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Squishmallows, the plush stuffed toys that became a viral sensation on TikTok, have joined Warren Buffett’s business empire two years after Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian, and other celebrities helped make them popular. The company Jazwares, founded by Judd and Laura Zebersky, makes these toys.
With a background in law, the couple never imagined that Squishmallows would become such a success story, as Jazwares sales topped $1 billion in 2021, with 40% coming from Squishmallows, as the number sold passed 100 million.
The Birth of a Toy Empire
Judd Zebersky, the CEO of Jazwares, realized that his passion lay in creating toys. He founded Jazwares in 1997 and was soon joined by his wife Laura, who became the company’s president. Jazwares’ success came from a strong focus on pop culture and toys, with the couple’s passion for comic books and other toys playing a pivotal role.
Squishmallows: The Game-Changer
Squishmallows were born when Jazwares bought another toymaker, Kellytoy. The Zeberskys saw the potential for the squishy toys and believed they could be a hit with mass audiences. The toy launched in 2017 has become a viral sensation on TikTok, with more than 2,000 Squishmallows, each with its name, birthdate, and biography. The Zeberskys attribute the success of Squishmallows to the fact that the brand needed a lot of love and struck a nerve with the toy industry.
The Future of Jazwares
With Jazwares’ success, Berkshire Hathaway Inc bought Jazwares’ parent company, insurance holding company Alleghany Corp, for $11.5 billion. The Zeberskys now report to Berkshire Vice Chairman Greg Abel, who oversees non-insurance businesses and is considered Buffett’s designated successor as CEO. Jazwares is looking to expand into businesses ancillary to toys, such as costumes, and plans to continue exploring new opportunities in a fast-changing world.
Key highlights from the journey:
- From Law to Toys
Judd and Laura Zebersky met at the University of Miami law school, but their careers in law were short-lived. Judd had always been passionate about toys and pop culture, and he wanted to turn his passion into a business. In 1997, he founded Jazwares, a toy company, and Laura joined him in 2005.
- The Rise of Squishmallows
Squishmallows were not an instant success, but the Zeberskys believed in their potential. After Jazwares acquired Kellytoy, a toymaker, Squishmallows became part of their portfolio. The Zeberskys knew they had a hit on their hands, and they marketed the toys aggressively, giving each toy a name, birthdate, and biography. There are over 2,000 Squishmallows, and the toys have sold over 100 million units.
- Joining the Berkshire Hathaway Empire
In October 2021, Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett’s conglomerate, bought Jazwares’ parent company, Alleghany Corp, for $11.5 billion. Today, the Zeberskys report to Greg Abel, a Berkshire vice-chairman who oversees non-insurance businesses and is Buffett’s designated successor as CEO. The Zeberskys said they had met Buffett once, at a charity dinner in Florida to encourage investments in Israeli bonds.