Warren, thank you for being here today.
Thank you for inviting me. It's I'm really excited about it.
This is our typical Friday, inventor interview series. And it's an honor to have you on here. He's just gonna give a minute for everybody to look at plenty of participants joining in now. And a quick overview, I think Warren of your background, you had an idea, and you turned it into a product known as a better blocks. And it ended up becoming the first children's toy building block system to actually give Lego a run for their money and compete. Legal so which is an icon of the toy building industry. Jenny, let's play a quick video. I see. It's now a minute after noon. So this is a video kind of with an overview of your product for those that aren't familiar with it, and play it with audio please,
really do love playing with. Warren showed us a new and unique feature coming with the relaunch that makes one step ahead of all other toy building blocks.
The original better blocks snap together so well, that they can be a little tricky to pull up. Like any good toilet block, we've now developed the world's only easy release systems for Toy building blocks. And the blocks. And of course, these new better blocks are compatible with the hundreds and millions of better blocks that are already out.
A great story. The inventor also told Gen seven that they will be relaunching the many types of blocks that were popular before including bigger, better blocks, glow in the dark blocks, color changing blocks, and more kids everywhere will be happy to see the new better blocks now better than ever. For channel seven. I'm Alicia Smith.
You know, I just I love that clip because it shows as an inventor. Innovation never stops, right? It's not as if your original better blocks had, you know, CEOs of $45 million. And over 2 million kits are sold. And many people would say gosh, that's let's leave well enough alone. Who needs glow in the dark box and, and quick release building blocks, which that video is phenomenal because you see that the child they're just barely squeezed them and it's almost like it shoots the part. Yeah. Yeah. So I love it. But that's we kind of started with the end in mind after there's a lot of success. What I'd like to do now is go way back in time to when you were I was gonna say a guy playing in a shed, but really, uh, you tell us about your your start and how how it was growing up and what kinds of toys kind of inspired you
say, Thanks for your introduction, Jonathan, thank you, again for inviting me on here. Because you know, I just love sharing my journey with inventors because hopefully, they may learn something you can make your journey easier. And as you alluded to, it's okay to see the end result and all the glory but sometimes there's just it's kind of didn't know what it wasn't always like that. And I was fortunate because both my parents were creative people. And my father was an engineer in engineering and, and my mom was actually a dressmaker and they are quite well known throughout Australia here in for for their creativity, what they did and the businesses they had. And I kind of just fell into it really I like I like playing out my dad's bat shed making stuff. You know, that was kind of what I that's how I grew up as a kid. Unfortunately, when I was nine years old, my dad had a stroke. And his business closed down and a couple of years later my mum passed away. So it was in my teenage years I kind of left to my own a lot. And I used to love just making stuff out my dad's back yard shed and I remember my first invention was called a what's called a shuffle bag and I thought it was a really cool thing. It was a cool toy that that people loved it was a ride on toy and kids loved it right. But you know, it's progress I was in my early 20s By that stage. And and I thought I knew about business and inventing and and I got a team of us
together you know everything at 20 Right?
