Kids will build up their own collectibles collections with Cubles — literally.
This new company created a reinvented paper toy in which kids put together a character from strong and sturdy paperboard (no glue or scissors required!), which all have moving parts. All of the company’s products are made in the U.S. and is 100% recyclable. The Toy Book caught up with Mike Horn, chief strategy officer and co-founder, and Frank Adler, president and co-founder, from Cubles to talk about licensing strategy, manufacturing in the U.S., the importance of sustainability in toys, and more.
Toy Book: What are Cubles and how did the company get its start?
Mike Horn: Think of Cubles as a 3D mash-up of puzzles, origami, action figures, and collectibles. Made in the U.S. and fully recyclable, Cubles transform from greeting card-sized packages to sturdy 3D paperboard characters — highly detailed and articulated — with no scissors, no glue, and no mess. Each Cuble is pre-cut and pre-scored, and is built with color-coded and number instructions.
Cubles were invented by Joel Morris, a self-taught tech engineer by trade, a Dad, inventor, and all-around mad scientist of Cubles. He initially just wanted to create a product for his own kids —one that would stimulate their minds and creativity, be tactile and challenging, promote off-screen engagement, and, perhaps most importantly, contain no plastic. Nearly five years of tinkering and perfecting (and patent applications), Cubles as a product was born.
In late 2019, the company began distributing Cubles in Minneapolis, where Joel and initial co-founder Jason Johnson reside. They started lining up the first licenses, and established what would become the pillars of the Cubles business verticals:
• Licensed brands
• Cubles World original brands
• Education (we have in-class lesson plans for third through sixth grade STEM/STEAM students)
• Cubles for Cause
• Custom Cubles
The team has expanded dramatically, with the addition of a robust leadership team, including myself with a long history in collector toys, Frank Adler (a veteran in the traditional toy industry), and Jade Thamasucharit (deep expertise in marketing).
TB: What are your business goals for 2021 and beyond?
MH: Our primary business goal is to let the world know that Cubles are here! We have had significant interest and consistently positive reactions to our range of product offerings. We’re now expanding on each of our business pillars to build this brand new category. Long-term, our core mission is to stimulate the mind, make a fun company, and create the best products — all while being great citizens of our planet. It’s no small task, but we’re up for the challenge!
TB: How has manufacturing in the U.S. affected your business?
MH: Three of the five partners at Cubles have extensive experience in manufacturing in China. Before the current shipping challenges, we just enjoyed the contrast of fast manufacturing (30-60 days on average, sometimes less), along with many production conveniences. Our manufacturing plant is in Minneapolis, the hometown of two of our co-founders, so they can look in on production daily without global travel. We can quickly fine-tune adjustments to the product in hours, with no time zone or language barriers. This year, we have a huge advantage bypassing ocean freight altogether.
TB: What role does licensing play in your business?
Frank Adler: It’s an enormous part of our business model. We have consistently viewed the tripod of Cubles to be: 1. Our patents (and execution of design); 2. the licenses and brands that we associate with (via direct licensing, supporting direct-to-retail licensing, or creating custom products that behave like licensed goods); and 3. the Cubles brand name.
By creating a new category of play (we recently had a licensing agreement called our category “Cubles”), we are a white space opportunity for brand owners.
TB: What licensed properties have you partnered with? Can you share any new partnerships that are on the way?
FA: The company started with a trio of licensed brands that are deliberately diverse: Dog Man (Dav Pilkey’s outstanding graphic novel series), Little House on the Prairie, and KISS. The idea was to establish that Cubles are not solely for kids, but also to creatively represent very different styles of characters to very diverse audiences.
In the past year, we have expanded to nearly 30 brands under license, with new ones being added regularly. New licensed brands in the works include:
• Hasbro: GI Joe, My Little Pony, Transformers, Power Rangers, Potato Head, Dungeons & Dragons, Peppa Pig, Tonka
• Nickelodeon: Spongebob Squarepants, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Invader Zim, Garfield, Ren & Stimpy
• Graphic Novels & Kids Books: Max Meow, Phoebe and Her Unicorn, Leon
• Kids’ Entertainment: True and the Rainbow Kingdom
• Sports: Pro Bull Riders
…with much more to come!
TB: What inspired Cubles to commit to sustainability?
FA: What started as a personal passion for Joel has evolved into a core value of the company. For the toy industry veterans on the team, the fact that we can produce without plastic has grown from a novel idea to a guiding principle. We’re living in a time when truly eco-friendly products are being introduced to the market regularly. From our own personal consumerism in our families, we know that there is a growing demand for sustainable products — from laundry detergent to clothing. Cubles meets these standards, blending innovative elements while always remaining true to our values.
In addition, we recognize the vital importance of trees. Since Cubles are made of paper, we want to make sure that we aren’t being part of depleting this important resource. This is why we donate enough of our profits to plant 100 trees for every one tree we use. Our goal someday is to help plant the Cubles forest!
TB: What advice do you have for start-up toy companies?
MH: Don’t be afraid to do something bold — and let the adventure unfold!