The Entrepreneur Podcast
The Entrepreneur Podcast

Episode · 5 months 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 entrepreneurpodcast from the western Morrissette Institute for entrepreneurship poweredby I. V. In this series. Ivy entrepreneur and ivy faculty memberERic Jansen will anchor the session. I've spent the last few months askinghundreds of individual contributors, managers, entrepreneurs what the topskills to be teaching young people are and how we should be teaching them. Andthe answer has come back resoundingly how to deal with rejection andresilience. Today's conversation is with Ben Verratti, who is the cofounder and chief creative officer of spin master toys Today, a publiclytraded company with a market cap north of $4 billion with 1600 employeesglobally. They're well known for toys like to sketch air hogs, Pop PatrolRubik's cube and back again. And with more nominations for innovative toysthan any other toy company in the world. The creative mind behind all of this isBen 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 executiveis an odd choice for the topic of resilience, given the crazy grise ofspin master toys, but every single story Has its dark corners that we'regoing to dig into today. So in this episode Ben shares his story of how hegot started at spin master and highlights not just his successes butalso his failures along the way, including how he lost $100 million. Benshares his lessons on feeling well and how to develop resilience. I hope youenjoy listening to this episode as much as I enjoyed having it. Please enjoythis conversation with spin master toys. See Ceo Ben Variety Ben Variety Action.Thank your superpowers aren't limited the building successful companies hecan also shred guitar and piano To top it off the bench. Actually figuredin October of the year from 1999 top 440 executive for his amazingachievement. Get yours now they're flying off the shelves around the worldcomes to show each sold separately batteries not existing. I think Ben, Ilove it. Thank you so much. That was an exact replica of my life. Is thatexactly how it went exactly like that? I love when the teams take a little bitof a risk and read the crowd a little bit. I think they pegged you as a guywho 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 thebasement 20 ft below. I'm in uh, my studio. Yeah, a little bit of music onthe side. I I got a bunch of keyboards. They're designed to hold up garbagebags. That's that's basically that's how it goes. Lot of synthesizers andstuff. I just, you know, collect for fun and play for fun. So it's alwaysbeen 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 mybasement setup? But like you are, you win, you win this game. Well, the goodnews, I don't have to change my background, right? I see all thesepeople 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'mexcited. I think your your company and your toys have been a part of megrowing 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 bustedapart when I was a kid eventually. Like these are the toys that defined megrowing up so I busted apart. I busted apart of stretch armstrong too. So Iplayed with it also. Yeah. Oh yeah, I played it out. It wasn't a defect. Iplayed 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 astudent, although I never would've guessed you look exactly like one. I'mhere for your support. Thanks. We do. I need it. I need it. I see a lot offaces here. Yeah, we've got 62. This is arguably, I say, the mostentrepreneurial group at ivy. So these are students that, you know, haveambitions of either starting a company right out of school or are probably theones that are going to do it one day. So this is, this is the audience thatyou've got today, Wow, that's perfect, that's that's my kind of audience. Sohelp us rewind Ben when you were in hb two sitting with these students, Wheretoday, 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 Ididn't know what I wanted to do, I...

