Minifigures.com Interview

We sit down with the folks behind Minifigures.com to talk about what goes into producing high-quality custom minifigs, which we reviewed last week.

Minifigures.com - Custom LEGO Minifigs

Bricks of the Dead: How do you pick which figures to do?

Minifigures.com: Generally through customer requests, suggestions and what we would love to see as a minifigure. We also look at what’s trending, what’s happening around the world in the news, celebrity gossip etc. If we can launch a figure at the right time and of the right person, we get a lot of press attention, so sometimes the more random figures that are present on the site are more geared towards that, rather than actual customer sales etc. for that figure. Sometimes, we’ll be watching a TV show and fall in love with a character or story and just think “I’ve got to make them into a Minifigure”. It can easily be planned but also just random. We have vast lists of figures we want to create, as well as hundreds that have actually been drawn, just not printed yet. Being a Micro business (less than 5 people) we have to weight up whats the best use of our time and what figure should be launched and when, or if at all. Some figures make it through to creation but then get shelved before their ever printed.

What’s been your most popular figure?

Stan Lee. Without a shadow of a doubt. I don’t think there’s been a single day since we launched, where Stan hasn’t been our top selling figure. He’s also our most well-travelled and has been sent to far distant lands, such as Australia, China, Indonesia and even his homeland, the States. He just seems to have hit a nerve with customers. It’s also something you can’t find anywhere else!

Minifigures.com - Custom LEGO Minifigs

Any zombie figures on the horizon?

Yes! We’ve actually got enough on file for its own category, we just need to get around to printing them. It’s one of those categories that comes in to its own towards the latter end of the year buts it’s one we love. We have loads of cool designs and they’re gruesome, none of this happy zombie lark. We want to see brains and eyes popping off, mouths full of blood. Proper Zombie minifigures!

Can you describe your process for designing the figure?

As with most things in the 21st century. The figure starts life as an idea/concept on …paper. A bit of research ensues to see what parts would best suit the figure and whether or not the figure is doable or worth doing. Not all of the great and wonderful ideas in our head translate well onto an open market. Sometimes what we think will be a hot seller, flops and what we think will flop, sells like mad. Trial and error!

Minifigures.com - Custom LEGO Minifigs

What is your printing process like? How is it different from LEGO and other third parties on the market?

LEGO produce figures on an epic scale. Ours is far more modest in scale and quantities produced. We’ve set ourselves apart from competitors, we’ve invested in market leading printing systems and world class inks. Most competitors have opted for a Rolland printer, which to their credit, isn’t the worse on the market. We spent months researching, testing and talking with manufacturers to find the best system. Rolland has inherent quality issues which is why we’ve seen a large number of competitor clients come to us when they need to reorder figures. We’re able to print a full colour spectrum including bright white at no extra cost to a project. Which is something our competitors can’t offer. We’ve gained some very impressive clients such as Google, Pixar, Blocks Magazine, NSPCC, London Excel Centre and Lenovo because the quality of our figures is on par with LEGO.

Do you print in house, or contract the work out?

In house. This enables us to keep full control of pricing and quality.

What’s your target customer, kids who want to play, or AFOLs looking for collection items?

It’s more general and encompassing. We’re targeting the gift market. So these could be anyone that doesn’t actively like LEGO, they might think it’s cool or they may have played with it when they were younger, but they’re not what you’d class as LEGO fans. This works great for us because we’re not afraid to create minifigures such as gruesome zombies. We keep our designs in keeping with a LEGO minifigure, but we’re not afraid to create something that might offend a parent. We also avoid themes that have been done over and over, we try to create figures that no one else has thought about creating.

I See You Do Corporate Projects, Can You Tell Me a Bit About That?

LEGO has such a nostalgic hold on the vast majority of people, that even the corporate world loves it! We started to get requests from the odd customer, to see if we could customise something, or the odd bulk order from companies and art studios. Word quickly spread and eventually the two naturally combined, we now produce figures for some of the largest and coolest companies in the world, such as Pixar, Fox Studios, Google, Lenovo, London Excel Centre, Nicholson Construction and Blocks Magazine. They love our packaging and the quality of the print, it makes it the perfect high flying corporate gift for special clients and high value customers.

Minifigures.com - Custom LEGO Minifigs

I Assumed You Guys Grow Up as Fans of LEGO; Tell Me About Your History with Our Favorite Toy.

I played with LEGO when I was younger, much to the annoyance of my sisters because I would always ask them to play with me, being sisters they always refused. It was such a great experience because you could just dream up some magical world and start building it. It was such a great learning tool as well, because you quickly knew how far you could build before it needed supporting somehow, then you’d have to develop some sort of inner structure, it was just great! Unfortunately, as I grew older, the LEGO was vanquished to the realms of my parents loft. My inner child (and my dad), refused to let me throw it away. Many, many years later, I just sort of fell into again when I joined Firestartoys.com. Now, I still love LEGO, but I don’t collect it, I don’t have sets sitting in a box somewhere. I just have that original toy box, which is now 20 something years old, full of various LEGO sets, no instructions and no boxes and I very much look forward to getting it down again to play with it, with my Children.

