving the company, failing in product but not failing at the company. And when we do fail in the company, which even in the last two years, anyone that watched are, you know, sort of kept an eye on us. Even out of the corner of your eye. I mean, we fixed a whole bunch of mistakes in the last 12 months. Right? I mean, we we got a new president and we came off real operations nightmare that we had to fix. So even in the last, I mean, we went public in what, 2016 and then we had, I think four great years, something like that. And then we, we got into a giant operational problem, which did, you know, year or two's worth of damage and we're and we're still fixing that right? So it's a lot better. But I mean we're dealing with it now. So it's like you're, you know, you're flying a plane sometimes you hit, you hit bad weather and you have to make changes accordingly. You have to take the wheel sometimes right, you got to take it off autopilot and take the wheel and stay engaged and make hard decisions on the creative side bend. Since you ever see that group at the company. I'm assuming that you said the statistics are whatever call it one in 41 and eight, whatever there's, there's failure that happens fairly regularly. Um, Knowing that, I mean it's not just you anymore. You've got close to 2000 people there. How do you get people to be uncomfortable to be comfortable with the idea that they're inevitably going to screw up? Like how do you help people bounce back from that? It's a great question. I mean, again, uh, and I hate to get to granular, but when we fail, we fail as a team and we fail as individuals. And so you hope...

...each person is looking at themselves and taking stock of their contribution and where they might have gone wrong. I think, um, it's not easy. I mean, I think in a way it's like the best comparison would be to a hockey team or any type of team sports. I mean, you're managing a team and you have to make sure that your team is optimized. And so it's not easy because sometimes you gotta, you watch the team as a whole and you watch the individuals that make up the team as the person coaching the team. And so sometimes it's necessary to make changes to have the best team and you have to look at the strength of the company as a whole. It was, it took me a lot of years to get there, because in the early years I tended to carry the weight on my own back and I looked at it as like failure was my failure. Success was my success. And if the team failed, I just had to work harder to carry the team more right now, that's an oversimplification, But let's just take it for the purpose of you guys in your life. And as you go on to me, it's more complicated than that because the teams contribute a lot, right? So for me to put it in that simple term isn't really accurate, but I think everyone, look, we're individuals that make up teams were not teams that make up individuals, right? So we approach it as an individual and part of the larger team. So, and then I think as I got older, I realized if you don't have strong members on your team, that team will affect the company. So you have to have the strength to continually improve your team. You have to continually improve yourself. You have to have an open mind. You have to listen. The first thing I do when we fail is I look at my own actions and I asked myself, where did I go wrong? Where did I fail? Where did I direct people badly? Where did I? You know, And then there's failure across the organization? Did we fail in the marketing? Do we fail in the product that we fail in the package? So identifying where was the failure? Could have been competition, could have been bad luck. So I think being able to identify the failure and to be honest, like as far as I try to speak positively to people and encourage them as much as possible and lean on the team because we are all working together and I'm pretty even I think in success and failure, so I don't honestly put that much time into how do I put it? I'm kind of move on type of guy. So I don't dwell that much on failure. And so I would say, I don't take all that much time to nurture people on failure. I just I'm like, OK, everybody get up, we're moving on and we're going to do better next time. And at the same time I have responsibility to try to keep the team strong, but also make sure I'm doing my job right, which is teaching the team Because listen, I got 25 years, right? So I have to I have to shift a little bit towards teaching and making sure everybody is looking at things, taking into account all the, all the all the factors, right? Like if you guys came to work at Spin Master, you wouldn't have necessarily a ton of experience that on day one, so I need to share that with you, but at the same time I need to be open to your fresh thinking, right? So I hope I answered that question. It's a hard question to answer. Yeah, I know, I know it's a hard one. That's why that's why I asked the questions, don't answer for myself. I don't I don't nurture that much. To be honest, I'm more of a move on, back up everybody. Next one, you know, and we screwed up on to the next one. Yeah, exactly, yeah, that's right. So how do you, how do you know? So something that we spend a lot of time on today before you came on was trying to figure out how you know, when to call it and move on versus like, no, let's keep going. Any advice. I mean, it could be specifically related to your business or more broadly, but that's the decision point, right? Like there's so many times the stories that you read of these successful companies, you yourself have one where had you chosen, like, screw it, throw in the towel, then you spin master wouldn't exist today versus the people that are able to identify, like we're so close, just go a little bit longer and then there's these massive breakthroughs to, you know, super successful companies. So how do you decide when to keep going versus quitting? Well, I guess I'm looking at multiple factors. I mean, I'm looking at do, I think we'll be able to get there? And what is it that's holding us back? Is it money that's holding us back? Is it is a design that's holding us back? Maybe we don't have the optimal design. Is it the cost that's holding us back? Is it a safety issue that's holding us back? So I think the first thing is again, great self awareness and and being an isolating what are the factors that are holding you back and then deciding can we overcome these are not. So like if it's a massive economic one, right? Like or financial one, where if we just keep going, we're going to do so much damage that we have to stop. Well, that would be a great indicator that we have to stop if the risk is so big that maybe we shouldn't be taking it because if we take it, it'll do too much damage...

