Hot Wheels Unleashed

January 25, 2023

Jordan Walbesser, director of legal and business affairs for Mattel, offers a case study in NFT collectibles while sharing tactical advice every company can follow for success in this emerging field. His session was titled “Hot Wheels Unleashed”.

Hot Wheels Unleashed

When you think about innovative, forward-thinking industries you might think about health care, technology, or manufacturing. But toys?  Really?

Yes. Really.

Jordan Walbesser is director of legal and business affairs for Mattel, a leading global toy company with an impressive portfolio that includes Barbie, Fisher-Price, American Girl, and Hot Wheels.  While presenting a case study on Mattel’s success in the digital world, he first took the audience at the D2 Summit on a trip down memory lane, pointing to products, such as View Master and Chatty Cathy, the first doll with digitized speech, as pioneers in the digital space.

“When we think about the metaverse and virtual reality, we did that in 1939 [with] View Master. If you think about it, this is a very early foray into virtual reality,” he notes. The company also was the first in mass-marketed and -produced handheld digital gaming with Auto Race, and it pioneered downloadable content with its popular product, Intellivision. In keeping with its innovative corporate mindset, the company has now entered the NFT digital collectible marketplace with Hot Wheels. “When it comes to DNA, when it comes to creativity, it’s something that has been built into our corporate ethos. It’s part of our culture,” says Walbesser.

And when it comes to corporate strategy for implementing this new technology, Walbesser says it’s best to follow one of baseball great Yogi Berra’s most famous malapropisms: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.” In order to succeed in the Web3 space, Walbesser offered some tactical advice.

Companies Should Demonstrate:
  • Vision & Anticipation: The toy industry, says Walbesser, is particularly good at having vision because they are tasked with coming up with a completely new product line each and every year.  “Mattel and other toy companies are set up very well to have that forward-thinking vision, to see where the market is going, to see what people are interested in, and to see what people, literally, want to play around with,” he says. That anticipation for where the market is headed and what it can mean for your company is complemented by the vision from the C-suite, who’s directive needs to essentially be: “We want to be in that space, so let’s figure out how to get there.”
  • Direction & Permission: “The C-suite sets the direction, and there’s a number of different ways this can be done, some more effective than others. And I think what was effective here [at Mattel], the direction was: ‘We want to be in digital collectibles, we want to do something in this NFT space’….The direction wasn’t: ‘I want you to make $10 million this next year on this.’ No, that wasn’t the type of direction that the C-Suite brought down to the business teams. It was simply: ‘I want to be in this space, we want to be in this space, we want to try this out. We don’t care if you make money,’” says Walbesser.

The flip side of this is making sure the company has permission to try things, to be flexible, and to pivot when needed. Your team has to have permission to take the necessary risks.

  • Execution & Challenges: In executing the strategy, companies, says Walbesser, have to be prepared for multiple paths, obstacles, and scenarios. You must anticipate possible challenges and have a plan for alternative routes to success.

At Mattel, this strategy is done by its in-house Future Lab team, which will look ahead five, 10, or 15 years to where the company wants to be and then work backwards. “It’s all about new experiences for our customers,” he says.

To learn more about Mattel’s Future Lab and its mission, as well as those products and ideas that did—and didn’t—work check out Walbesser’s presentation here.



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