How Singaporean built a thriving toy business
“I’m not the best artist. I’m terrible,” Jackson Aw said with a sheepish laugh.
That might sound ironic, considering the 32-year-old is the founder and CEO of Mighty Jaxx, a designer toy company in Singapore.
But for Aw, acknowledging his own shortcomings helped him turn his startup into a multimillion-dollar international toy company.
“It’s that realization that…I should choose people who are way smarter than me. I collaborate with them and I work with them,” he told CNBC Make It.
“If this artist has dedicated his career to building this craft, then he’s better than I could ever be.”
Mighty Jaxx, which was founded in 2012, has partnered with some of the biggest global brands and visual artistsproducing on-trend collectibles that incorporate pop culture and design.
Since then, he’s sold “millions” of collectible toys to people in more than 80 countries, Aw said.
It all started when he started watching many “how it’s done videos” on YouTube, which he found “fascinating”.
“These videos that tell you how chicken nuggets are made, like how hot dogs are made… the process behind it. Watching them, I looked at my shelf of collectibles that I have “, did he declare.
“Could I create something physical, with my own hands and make 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.
His curiosity quickly turned to amazement, as he learned techniques such as hand carving and casting.
“I thought there would only be a few machines spitting (toys). And that was honestly very naive,” he said.
“I was shocked when I saw hundreds of people…crafting and painting on this one item, on what our perception will be a mass product.”
Inspired by what he saw in China, Jackson returned home after a month to create his own designer toy with a Singaporean graffiti artist, clogtwo.
Together they created Mighty Jaxx’s first 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 inventory in six months and there was no turning back. “It’s like we never felt that fear again. So we took the money and rolled it.”
Over the years, Mighty Jaxx has continued to partner with visual artists around the world to create unique, limited-edition collectibles while remaining “cash flow positive,” Aw said.
“We only took outside money much later,” he added.
The tide really turned for the company in 2015, when Aw entered into its first licensing partnership with Warner Brothers’ DC Comics.
He remembers sending an e-mail to Julian Montoya – who was Warner Brothers’ Global Vice President of Toys at the time – on a whim, hoping to “makeover” Warner Brothers creative intellectual property like DC Comics characters.
“His secretary replied, (saying) we have 30 minutes this Friday, you can come and chat with us.”
He flew to Burbank, California, where he showed Montoya potential designs and 3D prototypes of DC toys. “At the end, he was just, ‘Okay. We’re going to shake it off,'” Aw said.
“I walked out of the room, I thought, ‘No, this can’t be real.’ The next day they sent the contract and it was for a global deal.”
The deal, which Aw said was “a huge leap of faith” on Montoya’s part, quadrupled Mighty Jaxx’s revenue.
According to Aw, his company earned $1.7 million in 2015, four times more than the previous year.
“And that’s when, (I realised), damn it, something happens,” he said.
From DC to Netflix
Since then, Aw has multiplied collaborations with renowned brands to reach fans 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, were sold for $10 each. It’s 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 figures or toys unknown to buyers until they are unboxed.
He teamed up with American designer Jason Freeneywhich is known for its anatomical art.
“We’ve applied it to a lot of our licensing partners and they all love it because it’s such an alternative take on things…And now it’s become a baseline for us.”
Aw is a keen eye for what’s trendy 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 approximately $40 million, valuing the company at over $200 million. Its investors include Chinese conglomerate Tencent, KB Investment and East Ventures.
Aw also made for Forbes ranking of 30 under 30 in Asia list in 2018, at the age of 28.