...really had no idea and I and I wasinterviewing in a whole bunch of different places. So I interviewed atbain and I interviewed, I remember they asked me how many chocolate chips arethey asked me how many elevators were in the city of Toronto and I said wellI just call city planning and ask and the interview ended. And uh and Iinterviewed at what's that big advertising firm out of Chicago, whatare they called? I don't even leo Burnett, Leo Burnett. I did 18interviews with Leo Burnett and they didn't hire me at the end, they saidand I phoned them and I said well why did you guys hire me? And they saidbecause we felt you were too unorthodox and I said aren't you supposed to be anorthodox for advertising? And they said not on the account side. So that endedthat. And so when I graduated Ivy I really didn't have a job and then I gotcalled by merchant banking. One of the Canadian banks called me to come ininterview at the merchant banking division. I asked what was merchantbanking in that interview ended? So I really, I didn't have I didn't have alot of, I mean I could have taken something, Icould've got something but I really came out not knowing what I wanted todo and I wasn't that stressed about it because uh I got a great education andI figured eventually something would line up and I did sort of think that Iwould ultimately end up doing something on my own. So that's that's where I was. So ifsome of you don't have any idea of what you want to do, I think that's okay, Ithink that's okay because things uh so how did you originally, was it Antonand running? Who approached you? Did you guys know each other from before?How did that moment, the first connection happen? I didn't know RainnN. I met Anton in business school. So him and I both went to at that time itwas called, I don't think it was called ivy right, Which is called the thewestern business school. So Anton Anton and I met each other and we becamefriends 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 partof it? So I did. And I ran manufacturing for the Earth but Ididn't know anything about manufacturing less than zero. And I hadan amazing arts teacher at West at Western. His name was burnt wood and hewas, I don't know if you ever met America, He was an incredible guy. Isat in the back row and he spoke very quietly. I didn't hear a word he saidall year, I thought he was great and uh, he was like a classic Western guy, youknow, Harvard graduate and he sort of mumbled and he retired my last year. Sohe was already like 75. Anyway, I knew nothing about ops and I went in and Iwas running the factory and we were hiring at that time the Ontariogovernment had a program where you could hire unemployed people or peoplein homeless shelters for something like $3 an hour and they would pay the restup to minimum wage. So we hired a whole bunch of homeless people and I rememberI was really drowning, the thing took off and we'd never ordered suppliesbefore. I mean I knew sort of like basic terms that I learned in businessschool, like, you know, whip and uh, and raw materials and all that kind ofstuff and finished goods, but basically we didn't really know what we weredoing and I really didn't know what I was doing. And the funniest thing is wehave these different stations that made earth buddies. So the first thing isyou would take the hosiery, you put the sawdust in the hosiery, then you'dactually, the first thing at the beginning is you would cut up the hosebecause it was actually still in pantyhose form, so you'd have to cutoff the underwear and then cut the legs into five body, you know, the leg wouldcut 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 thesawdust in, tie it up, then it would go to have it formed so they'd make thenose and then it would go in it, so it would go from station to station. Andthe funniest thing is we didn't have any suppliers. So the line wasconstantly shutting down. So like for example, the eyes would, we ran out ofglue and so I would have to like drive to the local hardware store, I'll takeeverything you got. So it was, it was quite an adventure. And one day this homeless man knocked on my doorsthat I can see you're having some problems and I'm happy to help you. Andit 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 reallybeing my savior. His name was bob and bob fully understood the manufacturingprocess. And he, like, I came in the next morning, I didn't have any. I justsaid, sure you can help me. I came next morning at charts all over the wallsfor each station, outlining the working process when our raw materials, we'regoing to run out, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. And so that was sort of likewe got up and running and then we slowly built up to being able to do, wewent from making, You know, 60 units on our first day or 50 or 10, I don't evenremember to over 20,000 in a 24 hour period, all in downtown Toronto in awarehouse 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, thatwas 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 forkmart for 500,000 pieces. And then what happened to me in my life is i it wassuch a wild ride and at the end of Earth, but I was so tired. I rememberon on one of the last days we had to lay off a whole bunch of people becauseas quickly as it took off it ended. And so I then went with a friend and Iworked on, he said there's this thing called the internet and we should dosomething in it. So we then went, it went into the internet. Our name atthat time was called Creative Online dot com. Like it was so easy to get aname, you pick any two words you wanted. And I discovered after nine months wesold 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 Ididn't really understand it and I didn't like it. And the funny thing, Ialways joke to him because I still talk to him is we could have done anythingand 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 littlebit of the journey and then Anton Brennan said, well we'd love you tocome 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 speakerscome in and guests come in and share with us their stories and uh noshortage of success stories and the, the group circulated your bio inadvance and so we have a pretty good idea. We'll get into it later. We havea pretty good idea of some of the winds associated with the company, but I'dlove to read off the bat, get into failure because this is like everysingle year across all of the entrepreneurship classes. The thingsthat students want to hear more about is failure. Tell me about the fails. Soany like epic ones, any epic ones come to mind than massive failures. I fillit. We've had some massive failures. So the funniest thing, I'll give you guysa real good one. So in 2000, when was the meltdown? 