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“I’m not the best artist. I’m terrible,” Jackson Aw said with a sheepish laugh.

That may seem ironic, given that the 32-year-old is the founder and CEO of Mighty Jaxx, a Singaporean designer toy company.

But for Aw, acknowledging his own shortcomings helped him turn his startup into a multibillion-dollar international toy business.

“It’s just that I realize that… I have to choose people who are much smarter than me. I collaborate with them and work with them,” he told CNBC Make It.

“If this artist dedicated his career to building that craft, then he’s better than I can ever be.”

How it all began 

Founded in 2012, Mighty Jaxx has partnered with some of the world’s leading brands and visual artists to produce fashion collectibles that incorporate pop culture and design. See the article : Google says it’s time to pay for longtime small business users.

Since then, it has sold “millions” of collectible toys to people in more than 80 countries, Aw said.

It all started when he started watching a lot of “how-to videos” on YouTube, which he found “fascinating”.

I thought there would only be a couple of machines that would spit (toys). And that was honestly very naive.

“Those videos that tell you how chicken nuggets are made, like how hot dogs are made… the process that goes into that. As I watched them, I looked at my shelf of collectibles that I have,” he said.

“Could I create something physical, with my own hands and manufacture it?”

Aw, who has been an avid toy collector since he was 17, decided to book a one-way flight to Shenzhen, China, where he visited factories to learn about the toy production process.

Jackson Aw visited factories in Shenzhen, China to learn about the toy production process.

His curiosity quickly turned to wonder, as he learned techniques such as sculpting and hand casting.

“I thought there would only be a couple of machines that would spit out (toys). And honestly, that was very naive,” he said.

“I was shocked when I saw hundreds of people… just crafting and painting that one-of-a-kind piece, on what our perception will be a mass market product.”

Inspired by what he saw in China, Jackson returned home after a month to create his own designer toy with Singaporean graffiti artist Clogtwo.

It is as if we never felt that fear again. So we take the money and roll (with) it.

Together, they created Mighty Jaxx’s first collectible, the “Hell Lotus”. With the help of a $20,000 loan, he produced 200 pieces of the toy, which he launched at the Singapore Comics Convention in 2012.

Aw sold the inventory in six months and there was no turning back. “It’s like we never felt that fear again. So we took the money and we shot (with) it.”

Big break 

Over the years, Mighty Jaxx continued to partner with visual artists around the world to create one-of-a-kind, limited-edition collectibles while remaining “cash-flow positive,” Aw said. This may interest you : Global food kilometers account for almost 20% of total food system emissions.

“We never take outside money until much later,” he added.

The tide really turned for the company in 2015, when Aw landed its first licensing partnership with DC Comics from Warner Brothers.

He recalls emailing Julian Montoya, who was Warner Brothers’ vice president of global toys at the time, on a whim, hoping to “redesign” Warner Brothers’ creative IP like DC Comics characters.

After Mighty Jaxx landed its first licensing partnership with DC Comics from Warner Brothers, the company made $1.7 million in 2015, four times more than the previous year.

“His secretary responded, (saying) we have 30 minutes this Friday, you can come and chat with us.”

He flew to Burbank, California, where he showed Montoya possible designs and 3D prototypes of DC toys. “In the end, he just said, ‘Okay. We’ll shake it off,'” Aw said.

“I walked out of the room and thought, ‘No, that can’t be real.’ The next day, they sent the contract and it was for a global agreement.”

That deal, which Aw said was “an enormous leap of faith” on Montoya’s part, quadrupled Mighty Jaxx’s income.

According to Aw, his company earned $1.7 million in 2015, four times more than the previous year.

“And that’s when, (it hit me), holy shit, something’s going on,” he said.

From DC to Netflix 

Since then, Aw has doubled down on its collaborations with well-known brands to reach fans around the world, from Adidas, Hasbro and Nickelodeon, to Formula 1, Sesame Street and Netflix.

Those collaborations allowed Aw to produce collectibles on a larger scale and at lower prices, making them more accessible to fans.

DC collectibles, for example, sold for $10 each. That’s affordable compared to other Mighty Jaxx toys that are produced in much smaller quantities, which can cost up to $1,200.

In 2020, Aw also started producing blind boxes, which contain figurines or toys unknown to buyers until unpacked.

Mighty Jaxx also produces blind boxes in collaboration with Jason Freeny, known for his anatomical art.

He teamed up with American designer Jason Freeny, known for his anatomical art.

“We apply it to a lot of our license partners and they all love it because it’s such an alternative look to things… And now it’s become a staple line for us.”

Aw’s keen eye for what’s hot has certainly paid off. According to Mighty Jaxx, the company’s revenue grew at a compounded rate of 71% between 2019 and 2021.

To date, Mighty Jaxx has raised around $40 million, valuing the company at more than $200 million. Its investors include the Chinese conglomerate Tencent, KB Investment and East Ventures.

Aw also made Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia list in 2018, at the age of 28.

Jackson Aw’s advice for young entrepreneurs? “Fear will always exist. But the question is, what do you think of that?”

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