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Article: Q+A with Founder Nick McLean: Reinventing the Christmas Cracker

Q+A with Founder Nick McLean: Reinventing the Christmas Cracker

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Nick McLean, and I’m a founding director of Bonbon Fusion - a company that produces and sells festive gifts - known primarily for our innovative Christmas crackers.

 bonbon fusion founder nick mclean


Is this where you thought you would be when you were younger? Do you remember ever having one of those “I’m going to be X when I grow up”?

I do, actually. For a long time at school, I wanted to be a vet and work in a clinic with domestic animals. I actually interned at a vet clinic for a while in my final years of high-school. My family often jokingly called me Dr. Nick as a teenager.

Even going into university, I started doing a Bachelor of Science, thinking I would go on to do a veterinary science post-graduate degree, but, as it turned out, that never eventuated.

If being a vet never eventuated, what did you turn to instead?

Well, if animals were one of my core passions, then physics was the other one. I was a huge science nerd all through my schooling and had an insatiable desire to understand physics and the universe.

I actually had a whiteboard on my bedroom wall in high-school and I’d often spend time trying to solve equations for black hole mechanics and Einstein’s laws of relativity. No ground-breaking theories emerged from that whiteboard, but it definitely planted the foundations of what became my love of physics and, later, engineering.

I changed my degree to a dual degree in Physics and Engineering and graduated from the University of Queensland in 2017. After I graduated, I worked as a propulsion/mechanical engineer for an orbital rocket start-up company for four years and really cemented my foundational understanding of engineering, management and what it’s like to work in an agile, highly skilled industry.

Woah! So, from rockets to bonbons? What motivated the change?

The initial idea came to me one Christmas when we opened the usual crackers with a cheap toy, a hat and a corny joke inside. After the initial laughs, it was a bit deflating, as it always is. I found myself asking - is that it?

And I just couldn’t stop thinking, what if that didn’t have to be it?

So, you’ve got this idea, but where did you get the inspiration for specific games like the Adventure Hunt range?

After that Christmas, I went overseas, visiting my brother in Sweden, before travelling to Japan by myself. Throughout that trip, particularly in Japan where their culture is so fundamentally different to ours and with an amazing entertainment industry, full of incredible games, I started to form the idea of the ranges – specifically, Adventure Hunt, which would soon become our flagship product. 

There were lots of details that had to be ironed out and changed over time, but the fundamental concept definitely started there. I returned from overseas, talked through my ideas with my family and partnered with my mum, Jeanne, who shared a similar passion for the company.

Nick McLean Bonbon Fusion

Is that when you came up with the name Bonbon Fusion?

Eventually! It took a fair bit of brainstorming, but fortunately we didn’t become paralysed in the naming process, which I’ve since heard can be a real challenge for some beginning companies.

After a few iterations we landed on Bonbon Fusion and it was one of those moments where we both just knew that this was it. We chose bonbon because that was the term our family always used. As well as the contents being a fusion of ideas (the classic Christmas cracker and modern games), it also related to our core philosophy of bringing or fusing people together – hence, Bonbon Fusion. 

You bring up an interesting point – the company’s core philosophy. Can you expand on that?

We live in a changing world where unfortunately (for many reasons, many out of our control), we are drifting apart as people. We interact less in person, and we engage less with each other.

We believe it’s crucial that, whatever our company delivers, it must fundamentally be about bringing people together, about having fun, about bringing joy into people’s lives. As you know, when you open classic Christmas crackers, there’s a corny joke, a cheap toy and, like I said before, that’s it - the end. At Bonbon Fusion, we want to prolong the interaction and enhance the engagement.

You talk as though you have ambitious goals for the future of Bonbon Fusion - how do you envision Bonbon Fusion looking in a few years?

I am very aspirational and that is in most part because our customers have been so receptive. We have an amazing customer base that not only continues to shop with us, but also spreads the word of our product and pushes us to see what we can do next. Their enthusiasm is infectious and highly motivating.

In 2021, we significantly increased our sales across Australia, and we anticipate that moving forward we will continue to rise at this rapid rate.

On a more personal note, what is your favourite part about being a founder of Bonbon Fusion?

First and foremost, I get great satisfaction from delivering a high quality product to our customers. One of my favourite feelings is seeing a positive review or recommendation come in for a product that we created from nothing.

Regarding technical work, I still really enjoy the design and production process. Each year, we iterate, adjust and enhance our design and production processes and I’m very eager to continue to optimise not just our product, but our processes as well, so that we can deliver to more and more people.  

As I understand it, the production of the novel components is done by 3D printing?

Yes, all of the interactive parts within our Adventure Hunt bonbons are 3D printed. When we first started the company, I knew a bit about 3D printing and was pretty confident that it was the perfect method to kick-start the company. At the time, I remember thinking, “I can design parts and print them in my house before packaging them inside Christmas crackers and it will be fairly straightforward. Right?”

Maybe we were a little naïve about the simplicity of the process, especially considering that, when we registered the business, I had never owned a 3D printer and neither mum nor I had produced a Christmas cracker!

I do think that was crucial to our success though. Diving straight into the project and solving problems as they came up meant that we could eventually produce something entirely novel, without the biases of people who have done it before.

Each year you add to your range, which must involve a lot of creative thinking. Where do you go and what do you do for inspiration?

The process usually starts with thinking of a theme (Pirates, Egypt, Magic, etc.) and, from there, thinking of what practical objects would suit that range. It makes sense that a treasure chest would be the centrepiece of a Pirate mystery, but what about for a Magic adventure? These are the kind of thoughts I start with and the rest develops from there.

I’m a strong believer that, for creative insight and organic inspiration, it’s best to just take a step back from the product and let ideas come to you. Worrying and working over a problem for inspiration has not often worked for me.

As far as what I do for this inspiration, I can’t say there is any specific routine I have. I advocate for talking out ideas to help form them better, so the process is often a lot of back and forth between mum and me, and our friends and family.

My favourite place for designing is on my balcony with my cat Minou. But it’s not really conducive to getting work done, because (like with most cats) our lives are led on his terms!

Thanks for sharing all of this. Do you have any final thoughts?

Only to reach out to our many customers and supporters. The success of this company is as much your triumph as it is ours. Thank you!

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