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Jacqueline Vong – CoFounder of Playology Intl (Ep.35)

November 5, 2021

In this session we hear from one of Canada’s premier experts on global licensing/merchandising and brand/franchise marketing focused on Asia. Jacqueline has spent 2 decades in the children’s entertainment space and shares some of her experiences taking the minions to China, bringing the Wiggles to Canada and much much more.

Learn more about Jacqueline’s company, Playology International: https://www.playologyintl.com/

Podcast Transcript (Auto-Generated)

Qasim Virjee 0:29
Welcome back to another episode of the start, well podcast this time around, I’m joined in studio with Jacqueline Vaughn, who I’ve known for many, many years. And we’re reconnecting today to talk all things content, licensing, games, merchandising, children’s entertainment, we’ll see where this conversation goes. There’s a lot to talk about. But with that, I will welcome Jackie, Jack. Jack,

Jacqueline Vong 0:58
I hate Jackie.

Qasim Virjee 1:00
To all the Jackie’s out there.

Jacqueline Vong 1:04
Enjoy your name, and it’s just not me, you keep

Qasim Virjee 1:06
rocking your name. Hi, Q Hi, it is so nice to have you here. And to see your face after so long after many years as we’ve each fallen into family life perhaps?

Jacqueline Vong 1:17
Yes, it’s been a it’s been a while and I’m so happy to be back and feel like I’m back. You know, during COVID in a room with people, and a gorgeous place at start. Well, good job.

Qasim Virjee 1:31
Thank you. Thank you very much. This place has been a lot of work. But you know, it’s a it’s work that enables other people’s work. And that’s fulfilling to me. So I love it. Congratulations on all of that. Thank you. Lots of talk about for starters, catch me up, catch our audience up on what play ology Incorporated, is.

Jacqueline Vong 1:53
Okay, so for the last five years, folks, I have run a strategic consultancy in the youth entertainment and kids space, basically, merging the intersection of licensing, merchandise licensing and content marketing together. So what does that mean? Basically, we know that we’re consuming content in different ways, and it’s ever changing. And so we have set up ourselves to be thought leaders there and create your go to market strategy, from content initiation, to development, to creation into the merchandise licensing piece where you make actual toys and publishing and games and help you broker that huge gap and monetize it.

Qasim Virjee 2:40
Okay, so starting, let’s talk about starting the foundation story as an entrepreneur of launching play ology, Inc. Wow, what’s the like, what was the if there were if there was a context that you could paint for us of founding your own company, because I know that you work with some some great, you know, toy companies, people in this space, doing all sorts of things. And you can call those experiences out and then just tell me a little bit about like, how you went on your own kind of thing.

Jacqueline Vong 3:05
So I had the pleasure of starting my career with some of the greats and master course entertainment Nelvana and Mattel, where I managed Barbie, which you know, as a female growing up as a child Barbie was the mecca of where you are. And in the toy industry, Mattel being the number one toy company, Barbie was the place I wanted to be. So when I landed the job, I thought, Wow, that’s amazing. But where do I go next? So I had the opportunity after Mattel to actually go to China, and live out my dream of managing the territory of the mainland and creating experiences for kids there. And when was that? What year was that? It was 2011. So I left Toronto to go to Hong Kong, and manage China from China but living in Hong Kong. So commuting an hour a day. And bringing in Western brands like Transformers Fisher Price, the minions and Peppa Pig. So I helped with the conversation and the storytelling of Peppa Pig to making it the number one Western preschool brand there now.

Qasim Virjee 4:17
That is massive. It was amazing.

Jacqueline Vong 4:20
But you know, personally, I ended up pregnant and I decided that I wanted to come back to Canada and not have a baby in China. So I unraveled all that progress that I had made in China, which was the best experience but the hardest of my life. I came back here without thinking of a job just thinking about getting back on Oh hip. I was

Qasim Virjee 4:43
hit for our listeners is our health program here in Ontario. And for non Canadians listening watching this, it’s one of the great benefits of being a Canadian is that you know, we have these social programs that we rely on and as Canadians abroad it’s a massive thing to own Think of coming home when you need home. Right?

Jacqueline Vong 5:03
That’s correct. So, in China, they told me it was going to be double figures in the $20,000 range to have a baby and I thought, oh hip, I’m Canadian, I should repatriate. So I did. I came back here I was eight months pregnant. And I didn’t think about what I was doing about work. But I felt very lucky because I’ve had these great experiences. And an Australian preschool band that I knew in the past, called the wiggles came flying to Canada. And they took me out to Toronto, which is an Italian restaurant, I favorite. Downtown Toronto, one of our neighborhood greats. Exactly. I was eight months pregnant. And I remember thinking they just want to catch up with me that’s so nice. They want to take out a pregnant want to be our gotta be mom. And they ended up offering me a job on the spot. They wanted me to manage North America for them in their licensing program. They had seen my work with pet bat and some of my work previous to that, and they thought she can handle it with a newborn. So I started a month later, and that’s how my consultancy was born.

