Mighty Jaxx
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Mighty Jaxx: Getting a ‘no is the worst that can happen’: How S’pore firm’s willingness to innovate quadrupled its revenue

First published in The Straits Times on 16 January 2024.

With Enterprise Singapore’s support, Mighty Jaxx transforms its strategy to invest in new digital capabilities and now counts Warner Bros., Adidas and Formula 1 among its clients.

Mighty Jaxx’s founder Jackson Aw credits EnterpriseSG and the Scale-Up programme for giving the firm a sharper focus as it continues to innovate and grow. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

The eerie Upside Down from the hit Netflix series Stranger Things came to life in Singapore from July to October last year. Visitors were transported to the spine-tingling parallel dimension from the show thanks to the elaborate vine-covered set design that mimicked the foreboding atmosphere of the dark alternate reality.

The interactive Stranger Things experience was the brainchild of home-grown collectibles company Mighty Jaxx, which partnered Netflix to bring seven iconic sets from the show to life.

Fans wandered through detailed recreations of the Upside Down, Palace Arcade, Starcourt Mall and the Hawkins Lab. As they explored, they tapped digital passes around the immersive encounter to collect virtual memorabilia that they could use to customise merchandise such as collectibles, apparel and other lifestyle products.

The firm, which had primarily been focused on selling limited-edition collectibles when it was founded in 2012, is now expanding its offerings as part of a bold pivot into the digital space and in-person experiences.

Looking to chart new growth nine years after it was established, Mighty Jaxx found new direction when it participated in Enterprise Singapore’s (EnterpriseSG) Scale-Up programme in 2021.

The company’s founder and chief executive officer Jackson Aw, 35, says: “The Scale-Up programme gave us clarity on how we should innovate next, to expand our customer base and build brand loyalty. With EnterpriseSG’s guidance, we invested in enterprise resource planning, project management tools and other systems, which can help us increase our efficiency, including in innovation. With all of these in place, we are now in a stronger position to keep growing.”

The 12- to 18-month programme supports high-potential local firms to speed up growth and expand globally, with their executives going through management courses, partnering consultancies to fine-tune growth plans and networking with other local business leaders.

Mighty Jaxx staged its first interactive experience, Stranger Things – The Encounter: Singapore, bringing the hit Netflix show to life for fans in June to October 2023. PHOTO: MIGHTY JAXX

With the lessons from Scale-Up, Mighty Jaxx, which developed collectibles for both mass market and the niche collecting audience, decided to take the next step in developing a 360-degree pop culture experience by building out experiences like Stranger Things – The Encounter: Singapore to stand out from its competitors. It also added a range of bespoke collectibles for customers as a value-added service.

Learning from failure

Mr Aw gamely shares that Mighty Jaxx’s initial foray into digital products failed.

The company had wanted to get customers to scan microchips in the collectibles to authenticate their products and potentially increase their resale value in the secondary market.

It had also wanted to deliver further value to collectors by allowing them to play video games on a mobile app after the authentication process. However, only a few of its customers did so.

Such a move was too costly to sustain as the firm would have to hire a team specialising in game development. Mr Aw shelved the project but kept an eye out for other opportunities to expand into the digital market.

When non-fungible tokens (NFTs) – digital tokens used to represent virtual or real-world items like artwork – became all the rage in 2021, he saw his chance. Acting swiftly, Mighty Jaxx debuted a digital figurine, then offered its buyers the option to purchase a physical version as well.

Mighty Jaxx’s big break came in 2015 when Mr Aw got a 30-minute meeting to pitch a fresh style to Warner Bros. based on their intellectual property. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

The gambit worked, with all 888 digital units sold in three seconds and 60 per cent of the customers paying for the physical product too. With this new “phygital” approach of combining physical and digital offerings in different ways, Mighty Jaxx's business grew.

Of the climb, Mr Aw says: “If you want to succeed, you must be willing to try new things. Cut what doesn’t work, tweak and try again.”

Daring to succeed

Mighty Jaxx has demonstrated impressive growth in recent years. From a fledgling start-up launched in 2012, it has now evolved from a designer toy company into one that serves as a platform for collectors, artists and brands. Between 2019 and 2021, it tripled its revenue, posting an average growth of 74 per cent annually.