...or being honest about what kind of shot we have. Like, are we in our sweet spot? Are we out of our sweet spot? If we're out of our sweet spot, that's a fact, right? If we're more in our sweet spot, maybe we can afford to maybe a greater chance to get this right or so many different things and the advice I would give, it's like being open minded and honest with yourself about whether or not you can overcome it and if you can overcome it, what's the, what's the success and if I can overcome it, what's the damage from failure? Like one of the, one of the sample list things that I do in almost every case is when someone says, let's do this product, in my mind is quickly, quite quickly. I say if you're right or if we're right and we go ahead and do this what success looks like and if we're wrong and we do this, what does failure look like right now? Some things are more basic now, we're a lot bigger, so a lot of stuff falls in quite easily. But when we're doing something new, we're going into a new area or trying then I think, I mean that's a that's a question I asked myself always and I keep asking myself that question. That's an awesome one that like, so example like yeah, yeah, go ahead and give an example. I'm going to say like, Like sometimes success isn't that great. So we're taking a risk and maybe we'll do 10 million in revenue, But we're we're going to spend all this time and energy doing something for $10 million bucks in revenue and Which, you know, I mean it's no secret we do about $1.5 plus billion dollars a year or something in the neighborhood, I don't know. So 10 million for a ton of work might not be worth it. And if we are wrong, we'll lose a million and a half dollars. Well. So sometimes, you know, there's like that saying, it's it's like sometimes it's just as easy you spend just as much time creating something that has $100 million worth of potential as something that has $10 million worth potential. So that's an equation I'll often do. And so to make sure that we're putting our time to things that have high potential, otherwise we're wasting our time, especially as you get bigger and it costs more to run the company. Cool. It's an exercise that I tried and then took out of one of the courses that I teach on new venture creation. I had the teams write a press release so fast forward two years and like what's the press release you want to launch about the success that the company has had. Like, what have you done? What impact have you had? And I found that it just got them to fast forward and say like, okay, let's play this out. We're running. Uh, I don't know, that's a toy business two years down the road. What kind of impact do we want? How big do we want the company to be? What do we want that news article to say about us? And if that's not exciting, then choose something else. You know, like that's not getting you fired up then why take that risk in the first place? Totally. And I mean, I think it's a good idea to do that at every stage in your life. Like for you guys going out and starting a business, one thing that I noticed when I was a kid that was like, I think it was wrong when I look back Is like, someone would say, well you're 24 years old and you have no money so you should work and go earn a bit of money and then take a risk. And then When you're 32 they say, well you you don't have that much money so you should like, you know, you should save up a little bit more money and then take a risk, okay, so now you're 38 38 you got a car and uh and you probably bought one that was like 11 step above what you should have, and you've got a wife and you've got a kid on the way and they say, you can't take a risk now you've got a family to think about. So, I mean, I think, you know, you got to own your own destiny and you have to, you guys are at the best stage to take a risk because unless you need tons of financial help, right? Which is obviously, it's hard to get when you don't have any experience. I mean, what of what is Zuckerberg and Bill Gates and all these guys taught us that you can, You can come up with something amazing at 25 years old and, and change the world. You know, any one of those great business people have shown us that, that you can do now again if you need tons of money and it's the oil business, well that's probably a lot harder to do because it's you need so much capital, right? So I think it's like I think owning that and and being aware of it will help you guys Use that exact same formula in your everyday decision making right? If you're 63 years old and a guy sits down, he says, I need your advice, I'm 63 years old and I want to start this company and say, well you're 60 years old, is this what you want to do? How badly what's the down state you have to spend your retirement money? So I mean I think these are this is a lesson. That's a life lesson, not just a business lesson. Yeah, that's great. We also talked today about about the importance of having a mentor when you're either doing really hard things or to help you bounce back from a failure. I know um in your keynote last year you talked about I think you had a really good relationship with peter munk, is that correct? Yeah we met with peter munk a couple times and not just that some of...