Qasim Virjee 6:06
Paint the picture for for myself and for our audience of who don’t have kids of who the wiggles are and what their impact, you know, to what age set of kids around the world are.

Jacqueline Vong 6:18
So the wiggles are what we consider the Fab Four for under four. Down from Down Under. Yeah, they are for live action characters. There’s one female wiggle and three male Wiggles, they’re all in different colors. skivvies they call them primary colors. They look like Star Trek suits. Yeah. And they shine. They’re shimmery. They sing and dance. And they go through every early childhood development milestones, they’re they’re perfect for the age categories of zero to three and a half. Really taking you through movement, early education, Dad’s early language, counting colors, and to to Chugga chugga. Big red car.

Qasim Virjee 7:02
I’ve heard that I’ve heard that somewhere.

Jacqueline Vong 7:04
So by

Qasim Virjee 7:07
I love the wiggles and you know what i My favorite thing about the wiggles? Is that tiny piano? I love the little piano.

Jacqueline Vong 7:13
Yes. And our purple wiggle plays It’s so lovely. So they incorporate real instruments there. Bagpipes banjos, piano, fiddles, all you can think of? And then there’s different sorts of genres of dance from Irish dancing to tap, to, of course, ballet.

Qasim Virjee 7:29
Oh, yes, the ballet, which my dear Eva loves so much. So that is an exciting beginning to going out on your own knowing that you’re working with a brand that you know you will have a relationship with as a mother, in a sense.

Jacqueline Vong 7:47
That’s right. They actually sought me out because they knew that I was going to go through all these milestones with my daughter, as well as they knew that I knew who they were as a brand, because I worked when I worked at Spin Master about 20 years ago. Yeah, Spin Master was their master licensee. And we had seen them through the greatest times of their lifespan. So there are 30 year old brand, I had no idea what they were those have been around for 30. They celebrated the 30 year in 2021. So this year,

Qasim Virjee 8:18
and there are adults who have grown up with the wiggles around on

Jacqueline Vong 8:22
their multi, it’s a multi generational play. So there are grandmothers, mothers, and now new kids living the generation of the wiggles and they’ve left their classic songs and also develop new songs to really embrace the new sounds and diversity of where we’re moving in society.

Qasim Virjee 8:41
That’s amazingly exciting as a client to work with. back catalogue, new works, cross platform, global relevance, everything.

Jacqueline Vong 8:51
It’s legacy building and they’re one of the only unicorns I would say that still sell CDs and get gold records. it to this day, they’re still awarded gold records.

Qasim Virjee 9:02
That’s amazing, huh? What I’m sure that was an all engrossing engagement when you got started that one client,

Jacqueline Vong 9:11
I started with my daughter six, six weeks after she was born, I was on the road with her. And not only did I end up working with the wiggles, but I started also consulting for a toy company and building a brand called Puna. corns, which are poo emoji unicorns. We created YouTube content, we created toys and I was I was tasked to also create pajamas, which were onesies with a poo flap. That’s awesome. And we had we had you know, T shirts, I said poop there it is. And I love all kinds of things. So a little bit we we had a good run with unicorns as well.

Qasim Virjee 9:49
So people love them. Kids love unicorns people

Jacqueline Vong 9:52
seem to love to Yeah, they’ll seem to love unicorns, so why not mash them

Qasim Virjee 9:56
together? Honestly, my wife is not happy when when he And I, you know, make fun of poo and throw the poo emoji stuffy around the house.

Jacqueline Vong 10:04
Exactly. I mean, poo is magical for kids. It really is.

Qasim Virjee 10:09
It should be magical for you adults in the audience as well. Grow up, realize you’re just big kids. Mmm. That’s interesting. So you worked on a kind of a new property with that.

Jacqueline Vong 10:21
That’s right, it was an emerging property. And we were looking for a way to amplify the the toy company’s strategy. So we created YouTube content, which is why when play ology really started to pivot, I thought content and licensing really go hand in hand. Because once you make the merchandise, you need to amplify it with a brand. Or once you make a brand, you need to amplify it and monetize it further with a grow category, like any sort of merchandising,

Qasim Virjee 10:49
I’m sure, you know, the industry has probably become because now we’re talking on global levels. Of course, everything is so massive, and there’s so many people, so making generalizations is going to be difficult. But I would say that traditional industries are probably or traditional, large, multinational conglomerates involved in this space, are most likely going to have, you know, different divisions of their business or consultants working on the same stuff that you a small micro team might work on for a brand. They’ll have 100 people on what are the competitive advantages or disadvantages you see, of kind of like, going at your own. Versus I don’t know, doing it that old school way,

Jacqueline Vong 11:35
very easy. I always say that, if you’re looking for a cruise ship, please go to one of the big names, they have the resources, the infrastructure, the red tape, the legalities, everything needs to be dotted perfectly and go through the process, I would consider myself more of a speedboat where I’m always zipping and zapping and pivoting when, when needed. And I’m very flexible in to ensure that we work in a very quick turnaround when we need to. But we also get to the same place as the bigger company when we need to. So I do I do consider myself a little bit more adaptable and able to pivot a lot faster and make decisions on on behalf of my clients much easier.

