Are you an anime, video games, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, South Park, and/or Sesame Street fan? Do you collect pins? If you answered yes to both of these questions, we’ve got an awesome company for you to check out: Zen Monkey Studios!
Located in New York, Josh Mirman started Zen Monkey Studios in July of 2012. He is the creative director and co-founder of this company. Zen Monkey not only creates and sells pins, they also have patches and keychains to tickle your fantasy.
ToyShnip interviewed Josh about Zen Monkey Studios, his background and what he’s planning on doing next.
Q: How did you and the head of sales, Marc meet?
A: Marc was a manager at a pet store that my parents went to, since he and the owner were a lot more knowledgeable and nicer than a bigger pet store. Around New York Comic-Con 2018, We had one of our biggest booths to date and needed help selling. Dad asked Marc to work for us, and he did. Fast forward a few months, we realized we needed someone in charge of sales to help us handle that side of the company while the rest of us focused on design, day-to-day operations, communications with our corporate clients, and Marc was asked to join us. He officially started in February 2019 right in time for the NY Toy Fair that month, and quickly became in charge of sales both wholesale and conventions. He also deals with complaints for our direct to consumer site because I can't stomach that.
Q: Zen Monkey Studios started almost 9 years ago! Could you tell us 5 things you've learned (so far) in your Zen Monkey journey?
- If you feel it's a good idea to pivot, then that's the right idea. We started selling original shirts in 2012, and then posters. We bought our own printers just to manufacture posters, and that resulted in pretty big growth for that holiday season. However, I really believed in approaching the collection/pin market, both as a fan, and seeing what Disney does with them, and pitched expanding our license with Cartoon Network (Rick and Morty) to include pin manufacturing. After about four months of back and forth, they agreed to grant us a pin license, and that just snowballed into dozens of companies wanting to work with us. But if something new feels like looking into, if we have the time and the budget to explore something new, we absolutely would.
- It's very hard to know what is authentic, and what is a bootleg, these days online. One of the best solutions to show people your online company is the real deal, is to show your human side. While some people won't care if you are playing the same video game as them, others appreciate being candid. It also helps differentiate yourself from other stores, and especially from scammers.
- You think everything is solved, and then next week a new problem, that you never knew was a problem, comes up.
- A lot of this is not possible without the small team we have. Letting people focus on what they're good at, helps our little company grow.
- For anyone who wants to start their own small business, there's no shame in moonlighting, or making it into a side-hustle. Zen Monkey Studios, LLC was not sustainable until around 2015 (3 years in). I did a lot of freelance work until all my focus had to be on Zen Monkey itself.
Q: Where do you guys find your creative inspiration?
A: Our hobbies and interests. I suppose this is number six for things I learned, but anytime we did things 'just' for the money, it didn't end very well. Everything we work on there's some sort of connection to them with us.
Q: What makes you stand out from your competition?
A: We try our best to design our own take on these properties, especially since we're not the only company with the same license. While we sometimes offer something that is completely taken from the assets provided to us, that doesn't result in our products standing out. After visiting a comic book shop in my hometown mall, seeing they had a lot of Rick and Morty pins, but none from us, despite them buying from us, the manager of the store basically said it's easier to just stick with their own vendors that have the same stuff, than to work with new vendors.
Realizing in order to compete, we had to do things that really stood out from our competition, just to get our foot in the door. As for Marc, he works directly with any store that has been buying from us, to make sure they get items that work best for them, to learn what is and isn't working, so that everyone can prosper.
Q: Where do you see Zen Monkey in 5 -10 years?
A: If society permits it, we'd like to start our own pop up shops for people to find others to collect with, to get exclusives, and to have immersive experiences, outside of conventions. If something goes wrong, it's on us, and not on a convention company that may or may not help us. This also would allow us to build an intimate relationship with our superfans.
Q: What are your personal favorite pins?
A: Currently the Mega Man X pins are my favorite. How they look in person is top tier in my eyes.
Q: We know SpongeBob is a big hit here, but what’s your most sold pin to date?
A: Organically or through a client? Jojo's Bizarre Adventure's "To Be Continued" pin is our constant best seller, but otherwise it would be supplying pins to the RickMobile in the past, selling tens of thousands to them.
Q: How would you describe a Zen Monkey superfan?
A: Someone who is so happy to see our stuff officially sold outside of the internet, and then shares it with their friends on social media, is pretty top tier to us. The amount of people who love our golden pins, and get excited to see what property is next to join that series, is growing. That never gets old for us.
We hope you’ll become a superfan soon!