...our old business professor like when we started we spoke to a lot of our business professors from Western. I remember Professor Pierce helped us out. Professor erskine helped us out. I mean we spoke to some of them as well. So I mean mentor's mentor can come from anywhere and Peter munk was certainly one of them are used and it is an incredible Canadian success story and then a really interesting guy like they don't make them like he made it, he had success in three completely different industries which is like almost unprecedented I mean and he started from scratch and every single one. Yeah. So for those uh not that don't know peter munk, Canadian Hungarian, Canadian business really icon who was I guess most well known as the founder of Barrick Gold right? The biggest gold mine operation in the world. But he got his start in stereos, he got his stairs and then he made a ton of money in real estate in I think Asia. So he did a lot of, he was a real, it was a real special man in real character. You'll you'll see his name on the side of the Toronto general, the cardiac monk, you know the monk cardiac center and I think also the Mark, the Monk Bill, you know state affairs, something something affairs. I see it on bloom street at the University of Toronto. So he's like he's a real character. So importance of were there any mentors along the way that when you face any of these, you know company make or break decisions or challenges or even big failures that you leaned on to help coach you through them a little bit. I even asked our competitors for help. Uh huh. I called our competitor once at Mattel and and someone I met at a conference and said look we're just starting out and I really love your help and she helped me for a couple years until we reached a certain size and then she didn't take my calls anymore. Yeah, so I mean, you know I always say like seek mentors and be a mentor, you know, so I mean the great thing is most people in Canada, we're not starving and we can and I I always think like success is great when lots of people have success, right? It's a so it's I think it's great. So I would say to every one of you guys seek mentors, be a mentor And it should never stop, I I get advice from people all the time, even today for sure and never and never it should never change. I mean, I I think now that I'm 50, I turned 50 this year and my big thing right now is like never stop learning, never stop learning, never stop learning and trying new things. What do you what do you do to feed that? Well, I I always try to, music is one and I and I try to like stay up on all the latest synthesizers when I work with people, I love working, like with Maybe a young person who like I worked with a young producer who was 19 this year and he taught me a whole bunch of stuff that was super cool. And I love working with young designers as well, right? Because they bring a perspective and I love challenging them and I love fighting with them and I love when they fight back, you know, it's like creative sometimes it's like that scene in Lord of the Rings where they're putting making the orcs, you know, and they're putting the armor on them. Like it's not a it's not a clean process, it's not a beautiful process, always. It's like a very tough, you know, you've got to fight through it sometimes, but I think it's a lifelong journey to do that and I think if you, the one thing I'd say to you guys and I really like, I would trade peter munk, said this to us and I'll say it to you, He was 80 years old and he said to me, I would give anything to trade places with you guys so I could do it again. And it was really, it was a really beautiful moment and and I think it was a really telling moment because You're always in such a rush, you know, we're always in such a rush in and when you guys are sitting here at 22 years old, whatever you are, you're just, you can't wait to get out there and you're so anxious to have success, right, get out there and make something and I think the biggest piece of advice I can give is to really learn to appreciate the journey and, and even failure. There's so many lessons in failure and it sucks to fail for sure. But I think like it really is a failure as a moment and success is really just a moment to, and you know that famous saying, it's like what have you done for me lately? Well it's kind of true, right? So I think like you gotta be like that with yourself, right, and you have to, you have to just keep pushing forward no matter what happens, whether it's filled and that doesn't mean stupidly right, like and the other thing I'll add, which I think is a huge part of there's so many reasons people fail and succeed and a lot of them are outside of our control. I mean you take the pandemic and it's very interesting because it's like there's lots of different ways to look at what we're living through right now. You can take very negative view. Indeed if you have a family member that's gotten really sick or you had a business that was decimated by the pandemic, it's very reasonable to take...