Qasim Virjee 12:22
I think that dynamicism that you bring to a hands on approach with with all of your clients, because you were telling me earlier that your roster is just like, it’s big, but small. You’re like between 2010 and 20 people, customers or

Jacqueline Vong 12:37
customers. Yeah, that’s right. It is between startup companies to big to mid size toy companies where I I’m managing, you know, different fragments of the business, whether it’s their licensing program to their content development, to franchise management, and also marketing and digital marketing. And I would say also, what sets me apart from you know, agencies that there are consultancies out there is my East Meets West mentality and sensibilities, my experience on the ground and China really solidified some of the credibility I have to bring to sourcing manufacturing. Also, you know, producing my own products and being able to sell to retail, understanding the retail dynamics, understanding the e Commerce Trends from Asia, into North America. And then seeing globally what’s happening in the world. And what’s what’s trending over in Asia versus what’s trending here. Korea is huge right now, in terms of what we’re watching and consuming and music we’re listening to. So I mean, things

Qasim Virjee 13:46
that notice about Korea, going global itself,

Jacqueline Vong 13:49
Korea has been really trending up. And I would always say, back when I was even in Asia, that Korea was really taking its place as the leader and trendsetting versus Japan, Japan was always the place where you

Qasim Virjee 14:03
know, Japan was like Mystikal, and decades ahead of everybody else.

Jacqueline Vong 14:09
Right. And now I would go to Korea and really do the trend hunting and sourcing there. Wow, hmm.

Qasim Virjee 14:14
It’s interesting. This is stuff that of course, locally, especially here in Canada, in this little, well, big swath of land with a little population floating in the middle of nowhere. Where I think, you know, we have this dynamic population that has living links to the rest of the world. And it’s something that I always talk to startups tech based companies, SAS companies, particularly about how to leverage our local population to market globally. But when it comes to physical product when it comes to kind of like this on the boots, retail experience in foreign markets. I mean, you it’s difficult for Canadians, I would think, to be able to negotiate these multi national opportunities in this space. If I’m talking particularly about merchandising,

Jacqueline Vong 15:05
I would agree I’ll give you I’ll give you a perspective I used to manage Mainland China. So my target audience to kids was 800 million households. 400 million kids, I’ll say that again. 400 million kids. When I would go to Shanghai, the population was about 30 million people at that point in time, probably in 2017. Maybe more now, I would speak at a conference in Shanghai and I would say, Good morning, city of Shanghai, you guys are the population of the entire country that I’m from Canada, I’m speaking to you just in a city, Shanghai. So the perspective is, is different. It’s not that we’re smaller in Canada, I think, I think we’re just, we just get forgotten sometimes as America’s hat or the gift with purchase with America, right? And or, because of our smaller population, we just don’t have enough of the buying clout or the minimum order quantities that we need. So we have to get more creative in manufacturing, and sourcing and also playing in retail creatively. And I’ve been able to do that with clients through different collaborations and partnerships, but thinking about different ways to manufacture as well and different ways to sell.

Qasim Virjee 16:30
Any anecdotes from from those experiences,

Jacqueline Vong 16:32
I think what’s been really trending is not being held hostage, always to selling to the brick and mortar retailers who have set ways in terms of timing, for instance, we’re sitting here in October, and I’m selling for 2020 to fall right now.

Qasim Virjee 16:48
And in this dynamic marketplace, or I should say, economic context, not marketplace. You can’t do that. It feels like I mean, with the pandemic with buying trends changing with seasonality and the seasonal marketing, that’s normally put into the retail experience not being there because people are at home, etc. Yeah, it seems a little backwards.

Jacqueline Vong 17:09
I think, right now, I’ve been looking at ways to cut out that timeline and see if we can go direct to consumer. And so the direct to consumer play has been a lot more prevalent, day in day out. I’m not saying it’s easier. I’m not saying it’s replacing anything. I’m just saying we’re looking at ways to help commercialize in the short term for clients that that could use that extra boost in amplification for their merchandise.

Qasim Virjee 17:42
So Asia as a whole, so much diversity, you’re talking about large populations, like you just mentioned, you’re talking about very, like the diversity and cultural context across the continent, is mind boggling. For Canadians that see diversity on the micro micro level. As a Canadian working in Asia, how has the experience been in familiarizing yourself with nuances of all these marketplaces?

