Selling Your Vision

with Melissa Bernstein

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There is no substitute for a founder’s passion

Melissa Bernstein

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

Lessons Learned

Your product needs feedback from the market. Push your vision forward & then welcome the criticism.

The most successful companies are making something completely new.

Beware of your mission and passion being diluted over time and with more employees.


Lesson: Selling Your Vision with Melissa Bernstein

Step #7 Vision: There is no substitute for a founder’s passion

I think the most important tenet of building a successful company is that the founders have a vision of what they believe is needed that transcends what anyone else thinks, because if it's something that everybody wants the odds are it's already been done. Every successful business I've really read about, they're doing things that have never been done and no one has even thought about doing. So I think it's creating that product and getting there and then listening to your customers and having them help with the tweaks. But I think where we see a lot of businesses, young businesses fail, is when they're at the beginning stages listening to their customers too much and making too many changes before they really get to the vision that they had.

For us it was about, we believed that wooden toys starting with wood needed to be more accessible and there needed to be a full line of those. We weren't really going to deter from that until we had our full line out there in the marketplace and really saw what it was doing. Then, of course, once it was out there, then it's very easy to listen to the feedback because then they're either going to sell or not or you need more or these don't work. Then the feedback is so, so, so important, but along the way you have to be single mindedly focused on that goal that you believe is correct.

Both Doug and I in our respective areas haven't lost one bit of grasp on those areas in 26 years, and that is probably the only reason we're still around, because our touch is central to everything and we espouse what and why we're here and all of the beliefs and the mission statements. We never let that go because what happens as that gets diluted through the years is it loses its power and people get very distracted along the way. It's hard to stay on the path for year after year, especially for 26 years now, and people get really enticed by doing other things and they start to get a little lazy and complacent. You think "Oh, safety's been great for 20 years. It'll be great. We can loosen our grasp." But no, it's not true at all. In fact, it's the opposite.

So I think we know. I guess we're very realistic and we know that if we loosened our grasp and let that go to other people as good as their intentions are, they weren't pounding the pavement, crying in front of stores begging them to take products. They don't have that same feeling we have that every day, your panic that you might not make it till tomorrow and might not have food to put on the table and might not be able to pay your employees. So I think that feeling is never greater than with the two of us.

Our names, unlike some companies, our names are literally on every single product. We have a tremendous obligation to make sure that those products especially are accessible, great value, great quality, function as they're supposed to and really there is no one saying to us you have to come up with X number of products each year. So my feeling has always been unless that product can do something that something else out there hasn't done and has a reason for being and can really stand on its own and bring a play pattern or an activity or an accessibility to people out there that hasn't existed before, then there's no point in doing it. So I think I am the supreme, with product, judge of that, and I'm so harsh. I guess that's the other thing, I'm a harsher critic probably than anyone else. So if it doesn't bring all those amazing things then it just doesn't get made.

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