...a very negative view and I wouldn't fault anyone for doing that. But if we step back from that for one second and we take a look at, if you were born in 1900 what would it look like? You would have lived through the First World War, The first pandemic, which was way worse than so far what we've had to endure because 50 million people died, you would have lived through the Second World War. You would have lived through the Great Depression. So the fact of the matter is we've had 70 years of relative calm in the West, right? I'm not, I mean not if you lived in Cambodia, but if you lived in the west, so I think it's like, you know, learning to keep going and just somehow sometimes you just can appreciate one thing. You just, if you're healthy, just start there and then just keep going, you know, and keep trying and keep going. And the one thing I would say is the other in really important part of that is is that out of every tough time lies the potential for success. And I think like It's going to be so interesting to see the next five or 10 years because humanity won't stop and we'll see some really cool things happen I think like really cool things and the thing I would say to you guys and wrapping up the statement is that one of the most most most important things is knowing your strengths and your weaknesses as a person and being really open with yourselves about that. And uh let me tell you something, I remember interviewing at bain and interviewing at those finance companies when I was at, when I was at the Western Business school at ivy and and I knew one thing, even at that time I knew it and I knew and what it was I knew is that I wasn't going to be the best finance guy and so like I probably could have duped them and maybe gotten a job, but I knew it wasn't the right thing for me to do. I knew in my heart it wasn't the right thing for me to do. And so I think like knowing your strengths and your weaknesses is really, really important and being aware of those and by the way, failing and something doesn't mean you're not potentially good at it, so you gotta right? But having the self awareness to know that I think is really, really important and it's it's one of the hallmarks I think of becoming successful in your life, forget a business venture or one thing because that stuff comes and goes, but and so that's where partnerships come in, right? And bringing a partner in to help you. And I got to tell you like, Iva I've had so many of those moments over the years where I was like, am I really good at this and by not having and and having that discussion over and over and over again. And then if you're not knowing that and bringing in the help, right? So if you're not a great finance person, bring in a great ceo you trust. And when you choose your partner, one of the biggest mistakes we sometimes make is choosing someone who is exactly like us, right? And avoiding the fight, right? And it ain't easy. And there's it is, I'll tell you a real ride. Like, but it also, if you learn to embrace it on some level, it also hopefully takes you, you can get something great out of it, that's awesome. Ben, I want to come back to a point because we've had a few few speaker if you guess. And um talking about who have had some success in a bunch of different ways. One of them being one dimension of that being financially Yeah, and the criticism is easy for them to say, you know, they are whatever, they have achieved this level of personal success. So there's this conversation around or the anecdote is always like, you know, enjoy, enjoy the journey. The money doesn't matter. Yeah. For the record, I never said that the money doesn't matter because I think it's not a good thing to say that only people with money can save the money doesn't matter. I agree. So let's I want to tease this out because I think this is like a thread that's been pulled out, but the students aren't happy with some of the answers that we've been trying to work through. So like I'm looking, I just did my homework this morning. So you spin master, like $3 billion company. I was just like by comparison, right? You are bigger than cineplex course entertainment and Sleep country Canada combined. Like, I mean these are significant Canadian companies, right? You're bigger than free. A Aritzia Maple leaf Foods, what's that? What's that? Three billion years. But that's, we don't do that in sales. Is that enterprise market market cap guy. But it's so great. We're in that company because we can see a movie and then we can take an amazing map and it's, that's great company. Yeah, yeah, yeah. You're in, you're in uh like, I mean these are, these are massive names across the country and you are a significant shareholder in that. And so would you like, would you trade, literally, would you trade where you are today with the people that are in the class? No, but that's not a money thing. That's a I'm tired thing a...

