Name: Hans Van Dan Elzen
Experience: 20 Years
Specialty: Player, Demonstrator, Creator, Entrapenuer, pattent extraordinaire.
Hans Van Dan Elzen, better know as Yo-Hans has seen the full spectrum of what the Yo-Yo industry has to offer. He and his family were the creative force behind Playmaxx Yo-Yo’s and now YoYoFactory. The Van Dan Elzen’s are one of the most important families in the Yo-Yo industry, and one of the best kept secrets yo-yo history has. Hans was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Van Dan Elzen lineage, and the future of YoYoFactory.
DrYoYo: Hans, A lot of readers and current yo-yo’ers have no idea how pivotal a role you and your family has in modern day yoyo history. Right now you are best known for YoYoFactory, but back in the day you were the head rep for your fathers company Playmaxx. How did you and your family get into yo-yoing?
Hans: When I was 15 years old I was just like any other kid. Someone gave me a chance and I ran with it. 5 years later my enthusiasm rubbed off on my Dad and together we took over a company that sold maybe 25,000 yoyos a year and turned it into a company that sold over 10 million yoyos in 3 years. It was reverse nepotism that turned into a global phenomenon.
DrYoYo: The Playmaxx line was the Crème de la Crème in the late 90’s, much like YoYoFactory is today. What led to the decision to produce the Cold Fusion for public purchase, one of the first 100 dollar yo-yos?
Hans: We were sitting around in the living room one night and discussing yoyos and records. I said “I wonder how long an SB2 spins” and my dad said “no more than a minute”. So I pulled one out and threw it. 4 minutes and 35 seconds later our eyes were wide with amazement. It was like a lightning bolt! We got to work straight away to make the best aluminum ball bearing yoyo available. None of us had ever considered entering this market but we were tired of showing up for promotions and having news crews talk about this amazing $100 yoyo called the SBII instead of Playmaxx Yo-Yo’s, basically stealing our marketing. We not only had to have one of our own, the performance had to be undeniably better. The components were expensive but worth every penny. I set the first ball bearing sleep record at 7 minutes 8 seconds. Everyone thought it was rigged because it was a prototype. Then Kate Miller did 8 minutes 10 seconds (another prototype) and then out of nowhere a kid in St. Louis posts a video online with a giant clock around his neck and spins it over 10 minutes (stock production unit out of the can).
Quick Fact: The Cold Fusion was the first yoyo that Ben McPhee and I collaborated on. Ben was the one who came up with the name Cold Fusion and the copy on the tin.
DrYoYo: What kind of reaction did you guys get?
Hans: The Cold Fusion was an instant legend! The sales went crazy. The performance was undeniable. After Playmaxx was sold to Flambeau, it went on to sell an additional 15,000 pieces. Possibly the most famous metal yoyo in the world, appearing and reappearing in the Guinness Book of World Records year after year. Totally free marketing for Flambeau. To celebrate, they cancelled it. Awesome.
DrYoYo: Speaking of Flambeau, What led to the buyout of Playmaxx?
Hans: Always get the money first.
DrYoYo: Shortly before the sale of Playmaxx to Flambeau, you left the yo-yo industry. Where did you go?
Hans: I had a big burnout. Two years of much needed downtime. Didn’t touch a yoyo. I had a chance to review and reflect. I drove a tow truck for 11 months. 120 hours a week behind the wheel.
DrYoYo: What was it that brought you back from the life of Truck stops and Convoys?
Hans: I always do my best thinking when I’m driving. I always felt both proud and guilty about brake pad technology in the Playmaxx Bee line. It was an amazing “out of the box” experience but the pads wore out. I knew that the pads were wearing out due to the pressure from multiple layers of string or from the incredible demands of looping. it’s like an F1 car accelerating to 180mph then slamming on the brakes down to zero then back up to 180mph over and over. I realized that the pads would have lasted longer if they simply could have been allowed to move out of the way when overloaded. BANG! It was a eureka. The F.A.S.T response system was born. It was the first time I had come up with an idea that didn’t require tons of aggravating prototyping. For example, the Bumble Bee took over 2 years to create. This time, I simply knew it would work. I had to make this item to correct the error in design of the Brake Pad Technology. People thought I was crazy when I would describe the idea. They just didn’t get it. I knew the kids just starting out would get it though. Hasbro sure understood.
