Neal Hoffman pitches last years hottest Hanukkah tchatchke from last holiday season, Mensch on a Bench, in this year's Shark Tank holiday special. Mr. Hoffman has been a toy guy since completing his MBA degree at the University of Virginia. He worked in the marketing department at Hasbro for 6 years: he actually had the chutzpah to write the company and say he'd work for free! Some might say he was a bit meshuggener for offering to work for nothing, but he gained a wealth of experience (and eventually got a paying job) in the toy industry as a result.
Mr. Hoffman got the idea from an offhand comment he made to his son, Jacob, who asked for an Elf on a Shelf ( the popular goy holiday tchatchke). He told his son no, “Jews don’t do elves on shelves, we do mensches on benches!” The proverbial light bulb went off and in May, 2013 he successfully raised over $22,000 on Kickstarter to get an initial production run of 500 dolls and books shipped. By the 2013 holiday season, the Mensch on a Bench was a Hanukkah hit.
The Mensch on a Bench is a plush toy (named Moshe) that looks like a Rabbi. It comes with a book that tells the story of Hanukkah. In the story, Moshe helps the Maccabees by sitting and watching over the oil as it burned for eight full days and nights. Hoffman successfully combined a bit of religious education with the ubiquitous plush toy and, as he likes to say, put the “FUNukkah into Hanukkah.” He's even introducing a life-sized Moshe the Mensch in limited quantities.
My Take on the Mensch
I have a lot of Jewish friends and some of them are in interfaith marriages. Last year, Mori Chowalki scored a deal with Daymond for his Hanukkah Tree Topper (Mr. Chowalki is featured in the episode 614 update). He showed the need and desire for fun Hanukkah holiday products. Hoffman hopes to capitalize on the same sentiment. With a plethora of Christmas products on the market, Hanukkah is often perceived (by Jews and gentiles alike) as a rather bland holiday.
The Elf on a Shelf has become a huge Christmas success in just a few short years. There's plenty of room for the Mensch in the marketplace, even if he sits on a bench, not a shelf. Hoffman could expand the line to have a female version: The Bubbe on a Bench. I think the product is a winner and Mr. Hoffman will sell enough mensches to fill a large stadium full of benches.
Will the Sharks like this Spiel?
I incorrectly predicted Hanukkah Tree Topper would not get a deal last year because I thought the Sharks would view it as a niche product. I guess 7 million or so American Jews was a big enough niche for Daymond because he invested. Will a Shark see the Mensch on a Bench in a similar light? Daymond isn't on the show, so he certainly won't be investing.
Mr. Wonderful has a history in the toy business, which is where he made his millions. Even though the $3.8 billion acquisition of The Learning Company by Mattel was called “one of the most disastrous acquisitions in history,” O'Leary will tout his expertise in the toy biz. He might even treat Mr. Hoffman like a bit of a schmuck. The other Sharks will rely on sales data and Hoffman's credibility when making their decision, but I don't have a clear idea which Shark could/would invest.
I am not sure if the Mensch on a Bench gets a deal, but one thing is for sure: after Shark Tank there will be a lot fewer mensches in the warehouse! Mazel Tov!