...little bit. That's what I'm tired thing. It's not it's not a money thing. Listen, I've yeah, listen, that's a really that's a deep question. You know, we all have to get into one of those sleep country beds to talk about that. I mean, you know, I have to say sometimes when I look at the journey you guys have, it feels tougher to me because there was less pressure back then and I I wouldn't want to have to go through that. Um like I'll tell you guys, this is very deep, hold on, let me just let make sure no one can hear me. But you know my kids, they're six and eight and they said to me daddy what was life like when you were little? And in my head I thought well it was way better, but I couldn't say that. So I said it's way better and then I realized it was I was speaking out loud by accident. Um and that and the reason it was way better is because like I just drank coke and a candy, you know and like played outside. I think there's so much pressure on all of you guys and and I think it's I think it's not right and I think it's not necessary and I think like and life was so simple then and there was less divisiveness in the world, there was less, You know like all you did like I don't think I opened a book till I was 14. Really? You know like I just I really just had fun for the first 16 years of my life and then I was like, oh man, I got to get in the university, you know? So it was like it was a lot of fun. I had a lot of fun and I didn't have to think about the stuff that you got and even coming out of school, like it wasn't as competitive and it wasn't as, you know, and I didn't think about it as much and the expectations uh that I had of myself weren't that high either to be honest, my father used to always point at the gas station and say that's where you're gonna be working. So I was like, my standards were so low that I didn't really, I didn't have that. Like I never dreamed about being rich, right? So it was kind of shocked when I had a few bucks and I will tell you it's good to have money. So I'm not going to make the statement that it's not, but I will tell you you buy a few things and it gives you peace of mind and then you realize it's not really like what dr like for me, I just by instruments, right? So I mean I I buy like, you know, creative tools so I don't want to make it sound like like money isn't great, you know, like I've bought, you know, I've done that stuff and I've spent money, but it does kind of and also even in the world today guys like, you know yourself, people don't love rich people, like rich people are like kind of like in people's crosshairs. So and I mean when I was a kid, my father used to say to me, the world is in a better place, if there are people standing at your door with pitchforks. So you know, I think it's great to have money because it gives you peace of mind and it's great to buy nice things, you know? And so, you know, I'm happy if if you want to have like a lifestyles of the rich and famous conversation, you know, I can I can tell you a couple of fun things but but it's it's kind of like it doesn't really define you, it's just a nice thing that came along the way mm for sure, but it wasn't like something I really dreamed about, it wasn't my impetus for doing what I do. I didn't even think it at the time because it just wasn't like today, right? It wasn't and there weren't any Zuckerberg's or like or or amazon's or like or zooms or any of these 8,000,000,050 billion. Like it didn't really the world wasn't really like that right? We were just happy to be in the game. You know when we started there was you know, one of our biggest biggest discussions was do we go into the U. S. And at that time there was too big Canadian toy companies, Irwin Toy, who some of you may know they were like Canada's most famous toy company for 50 years. And then there was the Canada Games and they were really distributors of us companies products and the only way we could survive was to do our own products and we didn't even really understand that, I can only say that in retrospect, but the bottom line is after Earth Buddy, we had no choice but to go out and just start making toys. It's just we didn't plan it, it just happened that way. And even then we were saying well maybe we should open a chicken restaurant or do this or do that. Like there wasn't really a plan, it was just sort of come up with something. Mm So is that a fair answer? I really get around but like challenging I welcome anybody challenge me. If you don't like the answer, here's your first lesson in business. Say something. You don't think my...

...answer. I meet yourself and tell me oh it's coming. Ben, I'm sure we have a channel of you know, I should be careful what I say, right? We have a channel up here with a bunch of guest questions so the ones they get up voted the most they're gonna get asked. So those are coming in two minutes so get get ready. I think it's SAm SAm who's gonna moderate? So rapid fire ones for you been before we transition to uh to student questions. Was there a moment or what was the moment you're in your career where you felt like you made it back again? Back again? Was when was when we made enough money that like personally you could feel like okay, I'm doing good, I'm doing good. So, so we started in when we started, I was 24 when we started and so when we had that moment, I was 37. Mm So it was 13, 14 years, I was 37 38, it was 14 years 13, 14 years after we started. It was a great thing. This builder told, told to me a successful Canadian builder. I don't remember his name. He told me on a plane, he told me it took him 20 years to have his overnight success. So just remember that. It doesn't, it rarely happens quick and sometimes when it happens quick, that's a bad thing, right? Because you think it's always going to