Many business owners underestimate what optimism can do for them and their company, but it is one of the most powerful skills one can have. A positive mindset can bring you through many of life’s paths – and the path from starting a business to growing and running one can be a path with many twists and turns. In this week’s episode, Doug C. Brown speaks with Matt Nuccio, the president of Design Edge, Inc, a toy and game development, marketing, manufacturing, inventing, and consulting agency. They discuss lessons learned from a lifetime in business from Matt’s experience as the second generation of Design Edge, navigating the obstacles of building a company, the power of looking on the bright side, insight into the toy industry and choosing the right products, and much, much more.
Matt Nuccio is the president of Design Edge Inc., a toy and game development, marketing, manufacturing, inventing, and consulting agency. They are headquartered in New York with two satellite offices in China. For over 30 years, Design Edge has been a leading development agency in the toys and games industry. For 4 years, Matt co-chaired the Toy Association (TA) associate panel, representing all designers and inventors in the toy industry. Currently, Matt sits on the board of executive board of the United Inventors Association of America (UIA), the Toy Association education advisory board, and on the People of Play (POP, formerly the Chicago Toy and Game Group) advisory board.
Visit his website: designedge.net
I’m bringing you another great episode of the show. We’ve got a great guest. His name is Mr. Matt Nuccio. He owns a company called Design Edge Inc. They’re at www.DesignEdge.net. They are a toy company that designs, consults, licenses, and manufactures toys. You and I have probably played with their toys through our childhood and middle age, and all the way through that we’re still playing with our kids and grandkids. Sometimes, we get together with friends and pull out a board game. They’ve had a lot of responsibility for helping get that to your home or your business.
This is an excellent conversation. His parents started this company in 1987 out of their garage, if you will. The company has become worldwide over this whole period of time. Matt is the President and Forerunner of the company at this point. We talk about the trials and tribulations of growing a company. We talk about some of the mindsets around what should happen as you engage in certain aspects. We talk about what it’s like to work in a family business versus a traditional business. In the end, we cap up with how you sell your wares or services to somebody like Matt, and what he is looking for in that process. Without further ado, let’s go to the interview. Let’s welcome Matt.
Matt, welcome to the show. I appreciate you being here.
Thanks. I appreciate you having me on.
You’ve got a company called Design Edge Inc. It’s one of my favorite things in the world, which is toys. We all grew up with them. We all played with toys. We all learned from toys. It’s a great company. To those of you reading, check it out at DesignEdge.net. Why don’t you tell us what you do instead of me telling everybody what you do?
We design, engineer, prototype, and manufacture toys for the largest toy companies in the world, down to people who want to break into the industry. We’re right across the board.
All of us who have children, grandchildren, love toys ourselves, or big adults who are still children playing with toys, you’re responsible in some capacity for helping those get to the market.
You could say I’m enhancing their lives or corrupting their lives, depending on which toy it is.
The wonderful part about what you do is we all learn through stories and we learn through toys because toys tell a story. There is a company called Toy Story. You’ve helped Disney, Sony, Mattel, and all kinds of toy companies. I could go on and on with the brands. You and I had an opportunity to talk about this. What I love about your story is you come from the traditional family background. Are you a second generation or were your parents the second generation?
My mother is first generation on one side and second generation on the other.
Italian family, right?
I come from a third-generation family as well. My dad had his own company. Your parents started your business in the garage of their home in Long Island.
We like to say that Design Edge is the other Italian family business.
It started in 1987, and then you started working for the company at the age of 13 or 14 years old.
It was from day one. My parents were in the garage doing it. This was the old days, pre-computers, so we’d be doing packaging. My job was to use an X-ACTO knife and cut things like Rubylith or lay down registry tape, or sweep the floor. I was doing all the grunt work, but it was a great education, so I don’t regret it by any means.
