Webb Knudsen: I Believe the Companies That Win Are the Ones That Keep Getting Back Up Over and Over Again

Webb Knudsen - CEO/Co-founder | Playper

Tell us about yourself?

Most importantly, I’m a dad of 4 young kids and that has had everything to do with why I founded Playper. I saw the way our house was getting cluttered with plastic toys and read about how bad plastics are for both the environment and our bodies. I wanted to create something better for our kids to play with, so we designed Playper based on what I and my co-founders personally wanted to see for our own kids.

Becoming a dad, my whole career, and everything I’ve learned up to this point in my other jobs has helped me know how to run this company.

I have a background in entertainment, social media, and mobile working across sales, business development, and marketing to drive profitability and optimize market strategy for movies, brands, and apps.

I graduated from Pepperdine University with a double major in Sociology and Speech Communication.

I got my career start in the entertainment industry. I first worked in Creative Development at the production company Walden Media (Chronicles of Narnia), then the Story Department of Hollywood’s biggest agency CAA (Creative Artists Agency). I then moved to Lucasfilm (Star Wars, Indiana Jones) for a job in Distribution/Sales before making the jump over to the tech startup scene.

I co-founded a social media marketing startup called Millennial reach, ran the US sales team for Aarki, a mobile ad tech company, then took a role as Vice President of Business Development at Crisp, an online moderation company.

I’ve learned how to evaluate what makes for a good, scalable, sustainable business working at Partnership Capital Growth (PCG), a leading private equity firm that invests in mid-stage healthy living companies and managing an early-stage, consumer-focused family office Knudsen Capital (KC/LLC). I have about 6 years identifying and analyzing investments in high-growth businesses that improve lives, change industries, and make the world as better place.

I’m a dog lover, snowboarder, font enthusiast, and have lived in 4 countries and 18 cities.

What do you think is the single biggest misconception people have when it comes to startups?

That other people know exactly what they’re doing! My favorite Steve Jobs quote is, “Everything around you that you call ‘life’ was made up by people who were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

Hard work, curiosity, the desire to learn, and a growth mindset are the biggest keys to creating a successful startup in my mind. Elon Musk wasn’t a rocket scientist before he founded SpaceX, but he has a voracious appetite for learning about new things that excite him, which took him down a path of creating the most complex rockets the world has ever known.

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Just like Bob Ross said “anyone can paint” I believe anyone can create a successful company if they’re willing to put in the time and effort to figure it out.

If you could go back in time to any moment from your journey, and give yourself one tip, what would it be?

Focus and listen! It’s really easy to get excited about and jump at each shiny new object that comes your way, but keeping focus is so important to making headway at a startup.

We developed a product early on that was a good idea but we left our great idea on the back burner. When the first idea number didn’t pan out as we had hoped, we went back to the drawing board and tried to remember what had most strongly resonated with the people we spoke to about our company. We all came to the same conclusion that it was our playset boxes, which you can now see embodied in Curious Kingdom, so we put on our focus hats and moved forward with that concept with laser beam focus.

I wished we had done a better job listening to people before we went too far down the path of idea number one, but you live and learn, and going forward we’ve been doing a better job of really listening to feedback and keeping focus on a singular idea.

What makes you stand out as an entrepreneur?

My tenacity. I don’t give up. I believe the companies that win are the ones that keep getting back up over and over again. Doing the same thing, the same way over and over would obviously be crazy, but there’s no better attribute in my mind than dusting yourself off, going back to the drawing board, looking at things a new way, and getting back on that horse.

The comedian Brian Regan does a great bit about how ants don’t quit or get easily discouraged. He talks about how if you were to squash an anthill (which btw don’t do that – it’s not very nice!), they immediately go back to work as if nothing happened. He says, “You would think that they would take at least a second to look at what happened and go ‘OH MAN!'” But amazingly they don’t! Be like the ants!