2010? Yeah, 9000 2009. Sowe sailed through 2009 2010 with a huge success because that's when we launchedback again. So it took us 15 years to have our overnight success. So wefinally 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 thatyear we had to write a check back to the bank personally to sort ofguarantee 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 ofour 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 hiredtoo many people too quickly And we took some bad bets and we lost 100 millionbucks, wow. So massive cash flow shortage that you had to shore upindividually. Yeah, it's really check back to the bank after coming off likethis incredible high, wow wow. Yeah, lots of failures along the way. And andthe thing about failure is you can brake failure up. Imean 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'sfailures and things you do. There's failures in business, Right? So sothere'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 isfamiliar with failure in some way, shape or form And success becauseyou're in this program. So therefore you have had success. You're already inthe 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 digginghere 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 thetimeline of when you started the company. Of course, I'm sure there werelike inevitable ups and downs in ebbs and flows. But 2001 I saw somethinghappened with the key charm cuts. And I noted that as maybe a potential firstlike 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 weprobably, it was our first foray into like a real, really competing againstMattel and Hasbro, the big players and we developed a small doll line, spent alot 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 thinkfailing in a product line is something we got used to pretty early because ourbusiness we're in is a big bet business and you know, even if I'm amazing at myjob, I think my odds of failure, I'm still only succeeding one out of everyfour times really. So we learned to fail very early on, which I think waswas 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 thenall of a sudden we failed 10 years in and it sunk us. I mean, we we learnedpretty early on how to fail, which brings me to one of the lessons thatthat I'm, you know, that I've sort of learned along the way that I'm happy toshare 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 successat the end of the day, it's it's very fleeting. I mean, even success is veryfleeting and it comes and it goes and it comes and it goes along the way. Andso what you really have to get yourself into very quickly is enjoying andappreciating the journey and not getting too married to your ideas,whether it's a product idea, a business idea, marketing idea, whatever it is. Imean, 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, butI think knowing when to jump off and knowing when to keep going, it's askill for sure, Right? So you have to keep keep checking the data, keepchecking the facts in front of you, keep checking your intuition, keepchecking with others. Keep doing your research. Not too much, but enough thatyou're you have all the dad in front of you to allow you to make a reasonabledecision. So Ben, you said one in four failed. Does that mean literally likeone in four that actually make it out of the building and get onto theshelves? 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 onein 61 in eight and then sometimes we've had two out of five fail, which bringsme to another point, which is at the beginning, the level of risk you takeis gigantic, right? Because You've only got one product and then you launchanother product, you're essentially launching your company over again in away. So you always want to make sure you're not blowing your brains out. Ifyou don't have to, when you start, you have nothing to lose, you have nochoice. You're, you've got the gun to your head, right? But as you start togain success, a guy told me really early on over a pastrami sandwich, hesaid to me, don't take a risk so big that you, if you're wrong, you'll sinkthe company and I've never forgotten that. And there's a lot of truth now, Iwouldn't say it's a rule I would take that could never be broken. There aretimes when you have to take a risk because the company is on the linebecause if you don't take that risk, you won't be around. But I think as youstart to gain success, I think the one thing we've done well is we've beenpretty good at managing The company, preserving the company, failing inproduct 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, sortof kept an eye on us. Even out of the corner of your eye. I mean, we fixed awhole bunch of mistakes in the last 12 months. Right? I mean, we we got a newpresident 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, Ithink four great years, something like that. And then we, we got into a giantoperational problem, which did, you know, year or two's worth of damage andwe're and we're still fixing that right? So it's a lot better. But I mean we'redealing with it now. So it's like you're, you know, you'reflying a plane sometimes you hit, you hit bad weather and you have to makechanges accordingly. You have to take the wheel sometimes right, you got totake it off autopilot and take the wheel and stay engaged and make harddecisions on the creative side bend. Since you ever see that group at thecompany. I'm assuming that you said the statistics are whatever call it one in41 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 2000people there. How do you get people to be uncomfortable to be comfortable withthe idea that they're inevitably going to screw up? Like how do you helppeople 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 wefail as individuals. And so you hope...