How Did You Decide to Start a Company Producing Custom Minifigs?

We’re actually the same motley bunch that’s behind Firestartoys.com, Minifigures.com was born due to the increasing demand for our custom figures. Unfortunately, Firestar is such a vast website, some 17,000 products, the figures could get lost amongst it all. So we created a new brand, with a new focus on just awesome custom minifigures and its grown from there.

What Has Been the Hardest Part of Starting up Minifigures.com?

Just generally starting, you’re never sure whether or not you’ve done the right thing and whether or not that investment will be worth it in the end. You set yourself high expectations and targets, deadlines and all sorts of challenges. We’ve created a niche within a niche, the custom minifigure market is flooded with poor quality figures, both in production quality and design. We’ve created our own premium sector where you can buy minifigures that have been likened to the quality of a genuine LEGO produced figure. The website was created around the customer experience, you can buy with ease on any device, if you’re logged in you can add items to your basket on your PC, then login on your phone later to add more items and purchase, it’s a seamless unified experience across your favourite devices. It’s all these little touches that stress you out at the start, because you constantly wonder if you’ve done enough, will the customers respond to it, will it be received as well as we think it will, the list goes on. Sometimes you just need to silence the voices in your head and jump in!

We’re excited by what lays ahead of us, we look back now and wonder why we didn’t do this sooner and our customers absolutely love the brand and the products, we really couldn’t be happier.

14 Comments

Greg

Interesting interview Dave.
I have a question… perhaps you can answer or if the Minifigures.com folks stop by maybe they can also answer.

What is the deal with IP rights or use of real life characters?
I see that most MF of real persons are clearly identified as such – Stan Lee, Freddy Mercury, Barrack Obama… but Michael Jackson is “the King of Pop”… and all fictional characters have look alike names.
Isn’t there a risk to get into trouble for using the image of someone… or if we are being honest, blatant use of an existing IP under a made-up name?

My understanding of the custom MF business has always been that as long as it being kept low profile these things were never really a problem.. but this business model definitely appears to be taking this to another level.

Reply
Dave

That’s a really good question, Greg. I’ll ping Minifigures.com and see if they can weigh in on the subject. IP law always interests me.

Reply
Danny

These are more like parody figures with a brick themed twist to them, rather than a real representation of the character or person.
We’re just AFOL’s that started off on ebay and decided to focus on our own website when ebay started to decline. The figures have actually been received really well by those they represent. Al Murray and Jimmy Carr both love their figures and have tweeted photos. We ensure the figures are of a high standard and printed to exceptional quality. I think they’re more flattered by it more than anything as its done tastefully with humor.

LEGO and others refuse to talk with us because we’re so small, so its a grey area.

Reply
Dave

Interesting point regarding parody; I know that’s protected under the fair use doctrine here in the US. No clue how it works internationally.

I’m curious, have you spoken to an attorney at all about your business?

Reply
Greg

Thanks for the feedback! I’m sure that anyone would be flattered to be made into a Minifigure, especially when the product is done with such high quality standards.
I’m just afraid that the cold reality of business may just hit at some point as you guys try to grow. Being flattered might not prevent someone from trying to get a cut on the use of his image or ideas for commercial purposes. It’s all fun and games… until there is money involved.

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Dave

“It’s all fun and games… until there is money involved.”

Well said, sir.

Obviously, I’m no lawyer, but I think the “parody” stance is a pretty good one, and I know it’s been used in similar ways in the past.

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Greg

Agreed, the parody aspect is probably a safe defense for the use of real life characters like politicians… but what about singers or other artists? I don’t know anything about IP laws but I would tend to think that their image is an extension of their “brand”.
Again, just like the IP inspired fictional characters I would think it is all a matter of scale, as long as it’s hobbyists doing custom stuff in their garage, selling from ebay, nobody would really pay much attention… but manufacturing product with commercial grade equipment is something else entirely.
When you start seeing custom Figs of popular current TV shows sold in plastic blisters via web marketing campaigns, you can tell there is a shift in gears. It’s something that struck me already a while ago when Citizen Brick started gaining traction with their Breaking bad stuff. Then, I saw their booth at BrickFair with custom lineup of “Game of Thrones” ersatz lined up on racks… what’s next?
To me is it bound to happen that one day someone will pull a stop to this or to the very least want to get a cut. I don’t think a small business could afford to get into a lawsuit with a major studio..

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be negative or alarmist here. It’s just that from the outside it sounds like a very risky business.

Danny

We love LEGO minifigures and so we combine our other passions with this and that’s what we do. If people find issue with this, we’re all ears, but luckily those we have spoken to within the corporate world aren’t corporate zombies trying to shut us down, they actually love what we do and we’ll continue to do it. When an issue has been raised, we work with them to resolve it.

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Dave

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you run a business people want to buy from and work with.

Nick

Nice Piece Dave I have a few of these Minifigures and they are of the highest quality and are a great company to deal with You have my address Danny for my payment !!!

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