Stephen Key with PACE CEO Christopher Guerrera
Stephen started his career in product development selling his handmade goods at art shows and state fairs, where he quickly discovered the importance of creating a desirable product. “Let’s face it: When 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,” he explained. Using his artistic talents and following his dream of becoming self-employed, Stephen taught himself to design and sculpt plush characters. Others eventually recognized Stephen’s talent for design and he began freelancing for Dakin Toys.
Eventually, he applied for a real job with a paycheck. “I went in for an interview at a startup 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 be making twice as much! Little did I know—after bluffing my way through much of the interview—that I would land the job and be shipped out to Hong Kong to learn about manufacturing.”
Stephen was placed in charge of Worlds of Wonder’s design group. Stephen had the opportunity to design and work with the engineers of wildly successful product lines, including 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 hit 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 into WOW and found 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 to pay the rent he kept on freelancing for toy manufacturers like Disney, WOW, Applause, and Dakin. Over time, the freelance projects declined and his inventions grew.
One of Stephen’s favorite products that he invented in the early days was a small indoor basketball backboard that was 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 Balls that first year.
Stephen had joined the ranks of successful inventors. He loved his work and it actually paid the rent.
In 1995, Stephen read an article in his local newspaper that described a problem: Labels are never able to fit all of the information that is required to be on them in a font size that is legible. His interest was piqued and he started thinking about how he could solve that problem.
His solution was simple, or so he thought: Add another label over the current one. This outer label would have a clear window. The outer label would spin around the container and whatever was printed on the inner label would 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 manufacturer in the United States, CCL Label, Inc.
The rotating label today is manufactured and sold in countries around the world and on 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 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 production, CCL Label—the company that Stephen developed the label with—priced the label too high, making it prohibitively costly to most companies. Stephen decided to take a break from Spinformation® and focus his efforts elsewhere.
During his hiatus from Spinformation®, one of Stephen’s childhood friends came to him with an interesting idea. Rob was in the music retail business. He told Stephen about how guitar picks had basically been the same boring pieces 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, which made the images printed on the picks look like they were moving. Stephen also signed a licensing contract with country superstar Taylor Swift and createdmotion 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. Spinformation® was starting to garner more interest again.
Learn more about HotPicks here.
Taking advantage of the relationship he had formed 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 about how to dose liquid medication to their children based on weight instead of age. Each year in the United States, as many as 27,000 children are overdosed or under-dosed liquid medication. An emergency room doctor developed this new product, which is named Accudial.
Stephen’s Spinformation label continues to win accolades. Accudial received Product of the Year in Canada as well as a Gold at the Edison Awards. Here is a photo of Stephen with his wife Janice at the Edison Awards. Söyu Natural Teas also took home a Bronze award at the Edison Awards.
Stephen’s rotating label technology was recently purchased by SpinLabel Technologies, Inc. (formerly Accudial Pharmaceuticals, Inc.). Stephen joined a dynamic team of entrepreneurs as the Chief Technical Officer of the company.
Stephen travels and speaks around the world. He was a speaker at the Booming in the Bust Conference in Australia and was invited to give an all-day lecture by the government of Northern Ireland in Belfast.
In 2011, McGraw-Hill published Stephen’s first book, One Simple Idea: Turn Your Ideas Into a Licensing Goldmine While Letting Others Do the Work. In 2012, he published One Simple Ideas for Entrepreneurs. In 2013, he became a regular contributor to Entrepreneur. In 2014, he was asked to write a weekly called “The Licensing Lifestyle” for Inc.
In his spare time Stephen travels around the world with his lovely wife Janice. Their oldest daughter Madeleine graduated from UC Berkeley in 2011 and their youngest daughter Elizabeth graduated from the University of Oregon in 2014. Their son Jon currently attends UC Berkeley.
Stephen Key with the Shark Tank All-Stars at the Make48 competition in Kansas City featured with John Depaola of the Paint Brush Cover, Judy Edwards of Squatty Potty and Christopher Guerrera of PACE.