Jacqueline Vong 18:17
That’s a really good question. First of all, I’m Canadian. So I always I always lead with being Canadian first being from Canada. But when I went over there, I felt really, it was really important to become localized. Because it is very, it is like night and day, we don’t even wake up to things that would be problems in Canada, that are problems in China. So one of the key things that I really learned is really to learn the local preferences because they’re all different. China’s very big territory north, south, east and west have different tastes and preferences. There’s different dialects, but the main dialect is Mandarin. You would learn that you don’t lift and lambda strategy from North America into China and expect it to work. I failed. Early on in my career thinking that I had learned from the best I did learn from the best Mattel being the number one toy company and lifting and landing. What I understood was the best practices from what I knew over there failed miserably. So that’s why Barbie doesn’t sell in China. It dies because it’s aspirational, but you can’t sell it the same way to a consumer and you have to have a price value proposition and a conversation about that. But toilets are very different. And going back to the EU topic I for Fisher Price. I sold potty seat covers in North America very well. So I said to China, my company in China, why not sell potty seat covers? There’s a there’s white space here. Well, I didn’t do enough research about potty potties in China because they’re actually holes

Qasim Virjee 19:54
in the ground. Oh, in that sense. Yeah. The squat toilets

Jacqueline Vong 19:58
squatty potty, the squat toilets really So they would not read potty covers because they’re literal hole on the ground. So we created a manufactured a bunch of these. And

Qasim Virjee 20:07
it was like upper middle class, it was maybe purchased. It was also

Jacqueline Vong 20:11
an education point, because whenever the Chinese would see that the mass market Chinese people, I’m not talking about the high end elite people who have called really traveled and have access to technology, and seen what Western media does, or Western world does, they would use the toilet seats, and they would, there would be footprints on toilet seats. And I wouldn’t understand that until I’ve started talking to my localized staff. Right. And they understood it as that’s a way to protect their feet when they squat. I love it. So there’s so many nuances that I can go through. But those are just some examples, right? And of WoW, culture you launched shattered me,

Qasim Virjee 20:49
you launched this. These are these things that we use at home, right or Well, yeah, getting away for now, with Ava being three and a half. But that small toilet seat that you put on top of a normal toilet for kids, then they take their little step II thing and they step up. They won’t fall through. Yeah, and they feel safe on that. But you know, the ground they’re just standing on them?

Jacqueline Vong 21:10
Or there’s no, there’s no place for you to actually put it would just fall in the hole.

Qasim Virjee 21:14
Yeah, it doesn’t. It doesn’t make sense. That’s hilarious.

Jacqueline Vong 21:19
I have so many stories like that. Give me one word. And I’ll use one from later days where I represented the minions okay. The Minions huge franchise and

Qasim Virjee 21:30
DreamWorks, like do they own the minions is its own thing. It’s universal, okay.

Jacqueline Vong 21:36
And it’s a huge entity. We know it in North America and China had never launched. So there were 3 million movies already had launched. And we were launching the fourth minions. Maybe it was the first time I had ever gone to China. And one thing universal did not check was the trademark protection booth. So they had signed up 50 licensees, me included our company was that one of the master toy partners, we were going to be one of the first on the ground rollout. In combination with the movie, we were all called to Beijing capital of China, for this amazing meeting what we thought was an amazing meeting with universal to, you know, celebrate our partnership. Instead, they use the meeting to inform us that thank you so much for getting involved with this franchise. In China. We are changing the name of minions to little yellow. People who I in the audience can Asian minded thought to myself. Oh,

Qasim Virjee 22:38
and nobody was laughing in this. No, no, I started laughing Yeah, because it’s a joke, right? Surely it’s got to be a joke. Little yellow people,

Jacqueline Vong 22:45
for China, for the Chinese market. So you know, that’s not

Qasim Virjee 22:49
racist. It’s just objectively descriptive.

Jacqueline Vong 22:53
Right? And you know, all my life. I know, Asian people might have been called Yellow people. And so I thought, oh, my gosh, I Yeah. Second thing, minions have glasses. And lots of Asian people have glasses, minions work on an assembly line. The Chinese aren’t known as the world’s factory. The Minions follow an evil leader. I thought there would be a comparison drawn to Chairman xi, which is China’s chairman. And you know, he’s the chief in command there. So I didn’t think it was a great idea. Nevertheless, I tried to call California from China and they were like, Listen, you guys are running your own ship. It is independent. We’re part of the same team, but it is an independent thing. They’ve they’ve sacrificed a lot of money into rebranding it. And what do you think happened? Well, I’ll tell you, the folks that didn’t pay into the licensing and become the official merchandise and could use minions because they weren’t asking for approval. Were the ones who won the ones who didn’t when were the official merchandise of little yellow people, because those who know knew the minion franchise thought, why do the little yellow people look like counterfeits?

Qasim Virjee 24:04
Hmm. So flip the script. And so people kind of like selling quote unquote, minions locally, or making money

Jacqueline Vong 24:13
on the streets. So you can see a lot of the street vendors a lot of the bargains a lot of anything that was an official merchandise that were in stores. Were the ones that were selling like hotcakes,

Qasim Virjee 24:24
and then did they drop the little yellow people subsequently, as the name of the toy

Jacqueline Vong 24:31
sunk $100 million into rebranding it so they were just going to keep going.