be like that, right? So I mean we were, You know, we we bashed around for 13 years before we we had real success. So that's uh even after the, even after the 1.8 million, I'll tell you what I walked out with after earth buddy. I walked out 200 grand. That's a pretty good first side hustle. It is, but I guarantee a lot of you will come out of business school and make 100 250 grand in your first year. And it was it wasn't right when I got out it was two years after. So whatever. I mean the bottom line is we didn't get rich on on earth buddy even I certainly didn't even at that time, right? So it was like, it was good, it was great. It convinced my father I wouldn't be working at the gas station, but but I mean it wasn't enough to retire on and I lived in an apartment with three roommates till I was 30 and I lived in another apartment till I was 35 I didn't buy my own first home till I was 36 years old, wow! Any regrets, Ben? Not really, no regrets, wow, what a great thing to be able to say. No regrets. Listen, I uhh you know, and I've done better than I ever dreamed I would do. So I, so and I did my best and uh and I do, I feel very fortunate that I found something that that I really enjoy. Like I really love making toys and it's and I know how to make a toy right? And so that's really cool. Like I've never, it took me as funny because I I didn't know what to call myself for the 1st 25 years and I got really excited last year when I figured it out because you know you have to put it on like your customs forms and I put down toy maker and it was like a big moment for me because like I never thought of myself as a toymaker, but that's what I do for a living. So that was a really happy moment for me and your world class at it. So that that's amazing. Any advice to your younger H. B. A. To Ben? He's sitting in front of you. Any advice to HBO to Ben H. B. A. To where is he shake move around a little HB two? Oh there he is. H. O. They're they're okay fine. Any advice to H. B. A. Yeah. No your strengths and weaknesses. That's the number one thing. Like let me tell you not everybody should be an entrepreneur. It's a really harsh thing to say, but how many entrepreneurs make it? The fact of the matter is very few. Very few 1% right? So not everybody should be an entrepreneur, but there's lots of ways to cut the cake. So maybe it's joining a small company that's already started where you can get a lot of shares and take your strength that you're great at and help them. Maybe it's buying a company that's up and running at some point in time. Maybe it's going in with a bunch of people and buying a company or so again like knowing your strengths and weaknesses is so key. If you do that, I believe like it will give you a much greater chance of all the other things that need to happen um to have success, great place last one before we turn it over to release the hounds. Um Can we be helpful to you at all, Ben? Is there anything that this group of students or call it 5, 10,000 people who listen to the episodes? How can we be helpful for you? I don't know. It's I don't have a good answer, you know, and I don't want to say something like that sounds phony, so I don't I don't have a good answer. Go read your full potential. That's what you should do. Don't worry about anyone else. It's time to be, this is a good time in your life, to be selfish. You know? Like it's about you. You know, Burt would gave me gave our class amazing advice, I'll never forget it. This is the best thing. I didn't hear a word he said all year, but I heard this, he said the time has come in your life for you to stop working on your weaknesses and...

...focus on your strengths. And he said your whole life, you're not good at math. They tell you to go practice your math, you're not good. And in english, they tell you to go practice your spelling or you know, you don't know how to hit a basketball and that. So you've got to go practice your free throw. He said, the time has come in your life when you need to take your strengths and go focus on making them stronger. And I thought that was like world class advice that he gave and and I think you guys should go out, be selfish and reach your full potential, whatever that is for you, right? No one else can define that, only you can define that and you don't have to answer to anybody on that. You know, that's a that's a you decision and you know, you guys are the future because you've gotten into one of the best programs and I can tell you I face people from Harvard, I face people from stan stanford, all the best business schools on the planet and we hold our own 100% 100%. So I think like you guys have already started an amazing journey, Ben, thank you so so much for for your time, we appreciate it. I think the group that introduced you uh wanted to wrap it up so I'll turn it over to them. Okay? Absolutely. Thanks again, Ben for taking the time today. Were really super fortunate to have leaders like you here, we all really appreciate it. But on behalf of the class to show our gratitude, we've made a $40 donation in your name to toys for Tots Canada, which is a charity focused on providing toys to Canadian Children in need. So thanks again. We really appreciate it. You're so welcome guys, I can't tell you, I guarantee I enjoyed it more than you. Thank you so much for listening. Thanks Ben. Thank you. Bye everybody take care. Good luck. Thanks. The entrepreneur podcast is sponsored by quantum shift 2000 and eight alum, Connie clarity and closing the gap healthcare group to ensure you never miss an episode. Subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast player or visit entrepreneurship dot u W o dot c a slash podcast. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time. Yeah.

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