...each person is looking at themselvesand taking stock of their contribution and where they might have gone wrong. Ithink, um, it's not easy. I mean, I think in a way it's like the bestcomparison would be to a hockey team or any type of team sports. I mean, you'remanaging a team and you have to make sure that your team is optimized. Andso it's not easy because sometimes you gotta, you watch the team as a wholeand you watch the individuals that make up the team as the person coaching theteam. And so sometimes it's necessary to make changes to have the best teamand you have to look at the strength of the company as a whole. It was, it tookme a lot of years to get there, because in the early years I tended to carrythe 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 tocarry the team more right now, that's an oversimplification, But let's justtake it for the purpose of you guys in your life. And as you go on to me, it'smore complicated than that because the teams contribute a lot, right? So forme 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 upindividuals, right? So we approach it as an individual and part of the largerteam. So, and then I think as I got older, I realized if you don't havestrong members on your team, that team will affect the company. So you have tohave the strength to continually improve your team. You have tocontinually improve yourself. You have to have an open mind. You have tolisten. The first thing I do when we fail is I look at my own actions and Iasked myself, where did I go wrong? Where did I fail? Where did I directpeople badly? Where did I? You know, And then there's failure across theorganization? Did we fail in the marketing? Do we fail in the productthat 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 toidentify the failure and to be honest, like as far as I try to speakpositively to people and encourage them as much as possible and lean on theteam because we are all working together and I'm pretty even I think insuccess and failure, so I don't honestly put that much time into how doI put it? I'm kind of move on type of guy. So I don't dwell that much onfailure. And so I would say, I don't take all that much time to nurturepeople on failure. I just I'm like, OK, everybody get up, we're moving on andwe're going to do better next time. And at the same time I have responsibilityto 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 Ihave to I have to shift a little bit towards teaching and making sureeverybody is looking at things, taking into account all the, all the all thefactors, right? Like if you guys came to work at Spin Master, you wouldn'thave necessarily a ton of experience that on day one, so I need to sharethat 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 toanswer. Yeah, I know, I know it's a hard one. That's why that's why I askedthe questions, don't answer for myself. I don't I don't nurture that much. Tobe honest, I'm more of a move on, back up everybody. Next one, you know, andwe screwed up on to the next one. Yeah, exactly, yeah, that's right. So how doyou, how do you know? So something that we spend a lot of time on today beforeyou came on was trying to figure out how you know, when to call it and moveon versus like, no, let's keep going. Any advice. I mean, it could bespecifically related to your business or more broadly, but that's thedecision point, right? Like there's so many times the stories that you read ofthese successful companies, you yourself have one where had you chosen,like, screw it, throw in the towel, then you spin master wouldn't existtoday versus the people that are able to identify, like we're so close, justgo a little bit longer and then there's these massive breakthroughs to, youknow, super successful companies. So how do you decide when to keep goingversus 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 itthat's holding us back? Is it money that's holding us back? Is it is adesign that's holding us back? Maybe we don't have the optimal design. Is itthe 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 anisolating what are the factors that are holding you back and then deciding canwe 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 muchdamage that we have to stop. Well, that would be a great indicator that we haveto stop if the risk is so big that maybe we shouldn't be taking it becauseif we take it, it'll do too much damage...

