Toys are still big business, especially in the age of mobile gadgets. A small company in Hong Kong is planning world domination—one office cubicle at a time
Precision guided missiles cut through the air, striking their targets amid cataclysmic explosions and general chaos.
This is no hostile exchange across the Taiwan Strait. Amid the bustle of HKTDC’s year-end Electronics Fair, Dream Cheeky’s (harmless) thunder missile launcher was busy sowing mischief.
A single employee was behind the projectile discharges on the day. His name is Ente (pronounced En-tuh), a tall, jolly chap prone to witticisms and a broad smile. He comes off as a guy you wouldn’t mind having a pint with at a Hong Kong pub. When asked for the whole scoop about Dream Cheeky, however, he says, “You should talk to Julie.” Julie?
Julie Petris is a petite American with dazzling eyes. She is the woman behind Dream Cheeky; owns it, runs it, grows it. Upon finally having the pleasure of her acquaintance the following morn, she blurts out how she made it to the top. “I got stuck into it,” she replies with no small hint of self- effacing amusement.
Yet as Julie Petris proceeds to share her story and the Dream Cheeky saga that forms its backdrop, a compelling yarn emerges. Her prolonged stint in the Middle Kingdom is now on its seventh year and it all began with a rare opportunity.
“I wanted to leave the US,” she confesses. Luckily for her, “I got offered a job right after school. They asked, ‘Are you willing to travel?’ and I said yes.”
She continues with a smile, “Then after I first traveled they asked, ‘Are you willing to stay?’ and I said yes too.”
What followed was an abbreviated residence in bustling Shanghai and then Hong Kong on official business. It’s no surprise that after so many years, Julie is already fluent in Mandarin.
He story unfolds like this. While based in the mainland, Julie worked for a large toy manufacturer called Smart Union. “I specialize in graphics, but I was doing product design [for them],” she explains.
“Then I was asked by one of the companies we outsourced product to if I could come down to Hong Kong and open up a design firm. So I started up the company for them. After it was set up, I began working for Dream Link, doing sales. Because...” Julie is at a loss for words, caught off guard in a rare moment of self-reflection, only to conclude with “I don’t know!” She laughs.
“It seemed like a natural flow,” she says, explaining her professional eclecticism. A designer through and through, Julie revels in her intuition for aesthetics.
“Design is very special,” she gushes. “If you’re not constantly moving you’re out. Although you can be pretty good at certain aspects of it, there are so many new things that are happening every day.”
For the dream of Dream Cheeky to come alive, fate and opportunity had to conspire. Turns out Julie’s former employer Smart Union, a leading toymaker founded by a bootstrapping entrepreneur from Hong Kong, went belly-up in 2008. This allowed Julie to forge something from the ruins.
As she puts it, “Dream Cheeky, the brand, was bought out by a company I started called ‘Cheeky.’ The brand was previously owned by Dream Link, the partner of Smart Union.”
Thus came about Dream Cheeky, makers of USB gadgets and other fun toys that are engineered for modern humanity’s pleasure.
The biggest selling Dream Cheeky products to date are their range of missile launchers—pivoting multi-round, laptop-powered monstrosities perfect for bugging co-workers. To name a few other hot Dream Cheeky items, there’s a USB fridge that chills a can of soda, a big red button (that, when pressed, makes your wallpaper explode), and a plastic roll-up piano keyboard for instant Elton John showmanship via your laptop (also a mega-seller).
Despite their prolificity, the Dream Cheeky team stays true to its artful slacker ethos. In the main office, “Everybody is pretty chilled out,” Julie says, adding, “We come in our jeans and t-shirts and we do have fun and don’t get stressed much.”
She discloses further, “We’re a small company so we don’t need a lot to survive. We’ve been Apple-licensed for a while now. Maybe later, in 2012, we’ll start doing Android. We’re also going to expand starting February .”
It feels cool to be associated with them. If you’re feeling the same way, it only means one thing. “You’ve just been dream-cheekied.” That’s how Ente put it as he handed this writer the official Dream Cheeky sticker.
Print ed: 11/11