Fat Brain Toy’s Adam Carson and Kyle Gutzmann discuss the development and magic of Air Toobz

Adam Carson, Kyle Gutzmann, Fat Brain Toys

Adam, Kyle… Welcome to you both. Let’s start in an obvious place: who are you? What are your roles?
Kyle: I’m a Senior Product Design Engineer – which essentially boils down to being a creative problem solver.

Adam: And I’m Director of Product Innovation here at Fat Brain Toy Co.

And what does that mean you do on a day-to-day basis?
Kyle: I allot most of my time to designing products and developing solutions to help bring fun and unique toys to the market.

Adam: I work with our team to bring fun and innovative ideas to life. From working with inventors, managing vendors, and driving the product development process, I’m fortunate to work in a lot of different areas of the business.

Kyle: The neat thing about our group here is that we’re pretty lean and agile. Everyone in the development team collaboratively works from initial concepts all the way out to a finished product on the shelf.

Perfect! So, we’re going to chat about a magnificent product – Air Toobz! First, though, are there any other products that you consider personal favourites?
Kyle: One of my personal favourites over the last year is a new wooden skill and action game I spearheaded called Battle Box. It’s a marble-shooting game in which you try to knock down your opponent’s obstacles. That’ll officially debut this summer.

Adam: It’s hard to pick favourites, but products like the Dimpl line have been really fun to see succeed. I’ve also enjoyed working with my mom on our Pretendables line, a range of really cute pretend play sets.

Adam Carson, Kyle Gutzmann, Fat Brain Toys

The play-food range? Excellent! So… One Fat Brain product – Air Toobz – was brought to you by Brad Owen… Billy Langsworthy’s interviewed Brad here. Now that the product’s in the wild, though, how’s it doing?
Adam: Air Toobz is doing great! Since it started shipping, it’s sold out numerous times after receiving inventory. We couldn’t’ve asked for a better reception for a project that was a long time in the making. It’s got great momentum for 2024 and we’re looking forward to another strong year.

Does that success mean it warrants further exploration? Are expansions now part of the plan?
Adam: There’s so much play value in Air Toobz as it is now! We could’ve left certain features out and held on to them for later, but we chose to make the best product we could right off the bat. That being said, it absolutely warrants exploration for future additions. The thing is… You’re going to have to wait to see what those look like!

That was a masterful answer, Adam! Kyle, let me ask you this: when the concept first came to Fat Brain, what kind of development did it need?
Kyle: With many of the projects we develop, there’s an extensive list of problems to solve. Air Toobz definitely challenged us in many ways early on such as material selection, design for manufacturing, electrical and mechanical system engineering… And developing a look and feel that represented the classic Fat Brain Toy Co. brand. From the get-go, we envisioned this as a toy the whole family could enjoy. That dictated many of the decisions we made such as its durability, ease of use and safety.

Adam Carson, Kyle Gutzmann, Fat Brain Toys

Good answer, thank you!
Adam: It’s worth adding that there was no precedent for this type of toy on the market. We had to start from scratch in many areas of development. From safety to engineering to design, we had to be very thorough to make it into the product that you see today. I think a product like this would scare a lot of companies, but we had a vision for what it could be – and were stubborn enough to see it through. I’m very proud of how our team met this project head on, despite the risks and challenges involved.

And how soon in the development process did it become clear you were working on something rather special?
Kyle: It’s not always obvious you have a clear winner until it’s all polished and extensively worked out. With Air Toobz and the work on the initial prototype, though, it was immediately clear to me this was going to be something special…

From the get-go?
Kyle: Yes, when we first got the sample in hand. We knew we had something magical, and it demanded the entire team’s attention and needed to be executed to its full potential.

Adam: And actually, even when Brad Owen first sent us the video of his daughters playing with it, I knew there was something there. It just screamed what Fat Brain Toy Co. is all about. But it wasn’t until we received the first prototype of our design that we really became confident. We had grown adults sprawled out on the office floor, giggling as the balls flew through the tubes!