When I was 20 I knew everything about the older I get the more I realized the less that I actually died but But what happened was the end result of that I had a great product that we that we never successful it was never successful on my way up to $100,000 in debt and I was gone Wow. Like you know, that didn't quite go as planned. I that didn't quite work out as planned. So I had to I had to get myself out of that and do something and he's the only one I really need it. The only thing I really need knew how to do was really invent stuff. And I can remember this really clearly. We're over at the near and big toy fair with my shuffle bug. And I was speaking to a couple of salespeople who are friends of mine, and we're outside, we're out in outside the Lego Stan. And they said war and they said, You're in vanta. Why don't you come up with some so we compete with lingo. And I thought I and I know not. And to be honest, I never thought much more about it. But I came back to Adelaide, which is my hometown. And I was driving down the road past one at one of our main sports stadiums, and all of a sudden that hit me, why not build a building block that loo like Lego, like better blocks, you know, why not make a block that move. And it all started from there, the easy part was having the idea, that tough gig was actually turning the idea into a product making it work, and then actually selling it and making it commercialized. And as you alluded to, like, as a really, as a really introverted guy, like I found it tough to speak with people, you know, like, my business consisted of Warren and Warren Warren, and my best friends were Warren, like, it was me, you know, and that was it. So to get out there and try and sell better blocks and get it off the ground was a real challenge for me. But what I did was, you know, getting back to I had the idea for better blocks, but I had an idea. So what I didn't know really the clipping system had to join them together. I hadn't really worked out how to do it. I hadn't didn't have a, you know, didn't have as $100,000 in debt, didn't really have a lot of money. Didn't have a market didn't have a marketing team or as manufacturer, nothing but I thought, gotta give this a go. And what I did was I spent about two or three years actually looking around Australia to find some backers and never found anyone. And they all love the product, but no one wanted to be involved. And this is how fate or the universe often works. I was talking to my sister's boyfriend, John Wilkie then John Wilkie was a cabinet maker had nothing to do with Payton's nothing to do with product development, nothing to do with, you know, business toy business. And he said to me, he said, Warren, why don't you ring up a mate of mine in America. He's doing pretty well at direct marketing. His name was killed from Tony. He said bring up Kevin, he's doing pretty well a direct marketing, he might just be interested. Now. The end result of that offhanded comment was I rang up Kelvin. And in the end, we did a deal. And we sold $45 million worth of product and 600 million blocks. So it was kind of it's amazing how how the universe gives us the answers that we need in totally unexpected ways. Okay, so
give me an idea. Give our viewers an idea of, of timing goal. So first of all, this is not a story of someone that started with nothing and had $45 million of sales. You started $100,000 in debt. from ground zero, you were
already I was always waiting for like zero vote I was waiting for like zero. And it's a good, it's a good point. What I what I learned was was that it took me about a submit was just under three years before I found Kelvin. When I'd found Kelvin, I sold a part of my business to fly over to America to meet Kilburn and to show in the blocks in person. But the big catch with that was like I was $100,000 in debt and debt. My business was just keeping me afloat. And I'd sold a chunk of it. So if I came back and hadn't didn't have a deal, I was really I'm really in like I'm really below. So what I did was, I went across to America, and I met with Kelvin. And he's what Kelvin this is over a breakfast over grits, right? We're having grown up and I I've only ever had grits once for breakfast, and that was my only done. And Kelvin sent to me said look we're on he said, I like what you've got. He said, here's what I'm prepared to do. I'm prepared to put $30,000 into the project. Oh my Oh, produce a direct response commercial. And I'll and we'll test it. And if it works, we'll do a deal. And if it doesn't work, we shake hands and we'll walk away now. Now we sketched a few This is no joking. We sketched a few key points on royalties and things on a napkin, and I went back to Australia. That was what I had. Now Kelvin produced a commercial and it did work. And so consequently that we did the deal and it went on to say like we went on to produce better blocks. We had glow in the dark blocks and a whole range of other products. But that process once we've done the deal, that process we're in the marketplace within three Months, which was really quite quick for a product. But it just goes to show how like if you if you keep on going, when you get the right people in place, like I'd kill when in place, I had a manufacturer in New Zealand, we brought into place really quickly, we had the direct response commercial people brought into place really quickly, like it really escalated really fast. And that that was a that was a blessing. And it was also a curse. Because what happened for me was like I said, I was a really introverted guy, I struggled to speak with people. And I went to in 12 months, I went to be part of this quite successful international business. And to be honest, I kind of felt right out of my depth. But but one of the things I had