I had the same. I started at the age of three and I was sweeping floors. I made $0.25 a week. I was so happy because, at the end of the week, we could go to Penny Candy Store. I could sugar myself almost into a coma. It was a great experience. I’d love to start there. You started out sweeping floors and doing the grunt work. A lot of times what I find is people who are coming into the business and are starting out don’t necessarily think they need to do the grunt work no matter what age they are. What kind of lessons did you learn from doing the grunt work? This may be an unfair question because I’m bringing you back many years.
There are a couple of things I’d like to inject into that. One, primarily you learn that you have to do things you don’t want to do. That’s a lot of the reason why people want to skip over not doing the grunt work. They’re like, “I want to focus on what I’m “strong” at or what I enjoy.” No matter how great it is, how great you like your job, and how entertained you are by the job, there are always going to be things you don’t want to do. There’s some rock star out there that has to practice his scales. These things happen.
It’s hard work when you start a business. You have to do all the grunt stuff. We help a lot of companies start up. The majority of the companies that I see fail are the ones that quickly start hiring people that took care of all the grunt work because they don’t feel like doing it. They’re just burning a hole in their bank account and overpaying someone to do the grunt work that they probably could have banged out themselves a lot quicker.
That’s sage advice because a lot of companies who are tuning in to this show are startups, as well as established businesses. Since you watched your parents do it and you were involved in it, and I as well, there are some lessons that are learned during that period that you can’t get if you came in the position you’re in now, running the company. You understand all of the facets of the company. That’s important. What do you think?
To lead into that, I’ve been going back and forth to Hong Kong for most of my adult life. I lived there for short while. When a bunch of locals in Hong Kong would hear the story of Design Edge, I was often told this proverb which is the first generation creates a business, the second generation makes the business, and the third generation destroys a business. The theory is that the second generation sees the struggles, learns from them, and takes it to the next level, while the third generation never had the struggles, immediately wants to start off on third base, and doesn’t want to do any of that grunt work. That will implode your company.
That’s very important for people who are bringing new people in. Even if you’re an established business, there is no shame or downgrade in forcing the issue of starting at the beginning. Zappos, for example, used to do something like this. They would take a vice president of sales job and would put them into the warehouse and into the beginning of the whole process.
I do the same thing with companies. Sometimes, I go in and help companies. I’ll get in and do the same jobs and they’re like, “What are you doing? You’re trying to work on our sales team.” I’m like, “I need to understand the whole flow of the process in order for us to be able to optimize that.” Zappos did this very effectively. At the end of the training, Zappos would offer people a $10,000 buyout if they didn’t want to stay with the company any longer. They were touted as one of the top companies for employees.
What I’d like to dig into, if you don’t mind, is family business versus traditional business. I worked in both. The family has a different dynamic. The enterprise, Rent-A-Car, was a family business. They can grow to a large level, but when you’re dealing with family and you’re dealing with non-family members, there can be some things that come up that are a little bit different.
Mars candy is still privately owned by the family. That’s gigantic. There are a lot. The dynamics are very different. In fact, you’re quicker to engage in arguments with some respect, but you also know that the other person isn’t disappearing on you. You have to have a strong family bond. One thing that we’ve always had here is that we can have issues during the day, and it’s off once we leave the office. I don’t know how we’ve always managed to maintain that, but we do. In my many years of doing this at this point, I can’t think of a single instance where I left and I was like, “I’m out of here, I’m sick of this. I’m going to do it on my own.” It never happened.
I have the benefit of having my parents’ advice who started the business, but also, my father has been in the toy industry since 1969. That helped me tremendously because I not only got to know all the young guys as they were coming into the industry. I also got to meet all the heads of industry coming up because, by the time I was fully engaged in the business, a lot of the guys that he came up with were now the presidents of very large toy companies. That was helpful.
Relationships are always critical in any relationship in the world, whether it’s personal or business. You said something here that was very critical to somebody’s success. Whether they’re in a family business or not, but especially in a family business, at the end of the day, you check out and business is business and personal life is personal life. In other words, you don’t carry it. I have three brothers and we all worked in the business. Sometimes, in the end, it’s like, “Let’s go out to the playground and smack each other around,” but that’s not a healthy way.
