Los Angeles, CA – October 8, 2018 — Global toy powerhouse, ZURU, is thrilled to announce that CEO Nick Mowbray received the 2018 New Zealand EY Entrepreneur of The Year Award. Mowbray will represent New Zealand at the 2019 EY World Entrepreneur of The Year awards in Monte Carlo next year. Mowbray was also honored with the New Zealand Young Entrepreneur of The Year award, the first time in the awards’ history that a young entrepreneur received both accolades.
The EY Entrepreneur of the Year is considered to be one of the world’s most prestigious business awards taking place in 145 cities in more than 60 countries. More than 1,500 dynamic business people in Australia and New Zealand have been recognized throughout the program since 2001.
ZURU, which was founded by Mowbray and his two siblings, Anna and Mat, is now a 500+ million company. The company is proud to have a diverse employee base of 5000 people across 18 offices, producing 500,000 toys a day and distributing to most major retailers in over 120 countries. It is one of the most recognized names on toy shelves around the world, with brands such as Bunch O Balloons™, X-Shot™, Robo Alive™, Smashers™, 5 Surprise™ and Metal Machines™ known to millions of children and parents.
ZURU’s growth in the U.S. is on a consistent upward trajectory, and is currently the #8 top toy manufacture based on retail sales. This is a 29% increase in 2018 vs 2017, up from #13 in 2017. The company’s success in this market stems from several product lines including the Kickstarter sensation and two-time Toy of the Year winner, Bunch O Balloon innovative water
balloon line which was one of the top selling toys in the U.S. in 2017 and had the biggest sales at
retail to date in the U.S. in 2017, increasing by 46% year-over-year across major retailers based on
retailer sales data. The company’s X-Shot foam dart blaster brand is now the fastest growing non-
licensed brand in the category. With all major retailers carrying the line, the X-Shot brand has seen a
159% sales growth in the U.S. in 2017 versus 2016 with additional expected growth of 55% in 2018.
The 33-year-old’s rise to the top of the highly competitive international toy industry is an incredible tale of grit, determination and youthful optimism forged by the bonds of the three ambitious siblings. It all started in their hometown of Cambridge, where Mat Mowbray invented a model hot air balloon that won the New Zealand Science Fair. Some years later Mat, then 23, and Nick, aged just 18, moved to a small city in China with a vision of starting a toy company. They were later joined by their sister Anna, then 22.
“There were no foreigners, no one spoke English, and we lived in this small apartment on the eighth floor with no elevator,” Nick recently told the audience in his acceptance speech at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards reception. “We lived on $1 to $2 a day eating rice and vegetables. I remember the first couple of years we celebrated Christmas at McDonald’s with my brother, and even that was a treat!”
When he moved to Hong Kong to further the business, Mowbray still had it tough, living at a $10 a night hostel. “It was horrible,” he admits. “I lived in this room with 18 other people with half a meter space between the beds, and that was an upgrade for me at that stage! There was a fancy hotel opposite the hostel that many of my clients used to stay. I would take the back fire escape out of the building so they didn’t see me coming out of the hostel and have a meeting with them.”
Mowbray admits there were many more challenging times along the road to success. “So many people see the success attached to certain entrepreneurs, but what they don’t see is the sacrifice. Along with that sacrifice comes many problems. Daily, weekly, monthly problems, they were relentless.”
A big believer in learning from mistakes, Mowbray says his first deal didn’t exactly go smoothly. At the age of 19 he came up with the idea to license soccer superstar David Beckham for a Tamagotchi-style football video game. US retail giant Walmart promptly ordered 2.2 million units. However, as ZURU started producing the toys, Walmart suddenly decided to cancel all but 300,000 of the original order, evaporating any profit. Although Nick managed to convince Walmart to up the order to 800,000, the product failed to sell. “It was a disaster,” he admits. Undaunted, Mowbray has built ZURU to one of the fastest growing toy companies in the world.
Known for their agility, creativity and new-age manufacturing techniques, ZURU has delighted millions of families all over the world through partnerships with leading entertainment properties, including Nickelodeon, Disney, Universal Studios and DreamWorks as well as successfully building their own global brands. With a strong commitment to the community, ZURU supports Captivating International, local China orphanages and also student development programs in Asia and in New Zealand.
Aside from ZURU, Nick is also branching further afield into other business ventures. He is working on creating a number of digitally driven challenger brands in the Baby, Pet and Femcare sectors. The first of which, Rascal and Friends Nappies, has become a major success, expecting to hit the $100 million revenue mark next year and is launching in many of the world’s largest retailers.
There are many exciting things in the pipeline for ZURU in the coming year with a range of new toys and brands, plus plans to expand production into Vietnam. “Although I’m honored to have won the award, I have to credit much of our success to our people,” Nick says. “Our company is full of vibrant, intelligent individuals with a passion for doing things better and disrupting the world around them. We greatly value each and everyone one on our team.’’