Embarking on a journey in the toy industry can be an exciting yet challenging endeavour. For us at Joeydolls, creating diverse Asian dolls that resonate with people has been our passion and driving force. We wholeheartedly just wanted to celebrate Asian diversity through our adorable and playful dolls. When we first set foot in this vibrant industry, we found inspiration, guidance, and invaluable insights from Azhelle Wade, a renowned toy industry expert, through her podcast “Making It in the Toy Industry.” Today, we’re thrilled to share our story of being featured on Azhelle’s podcast and how it has influenced our journey in the toy industry.
Podcast Episode Highlights
Finding Our Way in the Toy Industry
Balancing Cost and Quality: One of the most significant challenges we faced when starting out was finding the right manufacturing partner. Balancing the cost of production with maintaining the highest possible quality standards was a constant struggle. During our podcast interview, we shared our experiences and the lessons we learned while navigating this intricate balance.
The Importance of Building a Community
Creating Quality Dolls People Are Proud Of: Our commitment to producing top-quality dolls that people would cherish and be proud of has always been at the core of Joeydolls. Azhelle’s podcast allowed us to delve into the importance of craftsmanship and quality in the toy industry and why it’s essential to create products that resonate with our audience on a personal level.
The Significance of Diverse Asian Dolls
Connecting with Our Audience: Our diverse Asian dolls hold a special place in the hearts of many. We discussed on the podcast why representation in the toy industry is crucial and the significance these dolls hold for people from various backgrounds. Azhelle’s platform gave us the opportunity to emphasize the importance of inclusivity and diversity in the toy industry.
The Successful Pre-Order Strategy
Selling 2200 Dolls in 48 Hours: One of our proudest moments was the successful pre-order launch on our website. During our conversation with Azhelle, we unveiled the strategies and tactics that helped us sell a staggering 2200 dolls in just 48 hours. From marketing techniques to customer engagement, we shared how our pre-order campaign became a roaring success.
A Grateful Journey
Being featured on Azhelle Wade’s “Making It in the Toy Industry” podcast was an honor we will cherish forever. Her guidance, expertise, and dedication to the toy industry have inspired us and countless others to pursue our passion for creating meaningful toys. We are grateful for the opportunity to share our journey, from the challenges we faced at the beginning to the triumphs we’ve achieved along the way. As we continue to grow and evolve, we remain committed to delivering exceptional diverse Asian dolls that bring joy and meaning to people’s lives.
Our heartfelt thanks go out to Azhelle Wade for her unwavering support and for providing a platform that empowers toy industry enthusiasts like us. We look forward to the future with renewed enthusiasm, knowing that we are part of a community that values creativity, diversity, and the magic of bringing toys to life.
In the spirit of Azhelle’s podcast, we encourage all aspiring toy industry professionals to pursue their dreams with passion, persistence, and a commitment to making the world a more colorful and joyful place, one toy at a time.
Podcast Episode Transcript
Making It In The Toy Industry with Azhelle Wade
Samantha Ong: But the very, very, very beginning, I will say, I was just trying to find someone that could do it as cheap as possible. I think that I put myself in a hole. It was actually good in a way to have that two-year development process because I was able to build hype and really show my community why I was doing things, really explain the behind-the-scenes process so they felt like they were a part of it. Because of all of that, they just felt even more excited to buy the doll on launch day when it finally came to it.
You’re listening to Making It In The Toy Industry, a podcast for inventors and entrepreneurs like you. And now your host, Azhelle Wade.
Azhelle Wade: Hey there, toy people, Azhelle Wade here, and welcome back to another episode of the Toy Coach Podcast, Making It In The Toy Industry. This is a weekly podcast brought to you by thetoycoach.com. Today’s guest is a TCA alum who’s making big waves in the industry.
Samantha Ong is the passionate founder of Joeydolls, a visionary entrepreneur and a loving mother. With a deep-rooted desire to combat the increased anti-Asian hate during the pandemic and create cultural diversity and representation, Samantha embarked on a mission to empower young children by celebrating the beauty of Asian culture. She did this through her doll line, Joeydolls. Now, despite facing numerous challenges during the two-year development phase of her product,
Samantha remains steadfast in her commitment to deliver high-quality, culturally accurate, beautiful dolls. Samantha’s personal experiences as a minority and a mother inspired her to create the line of dolls that would help children feel proud of their heritage and embrace their unique identities. So through this brand, Joeydolls, Samantha is making a positive impact by fostering inclusivity and spreading awareness about the importance of representation in our diverse society.
I am so thrilled to have Samantha at the show. Welcome, Samantha. Thank you for being here.
Samantha: Oh, thank you for having me as well.
Azhelle: I am thrilled. As you may know, if you follow along with the Toy Coach social world, Samantha was also featured in our first-ever Toy Coach showcase and her product did extremely well there. During this time, we’ve seen a focus on, you know, appreciating black culture. And now we’re seeing that focus go into Asian culture. And I’m just so happy to be associated with you, someone who’s making such a beautiful and high-quality line. So I’m really proud. Yay. Go you. Now, if you are watching this interview live with us, I just wanna let you know, you can leave comments and I will see them. If you’re on LinkedIn, if you’re on YouTube, we can see your comments and I’ll bring them up on the screen. So ask questions as we go through this, feel free to ask questions to me or to Samantha and we will answer them.