I always think of that scene in The Godfather where he was like, “You don’t discuss business at the dinner table.”
That’s a good point, and I agree 100%. A lot of times, people bring business home. They’ll bring things to them. Part of what they don’t realize is life is not about consistent, constant work, whether we’re in a family business or in a corporation. There has to be some cutoff for the enjoyment of life or we’re going to start to resent the business itself.
There is certainly some truth to that. There’s a big difference between when I started in the business and now. At the time when I was working far closer with my parents, the smartphone didn’t exist. They’ve since stepped back and had some minor roles giving me advice, helping look over the financials, and always making sure we’re healthy. Now, it’s very hard to disconnect from the business. Not with my family, which is in general. I’ve got an international business. I get texts sometimes at 3:00 AM. I’m always on. I no longer feel like I’m showing up for work when I get here at 8:00 AM or 9:00 AM. I’ve already been at work since I woke up.
You said something to me that exudes throughout your whole being. You said, “I love toys. I love the toy business.” That’s another critical part that people who are reading this are like, “If you don’t love what you do or at least really like it, you’re probably in the wrong business.”
If I won the lotto, in my mind, it was never like, “What am I going to do with it?” I’m always like, “How would I put some of that money into Design Edge?” I think it’s weird that my brain does that. I’m like, “How do I benefit this to what I do?” I’m never like, “I’m buying an island. That’s where I’m going to drink rum and coconut for the rest of my life.” I’m like, “How do I continue to do what I’m doing?” I do step back and think like, “Why do I fantasize about continuing to work even if I’m set for life?”
What is that old saying? It’s something like, “If you work at something you love every day, you’re not working.” It’s something to that effect. I remember my grandfather. When he was almost 90 years old, he used to make these little toys out of wood. He would hand-make them. He put them out on his lawn and would sell them.
I was buying him a bandsaw and equipment as the grandson who loved him. I remember asking him one day, “You’re set. Your house is paid off. You don’t need to do this. Why do you do this?” He looked at me and said, “Let me tell you something. When you get older, you better have something to do that you love or you’re going to die.”
It’s very true. I have this conversation with my father all the time. As his friends started to retire and they were all looking for things to do, my father had no problem with that because he has so many hobbies. He has got plenty of things to do to tie up his time. In fact, I don’t think he has enough time to do everything that he wants to do. He has got some other friends who are like, “I’m bored to death,” and play golf once a week. They’re starting to age faster than he is because they’re not keeping active.
My body acts differently when I was 28 than I am when I’m in this age. If I hit my knee on the table, back then, it would be like, “Ha.” Now it’s like, “I’m going to be knocked out for six weeks.” Your dad had a lot of great lessons that he passed along to you. How important do you think it is for us as leaders of our own companies? When we have other employees or children working in the business, is it something that people should pay more attention to? Can we pass down to generations the lessons that we learned through business and life? I almost feel like it’s an obligation. What do you feel about people who are in positions as you are?
Everyone should be passing down the knowledge they have to their kids and grandchildren. I look back at how my father handled me. In the early days, I hated some of it when I was taking the garbage out. I was 15 or 16 years old, and some of the employees were twenty. They were right out of art school. They were picking on me. I was busting my chops and they were having a good time sending me up for coffee, bagels and pizza.
At the same time, when my father had meetings and we would travel to Rhode Island to go to Hasbro, or back then, we’d have to go to Mount Vernon, New Jersey to visit Tyco, which was a huge company at the time, I would come along and shadow him. I look back and I’m like, “He had a sixteen-year-old kid with him. Nobody barked in the boardroom meeting.” I got to know all these people. I paid attention and I listened. Not only did I learn from him, but I learned from the people with whom he was doing business, so I got a very good sense of how the toy industry worked very early on.
Your father employed the work-to-learn philosophy. When I interviewed or talked to the people who started very successful companies, they say exactly that. You can work to make money or you can work to learn, but when you work to learn and you make money, you win both. You get an education as you did in these boardrooms more than a Harvard University education. No disrespect to Harvard, but when you’re in these types of meetings, those are real life. It’s not book smart any longer.
