BBD CEO Tour: Klutz

Turns out Kiwis buy more Klutz items per capita than anywhere else. They are a toy company that specialises in helping 8-10 year olds build things. Klutz was started by two graduating students with a book on how to juggle attached to juggling balls, and after some wider publicity the sales exploded. After a few years they branched out into other products – all combination book and toys. The philosophy is “if people as inept as us can do this – you can too”, and they created a new product category.

They don’t like the ‘dummy’ books – ‘klutz’ means you are wonderful capable smart and…. clumsy. The second book was called Harmonica for the Musically Hopeless. The intent for al of their work is to get the kid or adult to simply try, to talk to them like they are capable of doing it and to accept failure as a natural part of the process.

They touted ’Damn Good Advice for Talented People’ by George Lois, quoting from there “Creativity is…there for us to find.”

Klutz want to be funny, but do not to advertise that fact as in “we are funny”. The expect that the humour should be obvious to the end user.

The people at Klutz all seemed to enjoy play – at work and in life. They seem to have a self-deprecating sense of humour, which perhaps why their products are so popular in NZ. They see that a collaborative culture is hard with big egos and bad moods – and that we all need to accept that our ideas can be silly and that we should be bring positivity.

Product development is very hands on, tactile. The staff are unafraid to act like kids, to bring their kids in or to give each other gifts. They, like many other companies, are completely set up to quickly prototype new products with an awesome array of ‘spare parts’.

The company was sold to Scholastic last decade, with sales and distribution now centralised there.

A Klutz staff of just 28 sits in a large shed creates the awesomeness that is the Klutz books. It’s a space that they seem to own themselves, but it is also a tiny team for such a large revenue base. It’s hard with the quarterly reports and the corporate overhead (one staff member mentioned that she had never had so many passwords.) However Scholastic in turn are respectful of the effect of the culture and generally stay away.

Learnings:

1: Do stuff that makes you giggle
2: Don’t be afraid to let your own sense of humour or other values pervade your products
3: Unleash the space and give permission to all staff to craft their own way

About Lance Wiggs

@lancewiggs
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