Authority Magazine
Published in

Authority Magazine

Female Disruptors: Sydney Wiseman of WowWee On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sydney Wiseman, Vice President of Brand Development & Creative Strategy at WowWee.

Sydney Wiseman is the Vice President of Brand Development & Creative Strategy at WowWee where she’s created numerous award-winning brands. She envisions product ranges that appeal to children, retailers and media influencers around the world, and has her finger on the pulse for identifying hot new trends. Her product developments have propelled multiple brands to high levels of popularity over the years, and more significantly, driving business in the millions of dollars per brand for the company.

Sydney’s first major hit, Fingerlings, a brand of animatronic pets and characters, created a worldwide frenzy becoming the #1 toy brand across multiple countries. The brand won the coveted overall Toy of the Year Award (TOTY) from the American Toy Association in 2018, as well as Collectible Toy of the Year, and has garnered millions of impressions around the globe. She’s since innovated to create additional popular lines, some being the hottest of this holiday season: Got2Glow Fairy Finder, My Squishy Little Dumplings and Pop2Play. Sydney is also an inspirational leader and continues to grow her talents, being recognized within the industry. Sydney was honored by the international organization Women in Toys (WIT) with the Wonder Woman in Toys award for her work as Creator/Inventor of the Year.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

From an early age, I was always fascinated by tech. It’s crazy to think about now but I spent a lot of time on the earliest Apple computers doing everything from developing computer skills to playing Sims. Toys and play have also always really been in my blood. Growing up, I had uncles in the toy business and my grandfather took me on weekly visits to Toys R Us so it really was a passion of mine that I never grew out of. I especially loved dolls and collectibles as a kid — Barbie, Polly Pocket — which has shaped a lot of what I’ve done in the industry as an adult. Even in college, all of my business projects centered around kids’ items or toys. When I officially started in the toy industry at WowWee, I began in the preschool space with the goal to make toys for everyone. From there, I continued to innovate and create in all different areas which really helped me find my footing and bring me to where I am today — having created multiple hit toy lines and broadened WowWee’s portfolio.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

I think part of what’s disruptive about the work I’m doing in the toy industry is ensuring that nothing I make is “typical”. Within the toy world, I love finding kid trends and marrying them with my radical imagination and obsession with technology. Along with everyone else at WowWee, I always strive to put magic into everything I do and create. I like to think about the product as less of a toy and more so a movie in your hand. My ultimate goal is to create content in the hands of the child for them to interact with off-screen.

Some of the best examples of this are our recent toy lines, Pop2Play and Got2Glow Fairy Finder. Neither is your typical toy and both bring so much fun to kids in unique ways. Pop2Play is an innovative, non-tech toy that brought the playground indoors during a pandemic while taking up minimal space in homes, apartments, etc. Got2Glow is another personal favorite, having married the trend of fairies with tech into an affordable and truly magical jar that finds virtual fairies!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I was doing my first hire and we were in a room with my computer connected to a big screen. We were showing the candidate our brands and seeing how she thought about them. I completely forgot we were screen sharing and opened my text messages on my computer and texted my colleague about her… THANKFULLY my message was a positive “she’s hired” one but I definitely learned my lesson about triple-checking what is being screen shared!

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I’ve been really lucky to have a couple of great mentors throughout my journey. First and foremost, my two uncles who started WowWee have been phenomenal mentors to me. I give them such credit for building such an amazing, innovative company from the ground up. I could not be more grateful for their trust in me — they’ve allowed me to use this engine they’ve built to bring my creations to life and have always supported my untraditional, more playful toy creations. Not to mention the fact that they know the industry inside and out so they’re great resources for navigating the less fun parts like contracts, legal questions, etc.

Another one of my mentors, which stems from my childhood, is the owner of a small specialty store in my hometown of Montreal. I can always remember her having such a good eye for trends and have learned a lot from her in being able to spot and predict trends myself. Even from a young age, she sent me different things to look at and get my opinion on, especially around toys. She’s helped me stay nimble when it comes to trends and being in the loop on what’s current.

I’ve also been very fortunate to have the ongoing support of a retail buyer at a large corporation. She’s been in my corner from the start and has consistently pushed me to think outside of the box while simultaneously challenging me to think about what will realistically work for her shopper. She was a big piece of the puzzle in helping me figure out the program for the 2017 holiday sellout toy, Fingerlings. She ultimately was the one to suggest that we strive for a $14.99 price point and it turned out to be the magic number!