My kids were the same thing. I used to drag them along with me. They were in a tax seminar when they were five years old. They were bored out of their mind, but now, they know the lessons of some of these things that they went to. It has propelled them ahead to be more competitive in the world because of the knowledge that they have. It’s a great lesson for people to grab off this show. We don’t always know what our parents are doing. Especially when we were teenagers, we were like, “They don’t know better,” but then as we get to be our age, we start looking back and say, “That was pretty smart or mom was pretty smart.”
It also gives you natural confidence. That’s what I gained from it mostly. I wasn’t a fish out of water in my first couple of meetings as an adult. I had been in them. There was a comfort level there. I knew what people were talking about. It’s been a great benefit to me. By the time I was approaching 30 and I was meeting people for the first time that were about my age in the toy industry and starting to get up a little bit, they were all looking to me for advice because I had already been doing it for over a decade. They were flabbergasted that I could answer questions about certain things.
It’s in the industry for the longest time. It was an old man’s club. I was one of the youngest people in the toy industry until I was 40. It was crazy. The toy industry and the garment industry were birthed around the same time. It was little small shops, either Italian or Jewish-owned that had small factories in Brooklyn or outside of Chicago, and did things the old-fashioned way. I don’t think that it started to become corporate until the ‘90s.
That’s a good point, especially with what’s going on with The Great Resignation, if you will, and everything that’s shifting because people think this is new. We’re all shifting to something. We’re evolving. The Millennials and the Gen Z at this point are coming up, and they’re going to be in the same position you were in with your father.
Thirty years from now, they’re going to be in the same position that you or I am in. This is the evolution of life. The reason I’m bringing this up is that many people are talking to me about, “I can’t get smart, good help.” I’m like, “The IQ of a Millennial or a Gen Z is probably higher than ours. Their grasp of the technology is certainly better than ours. Is it them or you?”
It’s crazy to me. I have two sons, but I’ll use my youngest son as an example. It blows my mind every time he’s going to do something new and he knows he’s got to do it in a few days. When he gets there and he’s got it all figured out, I’m like, “Did you figure that out?” He’s like, “No. I watched a couple of YouTube videos before I got here.” I think that’s great. In our day, I would have found an encyclopedia or gone to the library. That was already hours of commitment. They can learn things in three minutes with a quick search.
As Baby Boomers or traditionalists, we can learn from this. I don’t know in your company if this is happening too, but with what’s going on with people, I find that new employees are looking for more quality of life than they’re looking for just money.
I’ve had those conversations sometimes when people want to leave at 4:00 PM. I’m like, “That’s not how it works.”
There is something I would say. You want quality of life, but at the same time, we want all the finer things in life. You don’t get to positions of making millions of dollars or more by working 3 or 4 hours a week no matter what Tim Ferriss says in his book. It’s not to pick on Tim. I think he’s a great guy, but the reality is we’ve got to get in there and pay our dues as you did with your dad going to boardrooms and learning all those years.
We’re talking with Matt Nuccio who owns a company called Design Edge Inc. He is the President of it. They’re a toy company. They do design, consulting, licensing, and manufacturing. They’re pretty responsible for putting many of the toys in your children’s room, closet, and games that you play with everybody. I bought Monopoly and I was playing it with my daughters. They’re ruthless. That’s where I want to transition to. Toys are great for teaching lessons about things in life.
It is the value of play. You learn how to be competitive. You can learn new things. You can learn strategy. The power of imagination and the power of being creative are things that people take for granted when they’re playing with the toy. There’s a lot to be learned from toys. It’s by design that we, as children, want to play. That’s how we evolve. Human beings need to play to grow.
Adults are only big-bodied kids anyways. If anybody thinks I’m wrong, go play a game with your grandchild or young children.
Do you think four-year-olds are buying the Blues Brothers and Animal House action figures? These are grown-up kids who collect these things.