...or being honest about what kind of shotwe have. Like, are we in our sweet spot? Are we out of our sweet spot? If we'reout 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 manydifferent things and the advice I would give, it's like being open minded andhonest with yourself about whether or not you can overcome it and if you canovercome 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 listthings that I do in almost every case is when someone says, let's do thisproduct, in my mind is quickly, quite quickly. I say if you're right or ifwe're right and we go ahead and do this what success looks like and if we'rewrong and we do this, what does failure look like right now? Some things aremore 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 tryingthen I think, I mean that's a that's a question I asked myself always and Ikeep asking myself that question. That's an awesome one that like, soexample 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'lldo 10 million in revenue, But we're we're going to spend all this time andenergy doing something for $10 million bucks in revenue and Which, you know, Imean it's no secret we do about $1.5 plus billion dollars a year orsomething in the neighborhood, I don't know. So 10 million for a ton of workmight not be worth it. And if we are wrong, we'll lose a million and a halfdollars. Well. So sometimes, you know, there's like that saying, it's it'slike sometimes it's just as easy you spend just as much time creatingsomething that has $100 million worth of potential as something that has $10million worth potential. So that's an equation I'll often do. And so to makesure that we're putting our time to things that have high potential,otherwise we're wasting our time, especially as you get bigger and itcosts more to run the company. Cool. It's an exercise that I tried andthen took out of one of the courses that I teach on new venture creation. Ihad the teams write a press release so fast forward two years and like what'sthe press release you want to launch about the success that the company hashad. Like, what have you done? What impact have you had? And I found thatit 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 dowe want that news article to say about us? And if that's not exciting, thenchoose something else. You know, like that's not getting you fired up thenwhy take that risk in the first place? Totally. And I mean, I think it's agood idea to do that at every stage in your life. Like for you guys going outand starting a business, one thing that I noticed when I was a kid that waslike, I think it was wrong when I look back Is like, someone would say, wellyou're 24 years old and you have no money so you should work and go earn abit of money and then take a risk. And then When you're 32 they say, well youyou don't have that much money so you should like, you know, you should saveup a little bit more money and then take a risk, okay, so now you're 38 38you got a car and uh and you probably bought one that was like 11 step abovewhat you should have, and you've got a wife and you've got a kid on the wayand 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 offinancial help, right? Which is obviously, it's hard to get when youdon't have any experience. I mean, what of what is Zuckerberg and Bill Gatesand all these guys taught us that you can, You can come up with somethingamazing at 25 years old and, and change the world. You know, any one of thosegreat business people have shown us that, that you can do now again if youneed tons of money and it's the oil business, well that's probably a lotharder to do because it's you need so much capital, right? So I think it'slike I think owning that and and being aware of it will help you guys Use thatexact same formula in your everyday decision making right? If you're 63years old and a guy sits down, he says, I need your advice, I'm 63 years oldand I want to start this company and say, well you're 60 years old, is thiswhat you want to do? How badly what's the down state you have to spend yourretirement money? So I mean I think these are this is a lesson. That's alife lesson, not just a business lesson. Yeah, that's great. We also talkedtoday about about the importance of having a mentor when you're eitherdoing really hard things or to help you bounce back from a failure. I know umin your keynote last year you talked about I think you had a really goodrelationship with peter munk, is that correct? Yeah we met with peter munk acouple times and not just that some of...

...our old business professor like when westarted we spoke to a lot of our business professors from Western. Iremember Professor Pierce helped us out. Professor erskine helped us out. I meanwe spoke to some of them as well. So I mean mentor's mentor can come fromanywhere and Peter munk was certainly one of them are used and it is anincredible Canadian success story and then a really interesting guy like theydon't make them like he made it, he had success in three completely differentindustries which is like almost unprecedented I mean and he startedfrom scratch and every single one. Yeah. So for those uh not that don't knowpeter munk, Canadian Hungarian, Canadian business really icon who was Iguess most well known as the founder of Barrick Gold right? The biggest goldmine operation in the world. But he got his start in stereos, he got his stairsand then he made a ton of money in real estate in I think Asia. So he did a lotof, he was a real, it was a real special man in real character. You'llyou'll see his name on the side of the Toronto general, the cardiac monk, youknow the monk cardiac center and I think also the Mark, the Monk Bill, youknow state