Forrest Dombrow: “Look and listen”

Twings are about fun, play and stimulating a child’s imagination. When you’re being bullied, play and imagination are a luxury you can’t afford. I knew the nature of Twings made it a perfect opportunity to raise money and awareness around anti-bullying programs. While we’re a relatively new, small company, we are contributing 10% of our […]

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Twings are about fun, play and stimulating a child’s imagination. When you’re being bullied, play and imagination are a luxury you can’t afford. I knew the nature of Twings made it a perfect opportunity to raise money and awareness around anti-bullying programs.

While we’re a relatively new, small company, we are contributing 10% of our profit to organizations that have an anti-bullying mission. As we grow, we plan to do more direct partnerships and programs around this important cause. We are working on an exciting partnership right now with an anti-bullying superhero.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Forrest Dombrow, a serial entrepreneur that launched a gourmet popcorn business, retail liquor store and internet marketing agency before starting his current business, a children’s T-shirt line called Twings. His entrepreneurial adventures, combined with the experience he gained working with hundreds of clients as a marketing consultant and business coach, give him an expansive and unique perspective on the issues faced by small business owners and those on a mission to do good in the world.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was 5 years old my father used to tell me a story he made up. It was my first lesson in business.

We lived across the street from a park that attracted all the kids in the neighborhood. There was a corner deli and candy shop named John’s that sat in an old house a 10-minute bike ride from the park. My dad explained that if I wanted to start a business, I could ride to John’s and buy a lollipop for one penny. Then, I could ride back to the park and sell that lollipop for two pennies. He would then ask me how many lollipops I could buy with two pennies. Two of course. Which I could then turn into four pennies. Then eight, etc. That was the whole story. I made him tell it to me over and over and over. I loved it. That’s where my passion for entrepreneurship began. I started telling the story to my son when he was around the same age.

Throughout high school and college, I started several businesses including running ski trips for my fellow students and developing an “ice cream man” route in my hometown. While I liked making money, it was the joy that my products and services brought to my customers that made me truly happy. I remember fondly the time 30 kids (ice cream customers) surrounded me in a bowling alley like I was some kind of celebrity and my friends still tell funny stories about those ski trips 25 years later.

Around my junior year of college, I decided I wanted to be a toy inventor when I grew up. With the coaching of my father, I secured a summer internship at a toy company in New York City. While there were aspects of the work that were enjoyable, like going shopping in FAO Schwarz to conduct research and test new product ideas, mostly it was just a stressful office job. Each morning I saw 40 and 50-year old workers riding the commuter trains that looked like they’d had their souls sucked out years earlier. I was determined to never settle for work that made me miserable.

At that time, I created my first company to invent and license toy ideas. It was called Worldwide Playground. Its mission was to create products that brought play and joy to people’s lives and It was a vehicle for me to always make sure I had a career I loved. I did not always follow my vision. It took me 25 years to launch my first real product under the Worldwide Playground banner, Twings (T-shirts with wings built in). Twings represents the realization of all my childhood dreams about entrepreneurship and work as play.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

About a month before we officially launched Twings, I made a post to my personal Facebook page about the product. I got an amazing reaction. People seemed really excited about my designs.

The day before we officially launched, I made our website live at and asked three close family members to make a purchase so I could test the system. Nobody else in the world knew the website was live. Or so I thought.

The day before launch I got an order from Germany from an old friend from high school. I asked him how he knew the website was live. His response really touched me.

He told me that his son Lincoln had seen Twings T-shirts when I made the original announcement a month earlier. Lincoln wanted a dragon T-shirt so badly that he made his dad check the internet every single day for a month. His daily check-in alerted him to the website’s pre-launch. Besides the indication that I might have a hit product on my hands, it made me so happy that a simple idea for a T-shirt was now making a little boy far away in Germany so happy and excited.

We went international before we even launched!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early on I purchased the domain name Because it’s a pretty short name, I paid a premium for it. Not ready to launch the product, I parked the domain name for a couple of years.

During the time the domain was parked, my credit card was stolen and, when the name came up for renewal, I lost it because the registrar could not charge my credit card. I had no idea that happened until I went to develop our website a year later.

Because I was attached to the name and dead set on using it, I had to purchase the domain name a second time for a premium that was double what it was the first time I purchased it.

It was not funny at the time but it’s kind of funny now. The lesson is to take your intellectual property seriously and make sure you triple check that you have everything in order to protect your valuable business assets.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

The concept behind our company name, Worldwide Playground, is that no matter where you are in the world or what you’re doing, make it playful. Whether it’s school or work or whatever, find your play. Don’t waste your life doing things you hate.

Although I was never really bullied growing up, the thought of kids getting teased for being physically threatened or harmed turns my stomach. A fourth-grader in my son’s school recently committed suicide because he was being teased. It gets me really upset every time I hear about bullying and I’ve always wanted to do something about that issue. That feeling became stronger once I had my own child.

Twings are about fun, play and stimulating a child’s imagination. When you’re being bullied, play and imagination are a luxury you can’t afford. I knew the nature of Twings made it a perfect opportunity to raise money and awareness around anti-bullying programs.

While we’re a relatively new, small company, we are contributing 10% of our profit to organizations that have an anti-bullying mission. As we grow, we plan to do more direct partnerships and programs around this important cause. We are working on an exciting partnership right now with an anti-bullying superhero.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Let Your Imagination Fly is not just our catchy tagline. When kids wear Twings T-shirts, they truly do stimulate their imagination. The shirts literally cause play to happen. The feedback and pictures we get from parents are testimony to the joy we are spreading each time a child puts on one of our shirts.