On the Big Bang Theory with Sheldon and his friends, action figures were a big deal. That’s a huge industry, which a lot of people don’t realize. Even when I was playing Monopoly, all my daughters were thinking about real estate. We were negotiating like, “If you trade me Marven Gardens, I’ll give you Park Place.” We’re doing the bargaining game. That’s real life. When we get talking to people and we’re in business, we’re constantly negotiating. It’s not always just for money. It’s sometimes for a position, relationship and associations. In family or traditional, do you believe business is a team sport?
Yes, it’s an ecosystem. That’s for sure. You’re never going to become super successful on your own. If you look at music, even a solo artist has a team behind them. They still need a band to play the music. They still need promoters, agents, and all that other stuff. There is no true independence. We’re pack animals.
That’s a great way of saying that because I was in the music business. I worked with some professional bands. You’re right. Bon Jovi might have his name on the band, but he’s got a bunch of musicians. Take any of them. Billy Joel is a great pianist, but he’s got a great band behind him.
Both of those artists are somehow tied to the toy industry. Bon Jovi’s cousin works in licensing. I deal with him. A guitar player from the Billy Joel band for many years was in the toy industry. I used to have to deal with him on a regular basis. He also lives near Design Edge. We’ve seen him a few times in restaurants.
Let’s talk about trials and tribulations. Your parents started out in 1987. The company is very successful, but I’m going to make some assumptions that it wasn’t always straight up and that there were probably a few moments.
There were ups and downs. There have been times when we’re rock and rolling and then the main account gets bought by another toy company. All of a sudden, that completely dries up. You’ve heard it a million times that you can’t have all your eggs in one basket. I panic anytime when an account gets too big, but we have to get it evened out with another account.
Traditionally in recessions, toys do well because it’s one of the few things that people don’t cut out. I’m talking about lower price point toys. They’re not going for the higher price point. 2008 hit us hard. That wasn’t your classic recession. That was a real estate bubble that affected everyone’s bank accounts hard. The recovery from that took a little longer than I would have liked. You make business mistakes. Anyone trying to grow a business is going to try new things here and there. You’re going to fail sometimes. You’ve got to try to do things one way and then discover the expensive way that you should have done it the other way.
The fact that you are an optimist is a learning lesson for people because the reality is you’re happy. You’re one of the happiest guys I’ve talked to in the last couple of months on this type of show. I can only imagine back when somebody was trying to develop the first car, the motorized horse. People were saying, “It will never replace the horse.” Television was pushed back. They didn’t use ATM machines for ten years or so. We all take these for granted now. We’re like, “This is normal.”
People say there are two arguments to that, and I go straight down the middle. I go, “Things change but things stay the same at the same time.” If you can be aware of that, you’re living the moment. You have to be in the now. I naturally am in the present. Strangely, I’ve noticed everyone is trying to live in the present out of nowhere since COVID. It’s like this big yoga thing where people are like, “Be in the present.” I’m like, “I can do that all the time. I’m trying to get out of the present sometimes.” To my point, TV didn’t replace the radio, so let’s not act like things always supersede each other.
That’s very true. I never even thought about it that way. TV didn’t replace the radio, and radio didn’t replace storytelling.
These are just new mediums. Everything else is tried and true. Storytelling is storytelling and has been since the dawn of man. It might be in a completely different way 1,000 years from now, but there will still be stories to be told and there will still be toys to be played with.
If somebody wants to get ahold of your company or you at Design Edge, how do they do so?
They can email me at Matt@DesignEdge.net. They can go to our website, DesignEdge.net. A lot of people reach out to me on LinkedIn. We’re always looking for people with good toy ideas or somebody who wants to start a toy company or a toy company that’s looking for further development. We never know where the next great idea is coming from. We’re there to incubate it and grow it.
I appreciate you being here. I have one last question that I would love to ask you. You’re in a position where a lot of people who are trying to sell would love to get into an account your size. They would love to talk to the decision-maker of the company. What they would call selling, you would probably attribute to buying. How do you like to be approached? What are some of the methodologies that you’ve seen that are a complete turnoff versus somebody that’s acceptable at least to start the initial conversation or to build rapport?