So I want to focus mostly on the topic today of the struggles of creating a diverse Asian doll line. It seems very niche, but, and it’s also a high quality, therefore a higher price point product. So through our conversation today, Samantha, I really want to get into how you navigated all of that. But to start, I’d love to just start with, where did you get this idea to create a doll line, what made you want to even try to break into the toy industry?
Yeah, I never imagined that I would be in the toy industry. It really was the pandemic that forced me to pivot because I was, you know, I was a wedding photographer. So for those two years during the pandemic, I really was unable to work. I lost so many contracts and the weddings were cancelled for those two years. So I really struggled with who I was as a person, like what my purpose was. Cause I always thought like, you know, I’m a creative person, I was really good at doing photography and then all of a sudden I just couldn’t do it anymore. So it’s just like, now what? So it was then when I was watching the news and like the rise in anti-Asian hate was occurring.
So I was sitting with my daughter in my lap and just feeling really afraid of the world that was gonna be for her when she grew up. So you know, as we were in lockdown, she couldn’t play with anyone. So that’s when I was looking for dolls. And when I was looking for dolls, I really, it forced me to also reflect upon my own experience growing up and not seeing myself through the dolls. And I didn’t know it at the time as a child, but this like subconscious narratives that really play into your minds. Like I remember thinking my classmates, they look like my dolls they’re so pretty to be born that way. I’m not so pretty, like I’m so unlucky. And I was so envious of them. And so that’s when I thought, well, if I felt that way about myself, then I need to find something better, like more, that looks like my daughter is through dolls. And when I was looking at the dolls, like there were dolls that were called Asian, like that I felt like.
They were like the token Asian doll where they had like fair skin or black hair. But that was about it. And then they were just Asian. And I just, I couldn’t connect with it. And they also had like typically stereotypical features. And that was something that I think a lot of, I don’t want to speak on a lot of people, but I think many Asians feel conscious, subconscious about like their eyes or, you know, and so this is something that I really wanted to celebrate. And when I wanted to do the dolls, I wanted something that was really opposite to what we were seeing happening in the world, like all that hate, and I wanted to really spread joy. So that’s when I had so much trouble looking for dolls that my husband was just like, why don’t you make them?
Azhelle: And your husband, your husband said that? That’s so funny.
Samantha: Yeah, he put that idea in my head and I was like, oh, I guess maybe I should. That’s a possibility. I would love to hear now for you now that you have experience in the toy industry, you actually did your own thing, direct to consumer and then broke into the toy industry with your first toy trade show.
Azhelle: So finish this sentence for me. The thing that surprised me most about the toy industry was…
Samantha: How long the prototyping phase would take.
Azhelle: Really? Yeah, tell us more about that story.
Samantha: So when I got into it, I was like, how hard could this be? Like, I know, I think I know what I want. Let’s try to design it a little bit. Let’s just go like full forward and let’s try and get these dolls out by this year. And…
I was like, oh, this should be pretty easy. I’ll go online, I’ll try and find a factory. And of course I have no idea what I’m doing. So I think finding a factory was like really critical, like finding the right one that knew exactly what I wanted to do and was in line with like really the understanding what we wanted. But also I didn’t know for myself, I think what I wanted. And so even though I thought I did.
And so there was a lot of versions that I ended up going through. Of course, I wanted it to be all culturally accurate, but in doing so, there was just so much research that I wanted to make sure and also gathering feedback from so many people. And also the materials, finding the right materials, I didn’t know that it would be so hard. And just making sure all the quality was exactly what I wanted.
Sometimes I think it’s okay and then when I got it in person, it was just not what I expected. So that’s when I had to go back and then we find a new factory to complete my design process.
Azhelle: Yeah. I’d love to hear about that because when you decided to switch factories, we were in, I want to say, week four-ish of the program. Something like that, yeah. Yeah. And I remember you kept coming into the calls like oh, I have this problem with the factory and I’m having this problem.
And I remember just thinking like, I don’t think this is a good factory. But I know, but you also had told me you’d been developing it with them for so long. You had samples, I saw photos. So I didn’t want to say what I knew we needed to say. But I think it was when you, I don’t remember what you said where I was suddenly just like, okay, I have to tell you, I think you need to change factories.
Can you tell me what that felt like when I said that? How, what were you thinking in that moment?
Samantha: I think you mentioned it like before that point where I finally decided to change it. And then you were like, I really think you had to, like, I think you like hinted at it. And I was getting that feeling, but I was still really hesitant. So when you finally said it, and then you explained like why.
