Selling Your Vision

with Melissa Bernstein

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Finding a career that makes you sing

Melissa Bernstein

Co-Founder of Melissa & Doug Toys, Sales Expert, Toy Inventor

Lessons Learned

Find a career where you get to make music.

Identify a need and see how you can bring something unique to that gap in the market.

People will try to discourage you. If you believe in your idea, forge ahead.


Lesson: Selling Your Vision with Melissa Bernstein

Step #1 Authenticity: Finding a career that makes you sing

Our story is almost like an entire lifetime of living an experience, but it really started as a story of finding your passion because Doug and I were both on the path of not finding our passion, being inauthentic and not doing something that we both felt was really not only fulfilling to us, but something that made a difference to the world outside us. Right out of school I was an investment banker and he was in advertising and we went the path that we thought we should go because in that day not many people started companies right out of college. We thought this was a much safer path but both realized pretty quickly that we were drowning. We were so unfulfilled, unhappy, miserable. I felt like I had a 2000 pound gorilla on my shoulders every day when I got up, I could hardly breathe because I knew I was in an environment where I wasn't able to be my best, to thrive and to sort of make music.

There were others in that environment who were able to do that, I saw them. They took numbers and they made them sing and speak languages I didn't even understand and Doug felt the same way. We both felt like we were lost. So we decided pretty spontaneously, that we were going to join forces and do our own thing. And it was crazy in the sense that we were leaving both incredibly stable, lucrative careers that you could ultimately make a ton of money in to go out and start our own thing, to quit. And we're crazy because we were just dating, we weren't even married.

So my parents especially thought I had lost my mind and pretty much wanted to disown me and were not at all happy with Doug for what they believed was he pulling me off this incredibly successful career path that I had. But we were undeterred and we pulled our meager life savings, which was very meager and we decided to start a children's company. And children, because we both love children, we come from a family of educators, three out of our four parents are in education and the fourth one is congenitally in education, so really that was how we had grown up and we loved children and we felt like there was so much room in the children's arena to make a difference.

So we saw a need from the very beginning. There were two needs that we saw arising. One was the need for I don't want to know if I want to say better, but toys that were educational yet really fun. We believed that toys were either one or the other, they were either licensed and not really stimulating the areas you want to stimulate in children, or they were so educational that they were really boring and stodgy and not appealing to kids at all. So we felt that there was a real need to provide toys that were both educational yet really fun and engaging.

Then secondly we really honed in on the category of wood, which was a medium that was used, but was only used in really expensive mostly European made toys and there were very few toys that were wooden and at the price point and that were accessible to all. Also the aesthetic was such that regular kids found them really appealing. Wooden toys were pretty much the type of thing that you bought one as a really beautiful gift and put it on a shelf and the child never played with it. So we saw these two areas, sort of classic play, wood, adding pizzazz into really classic play patterns.

Everyone told us that it couldn't be done, even then 26 years ago that the world was going more licensed, batteried, even then sort of TV advertised, more media technology, and that nobody really wanted to learn about or buy products from a company that was making classic toys. But undeterred we said, well that's what we feel is important, childhood is starting to lose its magic; it's becoming much more scheduled and orchestrated. The whole idea of childhood being a time for free play, for simple play, for free thinking is starting to disappear and through adding pizzazz to these classic play patterns we can really keep childhood magical and allow kids to really develop their brains the way they should through play, through inventing, through using their imagination, pretending and all the things they should be doing to build their brains.

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