affairs, something something affairs. I see it on bloom street atthe University of Toronto. So he's like he's a real character. So importance ofwere there any mentors along the way that when you face any of these, youknow company make or break decisions or challenges or even big failures thatyou leaned on to help coach you through them a little bit. I even asked ourcompetitors for help. Uh huh. I called our competitor once at Mattel and andsomeone I met at a conference and said look we're just starting out and Ireally love your help and she helped me for a couple years until we reached acertain size and then she didn't take my calls anymore. Yeah, so I mean, youknow I always say like seek mentors and be a mentor, you know, so I mean thegreat thing is most people in Canada, we're not starving and we can and I Ialways 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 wouldsay to every one of you guys seek mentors, be a mentor And it shouldnever stop, I I get advice from people all the time, even today for sure andnever and never it should never change. I mean, I I think now that I'm 50, Iturned 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 doyou what do you do to feed that? Well, I I always try to, music is oneand I and I try to like stay up on all the latest synthesizers when I workwith people, I love working, like with Maybe a young person who like I workedwith a young producer who was 19 this year and he taught me a whole bunch ofstuff 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 lovefighting with them and I love when they fight back, you know, it's likecreative sometimes it's like that scene in Lord of the Rings where they'reputting making the orcs, you know, and they're putting the armor on them. Likeit'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 itsometimes, 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 wasa really telling moment because You're always in such a rush, you know, we'realways 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'reso anxious to have success, right, get out there and make something and Ithink the biggest piece of advice I can give is to really learn to appreciatethe journey and, and even failure. There's so many lessons in failure andit sucks to fail for sure. But I think like it really is a failure as a momentand success is really just a moment to, and you know that famous saying, it'slike what have you done for me lately? Well it's kind of true, right? So Ithink like you gotta be like that with yourself, right, and you have to, youhave to just keep pushing forward no matter what happens, whether it'sfilled and that doesn't mean stupidly right, like and the other thing I'lladd, which I think is a huge part of there's so many reasons people fail andsucceed and a lot of them are outside of our control. I mean you take thepandemic and it's very interesting because it's like there's lots ofdifferent ways to look at what we're living through right now. You can takevery negative view. Indeed if you have a family memberthat's gotten really sick or you had a business that was decimated by thepandemic, it's very reasonable to take...

...a very negative view and I wouldn'tfault anyone for doing that. But if we step back from that for one second andwe take a look at, if you were born in 1900 what would it look like? You wouldhave lived through the First World War, The first pandemic, which was way worsethan so far what we've had to endure because 50 million people died, youwould have lived through the Second World War. You would have lived throughthe Great Depression. So the fact of the matter is we've had 70 years ofrelative calm in the West, right? I'm not, I mean not if you lived inCambodia, 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 onething. You just, if you're healthy, just start there and then just keepgoing, you know, and keep trying and keep going. And the one thing I wouldsay is the other in really important part of that is is that out of everytough time lies the potential for success. And I think like It's going tobe so interesting to see the next five or 10 years because humanity won't stopand we'll see some really cool things happen I think like really cool thingsand the thing I would say to you guys and wrapping up the statement is thatone of the most most most important things is knowing your strengths andyour weaknesses as a person and being really open with yourselves about that. And uh let me tell you something, Iremember interviewing at bain and interviewing at those finance companieswhen I was at, when I was at the Western Business school at ivy and andI knew one thing, even at that time I knew it and I knew and what it was Iknew is that I wasn't going to be the best finance guy and so like I probablycould have duped them and maybe gotten a job, but I knew it wasn't the rightthing 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 andsomething doesn't mean you're not potentially good at it, so you gottaright? But having the self awareness to know that I think is really, reallyimportant and it's it's one of the hallmarks I think of becomingsuccessful in your life, forget a business venture or one thing becausethat 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 Ireally good at this and by not having and and having that discussion over andover and over again. And then if you're not knowing that and bringing in thehelp, right? So if you're not a great finance person, bring in a great ceoyou trust. And when you choose your partner, one of the biggest mistakes wesometimes make is choosing someone who is exactly like us, right? And avoidingthe fight, right? And it ain't easy. And there's it is, I'll tell you a