A driving force behind the company's success is its willingness to take risks and adapt to the latest trends.

This vision stems from Mr Aw's enterprising spirit. Driven by his passion for collecting figurines, he watched many online videos on how they are made and considered how he might be able to craft the figurines himself. Inspired to see the production in person, he travelled to China for a month in 2012 to visit factories and learn about their manufacturing process and supply chains. The trip convinced him that he could make his mark in the industry.

“The economics made sense to me because there’s no ceiling to the price of art,” he says. “It felt like a good business and I was interested in it, so when I got back to Singapore, I borrowed $20,000 from my parents and set up the firm.”

In the beginning, Mighty Jaxx – named after a play on his name – worked with street, graffiti and contemporary artists to create collectibles based on their artwork. A big break came in 2015 when Mr Aw emailed Warner Bros. Entertainment, pitching a fresh style for products based on the latter’s intellectual property (IP) such as DC Comics characters. To his surprise, he got a 30-minute meeting to make his case to the company’s vice-president of global toys in Burbank, California.

Mighty Jaxx fosters innovation among staff, such as 3D artist Victoria Podiono, with a rotating special projects team that experiments with new ideas. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

The subsequent deal more than quadrupled Mighty Jaxx’s annual revenue, bringing the company into the major leagues. It has since inked partnerships with The Walt Disney Company, Hasbro, Netflix, Formula 1, Toei Animation, Adidas and other household names, and currently has about 120 staff in Singapore, the US, UK and China.

Mr Aw says: “I realised early on that what you need to do is ask. The worst that can happen is you get a ‘no’.”

Mr Aw grew the firm from a three-man outfit to a leading collectibles player with sights set on expanding to offer immersive experiences. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

Immersive offerings like Stranger Things – The Encounter: Singapore are the crucial next stage in Mighty Jaxx’s evolution to forge a larger community of loyal customers.

“People buy collectibles when they like the IP,” explains Mr Aw. “We need to give them a reason to buy from us instead of other makers. You often see brands competing based on price, but it’s much better to engage people through experiences.

“It’s like when you are leaving Universal Studios and purchasing items from the gift shop. You are less price-sensitive because it’s all about buying a memory that you can take home. I want to evoke that emotion. That emotion has no price point.”

Toying with ideas

To maintain its competitive edge, Mighty Jaxx has also taken steps to encourage innovation in its ranks. In 2020, it set up a special projects team, giving staff free rein to pursue passion projects and promising opportunities. The team generally has about five members at a time, and any employee can request to join.

While some of the projects have not panned out, others have become reliable hits or even sparked new product categories for the firm. Its lines of sports collectibles are one example. “We had never done sports figurines before, so the team did a proof of concept,” says Mr Aw. “It was so successful that we went on to sign a deal with Formula 1. Now this category is part of our main team’s responsibility.”

Seeking to further build on the successes of its special projects team, Mr Aw hired a business intelligence expert in 2022 to study the firm’s sales to generate data-driven insights.

A standout from Mighty Jaxx’s special projects team is its Formula 1 collection, which senior 3D artist Ian Ng (above) is working on – the company’s first sports figurine line. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

“For the longest time, Mighty Jaxx was an extension of myself and the things I like,” Mr Aw explains. “Today, we look at the numbers when making decisions and setting our general direction. This includes ensuring that we do not neglect our best-performing genres. A company should reflect its founder, but only up to a point. I wish I had done this much earlier.”

He credits EnterpriseSG and the Scale-Up programme for giving the firm a more solid foundation as it sets its sights on the future.

“Before we took part in Scale-Up, we were trying to do too many things. Going through Scale-Up made us think about innovation in a more disciplined way,” says Mr Aw. “Now, when we want to do something, we consider if and how it adds to our overarching goals, what is its unique selling point, and more. This was a tough but necessary lesson.”

This is part of a series on how home-grown companies are making an impact in global markets, showcasing how they scale with technology, innovation and sustainability as core aspects of their business, with the support of Enterprise Singapore. Find out more here.