Rising Star⭐Rising Star: Jeff Lawber & Marmals ⭐

What was the spark that inspired the birth of your concept?

I’ve always been fascinated with toys.  I find them to be comforting and full of design inspiration for my projects.  My job as an Industrial Designer has skirted the toy industry for a few years, working on contracts with toy companies to design and develop new toy concepts.  These contracts turned out to be far more fun than I could have ever imagined, and had it in my head that I’d like to develop a toy at some point. A few months later my son was talking about robots and I ended up sketching out an idea for one that I had bouncing around in my head.  It was fairly simple in appearance and looked relatively easy to build. I have a knack for how things are manufactured and decided to try and make one out of wood (a sort of throwback to an older generation of toys). However, before I began, I wanted to make sure the fit and function worked well, so I turned to my trusty 3D printer to knock out the first prototypes.  I happened to have white filament in the printer and noticed that when the print was finished, the parts ended up looking like marshmallows. That was more or less a happy accident and decided to pursue this marshmallow toy.


What problem does it solve?

Marmals is a very unique product and sort of carves out its own slice of the market by combining several ideas into a single product.  I felt that toys were too ‘prescriptive’ and were marketed from a media tie in. However, because of its blank white body, Marmals is a perfect canvas for users to design and construct their own character.  It’s patent pending magnetic construction also offers a tactile and audible comforting sensation. So at it’s basic element, it’s a super cute fidget toy, but with a little love, you can make it your team’s mascot, or a ninja, or a colorful monster, or whatever you want it to be.  It’s entirely up to you.


How did you come up with the name?

The product was originally called “Marshii.”  I felt it was cute and fit the personality of the character.  However, my attorney discovered that a celebrity DJ filed a trademark for a similar name a week before I did and suggested that I change the name before running into a costly conflict.  I took a giant step back and wrote out no less than 50 new names before settling on “Marmals,” which is the truncated form of marshmallows.


How are you better/different than your competition?

There are about 5 other toy companies on the market where Marmals share an orbit.  These would include construction toys, art toys, & magnetic toys. I feel Marmals shares the most playable aspects of each of these and rolls them into this cute little package.  My biggest competition would be Funko and their line of Pops. Funko Pops are a great product and they have nearly every character license available but they simply sit on a shelf and feel a bit static.  Marmals have the option to develop your own character, swap out parts as needed, and build something that you can be proud of!


How do you make money? 

The project was self funded until this past September when I was successful in funding an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign.  My main line of work is to design and develop new ideas for startups, for corporations, and everyone one in between that have design or manufacturing issues, or who simply want to brainstorm on new ways to rebuild their brand identity.  Nearly every single penny from this operation goes back to funding the development of Marmals.


What’s the best thing about being an entrepreneur?

I have the greatest job in the world!  I love love love what I do! Yes, it’s a ton of work building a brand, refining your product, planning for the future, etc…but the idea that you’re creating something that no one else has seen…and that’s just magical.


What has been the biggest surprise in your entrepreneurial experience to date?

Honestly, the biggest surprise has been the overall curiosity and acceptance from the toy industry.  I’ve worked in several extremely competitive fields in my line of work and while the toy industry is no different, it’s as if people actually want to help each other out.  It’s a far cry from the other fields I’ve been in.


Your biggest success?

Being accepted into both the Dallas and New York Toy Fairs to show off Marmals!  I applied to the “FutureCast” Gallery at Toy Fair Dallas this past October and was selected to show Marmals.  The gallery was a curated exhibit that showcased “the future of toys.” bbI thought it was a mistake that they selected me to show my product, but I rolled with it and flew down to the show to see that they put Marmals in a display case right next to titan companies of the toy industry.  I thought it was funny to see these licensed toys from big budget films right next to this toy that I build in my basement.


