Decisions: John Stewart - Worlds Apart, Co-founder and 'director of fun' AT the toy-maker


Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

... was trying to take on America. I went over in 2001 with co-founder Simon Birchenough, taking our inflatable ReadyBeds literally in a rucksack and knocking on the doors of major retailers.

We were presenting to giants like Bed Bath & Beyond and JCPenney, working out of hotel rooms and the boot of a car. We persuaded Mattel to give us the licence to make Barbie beds, and Hit Entertainment to give us Bob the Builder, and one by one we picked off these major retailers. We opened an office on 5th Avenue, employing US designers and salespeople.

Then the stakes suddenly got high. The retailers demanded astronomical sums to renew the licences. The American market is tough - everyone seems to be your best friend, but they're a ruthless bunch. We didn't have the right funding or experience.

And we let an outsider run the US operation. Effectively, we lost control of the business - it started dictating back to the UK mothership. Trying to conquer America could have brought the company down.


... was the tough decision to pull out of the US. We were doing so well, and it took a lot of money to get out of our lease and licensing commitments, and to pay off our Am- erican staff. We just woke up and realised we weren't willing to risk it.

At the same time, we closed our London office and moved to Cornwall, and now have one of the most enviable workplaces of anyone I know. We thought being 300 miles away might affect our relationships with retailers and licensors, but they've been enhanced. People love to come down here.

We also used to think we'd get creative people only if we were based in Covent Garden. The truth is that they want to be here too. They go surfing at lunchtime, and we encourage staff to have great weekends and come in refreshed.

We ended up selling the North American distribution rights for ReadyBed to a Canadian company, and it's now a $50m global brand. We nearly lost control, but now we're running a global business from a wonderful part of the world.

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