realride. Like, but it also, if you learn to embrace it on some level, it alsohopefully takes you, you can get something great out of it, that'sawesome. Ben, I want to come back to a point because we've had a few fewspeaker if you guess. And um talking about who have had some success in abunch of different ways. One of them being one dimension of that beingfinancially Yeah, and the criticism is easy for them to say, you know, theyare whatever, they have achieved this level of personal success. So there'sthis conversation around or the anecdote is always like, you know,enjoy, enjoy the journey. The money doesn't matter. Yeah. For the record, Inever said that the money doesn't matter because I think it's not a goodthing 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 athread that's been pulled out, but the students aren't happy with some of theanswers that we've been trying to work through. So like I'm looking, I justdid my homework this morning. So you spin master, like $3 billion company. Iwas just like by comparison, right? You are bigger than cineplex courseentertainment and Sleep country Canada combined. Like, I mean these aresignificant Canadian companies, right? You're bigger than free. A AritziaMaple 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. Butit's so great. We're in that company because we can see a movie and then wecan 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 namesacross the country and you are a significant shareholder in that. And sowould you like, would you trade, literally, would you trade where youare today with the people that are in the class? No, but that's not a moneything. 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 areally that's a deep question. You know, we all have to get into one of thosesleep country beds to talk about that. I mean, you know, I have to saysometimes when I look at the journey you guys have, it feels tougher to mebecause there was less pressure back then and I I wouldn't want to have togo through that. Um like I'll tell you guys, this is very deep, hold on, letme just let make sure no one can hear me. But you know my kids, they're sixand 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. SoI said it's way better and then I realized it was I was speaking out loudby accident. Um and that and the reason it was way better is because like Ijust drank coke and a candy, you know and like played outside. I thinkthere's so much pressure on all of you guys and and I think it's I think it'snot right and I think it's not necessary and I think like and life wasso simple then and there was less divisiveness in the world, there wasless, You know like all you did like I don't think I opened a book till I was14. Really? You know like I just I really just had fun for the first 16years 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'thave to think about the stuff that you got and even coming out of school, likeit wasn't as competitive and it wasn't as, you know, and I didn't think aboutit as much and the expectations uh that I had of myself weren't that higheither to be honest, my father used to always point at the gas station and saythat's where you're gonna be working. So I was like, my standards were so lowthat I didn't really, I didn't have that. Like I never dreamed about beingrich, right? So it was kind of shocked when I had a few bucks and I will tellyou it's good to have money. So I'm not going to make the statement that it'snot, but I will tell you you buy a few things and it gives you peace of mindand then you realize it's not really like what dr like for me, I just byinstruments, right? So I mean I I buy like, you know, creative tools so Idon't want to make it sound like like money isn't great, you know, like I'vebought, you know, I've done that stuff and I've spent money, but it does kindof and also even in the world today guys like, you know yourself, peopledon't love rich people, like rich people are like kind of like inpeople's crosshairs. So and I mean when I was a kid, my father used to say tome, the world is in a better place, if there are people standing at your doorwith pitchforks. So you know, I think it's great to have money because itgives 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 andfamous conversation, you know, I can I can tell you a couple of fun things butbut it's it's kind of like it doesn't really define you, it's just a nicething that came along the way mm for sure, but it wasn't like something Ireally dreamed about, it wasn't my impetus for doing what I do. I didn'teven think it at the time because it just wasn't like today, right? Itwasn't and there weren't any Zuckerberg's or like or or amazon's orlike or zooms or any of these 8,000,000,050 billion. Like it didn'treally the world wasn't really like that right? We were just happy to be inthe game. You know when we started there was youknow, 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, whosome of you may know they were like Canada's most famous toy company for 50years. And then there was the Canada Games and they were really distributorsof us companies products and the only way we could survive was to do our ownproducts and we didn't even really understand that, I can only say that inretrospect, but the bottom line is after Earth Buddy, we had no choice butto go out and just start making toys. It's just we didn't plan it, it justhappened that way. And even then we were saying well maybe we should open achicken 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 challengeme. 