Be friendly. You’ve got to break the ice first before you slam me with how brilliant you are and, “This is going to change the world.” I deal with many people on many levels. Dealing with a corporation is different. They contact you, a meeting is set up, and you talk about a project. When an individual wants to start a company or they have an invention that they want to develop, I have to be sold on them before I’m sold on their concept because as soon as we start working with them, I’m going to be dealing with them for quite some time.
If I feel like it’s a personality I can’t deal with, I will walk away, but above and all, the product itself has to be good. We see a lot of stuff that I can’t do much with for whatever reason, whether it’s terrible or the timing is off or the technology isn’t where it’s supposed to be at this time, or it’s antiquated. There are a million reasons why things don’t work. Product is king, but the personality behind it is as important to me.
To those of you who are reading, write that one down because that was worth gold to people who embrace this. The reality is you’ll evaluate the product based on its own merits, but what you’re also looking for is a relationship with some person that’s going to be trustworthy, respectful, fun, who make your day a little better, and be more of a friend than a salesperson.
They should be somebody that I know can take the ups and downs and can possibly take a beating, and then also, if they’re successful, they should not become too headstrong. We’re looking for a stable person.
I appreciate you being here. I know people are getting a lot out of this. Go to DesignEdge.net to check out the website. It’s cool. I appreciate you being here. Do you have any parting words that you leave for anybody? Some people are like, “I got hit hard by the economy. The pandemic happened,” but now, they’re trying to grow back. Do you have any sage advice that you might be able to impart to them?
I live by the, “Don’t ask why. Ask why not?”
It’s a good point of view. I suspect part of the reason your company has been so successful is that those are the questions you’re asking. It’s like, “Never focusing on the problem will solve the problem. Focusing on the solution to the problem and removing the cause of the problem through the solution is what solves problems.” Take care. Thank you again for being here on the show.
I love talking to this guy. Matt is so easy to talk with. He is always optimistically looking at things. He’s always living in the present. Since he has trained himself to live in the present so much, he’s able to take himself and go back in the past or go into the future when it comes to relationships of problems, failures, things in life and business. That is a success trait that I have found amongst all CEOs and all owners of companies who are doing well. They look at something and they go, “This is a problem. This is a challenge, but I’m not going to look at this as the world is going to end. I’m going to ask a question.”
I learned this question from Oprah Winfrey, which was, “What do I learn from this? What lessons are here to be taught to me?” We did talk about trials and tribulations here of growing a company. Look at it from that optimistic point of view and curiosity. You look at it like a little butterfly in your hand, you go, “I wonder what makes this thing fly?” When you look at your problems that way and go, “I wonder what could make this problem fly?” You’ll start asking better quality questions and getting better quality answers, and that will lead to better quality outcomes. This is a guaranteed success trait across all successful CEOs and business owners that I have ever talked to.
What I love about Matt is he’s so open to sharing information. Part of the reason is that he’s optimistic and is positive about things going forward. That is a state of mind that can be conditioned. I would challenge all of you that are tuning in to this to give that some high consideration. If you love this show and you like this type of content, I ask you to please subscribe to the show and/or tell other people as well and have them subscribe to the show.
If you love it, give it a five-star review. The more reviews, the more subscriptions. The better the algorithms, the better the positioning of the show, which can help more people with that particular content. Check out Matt’s company. Start with DesignEdge.net. That is their website. He is involved in a lot of other things, vendors, associations, and different things. He is a special, smart person in life. I appreciate him being on the show.
As always, if you’re looking for help to get yourself or your team to the top 1% of sales globally or you want to hire, train, retain, and manage A-player elite salespeople, I’m your guy. Reach out to me at Doug@CEOSalesStrategies.com or @DougBrown123, which is my LinkedIn, or call the office number at (603) 595-0303. Let us know what you want for content. We’ll source people. We’ll bring them to you and you can get your answers on this show. Thanks again for attending. I look forward to seeing you in the following episode. Go sell something. Sell a lot of it. Sell it profitably. Be happy. Live in the moment to your success.