DrYoYo: In the Playmaxx days, you reached a new level of fame for yo-yoers. You were in a Music Video! Can you tell us about what led to you hooking up with the Jode, to make what is known as “Walk the Dog like an Egyptian”?
Hans: I was in the UK doing demos. I was on every kid show. Blue Peter, Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, Home Shopping Network, commercials, schools, malls, everywhere. So I got a phone call from this music production company. They wanted to know “can you sing?” Nope. “Can you rap?” Nope. “Well, can we just meet you and record a few lines?” Sure. I was on my way out of town so they met me at Heathrow and the only quiet spot was in the men’s bathroom.
DrYoYo: You recorded your lines in the Mens Bathroom at the London Heathrow International Airport?
Hans: Imagine the shock of the guys walking in on THAT recording session. The music production company had organized the rights to “Walk Like An Egyptian” which the Bangles first made famous. They had me record those first few lines at the beginning of the song right then and there. I got on the plane and went home. Suddenly I get a phone call and they want me back in the UK to shoot a video. We shot to 48th on the UK pop charts. You can take everything else away from me but I’ll always have THAT. “THAT” of course is sarcasm…
DrYoYo: Alright, On to YoYoFactory. Where did the idea to put Bearings on the outside of the yo-yo come from?
Hans: The Miroc. I’d put spinning things on yoyos before (Stunt Pilot) but when I saw that video of Guy Heathcote doing those tricks with the Miroc I flipped.
I had to have one. I’m a player first, demonstrator second, and a manufacturer a distant third and I couldn’t wait to play with that thing. When it arrived and I threw it, the bearings immediately shot off and disappeared under the couch. I was so frustrated. I just wanted to play with it and have the experience. Honestly, if the Microc had just worked right, YoYoFactory Hubstacks probably wouldn’t exist today. I want kids to have good experiences with yoyos, not the frustration I felt digging under my couch. I was given this responsibility and hold it to the highest importance. Take the Brain for example. Yomega does a good job with that. Why would YoYoFactory need to make a clutch response yoyo? We would have nothing to add.
DrYoYo: A lot of yo-yoers are looking for company sponsorship. What advice do you have for them??
Hans: Make videos. Make yourself famous. Win contests. Make yourself undeniably valuable. Make us want you. Do not start an email campaign. We will find you.
DrYoYo: What do you consider your single biggest accomplishment in yo-yoing?
Hans: Putting yoyos in the hands of kids all over this planet. Leaving a legacy of quality product and the others having the ability to use them.
DrYoYo: What is the process YoYoFactory uses to come up with new designs and innovations?
Hans: When I was at Playmaxx, the answer to a new idea was always “that cant be done”. At YoYoFactory our philosophy is “design whatever you have in your imagination and let the machinist or mold maker tell you it can’t be done”. So far we’ve never had a design turned down by a machinist or tool maker. Our dreams inspire them to take up the challenge. Toolmakers thrive on challenges. Machinists love the creative process…except for the ones that don’t.
DrYoYo: What yoyo design have you had to give up on, that you wish had actually happened?
Hans: The policy here is to never give up. The Offstring is a good example. We just keep refining it. Eventually it will find its’ audience.
DrYoYo: The Loop 720 is madly successful. Where did you get the idea to use string as a response system?
Hans: “It just came to us” is my canned response for that question. We collaborated with a kid. It was geniuos and he deserves props for the idea. But if you have an idea don’t approach us with it unless you are already patent pending. We dont usually take unsolicited ideas, but that kid was like family already.
DrYoYo: Dorothy Bearings; Mystical Voodoo of gift from the heavens?
Hans: Shhh. Don’t tell anybody but something better is just around the corner.
DrYoYo: What does the future hold for YoYoFactory?
Hans: Some real Buck Rodgers Stuff. The entire game is about to change.
DrYoYo: Thank you for giving me your time Hans… and, since you in such a giving mood, uhhh… can I have a Catch 22?
You can see YoYoFactorys new exciting products at nearly every yo-yo store in the world, or on the web by visiting yoyofactory.com.