Australian born-and-bred Amy Holden is a self-professed animal lover and the founder and director of World Alive, the company behind the popular Aqua Dragons series. Aqua Dragons -- also known as brine shrimp -- are easy-to-care-for pets that are hatched from eggs when they are placed in water. Aqua Dragons have become incredibly popular in countries across the globe, much to the delight of Amy, who previously worked as a graphic designer, software consultant, and psychologist. Recently, Amy discussed her experiences running the company, her hopes for its future, and her general love of animals—especially brine shrimp.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get interested in designing toys?
Amy Holden (AH): I was originally a graphic designer and more recently studied psychology, so I had worked on various design projects, especially enjoying those of babies and children's products. As a child, I used to love rescuing bees and bugs out of the backyard pool, raising tadpoles into frogs, and making little bonsai like gardens for fairies. So, the first products I designed were for raising and releasing butterflies, stick insects, praying mantis, ladybugs, and studying ants, which were inspired by my childhood experience.
MM: What, exactly, prompted you to start working with brine shrimp?
AH: My boss gave me a set of eggs and little did she know that would lead to me leaving my job! Basically, I loved them, they fascinated me, and still do. I would talk to people about them and they'd come to my house to see them. Most adults found it incredible that they had never heard of them before or that you chose when to bring them to life, and most kids we're impressed with their unique and unusual anatomy. They have three eyes! And they look a bit like sea horses but the tail goes outward instead of inward. There's really nothing else on earth like them. Then they have five ways of reproducing! Essentially, I was very passionate about my pets. People started asking me if I could get them some, which is what eventually turned having them as pets to creating the Aqua Dragons brand of hatch-and-grow kits.
MM: When did you decide to start your company? Why did you choose that specific name?
AH: One day I discussed with my husband starting up a toy/pet company and he said, "Give it a go for three months and if it doesn't work go back to your job". So, I did. We had a lot of support and I never went back. A few funny things happened, though, as a newbie to the toy sector, I visited many stores and even big chains to show them my products. One anecdote is that one day whilst trying to pitch the Aqua Dragons to a small toy storeowner, four or five customers walked in and heard me explaining the products and they directly approached and said they wanted to buy some. So, the owner of the toy store just said, "You leave me no choice!" and bought them then sold them in the act! Right then I knew that the concept was going to be really well received just as I had been inspired when I first hatched my own.
MM: How many toys have you designed overall?
AH: I have designed over 100 toys and related products like stationery and accessories and I've also designed for third parties. Not all of the products made it to market, probably about 70 percent have. My favorite item is the "Aqua Dragons EggSpedition," which has a dinosaur theme and was so much fun to work on.
MM: How many Aqua Dragon tanks do you currently have? Do you have a favorite?
AH: There's always dozens of live tanks in the office as we test each batch, but once hatched we don't want to hurt them, so we often give them to local kids. I have a big 10L tank on my desk and sometimes I catch them watching me while I work! At the adult stage, you can distinguish them from each other and so [we] name them. We once had one we called Elvis due to his big set of claspers (these are like antlers on the male's head which they use to hold on to the female during mating). And we've seen many change colors to blue, green, red, or orange earning them names like Bluey.
MM: How do you come up with the themes for the tanks? Do you ever accept concepts from outside inventors?
AH: The educational toy sector has some evergreen themes that fit in with school curriculums like dinosaurs or space and sometimes the popularity is driven by major motion films like Jurassic World or Star Wars or recent NASA activity as examples. We try to predict what the next years' trends will be and find fun ways to work with them. Generally, we don't work with outside inventors but there are exceptions and we are open to collaborations where logical.
MM: You're hosting a Kickstarter to send the brine shrimp eggs into space! What other unique concepts do you have planned for them?
AH: I think future generations may include themes such as rescue pets, submarines, or even lost underwater cities like Antlantida.
MM: Are you currently working on anything that you would like to discuss?
AH: One of our toy concepts, not part of the Aqua Dragons, with an alien life theme "Meteolife" was recently acquired by a North American company who is making an animation series out of it. It will launch to market in about two years because the animation takes a long time to develop.
MM: What's your favorite thing about brine shrimp?
AH: Brine shrimp are peaceful creatures that have survived hundreds of millions of years without evolving. That can only mean they are perfect as they are. My favorite thing is still to spend a few minutes watching what they do in the tank; it's very relaxing. The world may move at a frantic pace, but all is calm and well in the Aqua Dragons tank.
[Featured Image by Amy Holden/World Alive]