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Using the example of the toy industry, I think disruption can be really positive and important. It’s critical to shake up an age-old industry and continue innovating for today’s kids. If no one ever disrupted the toy industry we’d still be playing with some lackluster toys. On the flip side, it’s also equally important to keep the core of what makes toys so special intact — the true magic of toys and play should always remain.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower”. At WowWee, we have a rule that everything we make has to be unique or innovative in some way, however, we used to look at innovation through the lens of electronics, batteries and “cool” tech until recently. Over a year ago we saw this unbelievable “strong fold” cardboard that could hold up to 50lbs. It wasn’t what we usually define as “innovative”, but we realized when we look at innovation through a new lens we can do so much more. We decided to make a whole world of cardboard playsets and slides with this material called Pop2Play, and a year later we have an unbelievable eco-friendly line of toys that continuously sells out on Amazon.

“There are as many opinions as there are experts.” When I was first starting at WowWee, I tried to consider every single opinion that would come my way. I felt obligated to make sure I was including everyone’s feedback, but by doing so, I would get so far away from what I had envisioned. More often than not I would end up with results I didn’t love or wasn’t proud of. Throughout the course of my career, I learned to take opinions for what they’re worth. I started consulting a smaller nucleus of select people whose opinions I very much value and trust (whether they are always aligned with me or not). I found doing this and working in more small groups allowed me to get to a product we all love and are proud of.

“Family is everything. Make time for the people you love.” I have the best and most supportive family ever. They’re truly my rock. Though work may feel all-encompassing, especially when you love what you do as much as I do, it’s important to consciously make time for the people you love. When I take a step back from everything I do at work, I always think about how the most special moments in life come from spending time with the people you love the most. Most work things can wait — memories and family cannot!

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

THE METAVERSE!! It’s going there — for adults as much as kids! And we’re going to be there when it does! We just announced a license for one of the biggest games in Roblox, Twilight Daycare. We’re doing a line of collectible babies that are redeemable in the game, allowing kids to then play as those exclusive characters while hanging out with their friends. That’s the way of the future and I’m excited to be venturing into this new space for toys.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I’m incredibly fortunate to work at a company where gender has no influence on decision-making but I know that not all women are able to say the same. There’s still a lot of work to be done to level the playing field and eliminate these gendered challenges and biases. No matter how much progress women make or how much success we achieve, we’re often subject to qualifiers. For example, the phrase “girl boss” vs boss — small word choices like this often diminish the work women are doing. Of course, there are also the obvious familial challenges women are subject to when building a career as well. Many women want to be very successful and make huge strides in their careers, but also want to have a family. We bear a greater burden balancing the two — often missing out on promotions while on maternity leave, shouldering the childcare responsibility, etc.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

I’m inspired by most things I see and listen to. I truly believe that the more you consume, the better your thoughts and ideas will be. There is one podcast episode that stands out for me though — The Skinny Confidential Him & Her Podcast had an episode where they brought on “The Branding Whisperer” Shaun Neff (On How To Build Brand, Avoid Branding Mistakes, & Launch A New Brand). The episode is all about building a product with an audience and a purpose right from the start. They discuss the nuances of influencers — how there’s influencer marketing and then there is proper alignment with influential people to make really cool stuff that not only inspires both creator parties but also immediately has a built-in audience. This episode really stuck with me and inspired the way I’m thinking about a few future toy lines. The “why” is super important — why will people care, why will kids find this fun, why will kids find out about this? I think going into product development with those questions already answered feels like starting at the 50-yard line at least!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

It would definitely be something to do with education and bringing really great education to the masses starting at a young age. I believe at my core that education is a big solution to a lot of the problems we see in the world. I would love to figure out some sort of program that makes great learning through curriculum fun for kids from a very young age.

My dad is also on the board of an organization called ORT, which builds trade schools around the world. Their philosophy is “give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” I very much so subscribe to this notion, and my goal would be to do something that teaches as many young kids to “fish” as possible!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The ultimate dream in life is to be able to do what you love and learn something from it” — Jennifer Love Hewitt. This is my mantra! I love what I do so much and it excites me every day… so much so that I learn something new every day. I approach making toys almost like a game — the more challenges I face, the more new things I learn. I also think that the fact that I’m so passionate about toys makes me a better toymaker. My passion shows in the toys I create and the way I think about them and talk about them. I find it especially shows when it comes to our work dynamic and the way I try to lead my team. At the end of the day, we make toys!! It can’t be so serious… I try to sprinkle my “big kid energy” on everyone and push them to tap into their inner child, and think from the eyes of a 3 to 7-year-old. Why will a kid care? What would they love to play with? How do we bring magic to the hands of kids?

How can our readers follow you online?

@sydwiseman on TikTok

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.