I was just like, and I think you gave me that like really good analogy about it being like a toxic relationship. In that, like that really like, I connected with it. Like, of course, if even though you’ve, so my feeling was that I’ve been with this factory for so long and I felt like I had this, I guess, I had to like see it through. Like, I had to keep working on it and eventually we’ll get there. And when you made that analogy with the relationship, like if it’s not the right fit, like you can’t force it. Like, and I think that’s what I really are because I haven’t worked with a factory before. So I don’t really understand like this whole dynamic of, like initially I thought like I was so lucky for a factory to work with me and versus it being the other way around. Like I’m the client. So I need to make the choice for me.
And so I think seeing it that way, putting the power back in my court was a huge, huge change for me because I just always thought, okay, this is the only factory that wants to work with me right now. And then I keep trying to work at it. And it just took so long and I wasn’t getting there and all that stuff. So when you were like, no, go find one of the factories, they’re already vetted. And then I think that also helped a lot because then I knew that I could just go straight into it. And you also said that I’d already done so much of the design process.
Azhelle: Yes. That it won’t take as long as just refining it and making sure the quality was good. Yeah. And I know there was a worry on your side and my side. And so this I’m sure will help anybody that watches this video. We were worried that, oh, you know, we’ve been working with this factory for so long and we leave them, what does that say to our reputation? And then at the end of the day, as you were describing things, it became very clear that they had kind of bait and switched you.
Like they said, yes, we see what you want and we can totally do it. And then when it came down to the wire and they knew you needed them, they were like, oh no, we’re not gonna do that. And then that was the point where I was like, I think your contract, verbal contract of working with them is now null and void because they promised one thing they’re not delivering it, they’re telling you, they’re making you wait and wonder, and they’re not, they weren’t even being clear. Like I remember one of your issues had to do with printing, I think on a certain fabric, and the other had to do with a material, like a lace-like material you wanted. And they were like, right? And then they weren’t, the printing, they couldn’t explain why they couldn’t print on the fabric. Oh no, it was a dyeing a fabric, they were printing a skin color instead of dyeing, or something like that. Yeah.
Yeah. So then they couldn’t explain why they couldn’t source the right fabric, especially because you were hitting an MOQ. When you’re hitting an MOQ, like they should be doing, developing what you want. They’re not using open market, whatever. And then aside from the fabric, the lace piece, they said, you know, we don’t have it. And that was like it. And when you develop a product with a factory and you do intend to order not only the MOQ, but hopefully reorders.
They’re supposed to say, we don’t have that, but here are some other options. Or they’re supposed to say, other clients have done this instead. Even if they can’t give you what you want, there should have been a solution to the problem. Yeah. So that’s what really worried me. I was like, why, why are they not being solution oriented? Right. I was waiting a long time to get responses. So, and not good ones. Right.
So once you switched factories and you made that move, how did you, like how soon till you realized, oh, I made the right choice?
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Samantha: Um, so I think when we were able to turn around like all the, like the new samples so quickly and then they understood, like, of course I still needed to go back a couple of times to refine something because I still had to clarify a few things. But I think when I was able to see like I get so much, I was able to make so much progress in a short period of time. And like the
The communication was so much better. I was able to reach them and ask questions. And so even if I was like, why can’t we do it like this? Then there was like, okay, we can’t do it like this for these reasons. And then it was explained to me, I understood. And like, okay, then I understand it. Then I can suggest a new way to do it. And then they could suggest a new way to do it. And then we could come to like an agreement about it.
Azhelle: So the lesson from this portion of the conversation, I have to say, is always quote with at least three factories to start, just start a conversation because one might not be communicative, one might not actually be able to deliver what you want, one might just be too expensive, you need some options to choose from. Yeah, okay, that’s great. I think I was, I didn’t know at the time what to expect with this whole process.
Samantha: And then initially when I was trying to find a factory, I was… So at the very, very, very beginning, I will say I was just trying to find someone that could do it as cheap as possible. I think that really, really… I put myself in a hole because I didn’t know the response that I would have. And then… It was actually good in a way to have that two-year development process because I was able to like really build my community. I was able to build hype. Yeah. And I really show my community like why I was doing things and really explain like the behind the scenes process. So they felt like they were a part of it. And because of all of that, they just felt even more excited to have the to be like, you know, by the doll on launch day, when it finally came to it. So I think it was really good to do it that way. Yeah.
Azhelle: So I would love to now dive into your unintentional two-year ramp up to your brand. So it was completely unintentional. You were developing the dolls when you started. You thought, we’ll get these out in a year. So I’m sure when you were posting about them, you were posting about them as if like, can’t wait to get these to you guys next year or this year. So excited.
So how did you start that following? Was it Instagram? What platform did you start with?
Samantha: Definitely it was Instagram, just because I was so familiar with Instagram. And I did a bit of Facebook, but I wasn’t really hitting Facebook that much. I just wasn’t seeing the engagement there. So I just followed… I played around with a few, but Instagram was really the one that had the most engagement.
And so, yes, I really was going, okay, I can’t wait to do it by this year and then this year. And then I was like, we’re gonna be on Kickstarter. And then hopefully by, because I was really hoping for like AAPI month because I think that’s just a big point for us to celebrate our culture in May. So it was gonna be 2022. And then it didn’t happen. I just wasn’t gonna, and then I was just like, okay, next year.