Qasim Virjee 24:38
Wow, that’s a lot of money. Mm hmm. In a rebrand the experiences that you’ve had as a Canadian in Asia, have probably kind of changed the way you want to do business and who you want to do business with. Tell me a little bit about how What you do is forever changed by the experiences of being based there and having expertise in that region.

Jacqueline Vong 25:09
So one of the divisions I have in my organization is the sourcing and manufacturing. And I have seen firsthand how manufacturing lines and factory workers work in China. And I know that 80% of the world’s pop up production, especially in toys, toy manufacturing, which is something I know very well go through China. But with supply chain being the way it is, with the issues on labor and shortages of container ships and cargo and drivers. I have also been one of the more outspoken people to look for alternatives beyond China, because it feels like we have all our eggs in the global basket in China for production.

Qasim Virjee 25:52
And costs are going up in China, even pre pandemic, right. And like I know, we have friends, they’re actually a partner of start well, for we’re gonna have housewares and clothing line come out

Jacqueline Vong 26:07
next year. And you’re not asking me as your merchandise says, No, we will have subsequent conversations.

Qasim Virjee 26:12
But there are some Canadians that are out there. Their brand is called Juma. And that’s also their last name. And we’ve partnered up to do some really interesting clothes that fit this kind of agile work life that we see our customers on campus pursuing. So it’s like a custom design clothing line for the new way of working that kind of like comfortable but you look smart vibe. Yeah. And globally conscious, you know? Of course. Yeah. And so. But what was interesting is they’re telling me about, you know, how the rising costs in not only the raw materials, cotton and so on, have been going up textiles have been going up. But then labor costs. And they’ve come up with really innovative manufacturing techniques, and all of their textiles now are made out of recycled PT, because it’s actually not just because it’s cheaper. It’s also great for the environment. Well, it’s still plastic, but it’s reusing something. But yeah, so it’s kind of like this, you know, multi bottom layer.

Jacqueline Vong 27:12
That interestingly enough, right now, not only is cost going up in raw materials, and laborers, but energy, right. And we know there have been rolling blackouts in China to really save and conserve the energy production for heat, because it is going into some of the winter, some of China goes into winter. And we are going into the holiday season, which is the time that we really use a lot of coal for production. So it has been, it has been a big issue. So pandemic, labor shortage and labor cost crisis, energy crisis, the container ports, lack of drivers on our side, in North America to take the merchandise off, and to pack it. And, and the Suez Canal. All of these have led to this enormous disaster of not getting our toys in time for Christmas,

Qasim Virjee 28:13
it was funny is like in all the things you just listed there was there was all these great, you know, poignant, complex issues. And then the Suez Canal is like as important as a stumbling block. But it’s such a hilarious situation. Am I right in remembering that there was basically a boat that got stuck in the mud and then blocked up all the other boats. And then the owners of the boat didn’t want to figure it out? Because they were like, it’s not worth it on paper to us to figure this out. You keep the boat give the merchandise insurance will probably help us out. And then the operators of the canal were like left holding the poop.

Jacqueline Vong 28:47
It was It is one of the narrowest canals in all the world, but also one of the most commercial where all everybody goes through. And so if you can imagine, like a plug in, in a hole, yeah. And not being able to remove it for days. Right. And the backup that it causes because everything’s on a schedule. So yeah, that’s that’s what happened. And then we there’s been an uptick in Pirates. I can get into pirates.

Qasim Virjee 29:18
Can we go there for a few minutes.

Jacqueline Vong 29:20
People are losing merchandise because they’re being seized by like,

Qasim Virjee 29:23
like Somalis or it’s other people. guy went game,

Jacqueline Vong 29:27
I wouldn’t just, you know, generalize and say it’s the Somalis. But I’d say pirates. They are out there. There are warehouse pirates also, you know, trying to hold your merchandise hostage. So there, there’s a lot of uptake about creative thievery. I feel.

Qasim Virjee 29:44
Yeah, well, I know. I know, Vice has been reporting on on some of this stuff. I’ve been picking up on some of these stories they were talking about one is a mixture of like piracy and counterfeiting and how they’re kind of like inter related. It seems like it could be because you know, counterfeiters know what What the value of the original product is. And if it goes up to such a point, they’re going to try and even restrict or control that price to drive up demand for their pirated version

Jacqueline Vong 30:10
1,000%. I worked in China, and not only do we manufacture legitimate product, but there’s a whole marketplace, you know, to ensure that factories are making counterfeit products. And while I was on the counterfeit protection side, because I was representing brands, it’s a big business and to get local government enforcement in the government to buy into production, you have to spend a lot of money because their whole business of ensuring that people work in factories, they don’t care. There’s so many factors that rely on this manufacturing. Counterfeits, of course,

Qasim Virjee 30:43
yeah, it’s more like it’s more important to the society, let’s say that’s to have employment, without thinking of what the employment necessarily is involved with, of course, globally, this has implications in all sorts of ways and opens the door to human rights issues. And I personally have seen this, of course, as someone who’s lived in Africa, and we see some of the work that children do, unfortunately, and other people who are, you know, at gunpoint, in mines in Central Africa, so we can have iPhones or whatever the issue is, this does have its tentacles. But we digressed it, because it was fun as fun, but I want to go back to that idea of differentiated sourcing across Asia and the idea of okay, there are some issues in in China to do with, you know, energy and so on.