going from this is what I often say to people, you know, about how successful better blokes was, was that I had one thing I was persistent. Like, I was afraid of speaking with people and doing all these things, but I was persistent, and I'd never give up. And, and on my journey of better blocks, the interesting thing I found was, was that like, I never considered better blocks of fantastic idea. Like, I thought it was a pretty good idea. But I saw many, far smarter people than me, and I was, you know, I'm just an ordinary guy, you know, and, and people had far better inventions than me, and patented inventions, and me, that never got them off the ground. And what I realized was, it was because they gave up and you see, I had this dream, I knew that better blokes was a great product. And somehow I had to make a successful. So it was really about, you know, to me, the key to successful inventing, and in anything in life, really, it's about having the goal and just you just kind of keep on going. And if you have, you know, if you have like obstacles like I did about speaking and stuff, well, you kind of just keep persisting, and eventually, eventually you get better at it. So that was, you know, that was really the driving force of how better blocks got off the ground. And it was kind of suddenly, you know, a couple of cases to why it was successful. And what I see, like, everybody's got perseverance, and everybody has a dream of some sort. But it's a matter of taking some action. And that was that was, you know, that was one of the reasons better blocks were successful. And the other thing was, was that I had a great team around me, it's like I was an inventor, and I didn't pretend to be like, I knew the value of business. And I knew the value of payments, and I knew the value of, of marketing. But that's not what I did. So what I did was I found people who were really good at what they did, and brought them all as a team. And that's why better blocks were successful. Like it wasn't successful, really, because I was at clever, because like I said, Better blocks was a fantastic idea. And I think it's a pretty good idea. It was really successful, because I had a team of really good people around me who loved the product. And that was another thing that I you know, is another insight into what I found to be successful is to try and work and work with good people. And I think, you know, you'd probably find this, John as well, you know, like, with your business and your customers, you know, like, like, when you're working with good people. The game's easier, and you have challenges and you just kind of keep on going. So yeah, that was that was better blocks was that was a big eye opener. For me. It was I learned a lot really about about inventing and also about myself as a person and what I needed to do to lift my game.
Right. So here's, I mean, one of the things that I think makes your story so inspiring is that you're not this isn't apple with a new product is a huge multinational corporation. And it's funny to talk about Apple because today they are a huge corporation. But we forget that at one point, it was Steve Jobs in his garage. All large companies, Amazon, Jeff Bezos was just one person with this idea to sell books out of his basement. So but today, you know, your start with this first idea, and I speak to so many inventors, and you talk about perseverance, but also taking those initial steps are sometimes the hardest. And I've had spoken to inventors who are hesitating to take that first step because it might involve travel of a couple of hours or a drive or even a fight. Tell us about how far Skrill you're the initial meeting was in Florida. How long did it take you to get from Australia to Florida to have that Dinah?
any veterans out there that have an opportunity? I don't want to hear oh, it's too far or you know, it's one thing to say I don't have the money. But not only did Warren not have the money but he was $100,000 in debt yet. Borrow money on borrowed money to Florida and take this Can't so sometimes, you know, and you had no, it's no guarantee that it will be where this meeting? No,
no, I just knew I have to take a chance. And like you said like, like America to me like some of the some of the some of the other side of the world, like I didn't fly halfway across the world and like, it's 146 in the morning here for me 146 On Saturday morning for me. And that's the kind of that's the kind of
challenges that you see, that's what time it is right now.
That's what time it is. Right now. It's 140s. So if you want to know what happens on Saturday, I'll be able to tell you that Yeah, but it's kind of it's but that's the kind of challenges that that we all face, you know, everyone has, everyone has had challenges of different of different types, you know, but it's better, it's not so much the challenges, it's what you do to overcome them. And it's not even about if you really overcome them successfully, if you if you haven't go off, and if you haven't go, people are going to help you out. And if you trip up, you know, they're going to kind of pick you off a bit. and off you go again, because you know, like I say, as an inventor, most things I do don't work because we're experimentation to get to where we want to go. So I get, you know, I'm used to the fact Well, you have a go. And if it works, it's great. And if it doesn't work well, that's great, too. Because, you know, it just brings you one step closer to where you want to go. And yeah, you know, it's like you'd like you were saying about inventing, it's about it's about taking that first step. And it doesn't matter what it is about. It's about taking the first step and then taking another one and taking another one and another one and another one and just keep going.