But it was okay because in that last year was when I really increased my followers so much because I was posting a lot more about the production process. I always felt that when I was posting that I had to make it perfect. I didn’t really want to show all the pitfalls and all the stuff that I was having. But in doing so, I think people really related with my process.
just like a company trying to make these dolls, that I really am just a mom trying to make these dolls for young children. Like there was a real mission behind it. And they were really being like, I was really taking the time to develop it in a way that was true to being culturally accurate. So, and so I think a lot of people resonated with that. And even though it took longer than they wanted, they were happy to wait.
How did you know what hashtags to use, or how did you get people to see your posts? What do you think helped do that?
Samantha: So at the beginning, I just played around a little bit with, I didn’t spend too much money on it, but I just played around with boosting some posts just to see. Okay. And at the very, very beginning, of course, I wasn’t really doing much, but as I was progressing and I was getting some sample prototype.
photos, those like really, really well. And so I would just post like things that I thought, like my target market, like defining that target market. And then thinking about what their interests would be in that target. And then just seeing like, yeah, who was out there. But also, I joined like a several like, mom Facebook groups that I thought may be interested. And then also just posting things like
What do you think about like, actually a big part of my, my progress with like developing the community was like asking feedback about things and people were really more than happy to provide feedback and especially the names. Like I initially, I was going to name all the dolls and then I was like, this is a really hard process to name each doll because like the name is such a significant thing and there’s so much meaning behind it. I’m really glad that I opened it up to the community because I wouldn’t have known all these.
nuances about the different cultures and what they meant. And for example, the Indian doll, I had such a hard time with. It was so challenging because there’s so many religions and languages in India. And so finding a name that would resonate with as many Indian girls was really challenging because a lot of the names were so religious focused. Yeah.
I had to find a name that would relate to as many religions in India. And so even the Korean name was really hard because I didn’t know this, that the Korean language is so heavily influenced by the Chinese language. And so there’s not too many names that are just purely Korean. Oh. I had to like really, really find out which names were just purely Korean and that had good meaning as well.
Azhelle: The authenticity is admirable. Okay, I wanna ask now, since you did this pre-launch, love that by the way, I have two questions. At what point, at some point, were you ever nervous that somebody was gonna just rip off your idea, take it, make it themselves, and then you would be out in the cold? Yeah, that’s why I was such in a rush to do it.
Samantha: And that’s why I was like, I just need to get it out. I just need to get it out. But at the same time, I think it was good that I spent the time to do it because I think if you develop a product that people really, really want, then you don’t have to market it that much. And you don’t have to try to sell it that much because it just speaks for itself. And I think I really felt that if I had a put out the doll that I wanted to do two years ago. I don’t think many people would have bought it.
Samantha: And so, that two-year process, yeah, redefining my idea. Even though the prototyping process with the factory took a long time, but it also forced me to redefine my idea and gather that feedback from people and add more details, which I didn’t really think about at the beginning.
And so because people could see all that work and really when they saw it, they just like, I had so many people reach out to me and say, this looks just like my daughter or this reminds me of, you know, my, my, like the clothing that I used to wear as a child and stuff like that. And I thought when, when people could see that and like really relate to it, that’s when they really knew, really felt like the significance of the doll.
Azhelle: I love that. I want to, I want to, here, since we’re talking about it so much, we need to pull them up so we can look at them while we’re talking about your beautiful dolls. I said beautiful. Your beautiful dolls. So my second question for you is, you know, this is really just a personal curiosity of mine. Because you’ve done so much work on your own, what value did you end up getting from TCA? Yeah.
Samantha: I think that support of not giving up, like when I reached out to you that one time, like the quality wasn’t good. I don’t know what’s going on with the factory and all this stuff. I just felt like really stuck because it had been so long and I just felt like we weren’t getting anywhere. And I knew that if I had sold a doll as it was, that I just wasn’t happy with it. And I just knew that if I sold it as it was that people…
also wouldn’t be happy with it. Right. So that’s when I thought, oh, should I just give up because there was… I’d already been putting so much money in my time and I was like, where is this going? And then I think at that time, I was also seeing other competitors putting out their own dolls out there. Right. And I was like, I’m not even beating the market right now. What’s the point sort of thing. And then…
I really stayed true to making it about the cultures because even though there were other people trying to do it out there, I was still really, really focused in on the cultures and making it so culturally accurate and spending that extra time to do that. That was really setting us apart from others. I’m glad that it helped you in that way. I didn’t, you know, it’s scary
Azhelle: When I’m in this position as a coach and I’m encouraging people to do these things that are big investments of their time and their resources, you know, it’s scary. But I the fact that you I think you had started to underestimate and undervalue what you’ve built. Even I’ve done that in my own business where because you made it, you start to think it’s not that big of a deal. But like when I saw the immense following you’ve already had, I was like, you can’t give up. You know how hard it is to build something like this? This is incredible.