I’m not suggesting if your thing doesn’t work out, you go back to doing it the exact same way (again, that would be crazy), but that sort of diehard will to push on when someone or something squashes your idea, is exactly what’s needed to build a great company – and be successful in life generally too.

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What are some of the best working habits you’ve gained over the past couple of years?

Prioritization. I have a running to-do list for all my tasks that I keep in my notes app, and I move things to the top of the list and/or put them in bold if they need to happen before the other items.

My task list can get overwhelming if I try to tackle everything on it every day, but if I can accurately prioritize what items are most important, I can breathe easily at the end of the day.

Give us a bit of an insight into the influences behind the company?

Disney and LEGO are 2 of our biggest influences.

We love how imaginative Disney is and strive to achieve its level of quality in our character creation and storytelling. We love their commitment to going the extra mile to create magical moments.

We love LEGO and how it inspires kids to build and create. We want to be the more eco-friendly version of LEGO. Just like them, our characters have a unique look and feel and similar to how their characters movements are dictated by their plastic-ness, so are Playper’s characters influenced by their paper-ness.

Where do you see your business in five years?

I see us growing to at least $100M in sales within the next 5 years.

I see us working with a number of exciting partners during that time – brands like GoNoodle, Niantic, Disney, Sesame, Mattel, Hasbro, Scholastic, Nickelodeon, etc.
We plan on building a Playper empire with a wide array of product lines, merchandising, and licensing contracts. We plan to license out our own intellectual property for creating content, plush, apparel, etc., and license in IP from other parties.

I see us being a major acquisition target for some of the largest toy brands in the world, and we’ll have to fend them off with a stick!

What do you think the biggest challenge will be for you in getting there?

Keeping focus! We are all so passionate about what we do at Playper that it’s easy for us to chase many things at once. Keeping focus on the right things is a challenge that I think most startups face, and I’ve seen our own team really improve on this process in the time we’ve been together.

Talk to us about your biggest success story so far?

The biggest success has been the simple joy of watching parents and kids receive the product for the first time and fall in love with it.

The first time I saw people posting on social media about loving our product without us ever asking them to do it and hearing them say exactly what we hoped they would feel about it has just been gratifying beyond words.

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How do clients and customers find you? Are you much of a salesperson for yourself?

You can find us by going to www.playper.com – in the future we’ll be sold other places but only there for now.

You can check us out on social media as well. We have great content on our Instagram account.

I try to focus all my sales efforts toward my company instead of myself. I’m not a big believer that a CEO/founder needs to be a celebrity. I’m just a mouthpiece for an incredibly cool and creative idea that is making the world a better place.

What one tip would you give to fellow startup founders?

Don’t give up!

Tennis player Vitas Gerulaitis once lost 16 times in a row, then turned to the audience and said, “And let that be a lesson to you all. Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row!” I love this story because not only did Vitas keep at it instead of throwing in the towel, but he also kept a good sense or humor about his defeats.

I also think often about the part in the movie Zoolander where Derek’s dad counsels him, “What do we do when we fall off the horse?” (Derek stares back at him blankly: “Sorry, Maury. I’m not a gymnast.”)… “We get back on!” Derek’s dad responds.

Startups are not a straight path – there will be ups and downs. Things won’t always work out, but the most important thing you can do is pick yourself back up, look at it a new way, and try again. If you have a mission you believe in, it really makes it easier to stick it out when the going gets tough. In a startup you really have to ‘know your why’ because you give your heart to it more than any other job.

And finally, what do you hope the future brings both you personally, and your business?

I hope the future brings tons of success for Playper. I want to see our products in the hands of children all over the world. I want to see our brand grow into a household name. I want our characters to be instantly recognizable. I want us to be known by every parent as the go-to planet friendly toy that helps foster a healthier relationship with screen time.

For me personally, I’m in a really fun stage of life with 4 young kids, so I just want to make sure I’m really cherishing this time with my kids and recognizing and embracing moments of joy as they come.

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