Good things, as they say, come in small packages.
And Jackson Aw, founder of Singaporean ecommerce startup Mightyjaxx, has built an incredibly successful business designing and shipping collectible designer toys with a unique take on urban culture.
His startup’s creations border on risqué: one of them depicts dog mounted on top of another. Some others take cuddly cartoon characters - Elmo, for example - and invert the model so that half the figurine has its insides in full view.
Scrolling through the website is bound to elicit a reaction. Even the URL - Mightyjaxx.rocks - should awaken a wry smile. Whether the toys appeal to you or not is a matter of personal preference - my guess is that demographics above millennials might be shocked and find some toys distasteful. Personally, I couldn’t help but admire the creativity at play and it’s undoubtedly this urban-culture-meets-grunge design ethos that’s turning heads across the world.
What’s indisputable is the fact that the business has been scaling rapidly. It started in 2012 with an initial seed investment of 20,000 SGD. The first couple of years were lean and by Jackson’s own indirect admission, the view him and his team took towards the startup was lax. Now, however, it’s raking in monthly revenues of 500,000 SGD (that’s US$363,000) and has grown approximately 40% as compared to the same timeframe last year, with customers from over 50 countries across the world.
Jackson’s toys are certainly no child’s play.
Born to hustle
The founder’s first foray into the entrepreneurial world came in 2009 when he started selling refurbished vintage cameras. The business did well and he sold it in 2012 with a desire to start something new.
“I come with a creative background [...] I studied interactive media design in school and I’m a toy collector myself,” Jackson tells Shopify. “I would buy smaller design toys which are basically independent figurines designed by artists which you can’t find in Toys’ R Us or Walmart. When I was poking around about what to do next [after selling my camera business], I realized I have so many toys lying around and I was curious about what goes into making them.”
What followed was a fateful trip to China. Jackson’s presumption was that the toy making process involved a high degree of automation where giant factories would spit out toys in a standard assembly line. The reality, however, opened his eyes.
“There were rows and rows of people sitting down, some were painting, some assembling, others cleaning up the tools. It just blew my mind about how much work went into creating one. When I asked about the average price for making one toy, I was told it was around $2. That really got me thinking. These people earn by the cents, their talent goes unappreciated and I thought we could do better,” he says.
Work on Mightyjaxx started soon after his return to Singapore. Jackson partnered up with a friend who excelled in design and the duo got to work. After finalizing an initial prototype of their first design, titled “Hell Lotus”, they placed an order for 200 pieces which they thought would be sufficient to meet demand.
At the launch phase they sold 20.
“It was like a wild moment,” reminisces Jackson. “There were 180 pieces in my parent’s house and I was screwed.”
To make things worse, much of the initial 20,000 SGD investment had been whittled away in setting up the initial operations, marketing, and logistics for the business.
The team got some breathing space after a portion of the excess inventory sold within the next 6 months. The first real breakthrough, however, came in 2013, when a new batch of products completely sold out within an hour.
“That’s when we really started to notice that there are people who like what we do,” explains Jackson.
Another vital factor towards scaling Mightyjaxx came in the form of licensing partnerships, with large companies like Warner Brothers, DC, and Marvel. Jackson says it was “by chance” and that he wasn’t “thinking about it much.” The first opportunity presented itself in 2015 in the form of a partnership with DC. That really opened up the floodgates as the collectibles went from niche limited items to more mainstream interests.
“It was an entirely different ballgame,” recalls Jackson. “Lots of potential for distributors and it forced us to push our volume up and challenge the team on how to deliver large projects.”
But is it possible that his initial cavalier approach towards design actually served as a barrier towards greater adoption? Did it ruffle feathers in Singapore, leading to lower brand adoption?
“90-95 percent of people don’t understand what's going on,” he laughs. “They don’t understand the business model. But it’s gotten better over the last few years, mainly because of comic cons and how people are now more exposed to popular culture. It’s gotten a lot better.”
At the same time, Jackson hastens to add that the majority of his clientele in the early years was mainly from North America. That now accounts for about 40% of the mix as local demand in Singapore and China has significantly risen.
“Sometimes the general public will say [these designs] are rude or whatever. But we think it’s visual comedy, it’s funny, it’s a conversation starter. If you don’t like it, just walk away. We’re not going to just conform. If you like it, buy it, if you don’t then go away,” he smirks.
How has Shopify helped him scale?
Mightyjaxx has relied on Shopify to power its backend systems for the past four years now. A firm decision was made after extensive research - Jackson says the team tried “four or five” different platforms but settled on Shopify because “it has all the things I want.”
For him, some of the platform’s most compelling features are the marketplace of apps it offers all vendors which he uses to continuously try new techniques and ways of closing sales. Additionally, the ease of use means team members without coding skills can also play around with its features and experiment as needed. And if any localized tweaks are required, then the developers step in to make modifications as needed.
“I love using Shopify,” he exclaims.
At the same time, Jackson insists that Shopify isn’t just for ecommerce startups with high volumes of traffic and sales. It supports each level of growth - when you’re just starting off there’s a plug and play solution that can help set up the basic infrastructure. And the platform is robust enough to support businesses as they scale up, especially when they’re looking for a more branded experience with snappy visual design elements.
“Shopify has been able to meet all our requirements at different stages,” he says. “There has never been a thought in my mind to move to a different platform.”
“Just dive right in”
The straight shooting entrepreneur believes the hardest part about starting a business is the initial inertia that people experience as they weigh the merits of the decision. It’s never easy to get yourself to quit your regular day job and building a business on top of your existing commitments means you’re never really fully invested in it, either.
“The initial jump can be daunting, but for better or for worse once you do that, once you commit to it, that’s when the real journey starts,” he outlines. “For example, when you buy a ticket to go on a trip you feel your mind is already there, whether it’s Maldives, Turkey, Canada, whatever. The journey truly starts then. People got to stop thinking so much and just do more, go for it, dive right in.”
So what’s next for his business that’s really starting to shine?
One tangible thing on the horizon is product diversification into lifestyle categories. Jackson explains that they’re using existing designs as a “creative IP” in order to build things like apparel and other everyday things of everyday use. This has already started - which accounts for some of the recent meteoric growth - but the plan is to double down on this quasi-pivot.
“We’re starting to see that they’re really doing well for us, that’s where the growth is,” he adds.
Another mooted idea is the establishment of an offline retail store. But in true, over-the-top Mightyjaxx fashion, this isn’t going to be simply an average store where you peruse items on a shelf and bag it up at the cash register.
Jackson says the team’s actively considering it and plenty of opportunities have come their way, especially in China. But he insists that it needs to be done right and that “we need to think hard for how it should be.”
“It should be an experience store more than anything,” he adds.
“I’m quite happy with [the current pace of my business]. As you grow older, you want to create something that has an impact. You want to scale fast and work on a lot more projects. Opportunities are now really opening up much quicker and I feel I’m at a very nice pace.”
—Written by Osman Husain