Azhelle Wade on the Toy Economy

Azhelle Wade on the Toy Economy

Joining me this week is Azhelle Wade. Azhelle has had a career that spans across the toy industry, working as a toy entrepreneur and a toy inventor. Today, she helps the toy curious and toy experts turn their ideas into profitable products.

She began her career studying toy design at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. She then went on to work for major toy companies like Toys R Us, Party City. During that time, alongside her co-creators, she helped invent three major products that received US patents. Since then she’s become a serial entrepreneur.

Her journey as a creator began with a podcast, she then founded a costume company before creating her current, and most successful brand, the Toy Coach.

Like so many of our other guests, Azhelle is also a course creator. In September of 2020, she launched her Toy Creators Academy, which is about to hit its third cohort this coming September.

We touched on some very interesting topics in this conversation- everything from understanding the toy industry to learning about entrepreneurship, to figuring out how to turn an idea into a product.

Some of my key takeaways from this conversation were:

  1. To create a product that the market wants – you need to design something that buyers want, not necessarily what you want. That distinction, although subtle- is a very important one for early-stage entrepreneurs to navigate.
  2. When in the process of ideation, it often helps to try solving your own problems. A lot of the people that Azhelle works with came up with ideas because there were certain toys that they wish they had or that they wish their children had.
  3. The importance of market research. Something that’s so easily forgotten or even skipped over, because it’s often the least enjoyable thing to do. It’s very important to get a good sense of who your customer is, before you actually start creating anything for them.

We also talked about the importance of getting used to your ideas changing. It happens all the time in the toy industry, as well as in so many other industries, especially in these shifting times. For early creators, it can be quite a challenge to let go of the ego and to allow the idea to be molded and shaped into something that buyers would actually buy. I learned so much from talking to Azhelle and I’m sure you will, too.

Please sit back and enjoy my conversation with Azhelle Wade.

Full Episode

Guest Links

Show Notes

  • Finding your people. Azhelle describes her “tribe” in the toy industry. (00:04:09-00:04:34)
  • Everything is Play! Azhelle explains the extraordinary and dynamic opportunities in the toy business nowadays. (00:04:39-00:07:35)
  • The biggest misconceptions people have about the toy industry. (00:07:47-00:09:14)
  • Learning by doing. We talk about how Azhelle gained so much knowledge and experience. (00:09:28-00:10:17)
  • The Toy Coach. Azhelle speaks on her podcast being the flagship of her brand, and how much focused energy she dedicates to it. (00:10:18-00:11:44)
  • Always learning. Azhelle’s early childhood experiences on what it means to teach. (00:11:45-00:12:58)
  • How to get into exhibition design, and what inspired Azhelle to excel in this field. (00:12:59-00:15:03)
  • The Fashion Institute of Technology’s (FIT) toy design program and how she was the perfect fit for it. (00:15:04-00:16:14)
  • Lessons learned from the environment of the FIT toy design program, the inspirations to do better and the significance of market research. (00:16:16-00:19:56)
  • Azhelle compares her own teaching style with the FIT toy design program. (00:19:59-00:21:14)
  • Crafting a dream. The different influences and aspects that are taken into consideration in the journey of toy invention. (00:21:15-00:22:50)
  • Azhelle on the dynamic approach and process of toy invention. (00:22:51-00:24:59)
  • The most important part. Azhelle shares her secret for breaking into the toy industry: the importance of authenticity, relationships, and career evaluation. (00:25:00-00:28:37)
  • Perseverance matters. The challenges she has faced and how she was able to overcome them. (00:28:38-00:29:42)
  • Azhelle shares her experience with cultural nuance and how she navigates these differences. (00:29:43-00:33:14)
  • Patenting: advantages, disadvantages, and its sustainability. (00:33:18-00:37:43)
  • Tapping into the toy creator economy. Azhelle discusses the independent creator route for aspiring toy entrepreneurs. (00:37:44-00:39:43)
  • The difference between wood toys and plastic toys. (00:39:52-00:40:40)
  • Azhelle’s “zone toy of genius” and how important it is to have your own niche. (00:40:41-00:42:38)
  • Find the wave, ride the wave. We talk about creating products based on current trends and market research. (00:42:39-00:45:27)
  • Patterns of play. (00:45:28-00:46:17)
  • Developing consumer research through observation of children’s natural play. (00:46:18-00:47:40)
  • Azhelle tells us in detail about her creative process for one of the products she’s created, the Zip Screen. (00:47:41-00:52:28)
  • How developing the Zip Screen influenced her design thinking and inspired her next invention. (00:52:29-00:54:19)
  • Azhelle talks about leaving the corporate world and transitioning into entrepreneurship, sharing the lessons learned along the way. (00:54:20-00:58:40)
  • We briefly discuss Azhelle’s costume company, Costumize Me. (00:58:41-00:59:30)
  • Juggling hats. Azhelle describes her experience of having to split her time between two businesses. (00:59:31-1:01:23)
  • Taking the leap. Strategies and meaningful events that opened opportunities for Azhelle. (1:01:24-1:05:19)
  • Azhelle talks in detail about the Toy Creators Academy, what’s coming up soon, and what to expect from the program. (1:05:20-1:11:27)
  • The podcast Insider’s Club. (1:11:28-1:13:10)
  • The best song that describes Azhelle. (1:13:21-1:14:34)
  • Final words from Azhelle and where you can find her on social media. (1:14:36-1:15:46)

Selected Links from the Episode

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