Well, that's, that's inspiring. Tell us about did you have much knowledge about patents? Because I know this isn't, you know, at the time when you filed for patents, I'm better blocks are actually not I love the name better lots. And I saw an interview of you somewhere else. And they someone had asked you Why had you come up? How did you come up with the name better blots? And he said because they're better?
That's actually that's a little that's part of the story. The reason why it's the person who came up with the nine bed of locks was that I'd love to claim it was me, right? My name was Bricco blocks. But it was Kelvins wife, who he was a direct marketing guy. It was Robin that came up with the nine better blocks. And it's exactly that because you said Warren are killed when these blocks are better. So we've got to call them better blocks. And that's that's how the name came about. I was a bit I can really call them better blocks. But that's what they did. Yeah, so that was some
trademark, right? You have the name protected. Yeah, the name, the name is
trademarked, and it's protected. So we got we've got the name and the patents. I was really I was really fortunate here in Adelaide to come across a patent attorney, who gave me some of the best advice that that I'd had, see, I didn't really have any money, and I needed to file full payments. And that was to be honest, was out of my league. But what Ken said to me, he said, Look where and he said, Why don't you do this? Why don't you file a provisional patent application, right, just file a PPA that gives you protection and you can speak to people and it makes sure you get your kind of covers your rights. And it's it was a minimal costs. So what I did is I got into the paint and game for a minimal cost. And then when I'd sold the idea of better blocks, it was killed and who came in and found the full on patents, but for cantik to tell me that that key step, that gentle step to get in to get into the patent. That was goal, like like I was so appreciative of Canada telling me that because, you know, he could have said anything. And he was a patent attorney. I know and I would have believed it, but it was but it was really genuinely and he liked inventors and it was just you know, they gave the best advice
he could the provisional patent is an amazing thing, only the United States of all the countries of the world, only the United States permits this type of patent. The important thing is that it still has to meet the full requirements of enablement. So it's not like you can file a piece of junk. It's kind of like if you've ever played the game bingo. Like they don't just give you the price because you yell bingo, you're gonna steal your card, and somebody's gonna review it and make sure that your boxes fill out the words bingo. So provisional patents are the same way. But if they're done right, you do it helps with cash flow and into cash flow was is critical back then because not only did you not have any money, but you now had a flight and hotel and who knows what other expenses to cover to fly out here. Have that meeting. How long after you went back? Was it before you knew that that there was going to be a deal? Are we talking Each month, it took
me a couple, it took a couple of months for Kelvin really to produce a commercial to test it. And just, it took a couple of months before we sign an agreement. But yeah, but you know, a couple of months, I was happy with that, because I was once once the commercial work, and we and we had a, we had a deal. And to finalize it, that was, you know, that that was a lot of weight off my shoulders to be honest. Plus, plus, I had a daughter, my daughter was born at about the same time. So I had all of these things happening out there, all these cool things happening in my life. It was
great. So if at any time has, had there been any offers to, to from Lego or anybody, large toy companies to buy federal blocks, and and tell us about that experience, and and how do you as an inventor, how do you? How do you handle that? Do you? Is there a part of you that feels that you've put a part of yourself so much of yourself into this product? That you don't want to part with it? It will