Jacqueline Vong 31:32
So, recently, um, you know, during COVID, a lot of people, even pre COVID, a lot of manufacturers were looking for ways to not rely heavily on Asia. And so one of the areas that were were investigated were Southeast Asia. So Vietnam being, you know, all the Philippines, Malaysia, the one thing I’ll say about that is that China has had a lot of time to perfect their manufacturing process. And Vietnam was or, you know, Southeast Asia, as a territory is a good region to potentially create components. But essentially, it always goes back and gets consolidated in China. So you end up relying on China to manufacture it, package it and send it back to America because the process isn’t wholly done in Vietnam or Southeast Asia, the other territory that has been emerging is India. India is the one place that I think has a population base that can rival China’s right, it is one of the largest populations in the world. And one of the advantages of India is it’s predominantly English speaking in the business world, absolutely. So it is a little bit easier to communicate. And you have seen we have seen in the world that lots of larger companies have started to look towards India and invest in India. I’ll have to say, quality wise, we’re not 100% there and

Qasim Virjee 32:58
across the board for all Yeah, because, yeah, there’s certain things that are good coming out of India. But there’s certain things that seem difficult.

Jacqueline Vong 33:05
Well, I think they’re about 20 years behind China, because that hasn’t ever been an initiative for the government to really invest in their manufacturing sector. Right. The the government, Mount Modi, right now is looking at incentives and really building up the textile industry, the tech industry, and of course, he’s

Qasim Virjee 33:21
been biased towards his own province. And there’s a whole drought first question. That’s right. Politics around the BJP, and whether they’re like racist and promoting Hindu, you know, whatever. Look, I did my degree at McGill, we went to McGill together my degree was in Hinduism, and Buddhism. And there is no such thing as Hinduism, you know, historically, right. It’s kind of like colonial construct. And it’s so hilarious to me that you have this political party that’s extremely racist and in power, leading a nation of what a billion plus people and having a preference for a particular suppose Id, religious identity that if you scale it back 100 years doesn’t exist, that one identity is made up of 1000s of regional identities. And it’s not at odds with Islam or anything else. It’s just, you know, political crap. But the point of the matter is massive population massive opportunity. And it’s tough to concert, the whole nations efficacy to compete globally.

Jacqueline Vong 34:24
But more and more, I find that their company is very interested in having that conversation with India, partnering with India. And ironically, China has taken notice, and they have started doing joint venture partnerships because they realize their challenges, and India has less challenges in the labor force sense. They have a younger labor force. I think China’s a little older and aging population, whereas entering the Indian labor force, it’s about it’s an early 20s play. So there’s a lot of life in India to develop. But yes, the technology G the infrastructure, the investment in manufacturing is not there yet.

Qasim Virjee 35:02
It’s, it’s it is exciting, though, you know, for any large plays, considering, you know, I suppose considering medium terms being in decades, because I’d say

Jacqueline Vong 35:14
20 years out. But it has to start somewhere. And right now I feel like there’s a lot of investment going. And a lot of education being done

Qasim Virjee 35:23
in the last couple decades has been interesting. From my chairs, seeing China being able to provide services and goods to the world with relative agility. You know, there’s this kind of like China can figure it out. mentality in North America, definitely. And we’ve seen it in the startup sector, where people consider any type of hardware manufacturing is being able to be made, cheap and quick. And they just take all that, you know, for assumptions that they’ll find someone to do it in China. That is difficult more, it’s always from the anecdotes I’ve heard more difficult than it sounds anywhere to start, you know, creating a new product, especially if the means of production requires unique tooling. Right? So talking about chips, and computers, and all that kind of stuff, your factories would have to be built to spec to build that particular thing, sometimes, and

Jacqueline Vong 36:19
even figure figurines, so creating an action hero, Marvel, anything like that everything, every part that’s articulated, or non articulated, needs to be molded and tooled. And so and designed in a way that’s manufactured efficiently for mass production. I can go into this in more technical expertise if you want. But I know that’s for another podcaster

Qasim Virjee 36:44
nobody’s, it’s it’s an apt point to even say that, which is that, you know, from the consumer standpoint, something that seems simple, no matter what the product is, right, has a lot of effort behind it. And what’s interesting, of course, is in talking about how products can be not only rapidly, you know, prototyped and developed and then copied wherever it is

Jacqueline Vong 37:08
copied in a heartbeat in China. I feel like that’s why I always recommend to anybody, if they’re entering into that part of the world, ensure that they have their trademark protection, their copyrights, everything really legalized. And even if you have your legal documents, there’s no guarantee right there.

