Have you ever felt like you’re not getting the support you need to succeed, especially from the people closest to you? Then you need to read every word of this interview with David Horvath – co-creator of the globally successful Uglydoll brand.
This is one of my all time favorite interviews. I have a lot of respect for how amazingly generous and open David is. He shares the struggles he faced and overcame to follow his childhood dream. A dream that it seemed no one else wanted him to achieve. Read it, learn from it, take action on what you learn. And don’t ever let those who don’t have the courage to follow their own dreams, prevent you from following yours…
David, with the widespread success of your Uglydolls, you are being hailed as one of the top character designers in the world, but did you have this passion for toys as a kid?
David: When I was 12, the class was going around discussing what they wanted for Xmas, etc. The boys wanted Atari, footballs, etc. I already had all of that in my garage, so I said I wanted GOLION, a die cast metal Japanese robot. Many of the kids laughed until I explained that it said “ages 13 and up” on the box, meaning they weren’t old enough to play with it just yet. Then they kinda just stayed away. So in a way, the cool kids became the outsiders and I stayed put.
The Cool Kids Became Outsider And I Stayed Put
So it sounds like you chose to follow your own path from an early age. Did you get any support from the people around you?
David: My mother was a designer at Mattel for many years. I wish that had helped me some but the honest truth is, she wasn’t permitted to discuss her job with me and she stayed loyal to that golden requirement. The only way I knew she still worked there was through catalogs and purple He-Man errors brought home. But those catalogs were inspiring. I always knew that I wanted to tell stories through toys.
The resistance came from my father, who told me that surrounding myself with toys and quitting Art Center to go work at a toy store would never amount to me making my own toys. He would tell all his professional contacts and co-workers about his waste-of-life son locked up in his toy room, working at a toy shop. He made many a famous or well-known professional in the art and design world shake their head at me (being told his version, not mine). So there was resistance. Luckily, I didn’t care. He wanted to be a photographer more than anything in the world, but went into advertising because it seemed more stable to him. Avoiding your life passion out of fear is a no-no in my book.
When he would freak out over why I had so many toys (over 40 of them!) I would ask him why science majors had beakers and slides all around their room. He didn’t get it. Anyway, when I was 19, I did indeed quit advertising at Art Center so that I could go work at a local boutique toy shop, to learn the ins and outs of non-mass market toy distribution and observe moms, dads, and kids buying toys in a retail environment. That job also got me into toy fair, and got me deep into the side of toys I knew would prove to be very important if I wanted to make my dreams come true and go at it on my own.
Making toys means nothing if you don’t have any clue what will happen to them once they’re done. Now I hear my father clips articles and such, but from my early teens until well after we started Uglydoll, he told me toys and those stuffed doo-dads were a waste. It’s easy to get behind your kid when he’s in the paper, but with our daughter I want to be sure to be there for her during the process, not the irrelevant outcome. I hope I can use my past run in with this resistance as a life lesson so that I can do better than he did when raising my own child.
So your love of toys was a hard path to follow then, but what about your growth as an artist?
David: I didn’t set out to be an artist. I still draw the same way I did when I was 10. Is it art? I don’t really care but I did see a certain path I wanted to take as someone who spends their time working on their own toys and children’s books. It was mostly mental maybe? I knew this is how it was going to go, as I wouldn’t have it any other way. Many months on my sister’s floor in the early days, and skipping meals sometimes when things got serious at the start. But that stuff is always thrown in to test how dedicated you are. I always say if someone from the future travels back in time to tell you your lifelong dream will fail 100%, and you still go for it anyway, it will work.
You clearly had passion, did you set any specific goals from the beginning or did you wing it as you went along?
David: There was no winging it and the plan was always very specific. We get tons of emails asking how to do XYZ, which is great. I pretty much reply the same way each time, that in my experience, taking the same path someone else did results in getting close but never where you want to end up. Ignoring those paths and making up your own route leads you to where you really belong, wherever that may be.
I Use This Now Pretty Much Scientifically Proven Method By The Hour And It Works
Can you share any techniques you use to help you focus on achieving your goals?
David: Ugh I wish you asked before the “Secret” came out, but actually I have always believed in the law of attraction since I first read about it many years ago. I use this now pretty much scientifically proven method by the hour and it works. Your mind affects the universe, and it also creates it. Your thoughts absolutely determine your reality. How you generally feel inside, and what thoughts you generally carry in your head, is what’s going to keep coming at you. This is a huge part. The biggest. The rest is all minor detail, actually.
What about the excuses many people have for not following their creative dreams: no money, time, credibility, support etc.? Did you ever confront these same doubts?
David: Those aren’t excuses. Those are hurdles. Just need to jump. We had zero help. Zero cash. Ah but we had a needle, a scanner, a pen, an old borrowed digital camera, and a mac lap top which I got by selling my 2 older macs from when I had a job before. That first sewn doll sold for $30.00 And then the next one sold. Soon we had $3000! So we used that to make more and keep it all growing.
I had one design-ish art job after graduating from Parsons with Sun-Min. It didn’t last long. The first few weeks were great and I had a lot of fun animating in Flash until the boss told me to change a color to purple, and that was it for me. And I was super zapped by the end of the day anyway, too tired to work on my own stuff. Lesser paying jobs, be it retail stores or coffee houses, are great because you get so pissed off that your dream work comes out no matter what. But a “real” job with co-workers wanting to hang out and drink, late hours, weekends, and comfortable money coming in, is a dream killer.
When we decided to start for real, I slept on my sister’s floor for 9 months eating not much more than cereal, plain white bread, and salads. And then moved to a tiny illegally erected bedroom within an industrial building in the then very scary DUMBO, Brooklyn, surviving on a daily menu of egg on a roll in the morning, a bagel and coffee for lunch, and really good $3.00 chicken legs from a local corner stand at night. Rent was a few hundred bucks, paid for by selling everything I owned in LA, keeping 5 days of clothes and not much else. I bought an air bed but had no table, so the computer was on the bed. $5.00 a day was the food limit. Laundry was once a week, and monthly subway passes were $80. I had nothing else and often went without the coffee.
A Japanese magazine shooting “famous artists” homes came to do a shoot, and elected to take photos of someone else’s much nicer room in the building just to avoid wasting a whole day. They even dressed it with our dolls. ( I tried to tell them.)