actually, that's a good point. When when we got when better blocks was at its height a bit sales, we actually approached Lego to see if they wanted to buy us out. And and he was Lego's attitude. They said, We're the biggest, and we're the best. And you can do what you do. We don't care. They weren't interested in buying us out, though, you know, and they, and I kind of, you know, admired them for that you know, that they didn't stuff us around lunch is not where the biggest with the best you never going to get in their attitude was you're never going to compete with us do what you do when you know, it was totally different from LEGO from a Lego block was too different for them. Like, and as a nurse, I say to people, I'd be very surprised if somewhere in Lagos development, they hadn't come. They hadn't actually they haven't got a better block in there somewhere. But they just said no, this is too different from what we do. And they've just kind of put it aside. So yeah, so that was that was about the only time but but we I've always loved better blocks. And there was a time when it did run its natural course I kind of let it sit for a while because I wanted to get into teaching and share my knowledge that I've learned. And I kind of left it. And it was only just recently that I thought it's time to resurrect better blocks again, because kids come because every now and again, I come across people who say, Look, I've still got the better blocks that we bought 20 years ago, I've still got them and my grandkids do play with them. And it always amazes me. So what I've done is I've done a joint venture with with a with a guy called Matt Anderson in America and another guy called Patrick Smith, he runs a tool room got a tool, right tool shop. And we are to making business. And we re releasing better blocks because I learned a few lessons about about marketing and better blocks. And one of the things I learned was, was that Calvin was a really good direct marketing person. But when it came to selling into retail, that's not really what he did. So we never consequently cracked it, we got into retail, but we never really cracked it in retail and direct marketing was that we were the we were the longest direct selling product in America, we sold by direct selling for like 10 years. And that was unheard of. But but so I learned that just because you can sell on TV doesn't mean doesn't doesn't mean that you can sell into retailers. So when I've done a joint venture this time with people, I've looked for different things. And it's simply because of of experience of what worked and what like I knew the power of marketing, but also knew I needed a business person who was capable of getting into the retail stores. So I just look for slightly different things these days. And it comes with experience, you know, that sell we learn our lessons.
Right? And one of our viewers, Brian, he has a question about and now that you've had more experience in getting your ideas in front of right people. And the the question is, how do you? How do you do that? How do you determine who to pitch it to? And I know you initially it was kind of a bit of fortuitous luck with a lot of inventors, that it ends up when you look back and there's like, Oh, you don't know which avenue is going to work? And everyone looks at the one thing that worked, but they're like, What about the 9000 other avenues that didn't works? Talk to us a little bit about that. Like what advice would you have for an inventor today?
Well, I to be honest, I pitch it to anyone that I thought would be interested and if they weren't interested or ask them or you know, do you have any suggestions? It's like with toys. You know, you can start off with the big toy companies. You can start off with the toy manufacturers and you can work your way like like these days. LinkedIn is a priceless resource to find find people to find people who work in those companies. And you know, and I always find, like, I always approached the sales marketing people because their eyes, you know, they're on these they're on these platforms are so willing to speak with you, they're always willing to help you out. There's a lot of resources out there, if you just have a look, that will definitely really help you get your product off the ground. But, you know, I kind of didn't have those resources. And what here's what I realized is that a good invention comes from the outside in like, I saw Lego and I thought, yeah, I'll do something different. But a successful inventor comes from the inside out, is like, what, you know, like what I said with my story, it was only because I was persistent, and kind of, and I learned along the way, and that's, that's all stuff that comes from inside of you. And that's, that's kind of what I focus on as well, like, I've probably spent more money and more time developing me as a person, then I have inventing products, because ultimately, I find that that companies kind of invest in you not so you know, you've got to be a person they can work with, because you can have good ideas. And if companies don't like you, like, they don't want your invention. So it's, it's a lot of it is for me was always about developing me as a person. And that's what I've, you know, it's one of the things I focus on. So I focus on the product and the people side of it.
