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Leadership

Paul Budnitz of Kidrobot: Concept Becomes Culture

Kidrobot's creator Paul Budnitz discusses the founding of his wacky idea and the "suicidal marketing strategy" that made it a success.


A long line of adults stretches around the corner and down the block in Manhattan’s SOHO.  They are waiting for something.  Concert Tickets? The DMV?  Food rations?  No.  They are waiting to purchase a limited edition, just-released toy.  This is Kidrobot – creator and retailer of designer vinyl toys, fashion label, curator of cool, and all-around phenomenon.  Behance sat down with founder and president Paul Budnitz to learn more about how a far-out idea became a full-blown culture.

If you seek to make an idea happen that has not been done before, you are bound to face your share of discouragement.  When Budnitz set out to form Kidrobot, he was met with incredulity and doubt.  But he countered with an unshakeable belief in his own concept.  He explains, “It was pretty tough at the beginning explaining to people what my company actually was going to do.  ‘I am creating a company called Kidrobot, which will sell limited edition vinyl toys, designed by graffiti artists, poster artists, and fashion designers, to adults for inordinate sums of money.’  Try bringing that to a bank for a loan!  Until we got rolling there were a lot of money troubles.  Luckily, I found some investors that believed in me.  One of the early investors said, ‘I have no idea what I’m investing in, Paul.  But you’re really, really convincing so here’s a check.’”

I see my role as guiding collaboration.  It’s up to me to know what’s good, what isn’t, and who to ask to work on what.

Budnitz’s trailblazing didn’t end with his idea – his approach to marketing moves beyond innovative into revolutionary, setting a new course for how to sell products.  He tells us, “I decided to take the opposite marketing approach from most other successful companies.  Generally, in order to buy something that you really, really want from Kidrobot, we make you jump through a very high hoop.  For example, we’ve forced people to take a picture of themselves holding their favorite junk food in a convenience store, and send that in to Kidrobot, and if the photo was good enough, we’d let that customer buy a toy.  We’ve also had toys that were only sold in a Dim Sum parlor on the Lower East Side, or in a Laundromat in Seoul, Korea.  Rather miraculously, this suicidal marketing strategy has served us well, as we’re still in business.”

Budnitz’s incredible ability to write his own rules stems from trusting his instincts.  Words he never listens to: “‘That’s a bad idea, and it’s expensive.  Can we please do a marketing study before you spend all that money Paul?’”  What does propel him forward is an undeniable passion for his work.  “I don’t have any specific sources of inspiration.  I love what I do and the things I make.  So if the things we make start sucking, or even if our office gets too messy, I get really upset.   It’s sort of a self-regulating system.  Like breathing and eating.”  And crucial to his success as founder of the company, he also knows when to let go.  He explains, “Personally, I do everything I can to give away as much work as I can to someone else.  If I don’t have anything to do, and everything seems to get done anyway, then I know I’m being effective…I see my role as guiding collaboration.  It’s up to me to know what’s good, what isn’t, and who to ask to work on what.”

As for what’s next for Budnitz, what he’s hoping to accomplish? “I really, really like bright colors.”

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