I first met the man behind Moshi Monsters in a church.
There weren't any sermons or prayers and I don’t know if he’s religious, but two things can't be doubted. He has great faith in his brand, and I believe even greater faith in something else.
Something far more real and humble for a businessman who turned his penguin-cat creature hastily sketched in a coffee shop into a virtual world with over 70 million users: he has faith in people.
Seconds after giving a talk at the London Evening Standard Business Connections event, he was mobbed by a crowd of hopeful entrepreneurs itching for more advice.
If it wasn't for his assistant frantically ushering people to a more suitable area, I've no doubt he would have talked to every single one of them. All the while, gazing at them curiously over the pulpit, a bit like a cross between the Pope and a young Mick Jagger.
Yes he has time for other eager entrepreneurs, as well as journalists, but most importantly, he has time for children.
How many CEOs would willingly cover their face in make-up, drive in a Moshi Monsters-branded car and spend time meeting children and their parents just to talk about Moshi? Michael Acton Smith’s enthusiasm and belief in the brand is unquestionable.
“We never really knew [how successful Moshi toys would be],” he told ToyNews. “We chose a great partner in Vivid which we work very closely with and they’ve managed the collectables incredibly well. That’s the big driver on the toy side. I think the industry has definitely changed and is much more open to digital properties.
“I remember one of the early meetings we had with a retailer. They asked, ‘when’s your TV show coming out?’ And we said, ‘we don’t have one. We have something more exciting: a website!”
“They said, ‘you can’t launch a kids’ property without TV’. I remember saying back, ‘well, we’ll see about that’. It was a risk.
“It’s very humbling to think that Moshi is bigger than the Star Wars brand in toys, which has been around for 35 years and one I grew up with and was inspired by. It’s one of my favourite achievements.”
For someone wearing snakeskin boots he picked up in Vegas, Acton Smith is a man that obviously likes taking a risk in business.
But for his next franchises, he’s playing it safe. Mind Candy's future kids' brands will start on tablets and smartphones rather than web browsers, before launching into toys and other consumer products.
He added:?“Everything we do will be about family entertainment and will always start on tablets and smartphones. If it's successful on tablets, then we will make the bigger bounce into toys, cartoons and films and everything else. We think that's a wonderful environment to test stuff out. We've got to go where children are spending time.
“It’s high risk. Skylanders was a big risk. They nailed it and it's been phenomenal, but that was a big bet. Launching a movie is a massive bet.
We think creating a tablet game with a small team is a much lower bet – and we can experiment with multiple things at the same time.”
Mind Candy’s success doesn’t just come down to Smith’s investment in people, but in fun. This is reflected in Mind Candy’s vibrant work environment – its new 30,000 sq ft office even has a slide.
“There's nothing wrong with being a big kid,” he laughs. “I don’t take things too seriously. It’s important to retain childish, fun things and be playful.
“The challenge is hiring talented people. They can do things much better than I can.”
And hire he has. The firm appointed over 100 new members of staff last year, while making strong financial growth.
Acton Smith really is a master of believing in, inspiring and managing people; he has to be if he wants to model Mind Candy after Pixar, and become “the greatest entertainment company in the world for this new digital generation”.
Not convinced? I just wrote this gushing article for him – and he didn't even ask me to.
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