Jacob Scott Jones’s dream was interrupted by life.
But when his new routine was violently interrupted, Jones was inspired to resurrect his dream: Building his own toy company.
Jones, 39, was awarded the Carnegie Medal in June 2016 after he rescued an elderly neighbor from another neighbor who pulled a gun during a March 27, 2015, argument in the street in the usually calm environs of St. Helens, Oregon.
The victim, 75-year-old Albert Schneider, was shot in the abdomen before he wrestled the gun away from the assailant at which point Jones rushed to help. Seeing the assailant grabbing another weapon – a pistol – from the trunk of his car, Jones disarmed the man and subdued him until police arrived.
Though he saved Schneider’s life, Jones’ dream – a company known as AJ Play – had been on hiatus for about four years when the shooting occurred.
“That gave me more of a realization, ‘You never know when your time’s up,’” Jones said. “If I’m not living my life to the fullest … I don’t want to just get by.”
Jones launched AJ Play in 2009, a year after he patented its first product – UberDart – a foam rubber toy that can be tossed like a javelin, but safely caught by another person.
After UberDart drew attention at the annual American International Toy Fair in New York City, Jones eventually sold thousands of UberDarts through about 300 retail stores, including U.S. Toy Company, a nationwide chain, and developed a spin-off product called UberBall.
Things were cruising right along when life intervened in 2011.
Jones’s wife, Amanda Jones, lost her job as a paralegal, then discovered she was pregnant with the couple’s second child, Lillian, now 8. The financial realities of growing the company also hit home. Jacob Jones, a carpenter by trade, had relied on business loans to capitalize AJ Play, but the country’s worsening economy put the squeeze on some of that financing and a looming deal with retail giant Toys R Us became a bridge too far for Jacobs.
“They were actually going to sell an UberDart, under their (brand) line, but cost-wise, it just didn’t make sense for us,” Jones said. “The volume they needed was a large financial commitment, but the cost of what they wanted to buy it (from AJ Play) was less than I wanted.”
“We were growing, too, but we also ran into that same problem, where we didn’t have enough inventory, and we kept having to wait for the new shipment to arrive,” Jones said.
Confronted by his growing family – Amanda, now 39, would give birth to a third child, Addison, now 6 – Jones decided to focus on carpentry and to avoid the financial risk that came with trying to grow AJ Play.
Until his neighbor was attacked.
“As cliché as it seems, you realize life is short, things can happen in a minute that absolutely can change your life,” Amanda said. “You have to take the risk. You can’t go back and change things.”
That doesn’t mean the Joneses plan to gamble their life savings on the venture – but they are committed to trying to once again grow AJ Play into a national distributor of UberDarts, UberBalls, and a new product – Spider Disc Games.
Spider Disc Games uses flying plastic discs that have two spidery Velcro “legs” protruding from them that can connect to a colored scoring pole if players throw the discs close enough to the target. Players keep score similar to horseshoes in a game that mimics some aspects of disc golf.
The couple tried to fund the Spider Disc Games startup with an online Kickstarter campaign that didn’t generate enough capital last year. So, now, they’re banking on reintroducing UberDart, a known product into the market through online sales, and hope to use those profits to fund Spider Disc Games and grow the company that way.
The couple didn’t just decide to resurrect and grow their toy company after Jones’ heroic deed. They’ve added a fourth child – 1-year-old Jackson – and are hoping their newfound focus will launch AJ Play into a venture capable of supporting the family now and into the future.
“That is kind of our end goal: That this would become our full-time job and we kind of fantasize that our children will run the business when they’re old enough,” Amanda said.
Their oldest child, Ethan is 11.
Schneider, their neighbor, is rooting for the couple.
“I’m hopeful he’ll be successful,” Schneider said.
AJ Play has 4,600 UberDarts ordered and hopes to sell through that stock quickly so they can grow that revenue into more UberDart sales and, eventually, a full-fledged production of Spider Disc Games.
“I told my wife, ‘This time around, we’re going to take a little more risk,’” Jones said. For more information visit ajplayllc.com.
— Joe Mandak, case investigator