Tips from a Small Entrepreneurial Entertainment Company
by JOCHEM VAN RIJN, co-president, YULU
I started YULU about three years ago with Thijmen de Schipper, my close college friend, shortly after we completed our graduate study in business at the University of Rotterdam in the Netherlands. We were both sports fans, so our very first product was an outdoor paddle game called Helix Fun. The paddles were made from wood and we manufactured the product in the Netherlands, where we were both living at the time. We didn’t know anything about the toy business, retail sales, or even how to manufacture a product. You could say we were lucky because the product took off in Europe and we never looked back.
We didn’t expect YULU to be as successful as it has been in such a short period of time. People kept telling us that it’s a “miracle” or it “just doesn’t happen like this.” We believe that what you know can sometimes limit your possibilities, and, conversely, what you don’t know can expand your possibilities.
Having little to no background in toys had its advantages when it came to product design and marketing because we tried strategies that were unconventional. It also had its challenges as we tried to navigate the retail landscape, pricing, and forecasting. Today, we have a line of more than 50 SKUs across games and outdoor sports, and at Toy Fair in New York in February, we will announce an aggressive expansion into new categories. We look for categories where we feel the market leaders have become complacent; areas where big companies are resting on the strength of their brands or a game mechanic that worked for many years. We see complacency in others as an opportunity to enter a category and shake things up.
When we create our toys, we determine how we can bring story, play innovation, and uniqueness to each and every product. When we feel we have all of these elements, we first begin to develop story lines, then play patterns, and, finally, product design. Because a kid’s world is so social and digital, I think it’s important to first establish the story—defining who our characters are, what their mission and goals are, and then move to product concept. This is how we developed the Spy Code line of challenge games.
When it came to promoting our early products, we couldn’t afford TV advertising, but we had friends who worked at Google and knew everything about digital media and targeting. After talking to them, we knew that we could use digital media to better pinpoint and reach our consumer in a more efficient manner than traditional TV.
At YULU, we target online audiences with affinities for our products. For instance, we target our Helix line of outdoor sports items to families with young children who are active outdoors and are into sports. Then, we also target their social circles. We can also target in-market audiences, which are people looking to buy for a specific purpose, such as birthday parties, summer vacations, or people who are just having children. We can also market to people when they are within a certain proximity to one of the stores carrying our products. Our digital marketing team has more than 2,000 targeting points. With traditional TV, you get to target based on location and demographics, and that’s about it.
Of course, social media played an important role in our marketing success, too. Our Watermelon Smash game is a great example of social content that went viral and created demand for the product before traditional marketing kicked in. We had thousands of shares of our social videos, and millions of views with influencers of every size and demographic.
The final element was not just reaching influencers with large social media followings, but micro influencers as well. These micro trendsetters reviewed our games and created great authentic content that had strong viral spread. We also engaged with online gamers who had large social audiences as well.
When all three of these platforms are engaged with unique content created specifically to work with each other, we know we can be successful. What I like most about our approach is that all three of these areas change so rapidly. The social content that worked last year won’t work today. It takes special skills and a certain mindset to stay abreast of the changing social and digital trends. Because it changes so rapidly, you can’t use the same strategy year to year because by the time you study it and understand it, it’s shifted. I love that hyper-competitiveness and believe YULU thrives in this kind of environment.
Early on, we were dependent upon digital media, viral social content, and influencers. As we grew, we added TV into the mix. Looking forward, we are going to announce at New York Toy Fair what we believe is an innovative approach to creating entertainment around our brands. Our approach will be very new and relevant to the types of content kids consume today on platforms that are most relevant to them. Stay tuned!