Hey David! Great to see you at POP Week! Thank you for taking time to chat with us. What are your roles and responsibilities in our industry?
I have been very fortunate to work on many sides of the toy and game industry over the last 17 years. I started as a project manager overseeing the production and logistics for dozens of game companies over the years and also held various roles in product development, sales, and marketing for GPI’s former sister company, The Haywire Group. When Haywire was sold to University Games in 2018 I transitioned back to GPI as the VP of Business Development where I oversaw the formation of the Design & Development Department. During that time I invented and co-designed several games, many of which were licensed to GPI clients and other publishers. After leaving GPI and forming the consulting agency Good Egg Creative Co., I got an amazing opportunity to join Usaopoly (The Op) and I am now the Director of Family/Party Games.
What is it about the Toy and Game Industry that you love?
There’s a lot to love about being in the business of play but there’s something special about the people who gravitate to our industry. Any time I have played with the idea that maybe it would be exciting to explore another industry, I reconnect with someone or meet someone new to the industry and am reminded what a fantastic collection of humans we are. Creative, driven, and in my experience, very generous, whether that’s in the form of a veteran bestowing knowledge to a newbie or sharing contacts and ideas with colleagues when there’s nothing to personally gain from doing so.
Do you have a mantra that you live by?
I have several, really. I wouldn’t be surprised if my coworkers had a betting pool for how many times I’d say, “Let’s f’n go!” or “Pressure makes diamonds!” and “Don’t bleed before the bullet hits!” in a given week. But the saying that defines a lot of what I believe in is “Work backwards.” I’ve found that doing so can resolve conflict and unlock creativity. For example, instead of starting with a blank canvas, try starting with a great product name, price point & packaging idea and work backward to figure out the appropriate theme, age range, and play mechanics. It might lead you to places you wouldn't have gone otherwise.
What has been your biggest achievement?
Alright. I’m aware that the answer I’m about to give could be interpreted as baiting for sympathy but I promise I’m not - it's the honest truth. But if you’re allergic to earnest reveals just stop reading now… Five years ago I was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s Disease. It was a shock to say the least but, as I’ve said countless times before when sharing my story, I decided to own it instead of it owning me. Being open about it has helped me come to terms with all the unknowns that go along with it and, in a weird way, my life got a little bit better after I was diagnosed because I started to live life more urgently - YOLO, carpe that diem, and all that. Thankfully progression has been stemmed pretty incredibly thanks to new medications and the fact that my doctor is the World’s Greatest Neurologist. I’m able to function well enough that you might not even notice I have it. I’ve been very lucky, all things considered. My family has raised over $100,000 so far for the Michael J. Fox Foundation as fundraising for research is the biggest thing that makes me feel like I’m doing something to combat it. So, yeah. We got real there but that’s my honest answer! Other than that, I was part of the team awarded a Guinness World Record for the World’s Largest Rubber Chicken Toss. True story.
What advice would you give a young adult graduating from high school or college today?
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to know what you’re going to do for the rest of your life at 18 or 22. If you think you do, then good for you! But if not, don’t be too hard on yourself. I dabbled in art and theater as a teen, studied media production in college, got into philosophy & humanitarian work, made films, and recorded music all before stepping on the proverbial banana peel during a quarter-life crisis that had me fall into the toy & game industry, quite by accident. My journey technically makes no sense. But looking back, it’s funny to think how many things from my past that seem like non-transferable skills are really tools I still lean heavily on to this day. For example, experiences I had working retail jobs during my starving artist years help me today in packaging design, a terrible job in customer service kind of prepared me for account management, and planning film shoots informed an understanding of proper project management. The truth is nobody knows what they’re doing, really. While I like the idea of having “a path” in life, I think it’s less about a linear journey of I’m going to do this and this and then this, and instead is more about being open to new opportunities while charting a course dictated by your principles or beliefs. ...Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.
How do you recharge or take a break?
Our family loves to travel and nothing brings me more joy than exploring new places or “adventuring” with my wife, two daughters, and our dog. I’ve been very fortunate and taken some incredible trips around the world over the years but our home away from home is Acadia National Park in Maine which I’ve returned to nearly every summer of my life. Seven years ago we set out to hike every trail in the park (about 140 miles worth). We finally achieved that goal this past summer after logging around 190 total miles. One day my girls will realize how cool that is. Today is not that day.
Do you play any musical instruments? If so, which one(s)?
I sing, play guitar and bass and a little bit of piano. None particularly well because I’ve taught myself by ear but good enough that I’ve probably written and recorded/released over a hundred songs since college, half of which were written and recorded over the course of one year during covid lockdowns. Those five albums are on Spotify, etc under the pseudonym One-Trick Phony if anyone is curious about how I was doing during the 2020 election and peak covid (Spoiler alert: the first album was titled “Everything is Terrible and Nothing Matters” haha). Kidding aside, creating music became a great release for me during a time when travel wasn’t an option.
What’s your workspace setup like?
When it became clear that I would be working remotely exclusively, we were short on space so I had no choice but to convert my kids’ playroom into my home office/studio. They’ve been using the space less and less as they grow older and have more extracurricular obligations so it wasn’t too big of a deal. However, one of their non-negotiable demands was that they could keep their LEGO city sprawled across the floor. Anyone who’s done a video call with me lately has surely seen their creations in the background behind me but, hey, it’s the toy industry. Who doesn’t have some LEGO in their office?
What advice do you have for people starting in the industry?
Network and ask questions! People love to hear themselves talk. It’s human nature! Look at all the words I just used to answer these last eight questions! I’m continually amazed by how far people can get in life simply by having the audacity to reach out to a stranger and ask them something. A new game designer I know invented his first game at his kitchen table and had no idea what to do next so he sent an email to the general inbox of one of his favorite game publishers. Within a few days he had an hour-long conversation with the company’s CEO. Fast forward another six months and he’s got a signed licensing deal with another publisher and his game is going into 1,700 Target stores. You don’t get if you don’t ask. I guess that's another one to add to my list of mantras!