Jackson Aw is a Forbes 30 under 30 honouree and founder of Singapore-based Mighty Jaxx. This technology-driven brand platform develops a wide range of collectibles and lifestyle products with world-class artists like Jason Freeny, James Jean, and Akira Kurosawa, as well as brand partners such as Hasbro, Nickelodeon, Warner Brothers, DC Comics, Looney Tunes, Sesame Street and many more. Mighty Jaxx has developed products for collectors in over 60 countries.
In an exclusive interview with AsiaTechDaily, Jackson says:
Respond, but don’t react – I think as founders, it is very natural for us to react badly to negative news. It can feel like everything has gone wrong, and your world is crashing down around you. Instead of playing the blame game when things inevitably go wrong and resulting in fractured relationships both internally and externally, founders should take a step back, clear their heads, and calm down before working out what went wrong.
Work with better people – Another example I learned over the years is that we always need to surround ourselves with better people. These are the people who will help you grow, both professionally and personally, and will be the ones who contribute the most to the growth of the company.
Read on to know more about Jackson Aw and his journey.
Please tell me about your personal background, and What motivated you to get started with your company?
Jackson Aw: I come from an average middle-class family and have been an avid collector of toys since 2006 when I was a teenager. Collecting different toys opened my eyes to the amazing world of toys and how creativity could be applied in various forms on the same medium.
I grew to become a big fan of the many unique designs, some of which were created by artists globally, including some of my personal favorites like James Jean and Takashi Murakami. This fed my passion for collecting, and I ended up spending a lot of time and money building up a personal collection that I was proud of.
Years later, I had just sold off a photography business I had started. I started binge-watching YouTube videos one night and found these shows that show the magic behind how things are made: “How are burgers made?”, How are toys made?”. I found inspiration from this, and it eventually motivated me to spend a month in China watching and learning how toys were made.
I had never been to China before, and I did not know what to expect. All I knew was that I needed to knock on doors, which was very daunting as I was all alone in a foreign country, with no contacts, connections, friends, or relationships. Coming from Singapore with a creative background also put me at a disadvantage as I did not have any real understanding of how manufacturing worked.
During the month I spent in Shenzhen, I operated almost on autopilot. I usually began my day with a simple local breakfast before visiting different factories during the day to learn about the different parts of the manufacturing process. At night, I went online to source for more factories that I could visit, and in total, I think I visited about 15 different factories during my time there. The experience was enough to convince me that I could turn this into a viable business, and I dived in with initial financial support from my parents.
What is your current main product, and can you share any previous product pivot story to the current product?
Jackson Aw: We do not have a signature product as we are continually working with different artists and brands to come up with fresh new designs and concepts. However, we have established a signature style, which is the XXRAY conceptualized by our top-selling artist, Jason Freeny. This unique dissection style has taken shape not only on collectibles but also on lifestyle products and even footwear!
How much money have you raised in total so far? When was the recent funding round?
Jackson Aw: We have raised approx. US$4.8 million in our pre-Series A round in 2019.
How have you attracted users, and with what strategy have you grown your company from the start to now?
Jackson Aw: We strongly believe in organic growth. We rely on our collectors to influence other collectors, and with the aid of social media, this allows word-of-mouth to spread quickly. It also helps that our products are celebrated through celebrity networks, and some of them are collectors of our products. This amplifies our reach with the collector base. Our collector base also grew once we started securing more partnerships with notable artists as well.
Which has been the best marketing software tool for the growth of your startup, and why?
Jackson Aw: Our most successful program is relatively simple; we focus on retargeting on social media as 70% of the sales directly happen on our website.
What do most startups get wrong about marketing in general?
Jackson Aw: There are many examples of startup marketing mistakes, but I like to touch on one particular pain point – Failing to build a proper audience. At Mighty Jaxx, we are fortunate enough to understand our target market/audience already, as I am a collector myself. However, most startups risk too many valuable resources and time by not getting their go-to-market strategy/product fit right, which results in an audience disconnect even if they fall within the right demographic.
What were the internal decision processes in determining when to begin fund-raising, and what were the logistics for this? And how many investors have you met so far, and how did you meet these investors and which channels worked best for you?
