Reflecting on Christmas, and the Origins of Playper

Reflecting on Christmas, and the Origins of Playper

Dec 3, 2021

What’s a father’s unspoken dream? To have his kids be proud of their old man.

With four young children aged six and under, of course I’m looking forward to Christmas. But it’s going to be more meaningful than usual because of the journey I’ve taken this year with Playper and knowing that some children will hop up early on December 25th and run down the stairs to discover our Curious Kingdom playset box under their tree.

Work has never been so meaningful, and I’m grateful for it.

Creating something sustainable, something that lessens the need for plastic is something we are all proud of at Playper. Creating toys that that can unlock a child’s imagination yet are also good for the environment seems like a lofty goal because, well, it is. I’ll also say it’s certainly not anything I could have done by myself.

Investing in People First

The story of Playper begins with Michael Bruza, one of the most creative people I’ve ever met. He saw that AR (Augmented Reality) had infinite possibilities. He was not alone in seeing the success of that element with Pokémon Go, and we both saw the appeal of technology that doesn’t remove kids from their real world like VR or even traditional devices can do.

As an investor, I’ve learned how to consider the viability and profitability of a business model, but one thing I’ve learned is at the early stages, the most important thing to bet on is good people.

Ideas evolve, details change along the way – there are lots of variables in a startup, so the right people to steer the ship and weather those storms are imperative. I bet on Michael early on, and I’m so glad I did.

He’s become one of my favorite people to work with because he really is a big kid at heart!

As we started to flesh out ideas and direction, we brought on Susy Christiansen, who Michael had worked with at Disney. Susy is a remarkable project manager who can strategize and bring on the right team of people to make any dream a reality. Michael is the dreamer, and Susy is the person who figures out how to bring it to life.

And so, we teamed up and launched Playper.

Our first idea was a good one that laid the groundwork for our current direction. We created a dance-battling blind-bag collectible toy called Kung Fu Boogie, which was to be part of a product line we call “Boogie Bags.”

We used our own kids as guinea pigs as we played with early prototypes and quickly spotted some deficits including the paper being too thin and the folding a bit too complex, so we went back to the drawing board and fine-tuned what is now our first toy to sell to consumers:

The Curious Kingdom playset box.

This 22-piece, eco-friendly playset requires no scissors, glue, or tape and uses a durable paper-based material that feels closer to chipboard than paper. Matching letters help direct kids in assembling it, but by design there is no step-by-step instructions as we believe kids learn best with a little exploration and little trial & error.

The act of creating something yourself gives children a feeling of accomplishment and makes them value the toy more – a phenomenon commonly referred to as the IKEA effect.


Playper Family with Deanna and Webb Knudsen


All In the Family

Since the beginning, Playper has been a family affair. My wife has been involved every step of the way from shipping boxes to investors, coming up with marketing concepts, and generally helping us prepare for launch behind the scenes. She and my oldest are even in some of the ads! (And yes, you do save marketing dollars when payment to the “models” is just an extra scoop of ice cream 😉). Susy and Michael’s kids have also had important input along the way.

We couldn’t be prouder of how the vision has come together. And the fact that our toys might be under your tree – well, it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it!

Who knows what I’ll get for Christmas this year, but making something I’m proud of that represents the good I want to put into the world has been so rewarding and so much fun along the way. I honestly can’t think of a better gift than that.

By Webb Knudsen

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