For all the attention that’s been paid to how toy-industry executive Ty Warner turned Beanie Babies into a can’t-keep-them-in-stock sensation some three decades ago, there’s also the story of the people who worked alongside him to make that reality happen. In fact, the newly-released Apple TV+ movie, “The Beanie Bubble,” looks at three women who were critical to Warner’s rise.
But none may have a more compelling tale to tell than Lina Trivedi.
Now a 50-year-old tech entrepreneur living in Wisconsin, Trivedi is said to have been the 12th employee hired at Ty, the Warner company that was behind Beanie Babies. Trivedi is often credited with two key innovations that helped put the company on the map. First, she got Ty on the internet — an idea she says was almost unheard of in the mid ‘90s, but one that helped the company cement an early and invaluable link to Beanie Baby fans.
Read more: Remember the Beanie Babies craze? It’s back, and people are paying thousands for some rare ones.
But her job wasn’t just on the tech side: Trivedi says she played a role in shaping the cutesy character of the toys themselves by coming up with the idea to include a short poem about each of them on their tags. And she wrote dozens of those initial Beanie odes.
So, how much did Trivedi earn for her contributions? When she left Ty around 1998 after six years at the company, she says she was making no more than just a couple of bucks per hour beyond minimum wage.
Trivedi went through her ups and downs after working at Ty — she admits to being arrested more than once — but is now the co-founder of Joii.ai, a tech startup that specializes in AI. She spoke with MarketWatch about her time at Ty and her reaction to the new movie.
Here are a few things Trivedi had to say…
About her role at Ty
Trivedi says she was a college student at DePaul University when she joined Ty. She took on various jobs at the company, but none was perhaps more important than giving it a presence on the web. At the time, use of the internet was mainly limited to the academic world, but Trivedi says she was frustrated that Beanie Babies fans couldn’t find out more about their beloved toys.
“I was like, ‘Everybody doesn’t know [which] Beanie Babies exist. You have to drive from Hallmark store to Hallmark store without even knowing if these were in stock,’” she says.
Trivedi says she knew of the internet from her college studies, so she thought that might be a way to spread the word, even if the internet was a nascent idea. Still, it was worth a shot, she recalls, and she aimed big: “I didn’t just want a website, I wanted to build social engagement.”
What about the Beanie poems?
Trivedi explains that the poems were actually connected to her web development role — she wanted to have more content for the site and felt it wasn’t enough just to post the names and pictures of each Beanie. So, the poems became part of their stories (and on their product tags). She says she approached Warner about the idea, and that he liked it so much, he wanted her to rush through writing 80-plus of them one night before he left for an overseas trip. It was a challenge — “You write 40 and you run out of steam,” she recalls — but she finished the task.
Trivedi still recalls her first poem, written for Stripes the tiger: “Stripes was never fierce nor strong / So with other tigers, he didn’t get along / Jungle life was hard getting by / So he came to his friends at Ty.”
How her time at Ty came to an end
It was very much about money. Trivedi says she was making about $12.50 an hour when she left — and when she appealed to the Ty board for a salary boost to reflect what she says her true value to the company was, she claims they refused to meet her request all the way. “I thought it was unfair. I said there wasn’t a reason to come back,” she recalls.
A Ty spokesperson disputed some of Trivedi’s story, calling Trivedi “a part-time employee who was let go. She ended up making some unfortunate choices, but life goes on. The movie does not pretend to tell the truth or represent the facts, and that includes assigning credit for who did what and who invented what. “
Is she bitter in any way?
Trivedi says she’s often asked this, especially given that Warner became so wealthy from Beanie Babies. (Forbes estimates his net worth at $6.1 billion, putting him in the top 500 of the world’s richest people.) Trivedi doesn’t go negative, however, saying she looks back at her time at Ty by likening it to being in a whirlwind romantic relationship that ends. “It’s like, ‘What the hell just happened?’” she says.
And she expresses gratitude to the company in some respects for offering her such a unique experience. “I was in the right place at the right time with a visionary CEO who allowed me to follow this path,” she says.
Her life post-Beanie Babies
Trivedi did do web design after leaving Ty and is currently involved with that aforementioned AI startup. She is also mother to a special-needs child, her daughter Nikhita, and she says that takes up much of her time.
And, yes, there have been some rough patches for Trivedi. In Zac Bissonnette’s 2015 book, “The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute,” he says Trivedi was “charged with a string of felonies” in late 2001, did jail time and was homeless for a period. Trivedi acknowledges some problems in her past and attributes it to a wild streak she had decades ago. She says, “I haven’t been arrested in more than 20 years.”
How accurate is the new Apple TV+ movie?
Trivedi’s character has a different name — Maya — in the picture, but Trivedi says most of the details about her time at Ty are spot on. “It’s like so eerily accurate,” she observes. She points to one exception: a pivotal scene in which she gives a presentation for the company’s head executives — an event she says didn’t really happen that way.
And what does it feel like to have a movie based in part on you? The normally chatty Trivedi goes a bit silent on the subject.
“I’m still wrapping my mind around it,” she says.