When I saw the announcement for “Inventors Day” at Toy Fair New York, I figured that if it worked once, why not try again?  I filmed a 90 second video on my phone from my basement as my submission and received the notice 4 days later that I was selected to show my product at the biggest toy show in the US!  I’m still very much in shock that both of these things have happened to me and it gives me hope that I’ve made some seriously great decisions that have brought me to this point.


Do you have a failure story to share? What did you learn from this failure?

I failed at launching a Kickstarter campaign early in the development stages.  I studied every article I could about “how to launch a crowdfunding campaign,” made a cool video, and had my launch window down to the day and minute when it was advised to launch the campaign.  When I did, the first 3 days of the campaign were amazing and then it just flatlined. I scrambled to throw whatever marketing tactic I could at the campaign to see what would happen and the whole thing sort of fell apart.  In hindsight, I found this experience to be extremely eyeopening. I ended up retooling my presentation, revised my marketing tactics, and took feedback to build a better product. I feel like I’m in a far better place because of my failure.


As an entrepreneur, what keeps you up at night?

There is always something that needs to be done.  I’m acutely attentive to details and there’s always logos that need to be micro adjusted, or websites that need re-worded, or decisions on which vendor will produce a better quality sticker.  Not life altering decisions but just a slew of little ones that really shake me.


What is the best entrepreneurial advice you have received (and from whom)?

I find nuggets of wisdom in every single person I speak with, but there’s a quote from Reid Hoffman, the founder of Linkedin that stands out… “if you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”  As a designer, I could design and redesign and improve the product on a daily basis, but at some point, you just have to launch the product and see what happens.


What is your #1 piece of advice for a budding entrepreneur?

Stick with it and seek help when needed.  There are countless resources out there to help guide you.  Perhaps you won’t find all the answers you need but you’ll be on the right path for sure.


What is the #1 book you would recommend for a budding entrepreneur? 

I always recommend the book Why Things Bite Back by Edward Tenner.  As someone that designs products for a living, it’s fascinating to see the unintended side effects of what design could do and opens up critical thinking on another level.


What song best describes your entrepreneurial journey?

“Dance Yrself Clean” by LCD Soundsystem.  The entrepreneurial journey is exhausting, full of seemingly insurmountable hurdles to overcome, and peppered with more than a few heartbreaks…but this is your song and you have to dance to your own beat.  Do what YOU need to do.


Imagine your venture becomes wildly successful. What does that look like?

Oh, I’ve thought about this extensively.  I can imagine quite a bit for the future of this product but in the end, I want to have as much fun designing and rolling out new figures far into the future as well as build a network of creatives that want to share their creations and the stories behind them.  There is no bigger joy than seeing people use your product in a way that makes them happy.


What’s your favorite local business and why?

There are so many businesses that I could list, but 90% of them would be coffee shops where I’ve spent countless hours sketching out path to market as well as a few hundred deviations of my product.


When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I was obsessed with Star Wars when I grew up and wanted to be an astronaut forever…there was a brief time I’m told, where I wanted to be a crayon maker after watching an episode of Mr. Rogers.  I would almost say that what I do now is that blend of both of those…a curiosity of exploring the unknown and a knowledge of how to make that happen.


Do you think Oregon is a good place to start a business? How has it helped you, and what challenges has it posed?

Absolutely!  The creative vibes here are wonderful and the people you meet on your journey only want to see you succeed.

I would say that it has been a challenge finding funding for my project.  I know we live in a time when investors are looking for the next tech unicorn…but there are others of us out here doing remarkable things that seem to get overlooked sometimes.


A bit about our backstory (if you’d like to include this):

My background is in Industrial and Environmental Design and have developed innovative design solutions for Nike, Adidas, Starbucks, Mini Cooper, the Olympic Games, Jeep, Warner Brothers, & Fred Meyers to name a few.  I also help numerous startups bring their ideas to life through brainstorming, conceptualizing, 3D modeling, and 3D printing. Marmals is my first serious attempt to bring one of my own ideas to fruition.



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