Jackson Aw: I think having clarity on your runway and how additional funds could help fulfill your vision is key. In the past 2 years, we must have met over 100 investors in various countries. We value synergy above the funds, so we took more time to consider that with the interested parties. We worked with FAs to facilitate meetings, but I feel the best connection is through mutual parties and a warm organic introduction. One good example is our lead investor, Steven from KB Investment, who is a firm believer in our vision and who we got to know via an organic introduction, and I know we can lean on his expertise through good and bad.
What are the biggest challenges and obstacles that you have faced in the process of fund-raising? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
Jackson Aw: Different investors have different wants and understanding that is very important; How that relates to your vision is even harder to align. I have learned so much from the investors we met, and that has honed my soft skills differently. I feel this has been great, and I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.
What are your milestones for the next round? And what are your goals for the future?
Jackson Aw: We have an ambitious run rate that we are aiming to achieve in September 2020, we will then start our Series A proper.
How do you plan to expand globally?
Jackson Aw: Through our organic efforts, we are already shipping globally to over 60 countries and look forward to growing this user base. Physically we are headquartered in Singapore and finalizing plans to open up another office in China, where our factories are located.
What are the most common mistakes companies make with global expansion?
Jackson Aw: Expanding internationally is extremely challenging and highly dependent on several factors, especially the 3 ‘Rights’ – right market, right timing, right resources.
It is essential for business leaders not to mistake expansion for growth as this might not necessarily translate into the right move for the company in the long-term. Some businesses can thrive locally, and expansion does not guarantee that the company will embark on its next level of growth. Successful overseas expansion at the right time will open a lot of opportunities, while also providing access to more global talent who could potentially take your company to the next level.
How do you handle this COVID-19 outbreak situation for your company’s survival in the future?
Jackson Aw: The COVID-19 pandemic impacted Mighty Jaxx’s manufacturing and logistics, especially when factories closed in China, but establishing strong partnerships with factories in other countries and companies like DHL have helped mitigate the impact, allowing our operations to return quickly to a level for optimum efficiency.
What are the most common mistakes founders make when they start a company?
Jackson Aw: Never be afraid to ask for help – As a solo founder, I’ve also found myself going through a lot of issues without having people to turn to. But over the years, I realized that many of my entrepreneurial peers face similar issues and can actually form a support group of sorts – you just need to be willing to reach out and ask for help!
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? And What advice do you have for someone who is interested in doing similar things like yours or in a similar direction?
Jackson Aw: It’s not a piece of advice, but it motivates me the same way. Once an acquaintance told me, “How much could you earn in selling toys, you can join my fashion company instead.” Fast forward a couple of months, and he closed his company. I would say I don’t care about chasing money. When you do great constant work, that will generate success, and with success comes money chasing you. So just do it.
What are the top-three books or movies (TV series) that changed your life and why?
- It’s not how good you are, its how good you want to be – Paul Arden
- Whatever you think, think the opposite – Paul Arden
- Forrest Gump
All these 3 elements talk about similar ideologies, about being honest, and taking the uncertain path. I have learned that I don’t need to be the smartest in the room. I just have to work with those people. I learned the power of self-empowerment, believing that you can, despite all logic. To create something extraordinary, you first have to be unreasonable.
How do you keep yourself motivated every day?
Jackson Aw: Coming from the creative industry, I am interested in building up independent artists and brands in the same space using the Mighty Jaxx platform. While we work with a lot of famous artists, we are equally excited about working with the emerging artists. For me, helping develop their careers and creating something long term together is very fulfilling and worth the effort.
What are the one or two things that you would do differently to improve your life if you could go back to 10 years ago?
Jackson Aw: There are 2 other important factors that I would consider doing differently –
- Respond, but don’t react – I think as founders, it is very natural for us to react badly to negative news. It can feel like everything has gone wrong, and your world is crashing down around you. Instead of playing the blame game when things inevitably go wrong and resulting in fractured relationships both internally and externally, founders should take a step back, clear their heads, and calm down before working out what went wrong.
- Work with better people – Another example I learned over the years is that we always need to surround ourselves with better people. These are the people who will help you grow, both professionally and personally, and will be the ones who contribute the most to the growth of the company.
I believe that if I were able to pick up those skills faster, and much earlier, we would be sitting in an even better position than we are in right now!
You can follow Jackson Aw here.
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