Okay, so now that we’re sharing screen, I’m actually going into your Instagram and I’m intentionally scrolling back. If you’re listening to this episode, go check out the video on YouTube because we’re getting really visual right now. So I want to scroll back into your early days of your YouTube, into your early days of your Instagram and really look at what you started with because this is something that I would love people to do more of.
so that they can kind of vet and test their ideas a little bit themselves before they spend all of their money on it, right? So when you didn’t have a product in these early days, you’re posting quotes that align with what people in your niche believe in, you’re posting illustrations of what you think the dolls will look like, so you’re posting their character designs, you’re posting sketches, and we can see there are variations like this doll.
design here does not look the same as this sketch, this book sketch over here. But you’re not at this point keeping yourself to much more than maybe a color palette. You have like a pink purple color palette, but you’re really allowing yourself to just share what you think this will be. You introduce yourself in some of these posts. It’s all about the meaning and identity of the brand. What people like you said are interested in, believe in that would also like this brand.
you announce your Kickstarter at some point. I wanna ask, how often, do you remember how often you were posting at this time? It was hard to generate content at that time because I didn’t really have much. Yeah. But I think I was trying to post at least once at the time, but I think it was a kind of a struggle. Did you say once a day?
Samantha: Sorry, once a week.
Azhelle: Oh, once a week.
Samantha: Yeah, the very, very beginning. But yeah, it was a struggle. And then I felt like I was just posting for the sake of posting. That post was like a barely nothing post. And still got so many likes for no reason. Love it.
Azhelle: And like 12 hashtags, nothing fancy. Right.
Samantha: Yeah. So I didn’t want to keyword a keyword hashtag stuff it. And so yeah, I think when I put that first prototype doll photo, that’s when it got the vote. Yeah.
the final, how it would look right now. Like it’s so different to what it would look now. Yeah, it’s so different. I think that was the very first time finally someone’s, like everyone saw what it would look like. You were doing the illustration. Because at the illustration stage, people couldn’t really visualize it. Like what would it really look like? But at that point, I was just sharing about our story and I just here and there.
Azhelle: I love this approach.
This approach is so smart. It’s so smart. You’re sharing the identity of what this brand is. And then you’re sharing a little bit about you, the creator, a little bit about your family, not getting so personal, but a little bit. And then you’re saying join our VIP list, starting your email list. Love that. Yeah. So that wasn’t a big thing that I tried to cultivate, the VIP list, the email list, because it was such a huge part of the pre-order stage.
Samantha: And even though I didn’t end up doing Kickstarter, I just did it on my website. Yeah. It was so huge to have that email list. And so I really needed to provide incentives for people to join that email list. I know that I don’t like signing up to a bunch of email lists. I worry about what people would spam me. So I really needed to provide value that when people join the email list.
that people would get value out of it. I would tell them, yes, you would get an early bird discount on launch day, but also we would send you things that you could do with your children during that waiting time. And so I would put out freebies, digital downloads, if you sign up. And I wanted it to be say true to our brand. So what I did was I these dolls were supposed to provide education and awareness about Asian diversity. So I…
created like little digital downloads like about China, about the Philippines, and then I did like coloring books about them. And so they would just be free and then you’d have to sign up as an email subscriber to do that. This seems similar to what I think some of the lessons in module seven actually. Right. Yeah. So I think I was actually listening.
I hadn’t I wasn’t a TCA student at the time, but I was actually listening to another Kickstarter… I can’t remember what the episode.
Azhelle: Oh, I know. I know which one.
Samantha: And it was like a book.
Azhelle: Yep. The book of culture.
Samantha: Yeah. Yes. Yeah. Well, I remember they were saying that they hit kind of like a like a little slump in their marketing phase in their in their Kickstarter. And then they put out little downloads for.
during that phase. And so that’s when I got the idea of doing that for my email list.
Azhelle: Love it. Yes. Love it. Actually, her name is pronounced Evie, my bad. But okay, that’s great. Okay. So I just wanted to scroll back and see this. I love going back even in my own competitor world to see what people first started posting and where they began. And then as you had the product and as you had more to share, it kind of evolved.
You’re sharing the purpose. I love this photo of you. Is this you and your mom? Yeah. And then why I was doing the dolls because this was the good story. Yeah. Love it. You with a blonde, a blonde blue eyed doll. Like that’s brilliant. I mean, this is brilliant pre-marketing. Love it. Okay. So I want to go into this whole thing of a Kickstarter. At what point did you decide, I’m not doing a Kickstarter? I’m going to just, and tell me why, and I’m going to just do it on my own website.
Samantha: Yeah. Right. Actually, you kind of questioned it for me. Like you were like, why are you doing a Kickstarter? Yeah. And cause I thought like that was the way to do it. Like I had to do it on Kickstarter and, and you were like, why don’t you just do it on your website and then like see how it goes.
Azhelle: Wait, was it, I think it might’ve been because you were trying to delay the timeline if you did Kickstarter. Cause then you were like, well, I have to learn how to do Kickstarter. Was that?
Samantha: Yeah, it actually, Kickstarter was really like a stressful idea for me because with Kickstarter, it feels like an all or nothing thing. So you put a campaign goal and if you don’t hit your goal, then you just don’t get the whole funding. And also it’s very public. So.