Okay, well, one thing that one interview that I saw one of the, of Jeff Bezos, and I thought it was fascinating. And they asked him to interviewed him and asked what was the the one thing that he was the most proud of, or the biggest accomplishment with Amazon. And Jeff Bezos said that the that it was when he was able to hire somebody, his first employee, so he did not have to take all those roles to the post office himself in his in his own truck. So I'm going to end with our final question and ask that of you. And that is, what would be would you say is the one time and maybe it's a moment that you knew that better blokes had made it, you're like, Okay, this is no longer if it's going to be successful. Or maybe it was some small win. And Jeff Bezos, his interview, I expected it to be something huge, like I thought it would be when he took over Whole Foods or some some humongous acquisition, and didn't expect him to go all the way back to the first hire. But tell us about yours. It could be anything, it could be something recent, maybe go into
his here's what my all the hard work for better blocks for me, worthwhile kill when used to run AI every now and again, killed would run an event in Florida where kids and parents could bring their models in. And we'd run competitions, you know, for the best type of model and the best glow in the dark model different different models, and I wasn't there at this one. So this was this was the day that he did that, right. So all these parents and kids are bringing their models, proudly showing them. And this dad came up to Kelvin and said, Any, any thank killer and he said, Look, you know, I'm so grateful that you brought better blocks out and Kelvin thought, well, you know, this guy's pretty sincere about this. It's a bit more going on here. So Kelvin asked him why so you know why you're so grateful that we that we were better. But Oxfam, because he's and he said this, he said, This is the first time I've sat down with my son in four years, and I played with him for half a day. And for me, inventing is all about touching people's lives. And to hear that and, and that story still almost spring to tear him on this. This is like quite a lot of years later, because I touch someone's life. And that that was that's my story of better blocks. Like all of a sudden, all the hard work and all the rest of it. I thought, well, I've done good for
some. For a child, it was several hours of Gambino, that's amazing that with time with his dad that was getting me choked up and just Just hearing that about you. And you've always had like you have a love for children and inspiring them. And in fact, we had spoken earlier about the growing your your background. Just I know I promised that last one was the last question but I can't without covering your entrepreneurial program for kids to tell us about that and how you're giving back? Well, yeah, we're
developing an entrepreneurial program for kids where we show what because kids are naturally creative. And what happens is I what I've seen is educated out of them. So we've developed an entrepreneurial creative program for kids just to inspire them to, to have AI to like they've always got ideas but inspire them to keep going and seeing if they're going to lead somewhere and you know, just get them to keep going. It's like I said it's taking a step. And you know, I've done more I'm starting to do more work with the day oxen companies to you because, because inventors, like I said, it's about getting bigger and about developing yourself. And I love working with inventors to get him to get bigger and companies as well. So it's about for me it's about, it's about sharing, and, and to be as great as we can be, you know, like having a goal.
I love that, especially when you talk about developing yourself. Because you know, knowledge is important. And as a patent attorney, I can't knock the importance of learning about patents and trademarks and copyrights. But all the knowledge in the world if you don't take that step, so you don't take the action, it wouldn't help, like have you not have urges to take it and jumped on a plane and flew 2223 hours to Florida, we would never, you know, who knows where better blocks would be so that all that knowledge is helpful, but it's that action, that step of you know, of not knowing the answer, not knowing if it's going to succeed, but doing it anyway. Even even thinking about an inventor taking that step.
Absolutely. John, and thank you so much for saying that. Because that's what it's all about, like like my, my view, are they these days, like people talk about the information age, but to me, it's beyond that, like information these days is you like it's cheap. It's the ability to apply that information and do something with it as the next generation. And you summed it up beautifully. It's like knowledge is there. It says it's about what are we going to do with it? And it's, it's just about having a go?
Yeah, that's funny, don't and I'll end with this quote by John Ruskin and I promise everyone a half hour interview. And a lot of our viewers are kind of zoomed out in this pandemic. So we'll we'll end after this. John Ruskin, the famous English writer. And his famous quote by him is It's not how much you know or what you believe that makes a difference in the long run. It's what you do, and that just hits home. It's couldn't have something to grow. Again, Warren wonderful to speak to you. I would love to have you back. I do in virtual inventors while I do a real inventors, workshop once a year, but from Australia, I can see that a track during this pandemic, would you add virtual and I'd love to have you attend that as well. Ah,
thank you very much and I would be honored to I'd be honored to be part of it. Thank you very much for having me. Then. Thank you everybody for listening and appreciate it.
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