I was touched when a friend saw the potential in our mission and was inspired to purchase 10 T-shirts at Christmas time and donate them to kids living in a Denver shelter for abused women/moms. We hope to raise significantly more money for the charities we work with. My friend’s generous gesture showed us that even the shirts themselves can help kids in tough situations smile.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

As I mentioned earlier, I have a soft spot in my heart for kids that are bullied but I’m not an expert on solving the problem. That said, there are many great organizations out there working tirelessly to address this issue. As such, I would say that maximizing funding to the organizations that are truly making a difference would be step one.

Steps two and three are for parents to teach their kids about the importance of treating others well and empowering them to help when they see another child being bullied by speaking with an adult who can intervene when they can’t help directly.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I define leadership as creating a vision of an exciting future and then enrolling others to join your mission, such that they take it on as their own. Then get out of their way and support them.

Years ago I created an idea for a golf tournament called the Bushwood Open. Bushwood Country Club comes from the movie Caddyshack. The concept was that everyone would come dressed as their favorite character from the movie and have a reason to be silly all day.

When I tried to do the tournament myself, it never really worked. Years later I explained the vision to a golf buddy of mine, and he got so excited about it he was determined to make it happen. He was even more passionate about it than me. I said let’s do it. You lead and I’ll support you. The tournament ended up being a huge success and ran for 9 years without me doing much of the actual work. People pitched in and took ownership because they were enrolled in the vision.

One of my favorite parts of this story is that during the fifth year of the tournament I overheard some golfers chatting before we teed off. One person said to another “This tournament is such a good idea. Who came up with it?” I cut in and said, “It was my idea, but John is the one that really makes it happen.” Someone in the group then asked what charity the tournament was supporting. I responded that there is no charity. This tournament is about one thing and one thing only. Having fun. Adults don’t have enough play in their life. So, we created an opportunity for people to have fun for no other reason than having fun. Sometimes “self-charity” is the one that needs the most attention.

By creating a vision, enrolling others and getting out of the way, the possibility of play was realized far more efficiently and successfully than if I tried to do it all myself.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. If you’re not having fun, you’re not likely to be successful. While nothing is fun all the time, being stuck in work you truly hate is a shortcut to misery. If you find yourself in an energy-sucking situation, find your play and go that way instead. You’ll never get through the tough spots if you’re not committed and passionate about what you’re doing. I’ve left several very high paying situations because the work had become beyond tedious. While scary, every time I took the leap, I landed in a situation that was more fun and even more lucrative. Sticking things out is important, but play is paramount to success.

2. Don’t try to polish a turd. Make something people truly want. I’ve worked as an internet marketing strategist and salesperson for over 17 years. I’ve spoken to literally thousands of people trying to sell every product and service under the sun. I can’t tell you how many times people try to solve a product or business problem with marketing or sales training. You can’t market or sell what people don’t want. Make sure you’re solving a real problem for a target audience that has the desire and means to purchase your solution. Trying to sell an inferior product or something you think is cool but not many others care about is not going to work.

3. Set a destination but stay flexible. If you set out on a car trip and don’t have the exact address for where you’re going, you can’t possibly decide if you should turn left or right. Make sure you have specific, measurable goals to guide your actions. That said, markets change. Industries evolve. Your vision may veer off one way or the other. It’s ok to change the destination, just make sure you have one or you can accidentally end up in a ditch.

4. Look and listen. If you want to create a profitable product or a successful service-based business, you have to find a painful problem you can solve. And the best way to do that is to pick an industry or product category and look. I mean really look at it. Go to the store. Interview customers. Ask questions about why people buy the sorts of products or services you are researching and then listen intently to their answers. Turn over every stone to find a gap. The thing nobody else is offering. I’ve created several successful businesses simply by paying closer attention than my competitors and finding a value gap I could fill.

5. Follow your flow. While similar to tip number one, here I’m talking about life in general. Money is worthless if you’re not experiencing joy in your day to day life. I used to think building a business and selling it for millions was the key to eternal happiness. It’s not. Money helps but following your heart, rewarding relationships and enjoying yourself along the way are what really makes life worth living. I used to think I HAD to be an entrepreneur. I gave up that belief and replaced it with I HAVE to play. Ever since I stopped focusing on making money and instead focused on finding my flow, I’ve made more and more money. Go figure.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Again, it’s about the concept of Worldwide Playground. I want people to have the mindset that wherever they are in the world and whatever they are doing they are going to follow their flow. Find their fun. Yes, be responsible, have goals, and achieve great things. But not at the expense of having play, joy and love in your life more often than not.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote is “The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.” — Arnold J Toynbe. I heard this quote right around the time I had that soul-sucking experience at the toy company. It was one of the catalysts to the creation of Worldwide Playground. I think you can see how this quote has been a consistent theme in my entrepreneurial adventures.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Elon Musk. Like Elon, I have tons of ideas. I joke with friends that I start a business in my head about every 15 minutes and I marvel at how Elon is able to manage many massive ideas and ventures at the same time. I’m sure he would be an interesting person to have a conversation with.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m not super active on social media but readers can certainly follow @officialtwings on Instagram or Facebook or email me directly at [email protected]

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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