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 ohit's coming. Ben, I'm sure we have a channel of you know, I should becareful what I say, right? We have a channel up here with a bunch of guestquestions so the ones they get up voted the most they're gonna get asked. Sothose are coming in two minutes so get get ready. I think it's SAm SAm who'sgonna moderate? So rapid fire ones for you been before we transition to uh tostudent questions. Was there a moment or what was the moment you're in yourcareer where you felt like you made it back again? Back again? Was when waswhen 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 24when we started and so when we had that moment, I was 37. Mm So it was 13, 14years, I was 37 38, it was 14 years 13, 14 years after we started. It was agreat thing. This builder told, told to me a successful Canadian builder. Idon't remember his name. He told me on a plane, he told me it took him 20years to have his overnight success. So just remember that. It doesn't, itrarely 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 meanwe were, You know, we we bashed around for 13 years before we we had realsuccess. So that's uh even after the, even afterthe 1.8 million, I'll tell you what I walked out with after earth buddy. Iwalked 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 andmake 100 250 grand in your first year. And it was it wasn't right when I gotout it was two years after. So whatever. I mean the bottom line is we didn't getrich on on earth buddy even I certainly didn't even at that time, right? So itwas like, it was good, it was great. It convinced my father I wouldn't beworking at the gas station, but but I mean it wasn't enough to retire on andI lived in an apartment with three roommates till I was 30 and I lived inanother apartment till I was 35 I didn't buy my own first home till I was36 years old, wow! Any regrets, Ben? Not really, no regrets, wow, what agreat thing to be able to say. No regrets. Listen, I uhh you know, andI've done better than I ever dreamed I would do. So I, so and I did my bestand uh and I do, I feel very fortunate that I found something that that Ireally enjoy. Like I really love making toys and it's and I know how to make atoy right? And so that's really cool. Like I've never, it took me as funnybecause I I didn't know what to call myself for the 1st 25 years and I gotreally excited last year when I figured it out because you know you have to putit on like your customs forms and I put down toy maker and it was like a bigmoment for me because like I never thought of myself as a toymaker, butthat's what I do for a living. So that was a really happy moment for me andyour 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 andweaknesses. That's the number one thing. Like let me tell you not everybodyshould be an entrepreneur. It's a really harsh thing to say, but how manyentrepreneurs 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 waysto cut the cake. So maybe it's joining a small company that's already startedwhere you can get a lot of shares and take your strength that you're great atand help them. Maybe it's buying a company that's up and running at somepoint in time. Maybe it's going in with a bunch of people and buying a companyor so again like knowing your strengths and weaknesses is so key. If you dothat, I believe like it will give you a much greater chance of all the otherthings that need to happen um to have success, great place last one before weturn 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 peoplewho listen to the episodes? How can we be helpful for you? I don't know. It'sI don't have a good answer, you know, and I don't want to say something likethat sounds phony, so I don't I don't have a good answer. Go read your fullpotential. That's what you should do. Don't worry about anyone else. It'stime to be, this is a good time in your life, to be selfish. You know? Likeit'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 allyear, but I heard this, he said the time has come in your life for you tostop working on your weaknesses and...

...focus on your strengths. And he saidyour whole life, you're not good at math. They tell you to go practice yourmath, you're not good. And in english, they tell you to go practice yourspelling or you know, you don't know how to hit a basketball and that. Soyou've got to go practice your free throw. He said, the time has come inyour life when you need to take your strengths and go focus on making themstronger. And I thought that was like world class advice that he gave and andI 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 candefine 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 becauseyou've gotten into one of the best programs and I can tell you I facepeople from Harvard, I face people from stan stanford, all the best businessschools on the planet and we hold our own 100% 100%. So I think like you guyshave already started an amazing journey, Ben, thank you so so much for for yourtime, we appreciate it. I think the group that introduced you uh wanted towrap it up so I'll turn it over to them. Okay? Absolutely. Thanks again, Ben fortaking the time today. Were really super fortunate to have leaders likeyou here, we all really appreciate it. But on behalf of the class to show ourgratitude, 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. Sothanks again. We really appreciate it. You're so welcome guys, I can't tellyou, 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 sponsoredby quantum shift 2000 and eight alum, Connie clarity and closing the gaphealthcare group to ensure you never miss an episode. Subscribe to the showon your favorite podcast player or visit entrepreneurship dot u W o dot ca slash podcast. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time. Yeah.

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