How Singapore built a thriving toy business

“I’m not the best artist. I’m terrible,” Jackson Aw said with a shy laugh.

This might seem ironic given that the 32-year-old is the founder and CEO of Mighty Jaxx, a Singapore-based design toy company.

But for Aw, acknowledging his own shortcomings helped him grow his start-up into a multimillion-dollar international toy business.

“It’s this realization that … I should choose people who are much smarter than I am. I collaborate with them and work with them,” he told CNBC Make It.

“If this artist has dedicated his career to building this craft, then they are better than I could ever be.”

How it all began

Mighty Jaxx, founded in 2012, has partnered with some of the biggest global brands and visual artists, producing trendy collectibles that embody pop culture and design.

It has since sold “millions” of collectible toys to people in more than 80 countries, Aw said.

It all started when he started watching a lot of “how it’s done videos” on YouTube, which he found “fascinating”.

I thought there would only be a few machines that would spit (toys). And that was honestly very naive.

Jackson Aw

Founder, Mighty Jaxx

“Those videos that tell how chicken nuggets are made, how hot dogs are made… the process that goes into it. As I watched them, I looked at my shelf of collectibles that I have,” he said.

“Could I create something physical with my own hands and create it?”

Aw, who has been an avid toy collector since he was 17, decided to book a one-way flight to Shenzhen, China, where he visited factories to learn about the toy production process.

Jackson Aw visited factories in Shenzhen, China, to learn about the toy production process.

Jackson Aw

His curiosity quickly turned to amazement as he learned about techniques such as carving and shaping by hand.

“I thought there would just be some machines that spit (toys) out. And that was honestly very naive,” he said.

“I was shocked when I saw hundreds of people… just creating and painting on that item, what our perception is going to be a mass market product.”

Inspired by what he saw in China, Jackson returned home after a month to create his own designer toy with Singaporean graffiti artist Clogtwo.

It’s as if we never felt that fear again. So we took the money and rolled (with) it.

Jackson Aw

Founder, Mighty Jaxx

Together they created the first Mighty Jaxx collectible, the “Hell Lotus”. With the help of a $20,000 loan, he produced 200 pieces of the toy, which he launched at the Singapore Comic Convention in 2012.

Aw sold the stock in six months and there was no turning back. “It’s like we never felt that fear again. So we took the money and played (with) it.”

Big chance

Over the years, Mighty Jaxx has continued to partner with visual artists around the world to create exclusive limited-edition collections while remaining “cash flow positive,” Aw said.

“We never accept foreign money until much later,” he added.

The tide really turned for the company in 2015 when Aw landed its first licensing partnership with DC Comics from Warner Brothers.

He remembers emailing Julian Montoya – who was vice president of global toys at Warner Brothers at the time – on a whim, hoping to “restyle” the Warner Brothers style. creative intellectual property like DC Comics characters.

After Mighty Jaxx made its first licensing partnership with Warner Brothers’ DC Comics, the company made $1.7 million in 2015, four times more than the year before.

Mighty Jaxx

“Your secretary replied, (saying) we have 30 minutes this Friday, you can come and talk to us.”

He flew to Burbank, California, where he showed Montoya the potential designs and 3D prototypes of DC toys. “In the end, he was just, ‘Alright. Let’s rock this,'” Aw said.

“I walked out of the room and thought, ‘No, this can’t be real.’ The next day they sent the contract and it was for a global deal.”

That deal, which Aw said was “a huge leap of faith” on Montoya’s part, quadrupled Mighty Jaxx’s revenue.

According to Aw, his company made $1.7 million in 2015, four times more than the year before.

“And that’s when, (I realised), damn, something’s going on,” he said.

From DC to Netflix

Since then, Aw has doubled down on collaborations with renowned brands to reach fandoms around the world, from Adidas, Hasbro and Nickelodeon, to Formula 1, Sesame Street and Netflix.

These collaborations allowed Aw to produce collectibles on a larger scale and at lower prices, making them more accessible to fans.

DC collectibles, for example, sold for $10 each. This is affordable compared to other Mighty Jaxx toys that are produced in much smaller quantities, which can cost up to $1,200.

In 2020, Aw also started producing blind boxes, which contain figurines or toys unknown to buyers until they are unpacked.

Mighty Jaxx also produces blind boxes in collaboration with Jason Freeny, known for his anatomical art.

Mighty Jaxx

He partnered with American designer Jason Freeny, known for his anatomical art.

“We’ve applied it to a lot of our license partners and they all love it because it’s such an alternative look at things… And now it’s become a baseline for us.”

Aw’s keen eye for what’s in vogue it certainly paid off. According to Mighty Jaxx, the company’s revenue grew at a compound rate of 71% from 2019 to 2021.

To date, Mighty Jaxx has raised around $40 million, valuing the company at over $200 million. Its investors include Chinese conglomerate Tencent, KB Investment and East Ventures.

Aw also made the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list in 2018, aged 28.

Jackson Aw’s Advice for Young Entrepreneurs? “Fear will always exist. But the question is, what do you think of that?”

Eli Lo

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