Qasim Virjee 37:27
Okay, so something that’s, of course, always top of mind for start, well, members, partners and our audience in general, is that that kind of like topic, though ever flexing topic of the future of work and how right now anyway, you know, how the pandemic has changed some of that embrace of remote work. And I’d like to hear your take on your how you do your work, especially working globally. And how, you know, it’s changed in the last little while and how you might perceive it changing in the future.

Jacqueline Vong 38:02
It’s interesting, I have international clients from Australia, China, India, and then I have local clients in North America, and I used to be on the road, eight months of the year. And during the pandemic, I did everything, virtually. So has there been has there been progress? Um, I would say, investment wise, I saved over an enormous amount on travel right, on overhead for my office space. You know, I feel as though the hybrid model is what we’re moving towards and what we as a society are comfortable with. There are people who are very anxious still, with the Coronavirus. I know, there’s still the vaccine hesitancy which, again, I don’t want to get into but I’m fully vaccinated, I promote being vaccinated. But there’s there is there is definitely hesitancy and you know, an understanding, especially that people are hesitant for different reasons. So I do have empathy and want to hear people out on that. Traveling will probably happen and conferences will happen. But I find that not having an office space and using something like start well will be my model from here on in because I do feel like there’s more efficiency in not investing and putting myself on a lease and not overhead and having a space like this to really satisfy all the needs that I can do. And then not use my home because my home has been my office and my home is also the house of two children who are very young and it’s a tornado. So I would love to have more productivity during the day with the flow of work at a place that’s so zen,

Qasim Virjee 39:47
thank you. It is very chill here. Um, I think you know, it’s interesting because I think this thing of being, you know, in the last little while, perhaps, and tell me your experience, but For a lot of people, I’m talking to the shall we say, you know, the quick embrace of trying to do everything digitally. And not taking time out of your day to travel long distances to get to the office and all these sorts of things have enabled people to focus on kind of what they want, save some time in their day and all that stuff. But the the lingering Achilles heel to the model is sitting at home all day. So being able to choose to work in a context where you need focus when you need it. Definitely, you know, we believe is the future. But how does that interrelate with the way you work in terms of being on calls are all you know, around the clock, and then also, ostensibly needing to have in person interfaces with people in your markets,

Jacqueline Vong 40:46
thank you just hit the nail on the head, I find that because I’m working from home, I’m unable to plug in and people assume that I’m always available. So if I were to, let’s say, dedicate some hours at a place, and, you know, put it out there, I would definitely feel as though I’ve shut down for the day.

Qasim Virjee 41:06
So it’s even if you’re doing remote, inner, like you’re on the phone, or you’re on Google meet or whatever. But having this

Jacqueline Vong 41:13
physically shut my laptop down and actually feel like I’m commuting back and forth from work and my work date is done. So even though I know I will probably have a night or two that I would have overnight calls with my overseas clients. I would feel like I’m done for the day. Whereas I don’t ever feel like I’m done for the day at home because my laptop is permanently on my desk. And it’s on all the time. I have another screen. I have a microphone. Yeah, I have my headphones, and it’s just there. So whenever in between meal times, when I’m feeding my children, I’ll run back to my desk. Or if I have forgotten, you know, to do something, I’ll run back to my desk. This way I can tangibly shut it down.

Qasim Virjee 41:55
Yeah. It’s so important. It’s funny, because I, for many reasons, right? For the last few years have on this particularly on the start well journey. But yeah, I used to have a defined office space, it was a room that was dedicated to my office. And that was, you know, before start well, and then when I was doing kind of, I guess it was at the time when I was running IBM startup program. And if I think back actually, we didn’t, I didn’t have an office at IBM, it was assumed that it was a remote position. So I used to invest in startup ecosystem spaces like this, and then drop into a hot seat once in a while, you know, like, go to an accelerator for the day go to the incubator for the day. But personally, I hate that because I love being remote. But I always want to come back to home base. It might be my like, the way my brains structured from coding for many years, I like locking into a big screen and putting on the headphones. Shout out to you know, above and beyond and tuning into kind of like progressive house and trance and like, you know, the music that drives my focus. But so that’s that’s an interesting thing. For me. I like coming back to a workstation that I can rely on. But, you know, I think back to when I had a room at the house, that was my office, I would want to close the door. And and that’s wrong. I never want to in my house, I never I’m in the bathroom. I don’t close the door.

Jacqueline Vong 43:20
You know, I don’t have the luxury of closing the door either. Yeah.