Like your numbers. Yeah, the numbers. The numbers are very public. And you had to do it within 30 days. So you only had 30 days to do it. So I felt that, okay, that whole month, I had to give it like my 100%. I had to spend all my time contacting all these people. And if I didn’t get the number that I wanted, then it’s just going to be there forever. And also there was a lot of Kickstarter fees. So…
when you were like, why don’t you just do it on your website? And at that time, I actually did have a decent amount of people on my email list, decent amount of people on my Instagram.
Azhelle: Define decent. How many on your email list at the time?
Samantha: So it was, I think about 4,000 and then Instagram was 5,000. And at the time I was like, okay, if I can just if I do it on my website and maybe I get like 100 people that order on launch day and then maybe I get another like as I go, I could still build on it. But whereas with Kickstarter, if I don’t get the people all in that 30 days, then it will be a fail in my eyes anyway. And I just felt like so overwhelmed by the process. And I was learning about it. Like I had to do, you know, all these like stretch goals or like, you know,
It just seemed like a really complicated process for me anyway, even though I read about it and all of that. And so I already had my website set up for e-commerce, had to change it a little bit for pre-orders. And then that’s when I just decided to actually, I did a poll on my Instagram.
Azhelle: Oh, where? Actually, it was on a stories. Oh, okay. So it’s disappeared now.
Samantha: But I just put it out there, what would you prefer? Would you prefer to do it on Kickstarter or on my website? And the response was overwhelming. Like 99.5, like only two people said Kickstarter. And I got so many people who said that they wanted to do it on my website. And it’s interesting because even before I did that poll, there was a few people that DMed me and said, are you sure you’re gonna do it on Kickstarter? Because I don’t like Kickstarter.
Azhelle: Yeah. Wow.
Samantha: Yeah, because I think they’ve had such a bad experience with Kickstarter. And maybe they had, say, two bad experiences, but the common denominator was Kickstarter. So they just think, well, it’s Kickstarter. And not the person behind the Kickstarter. Yeah. And so, and a lot of people said, well, if we’re going to pay money for it, like, I’d rather all the money go to me.
Azhelle: Exactly. And that’s the hard part with developing toys is your profit. Right. You know, like the shipping and the manufacturing and you have a markup, but it doesn’t… I mean, your markup, you don’t get all of that because there’s storage and there’s defects and there’s testing. And so like when Kickstarter comes in to take a percentage and it’s not even guaranteed to get to your people, that could be damaging to your brand. What if…
You know, the thousand people that wanted it can’t get it now because the whole Kickstarter is not funded. And then what? Like, you still want to make this line. So I would say, I feel like in from your experience, seeing that unfold and other people I’ve spoken to Kickstarter is for those people who do not do not have the funds to do it unless it is funded.
and are only going to move forward if they have enough people to fund it. Like you absolutely need the money to fund it. If you are already have your savings or you have a job that’s supplementing this and you’re like, I’m going to do this either way. Why not do your own pre-launch on your website? It’s possible. You did it through Shopify, correct? Your website’s on Shopify.
Samantha: No, I did it. I have WooCommerce. Oh, you have WooCommerce. Oh, okay. Great.
I did it through WooCommerce because at the time, like of course Shopify, you had to pay like monthly. And when I first was starting out the website, I, in the past, I’ve had good experiences with like building my own website. So I was familiar with building it. And I just, I did it on my own. Like I already have my photography website. So I just did it on the same host. So I didn’t have to go for it. I designed the whole thing myself. So I didn’t have to pay these monthly fees. And like WooCommerce is free. So I just did it that way just so I could…
I put out some products out there. And then when I did the pre-order, I just purchased a pre-order plugin. So I didn’t have to play like monthly. Oh, WooCommerce is free? WooCommerce is free. Yeah. It’s self but there’s plugins and all this stuff that you can add to it. I did not know that. Yeah, but there are free plugins. So that was why I set it up that way. And it works for me because I’m pretty familiar with WordPress. I’ve been using it for…
Well, since I was a teenager. Yeah. I love your website. It’s one of my favorites. It’s beautiful. Very clean, easy to navigate. Love it. Okay. So let’s move on. I’m sorry. We’ve spent so long on this, but I quite enjoyed it. Now I would love to talk about some of your areas of struggle.
Azhelle: Do you remember your… Have you had, it’s early in your journey, have you had a big failure in this separate from the factory conversation? Because we’ve already dove into that. Have you had a big failure moment in all of this?
I think when I think back, the big failure moment was the factory. But also, even though I’ve got the pre-orders out and then now we’re in production, I thought like, oh, this is going to be easy. They’re all in production, but still like a lot of questions like, oh, we can’t do this and that. And then just like, oh, like, I feel like it’s…
It’s constant struggle. Like there’s no like, okay, we’re done with this. And then it’s gonna be easy from now. And so that’s where I think from an expectation point of view, like I didn’t know like what I was really getting into and like the constant like energy and like perseverance, I would say.
to just keep going no matter what hits at you. Because sometimes I’m like, oh gosh, there’s just so much to overcome. And it just feels like speed bump after speed bump. And that’s when I’m like, oh, am I the right person to do this? And it’s like, this just seems like, when there’s just so many little things coming at you, it just feels like one giant hill. And then that’s when I’m just like, oh, I don’t know if I should be doing this and all of this, even though the pre-orders was a success.
