Laurie Peterson WIT Stories

How long have you been a WIT member?
One year.

What is your single best piece of business advice?
A reality TV show may seem like a unconventional source for business wisdom, but Tim Gunn’s catchphrase “make it work” on Project Runway best sums up my entrepreneurial philosophy. As a toy start-up founder, every day presents new challenges, often times in a domain I’m not an expert in. The most important ingredient is resilience. Just keep showing up and figuring “it” out, no matter what “it” is. If I feel overcome with paralysis when I don’t know how to solve a problem, I find it helps to approach it with a curious scientific mindset. Instead of pretending I know the best course for everything, I develop a hypothesis, and put experiments in place to validate if my business decision is sound. And then I evolve the plan as necessary, to “make it work”.

What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?
In the first hour of work I try to unbury myself from the mountain of emails that always seem to accumulate overnight. It may not be the most strategic move, but I find it hard to dig into something meaningful until I’ve pruned the chaos. Truthfully, I get started on this as I prepare my kid for school. I delete a few emails while brushing my teeth, a few more while yelling across the house for the 5th time: “do you have your shoes on yet?”. Once I’m sitting at my desk and the email clutter is controlled, I review and refine my to-do list for the day.

What is your favorite productivity tip?
I use a scrum-like methodology to define my goals and track my daily tasks. It keeps me centered. I have a backlog of tasks I want to complete that month, and then move them into my daily task lists based on evolving priority.

What drew you into the toy industry?
I grew up wanting to be a scientist. When I got to college and pursued a science and engineering track, unfortunately I did what a lot of female students do. A few years in, I looked around, saw only four women in my computer science lecture hall filled with hundreds of students and concluded: “These aren’t my people, so this must not be my field.” I ended up following my roommate to the visual arts department, where I help to found a new major called Computing in the Arts. I studied gender and video games, in particular, because I felt if we got more girls gaming they would develop comfort with technology and I wouldn’t have felt so alone in my coursework. Shortly after graduation I got my first job in toys working as a Producer for Leapfrog, where I made educational electronic games for kids. 10 years later, I started my own toy company, Build & Imagine, for similar reasons. I wanted to have a voice in shaping the construction toy category, to get more girls building as an early path to STEM confidence

What unique challenges does the toy industry present?
The last few years, the TAGIES picks for “Rising Star Toy Inventor of the Year” have been independent female entrepreneurs, myself included. Women entrepreneurs are driving much needed innovation in the toy industry, particularly around gendered toys, and we’re inspiring, perhaps forcing, the “big boys” to keep pace. Yet there is very little systematic financial support for toy start-ups. I’d love to see us take inspiration from the tech industry and create models for funding the service independent inventors and founders are providing.