Name: Brian Semling
Company Name: Brian’s Toys, Inc.
Company URL: strictlybriks.com, brianstoys.com, clevercreationsco.com
Title: Founder and CEO
Hometown: Fountain City, Wisconsin
Relationship Status: Married
What early experiences in life, cultivated your entrepreneurial spirit?
When I started my business while in high school, I exhibited at a few large trade shows selling collectible Star Wars toys in the Chicago area with my dad. There was a frenzy of buying, selling, and trading unlike anything I had ever seen and I was right in the middle of it, doing non-stop deals. It was exciting and I was hooked!
Why did you start your business(es)?
I started Brian’s Toys, specializing in Star Wars toys and collectibles, in high school as an extension of a hobby to help pay for college tuition. Two and a half years later I left school at MIT during my sophomore year to run the business full time because it was growing so rapidly.
I launched Strictly Briks because I saw a void in the brick construction toy industry when it came to creative play. LEGO does a great job, but they can’t do everything, and we’ve focused on the niche of creative play and encouraging kids to dream, create, and grow with bricks in innovative, fun, and creative new ways.
What entrepreneur has inspired you most?
Steve Jobs, for many reasons. One quote that has stayed with me, and I’ll paraphrase, “At Apple, we don’t make great products to make a lot of money, we make a lot of money so we can make great products.” After several years of creating our Strictly Briks toy line, I have a real appreciation for this sentiment. Initially when I read this quote, I was more skeptical. Now I fully get it, and I agree.
What is the biggest obstacle you have overcome thus far in business?
The largest challenge we have overcome, twice, is adapting and creating new business models as old ones became less sustainable. It’s a frustrating experience but it teaches resiliency and provides confidence that we can continue to adapt, grow, and thrive in the future.
What have you learned from failure?
. If you don’t fail from time to time, you’re not taking enough chances.
How does your leadership style foster your company’s culture?
By setting an example to strive for excellence and encouraging creativity and innovation.
What are your top 3 responsibilities as a leader?
Decide what needs to get done (where are we going), communicate with others what needs to be done, do what is necessary to get these things done (hire, implement and execute the plan, etc.)
What internal process do you use to guide your decision-making?
I discuss decisions with 1-3 key staff members ,plus my wife, in a collaborative and conversational process. Generally, my decisions are better after input and feedback from trusted advisers. Still, at the end of the day, running a business isn’t a democracy and occasionally as a leader you have to make decisions that you believe are right, even when they are unpopular or not supported by data.
How do you define success?
Being able to spend the majority of my time doing what I was born to do.
Which book has inspired you?
Driven by Eternity by Christian author John Bevere. John helped me understand that God has a kingdom purpose for each of us, not just those that go into the official job of ministry. He explained that while some people are called to be pastors and missionaries, others are called to be teachers, accountants, entrepreneurs, etc. and to represent the church in the community. Our job as individuals is to find that purpose, and live it out with excellence, in a way that brings honor to God. This book influenced me in a profound way, as I was freed of any guilt or feelings that growing a business was selfish or 2nd rate from a godly perspective, and in fact it encouraged me through understanding that I was doing was God created me to do, and to keep going!
I recently had a chance to get John’s autograph and share with him how his book impacted my life. He said he wrote the book for people like me, and really appreciated my feedback.
What do you think is the coolest tech out there? Why?
I’m old school and biased. How about our new line of Rubik’s Briks.
BONUS #12 (optional) Wildcard:
Here’s your chance to include anything else you want to say that we didn’t cover. Have any helpful thoughts or Links we should know about?
Don’t delay when starting a venture. Things change quickly, and most of what you learn you will learn along the way, so get started!
The Preference Pop Quiz
Brian highlighted his answers below. Check them out!
Chocolate or vanilla?
Chips or pretzels?
Mountains or beach?
Early bird or night owl?
Sweet or savory?
Mac or PC?
Cake or Pie?
Dog or cat?
Pen or pencil?
Car or Truck?
Summer or Winter?
Introvert or extrovert?