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How One 'Shark Tank' Winner Turned Crowdfunding Into a Long-Term Win

From Kickstarter to "Shark Tank" to homes across the country, Neal Hoffman has a knack for making things people want.

When it comes to crowdfunding, Kickstarter isn't always the most successful way to gain brand recognition. The crowdsourcing website has grown into a vast sea of projects, many of which are specifically intended for one-time limited release. 

So how exactly did Hasbro's  (HAS)  G.I. Joe go-to guy find a way to rise above the crowdfunding waves and fund two successful businesses? According to the former toy executive-turned-entrepreneur Neal Hoffman, the key is authenticity and submersion.


Lovers of Hoffman's "Mensch on a Bench" send in pictures with Mosche the Mensch

"All of these are people who are very passionate about something in their lives and they want to get products from people who respect and understand them," Hoffman says. "In the case of both GI Joe and Dungeons & Dragons, I am a casual fan, but willing to throw myself headfirst into the brands to learn and get the best products into people's hands. People know when you are trying to make their life better versus when you are trying to make a buck."

And if there's anyone who can tap into the power of toys to improve customer lives, it's Hoffman. He cut his teeth as Hasbro's Brand Manager for Tonka and G.I. Joe. Those six years would turn out to be formative in cultivating a love for things that would nurture a sense of fun and whimsy to the people who brought them into their homes.

Meet Moshe, The Mensch On A Bench

Hoffman's first venture into the world of toys after Hasbro was a creation of his very own. On the surface, Mensch on a Bench is the Jewish family’s answer to Elf on a Shelf. Hoffman says that Moshe the Mensch's journey started with "Elf envy". He initially created the product to help his kids explain their family's religious customs and beliefs with their friends. 

"In terms of Mensch, yes, the brand has made a difference in allowing Jewish kids to teach their non Jewish friends about the religion. When their friends are talking about Elf on a Shelf, Jews are now talking about Mensch and how he related to the miracle of Hanukkah. I have tried to be careful that the brand always ties back to the true history of the holiday. One of my favorite days of the year is going into my kids class and reading the Mensch book and teaching the kids about the holiday, it makes the whole journey worth it."

Moshe the Mensch saw its first initial success on Kickstarter in the summer of 2013. A little over 300 people helped Hoffman to meet his $22,000 crowdfunding goal to create 500 dolls and a book to help teach kids what it means to be a Mensch. In Yiddish, saying someone is a Mensch means that they're "an honorable person who always does the right thing. It’s what we strive to be and embodies the qualities we preach to our children."

Once the dolls were in production, Hoffman took the show on the road to pitch the Mensch on the prime-time reality business show "Shark Tank". 

If you reached the end of that video and thought “What a cliffhanger!” the spoiler ending is this -- Hoffman got the money. From there, he and Moshe have appeared on plenty more stages, including "The Today Show" and "The View". His success has given birth to a whole "Mishpacha" (or a Jewish family or social unit) consisting of Moshe's friends the Mitzvah Moose, Dreidel Dog, Hannah the Hanukkah Hero, and more.

Rolling the Die On The Tabletop Gaming Business

After successfully putting the Funukkah into Hanukkah, Hoffman once again found success in Kickstarter's version of Toyland. This time, he's plunging himself into the world of game dice for Hasbro's popular roleplaying game "Dungeons & Dragons". He very recently became the CEO of Metallic Dice Games, and now Hoffman is excited about the site's wide range of dice made from unique and unconventional materials.

In October 2021, 22-year-old Adam Hackett launched a new Kickstarter for the dice company offering a product called Elixir Dice. The campaign met its $10,000 funding goal in 39 minutes, going on to pull in a total of $630,227. Hoffman was impressed with Hackett's products, and just completed his purchase of the dice-making company.

"Metallic Dice Games has done an incredible job on Kickstarter and created quite the following," Hoffman said. "What they are just starting to do... and what I want to expand on is bringing the product from Kickstarter to Amazon and then to retailers... building reviews and credibility along the way. By the time we launch a new innovation in retail, it would be great to know we already have a hit on our hands."

These days, Hoffman is enjoying his success in a space that's dominated by consumer enthusiasm. He talks gleefully about about the site's liquid-filled and metal dice, and the way players have responded to the product with enthusiasm. The dice company had already proven that crowds would spend money to see the product succeed -- and it's that kind of joy that has, and will likely continue to make Hoffman a two-time successful crowdfunder and entrepreneur.