Adam Carson, Kyle Gutzmann, Fat Brain Toys

It’s perhaps worth me saying that I personally find this thing absolutely hypnotic! I mean it’s mesmerising. I could watch it all day…
Adam: Right?! So we realised that day how special it was and that we needed to put in the work to make it into a sellable product. From then on, it felt like we were keeping this big, fun secret from the rest of the world until it launched.

Was there any suggestion that it could be more educational? Or more toyetic? I’m curious to know how the team calibrated the balance…
Adam: There’s so much you can learn by just playing with it. The modular design and different pieces we include allow it to do so many different things. We’ve been playing with it for almost two years and are still learning new things you can do… So rather than go down one route or the other, we wanted to keep it simple and open-ended to allow kids to learn through exploration.

I know Air Toobz has picked up quite a bit of attention – and a couple of awards. What does that approbation mean to you?
Kyle: It’s personally very rewarding to finally see something you put months of testing and development into do well and make our loyal customers happy. Sometimes – after dozens of iterations of designing and testing a single component – you can get wrapped up in the small details and forget about the big picture. Once the product finally comes together, though – and is out in the wild – you get a chance to look back at the work and see why all those small details were worth it.

Adam: Awards are always nice and the attention Air Toobz has gotten has been fun to see. We appreciate everyone who’s thrown a light on this toy we worked so hard on. The real satisfaction comes from our customers, though. Hearing stories about how Air Toobz made their kids’ Christmas, or reading a rave review from a proud grandma and grandpa – it doesn’t get better than that.

Adam Carson, Kyle Gutzmann, Fat Brain Toys

Perfect. So, now… How did each of you come to be working in this industry? What led you to Fat Brain?
Kyle: I think, like many people in the toy and game industry, I stumbled into it. I began my professional career working as an engineer in the manufacturing and agricultural industry. Over time I began looking for something a little more hands-on and creative. When the opportunity arose to join the team at Fat Brain it was a huge change – but it just made complete sense. The people and the values here at Fat Brain are truly unmatched. This role has really aligned with a lot of my hobbies and creative passions, especially 3D printing which is a staple in the toy inventing and development process for me.

Adam: You may not know this, Deej, but my parents started the company back in 2002 when I was 10 years old, so I’ve really grown up with the business…

I did not know that! You didn’t come straight to it, though?
Adam: Well, I was fortunate – when I was graduating college, Fat Brain had started to put more focus on developing and manufacturing their own products. This gave me the opportunity to jump into the product-development world where I could test my aspirations of working as a designer. Fast forward eight years… I’ve been able to work on so many great products and learn the ins and outs of not just the product world but business in general. On top of that, I get to work with and learn from my parents every day!

What a lovely thing to say!
Adam: Well, it’s true… Growing up, my sisters and I were always around the business – but it’s different when you’re working in it. It’s truly special and I’m very grateful for all we’ve gotten to do together.

Lovely. Let’s wrap this up then, chaps, with a big thank you and the final question: what are the most interesting objects in your offices or on your desks?
Kyle: My desk is always a little more unorganised than I’d like to admit. I’d love to have one of those desks where it’s just a computer and a notepad… But with the nature of the job, I naturally gather bits and pieces from the last ten projects I’ve worked on. One of my favourite objects on display is my 3D-printed stacked planetary gear set. People pick it up and start cranking it… They think it’s broken when the output doesn’t move. That sparks the conversation about how its gear ratio is 256 to 1.


So it is moving… But it’s not moving very noticeably?
Kyle: Exactly. It’s something I made when I first got into 3D printing over eight years ago – and has always followed me around.

Fantastic! And the same question to you, Adam…
Adam: You know, our desks themselves are interesting! My dad designed them when moving into our office and we used our CNC machines to cut them all out…

Adam: Sorry! Computer Numerical Control! They allowed us to very precisely cut, sand, finish, and assemble projects in our wood shop here… Including the desks. The dividers between our desks are also pretty cool. They’re these big blocks made up of six different pieces of die-cut cardboard. Once you fold them all together, they become this six-sided building block that lets you basically design and build your own desk area. We built thousands of them for our office!

Amazing! Kyle, Adam… Thank you both so much for sparing time. I know how busy you are, and congratulations again on all the success with Air Toobz.

Adam Carson, Kyle Gutzmann, Fat Brain Toys

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