Azhelle: Yeah, and we should state that. How successful was your pre-order?
Samantha: Yeah, so I didn’t know how it was going to be because actually, like the emails actually didn’t end up going out very well.
Azhelle: I’m sorry. I will never recommend MailerLite again, ever. Well, no. I think it was good at the beginning. Like I think it was good building it and it wasn’t too expensive. So at the time it was good.
But when I got to like a certain amount of…
Azhelle: Same thing happened to me.
Samantha: Yes. Deliverability wasn’t good. And I wish I had a note that before launch, so I could have moved them before launch, but I was building my email list and then all of a sudden it was like launch day. And then I emailed everyone and then nobody got my emails. Oh, did you get that thing that it blocks once you have a certain number,
Azhelle: it wants you to approve like… reconfirm yourself. That’s what happened to me. No, it wasn’t really, no, it wasn’t even that. It was, said it went out,
Samantha: but I also posted on Instagram, like check your emails for your digital code, but people were DMing me and saying that they weren’t getting any emails from me.
Azhelle: Oh my God, I can’t.
Samantha: They weren’t even in their spam box.
Azhelle: Mailerlite get it together, cause we are no longer supporting this. No, it was good in the beginning of my journey as well, really cheap, like $10 a month.
Samantha: Once I think I got over like 2000 subscribers, things started to get a little weird. Right. And so when I finally launched, I was at 5000. And so like deliverability was just not good. And I was basically having to ask people on Instagram, like I don’t even know how many people weren’t on Instagram that were an email subscriber. Right. Telling everyone Instagram, if you didn’t receive a launch discount code, you have to
like send me your email so I can personally send it to you. So all of that was like kind of a nightmare. But in the end, in 24 hours of our launch, when I finally did launch, I sold 2,200. So that was-
Azhelle: Wow. Such a- Incredible.
Samantha: I didn’t expect that because of all the-
Azhelle: You’re like, how are we gonna ship all these? Like I’m gonna be in my garage for three years.
Samantha: And also, I think there’s a statistic that they say that only 1% of your email list is going to buy.
Azhelle: Yes. And for you, that’s how many people is within that 2,200? I think we got about a thousand orders. Okay. Wow. That’s incredible. I mean, yeah, that’s incredible. So how do you overcome, going back to our previous question, how do you overcome that
struggle with, am I the right person to do this?
Samantha: Yeah, that really was a struggle. Even to this day, even when I was talking to you about it, when I was at ASTRA, I still felt like this whole imposter syndrome. But as I was posting it and I’m getting so much feedback from people, I just had to keep reminding me of my why.
and why I was doing it and the feedback that I was getting. So many people reached out to me and said they were in tears when they saw the dolls. And I think if they were having such an emotional reaction just to seeing the photos, I just can’t imagine what reaction they’ll have when they get to see a person. Also when their children get to experience it.
Azhelle: We’ve got to find some like there’s got to be some trade shows for like Asian culture specifically that we need to get you to.
Samantha: Yeah, there are actually was one in New York City. There was a Filipino festival right in New York City. What? I don’t know if you heard it, but it was like crazy busy. And I didn’t know about it in advance, but I kind of knew it like a week before. That’s when I found out about it. But it was there was so many people there. I think I would love to be part of that.
something like that next year. But there’s a lot like during the summer. So there’s even, I think one in Colorado, there’s I think the Vietnamese one. Let’s build out that list. Let’s build out that plan list. Okay. So that your continued launch list. Okay. And that’s the thing, I think people see them in person. It’s just gonna have such a bigger impact. It is. So what would you say you’re most proud of that you’ve done so far with Joeydolls?
Samantha: I think even just getting to this point and at this point, we’ve been featured on three national TV broadcasts, media broadcasts in Canada. We were also featured on BuzzFeed and then we were also featured on Toy Insider and Toy Book. Those are things that I never imagined that would happen. Because I was steadfast in our mission and what we were about and making sure the products
would stand out. And I know even at the beginning, I was so doubtful and people would say, oh, I don’t know about this. And putting doubts in my mind, whether I was the right person to do this or if I should do this. And so I think even just getting to this point, like this, me persevering through all the struggles, I am pretty proud to finally be where I’m at.
Azhelle: I love it. Okay. I don’t we don’t have any comments in the chat. I was just checking to make sure I’ll bring your stuff back up. Also, I just I don’t know I’m wondering did the portions of TCA help you to get any of those media placements or did you do those on your own in a different way?
Samantha: A little bit. So I think when I was unsure about like when I should be reaching out to them and stuff like that because we were like so
in pre-order and I wasn’t sure if… Oh yes, I remember this. Oh, you were the best student. You asked so many questions. It was so great.
