Starting a career selling his hand-made products at art shows and state fairs, Stephen Key understands the value of a product that sells well in the marketplace. Using his artistic talents and following his dream of being self-employed, Stephen taught himself to design and sculpt plush animals and characters. "Let's face it. When the rent is due and you are hungry, if the product you spent several hours making doesn't sell, you quickly move on to something else." Others eventually recognized Stephen's design talents and he began freelance work for Dakin Toys, creating plush animals for several different product lines.
Stephen tells a great story about acquiring his first real job, the kind that has a regular paycheck. "I went for a job interview at a start-up company called Worlds of Wonder. I figured that I could work for them during the day and do my freelance projects at night. That way, I'd make twice as much money! Little did I know, after bluffing my way through much of the interview, that I would land the job and get shipped out to Hong Kong to learn about manufacturing."
Stephen was placed in charge of the Design Group for Worlds of Wonder. Stephen had the opportunity to design and work with engineers of hit toy product lines such as Teddy Ruxpin, the worlds first talking teddy bear which was invented by Ken Forsse and licensed to Worlds of Wonder by Ken's company Alchemy II and Lazer Tag, the number one toy of 1986.
During his tenure with Worlds of Wonder his interest in new products blossomed. "I often looked at new product submissions that would come in to WOW (Worlds of Wonder), and would find myself saying 'I can do better than that, I know it'."
Stephen left Worlds of Wonder to start his own toy invention and licensing firm. But of course to pay the rent, he kept some of those freelance jobs for a while with toy manufacturers such as Disney, WOW, Applause, and Dakin to name a few. Over time, the freelance projects declined while the inventions grew.
One of Stephen's favorite products that he invented in the early days was a small indoor basketball backboard designed to look like a basketball player with his arms outstretched. Ohio Art licensed the idea from him and sold over one million Michael Jordan Wall Ball's that first year.
Stephen had joined the ranks of successful inventors. He loved his work, it actually paid the rent and it gave him more time to enjoy his children.
In 1995, Stephen read an article in a local newspaper about how labels on containers never contain enough information or the information is often printed too small to read. This piqued his interest and he started thinking about how he could solve that problem.
His solution was simple, so he thought. Add another label over the current one. This outer label would have a clear window. The outer label could spin around the container and what ever was printed on the inner label could be viewed through the clear window.
Stephen developed the Rotating Label (or Spinformation® as it is sometimes called) with the help of the largest pressure sensitive label manufacture in the United States, CCL Label, Inc.
The Rotating Label today is manufactured and sold in countries around the world and in many different label technologies, including Roll Fed, Pressure Sensitive, Cut & Stack, Shrink Wrap and Stretch Sleeve. Stephen has received over 13 industry awards as a result of his innovation and the benefits his label offers to its users.
The Rotating Label has been featured on products such as Rexall Sundown Herbal products worldwide, Lawry's Perfect Blend Seasonings in the U.S., Nescafe Coffee in Japan and a vitamin supplement in China. Learn more about Spinformation here.
Several years into Spinformation® production CCL Label, the company that Stephen developed the label with had eventually priced the label to high, making it cost prohibitive to most companies. Stephen decided to take a break from the Spinformation® business and focus his efforts elsewhere.
During his hiatus from Spinformation® one of Stephen’s childhood friends came to him with an interesting idea. His friend Rob was in the music retail business. He told Stephen about how guitar picks had basically been the same, boring piece of plastic for the past eighty years. Stephen set to work figuring out how to freshen up the guitar pick industry. A short time later HotPicks was born. Stephen took the basic shape of a guitar pick and changed it to the shape of a skull. It was an instant hit. The picks started selling around the world. Soon HotPicks were sold in 10,000 stores worldwide including Wal-Mart and 7 Eleven. The small company decided to branch out, obtaining a license from Disney to produce guitar picks in the shapes of their popular characters including Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh. They also created a line of guitar picks using lenticular material that actually had the characters moving right on the picks. Stephen also signed a licensing contract with Country Superstar Taylor Swift and created motion guitar picks with her likeness. After five successful years in the guitar pick business Stephen decided to sell his share of the company and move on. The Spinformation® rotating label business was starting to garner more interest again.
Learn more about HotPicks here.
Using his relationship with Disney during his time at HotPicks Stephen introduced Spinformation® to the food and beverage division of Disney. They instantly loved it. They immediately put Stephen in contact with one of their licensees that produced beverages and requested a new juice based children’s drink called Twist N Chill. The Twist N Chill drink featured Hannah Montana and Cars. The label was used to deliver fun games, activities and action to entertain the children while they drank the beverage.
Now the Spinformation® label is being used to educate parents on how to dose liquid medication to their children based on weight instead of age. 27,000 children overdose or under dose on liquid medication each year in the United States. This new product, Accudial, was developed by an ER Doctor and started appearing on store shelves across the country in late 2010. It is also currently available in Canada. Learn more about Accudial Here.
Stephen's Spinformation label continues to win accolades. Accudial has received Product of the Year in Canada for 2011 as well as winning a Gold at the Edison Awards in April 2011. Here is a photo of Stephen with wife Janice at the Edison Awards. Söyu Natural Teas also took home a Bronze award at the Edison Awards.
Stephen travels and speaks around the United States and the world. Stephen was a speaker at the 2009 Booming In The Bust Conference in Australia. Stephen was asked to be a speaker at a Google Talks event in late 2012 and was invited to give an all day lecture by the government of Northern Ireland in Belfast in 2012.
In his spare time Stephen travels around the world with his lovely wife Janice. Their oldest daughter, Madeleine, graduated from UC Berkeley. Their son, Jon, currently attends UC Berkeley, and youngest daughter, Elizabeth, is currently attending University of Oregon.