Qasim Virjee 43:24
And so I found very early when I founded start, well, that like look, now I’ve got 20,000 square feet at my fingertips to be able to carve out the ideal spaces to do what I do in and then that’s been baked into the brand where I’m like, Okay, we’ve got a podcast studio to have conversations, I’ve got my desk that workstation, no one goes into that office, except for me. I’ve got all these different spaces for different functions. And then you know, it’s so happens that we find that everybody else is in the same boat here where people want have, I guess they need to retool though their minds on what’s available to them, and have the opportunity to work in different ways. But I do see this like being being at home trying to focus as a starting point to be extremely disadvantageous to feeling good about work. And now

Jacqueline Vong 44:11
it’s also because you’re at home, you think you have to put in the laundry, you have to buy groceries, you might have to start dinner, you might have to clean up their toys everywhere, for me, at least for all of us samples everywhere, so just can’t seem to get organized. And even if I do, my kids will come in and destroy my productivity.

Qasim Virjee 44:29
Right, right, right. Yeah. And then you don’t want to have that mindset of being like, Ah, you’re in my way or you’re not letting me do my thing. You want to be with them and be present when you’re with them. You know, it’s like mostly Yeah, mostly.

Jacqueline Vong 44:41
I love them. Don’t get me wrong. They just are rambunctious little career right now.

Qasim Virjee 44:45
Oh, yeah. Understood, man. I live the life. I live the life. I want to hear a little bit on the kind of I guess what Does next year look like for you? Wow, can you answer that?

Jacqueline Vong 45:03
Well, we’re right now in different life cycles of different brands. So I managed the wiggles and elf on the shelf and we’re going into the holiday season. So Elf on the Shelf licensing for Canada will be big right after American Thanksgiving, we start the social media program, and it’s holiday. So this is a really fun brand to work on. And I have a lot of fun merchandise coming out. So that will be my holiday. Starting next year, when we start the year over again, I will be working on some new content creation with creators. And that will be very exciting. We’re about to revolutionize some whitespace in the kids world. And I’m very interested to see how well it does for our launch, which is happening in a couple of weeks.

Qasim Virjee 45:48
quite a quite a detail this, you know, teaser there.

Jacqueline Vong 45:52
I can’t let you know. But I once you know if I’m back on this podcast, I will be happy to report hopefully, that we have pioneered some space interesting. And it’s and it’s KidSpace. And that’s a space that I know so well as a mother but also in the industry for over 20 years. So that’s exciting. And that will be you know, a project that I I’ll be living and breathing, and then a couple of other other amazing projects. So I’m in I’m in the crypto metaverse. And that is such a fascinating space because it’s young, its ever changing. It’s so fast pace and there’s so much currency being exchanged. And what I’m doing is I’m pioneering not crypto, but I’m I’m bridging the gap between crypto and what we know in real life and putting them together with a brand. That is one of the OG brands, but they’ve created a whole cast of characters which they’re calling the superhero of cryptocurrency, and I think there’s future building right there.

Qasim Virjee 46:56
Wow. Okay, so that’s definitely another podcast. We’ve got a couple reasons we got this big teaser, looming question of what you’re working on to revolutionize whitespace in this kind of kids entertainment area.

Jacqueline Vong 47:07
And then I should I shouldn’t fail to mention some of the other clients that I work for our, you know, the coolest pop culture toy companies out there, that I’m working on nostalgia, I’m working on all things to gi if you know those millennials know what I’m talking about. Tick tock initiatives. I’m working on going after licenses in Gaming and Anime which are huge spaces. And I’ll say super impulse is one of my my clients and they’ve just launched DDR, which is Dance Dance Revolution. miniaturize for fidget and fingerplay. So it’s crazy. Blowing your minds. That’s crazy. Wow. And that’s the holiday season play right now. Excellent. So

Qasim Virjee 47:50
that’s a recommendation of parents to go and pick it up for parents,

Jacqueline Vong 47:53
not kids because I think DDR is really aimed at people who know DDR.

Qasim Virjee 47:58
Yeah, I didn’t go there. I know. I know what it is. But you know, I maybe because I was a little awkward with my feet. Well, you can play with it with my finger. Yeah, I’m pretty good. I used to have a colomba Yeah, you know, yeah, little finger piano. I was pretty good that so maybe I’ll be good with this.

Jacqueline Vong 48:14
Special fidget is huge right now because you know, everybody is at their desks all the time feeling anxious and needing to focus

Qasim Virjee 48:21
right. That’s exciting and timely. Christmas Awesome. Well, it was such a pleasure having you on the podcast. Is there a particular place you want to direct anyone who’s interested in learning more about play ology or figuring out how to work with you?

Jacqueline Vong 48:39
Check me out on socials at play ology I MTL or at my website, which seems outdated to call out but play ology. I ntl.com Awesome. It was a pleasure having you on nice to speak to you

/ Business
Jacqueline Vong on the StartWell Podcast

Jacqueline Vong from Playology International

With 2 decades' experience working globally on merchandising/licensing and more - Jacqueline has a ton of wisdom and hilarious tales to share.