Samantha: I asked a lot of questions. No, it was great though. So of course I go through the material and then I’m like, okay, but what about, like, did this apply for my scenario? So those are the questions that I had for myself. So yes, they were super helpful. And I think they really…
pushed me to do it more, like have more confidence in doing it because I was like, Oh, I might have to wait until I’m like closer to date or like I have.
Azhelle: Oh yeah. And I was like, no, yeah. I was like, no, send it right now. What are you going to do? Wait till next year? No. I was like, send it.
Samantha: Yeah. So that was it. And then I just started building out like a list of journalists, a list of people to reach out to, um, and then sort of following them on Instagram and like all this stuff, like making, making sure.
that I had like a plan and then also like the marketing plan that you had in TCA and then like, you know, knowing when things were happening so I could be prepared for them in advance was really helpful. Yeah, I think reaching out to retailers was like super helpful because now we’ve got seven retailers.
Azhelle: What? At this point.
Samantha: Yeah. And so I think like the module on the specialty retailers was really helpful.
Azhelle: Oh, awesome. Like what to do. I love hearing that. I have so many things to add to it, but I love that. I’m glad it’s helpful as it is. Yes, yes. What do you hope to achieve one year from now?
Samantha: Yeah. So I really hope that we can, I see this in like the black community that when you, there’s black products out there that it’s really truly celebrated and there’s so much excitement about it. And we, I just don’t think we have seen it really.
so much in the Asian community. I think you touched on these, mentioned something like this in the beginning of this podcast. And I really hope that this is like the start of like really celebrating our culture. And I hope that we can put it into like more mainstream so that more people have access and can see it. And so I walk into say a Target, you do see like black dolls and you see the, you know, dolls, but you don’t really see like
cultural Asian dolls and that’s where I hope we can sort of push and change that more. So I feel like it’s still gonna be a journey and but that’s what I really hope to to push forward for. I’m so so excited for you.
Azhelle: Okay, are my closing questions. The first one is what piece of advice would you like to give to the listeners here today who maybe are
interested in launching a product like you did.
Samantha: Right. I’d say believe in yourself and your idea and like really solidify your idea like spend the time to list up idea and then before like reaching out to to factories and then When you reach out to factory like do your research. I think I just like really jumped into it.
I didn’t know what I was doing. And so actually that module about looking for your factories was super because like those questions that you had, I was like, Oh dear, I didn’t do this. I didn’t ask any questions. I was like, can you make this? Can you do this? This was like my question. Yeah. But those questions are so helpful. I send them out every time now. I was doing the…
the second reach out of looking for a new factory. And also getting like the NNN agreement and stuff like that beforehand, like making sure everything was set before that. So that was super helpful. So I think having that knowledge and gave me confidence into going into it. Yeah.
Azhelle: Oh, that’s so great. I just realized we need to add something to your dolls like a little, we need to add like a little Joeydolls tag on the inside or something.
for your future. Oh, yeah, I’m gonna have a hang tag, or things like a carrot, what do you mean? This is more for branding. We’ll talk about it. Okay. We’ll talk about it. And then my last big question for you is, what toy or game blew your mind as a kid? Yeah, so I know you asked me this question as well before. Oh, I did. Yeah, and it was…
Samantha: It was for the upcoming for ASTRA when we were preparing for that. And I said Polly Pocket because that’s what I remember the most because I could take along. I really loved role playing as a kid. And I remember Polly Pocket the most and I just loved that I could take her wherever I could. But I wanted to also give you something else. So now that we see the Barbie movie coming out and all of that and all the Barbie Dreamhouse that Margot Robbie has.
And I was just like, oh my gosh, that was my dream house. Yes. They made it like real life. Oh my gosh, how can I step into the movie? And it reminded me how much I really enjoyed playing with my dolls. And even I don’t know if you know, actually, I think in Australia, it’s called Sylvania, but here it’s called Calico Critters.
Azhelle: Oh, Calico Critters. Yeah. Oh, is it Calico? Oh, yeah. Calico.
Samantha: Yeah, because in Australia, I think it’s called, maybe before it was called Sylvannia Families. And so that’s what I knew it as. And so I remember playing with that as well. I just really loved role playing.
Azhelle: Did you when you grew up? Did you like The Sims?
Samantha: Oh, my gosh. Yeah.
Azhelle: OK. Yeah, we’re the same. We’re the same. We are the same. Love that. So where can people listening find more about you, about Joeydolls, order Joeydolls, whether it is for wholesale or retail, the floor is yours. Yeah.
Samantha: So you can find us at www.joeydolls.com and on Instagram, it’s just Joeydolls and Facebook as well, just Joeydolls.
Azhelle: Love that. Samantha, thank you so much for being here with me today. It was a pleasure and I can’t wait to see your dolls just in every store, just getting reorders. And I hope this becomes big business for you.
Samantha: Thank you. Thank you so much for all your help and support.
Azhelle: Yes. Thanks for those watching. Take care.
Thanks for listening to Making It in the Toy Industry podcast with Azhelle Wade. Head over to thetoycoach.com for more information, tips and advice.