Lauren Johnson reveals what keeps her at MindWare… And the best way to pitch to the team

Lauren Johnson, Mindware, Play Creators Festival, Mojo Pitch
Thanks for joining us, Lauren. You’re a product developer at MindWare, but you have an interesting background… Where were you before?

My first career was in the wedding and service industry. I was eventually ready for a change and wanted something that would be a new experience. I came across MindWare’s job posting at just the right time and was excited to work for a company that was passionate about education.

The education part was important?
Yes… I’ve always had a passion for children and education, so this part of the toy industry seemed like a perfect fit. I started at MindWare to help provide educators with expertise on all MindWare products for use in classrooms and homeschool programs.

You’ve now been at MindWare for just over seven years. What keeps you there?
I love that every day’s different… Jumping from spreadsheets to playtests to recipe development all in one day is quite typical in our product development team. I enjoy the variety.

I can imagine! And if you had to describe the vision at MindWare, Lauren, how would you do it?
MindWare’s vision is to make the world smarter through playful learning. We work hard to provide a high-quality, curated selection of toys and games. Everyone at MindWare works to uphold our passion to fill the world with products that foster lifelong learning, growth and success.

Lauren Johnson, Mindware, Play Creators Festival, Mojo Pitch
Fantastic! And as well as being a product developer, you also take on the role of inventor relations…

Yes – everyone at MindWare wears many hats. One of mine is inventor relations for our product development team.

So my question to you would be: how important is creativity in what you do?
Creativity’s an integral part of our daily work when the team reviews concepts to imagine how we’d make tweaks for our customers, and finding fun ways to manufacture products.

And what do you do to stay creative, Lauren?
I oscillate between a home-renovation project and sewing. I’ve brought my passion of mending to our office by hosting occasional Mending Labs where folks can bring in some garments that need a little love to help keep them out of landfills.

Great answer! I love that… I have an overcoat that needs some attention, actually; maybe I can visit! In the meanwhile, you’re coming to the 2023 Mojo Pitch! In terms of people showing you their ideas, how do you like to see things?
We see concepts presented in lots of different ways. Do what makes the most sense for your concept or concepts, and the time and space you have. If we have time to do a quick play of your game, great… If you’re more comfortable talking through a sizzle, that’s also great.

Lauren Johnson, Mindware, Play Creators Festival, Mojo Pitch
You’re happy to go with the flow?

Absolutely. We always appreciate a well-thought-out concept, and highly value the ability to play test something internally with our own play test families if it’s something we’re interested in. Also, if we’ve never met before and you want to spend our time chatting about what you do and what MindWare does, that’s also a great way to connect, then do more follow up later.

Sounds very relaxed; I like it. Conversely, what do you not like to see when reviewing ideas?
We’re not an engineering firm, so if your concept is going to require lots of precise development, we’re probably not the right fit.

You mentioned that you have a small team at MindWare… So how does the development process work after the pitch? Walk us through it!
After an initial presentation, we like to take time to process ideas as a team since everyone has different areas of focus. This allows us to consider concepts from many different perspectives. If we want any additional information or prototypes of concepts that we’re interested in play testing, I follow up via email.

And realistically, how long does it take for a ‘maybe’ idea to become a definite yes or a definite no?
We strive to really commit to a product if we’re licensing it, so we do quite a bit of vetting. We run play tests with the suggested age grades and make sure it’s something we’ll be successful at manufacturing and marketing.

Lauren Johnson, Mindware, Play Creators Festival, Mojo Pitch
Great! Very thorough…

Right. That does mean it can take us a bit to get a definite yes. On the flip side, we value your time and if we know it’s something that isn’t right for us, we’ll let you know as quickly as possible so you aren’t waiting on answer.

Brilliant. You sound like many inventors dream company! Final question, Lauren: what’s the most interesting object in your office or on your desk?
My desk is a bit like a tiny shipping port – prototypes and samples are coming and going every day. I’m excited about some first shots that showed up for a new game launch next year!

Perfect! Well, I won’t ask for an image of those as I suspect that would be a no-no! But thank you for your time, Lauren; pleasure to learn more about you.

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