Person of the Week! Alex Tongue, Founder and CEO, Vango Toys
Today’s Millennials and Gen-Z’ers are driving higher interest in entrepreneurship, according to a recent article in Forbes, with over 50% of the working population now believing that there are actually good opportunities out there to start companies.
Alex Tongue is very much part of that trend.
As the 27-year-old Founder and CEO of the new Vango Toys, the freedom and reward of starting his own company led this Millennial to launch his business in 2019. His first product, The #UpsideDownChallenge Game, hits retail this month.
The premise: players are asked to perform seemingly simple tasks, like write their name, connect dots or give a high five, but while wearing a special pair of goggles that literally flips your vision upside down.
Alex brought his game to the October Fall Toy Preview in 2019. Retailers paid close attention to the quirky and unusual game that seemingly everyone at the show wanted to play, culminating in the news that Target was ‘game’ for a 2020 launch and Vango Toys was off and running!
New York Toy Fair was up next, where The #UpsideDownChallenge Game was the media darling at the show and even included in The Toy Association Trends press conference -- not bad for a rookie year!
Alex’s journey to entrepreneurship in the toy and game biz wasn’t a straight shot by any means. He started on a pre-Med track in college, but spent half the year going to classes and the other half travelling the world to compete on the downhill skateboarding world cup circuit. After his spring term, the tour would start with Australia, then go to Europe, North America, South America and onto South Africa before he returned to classes in the fall. The passion for the sport and the grueling schedule ultimately put him on track to graduate college in six years versus the usual four. It also made his original plans to enter the medical field a bit more difficult since he wasn’t able to complete certain required classes.
In the plus column, however, it also sparked an interest in business studies -- marketing specifically – since Alex learned first-hand a great deal about how to promote both himself and his sponsors while on the downhill skateboarding circuit.
Fast forward a few years and a job at the Portland offices of toymaker Zing, maker of such brands as Air Storm Bows and Stikbot. The launch of the now successful Stikbot brand broke marketing ‘rules’ at the time and was supported exclusively with a digital-only media strategy, where Alex was at the helm. The success of the product line and that strategy actually led to a change into digital-only marketing strategies for the balance of Zing’s brands. His role at Zing quickly expanded to embrace digital analytics and eventually all marketing activities for the company, ultimately leading to the title of Vice President of Marketing.
As a result all of these key learnings, a zest for toy creation and a good deal of marketing acumen, Alex decided it was time to try and build a toy company of his own. This, in spite of the fact that just about everyone in the industry that he spoke to told him it would be nearly impossible. While admitting he could have waited until he had a bit more experience – and capital – he knew there would always be a thousand reasons not to do it…and he’s not one to wait around.
Of course, since starting the company, there’s been a trade war with China and a global pandemic. But according to Alex, Vango has been able to successfully adapt. The company sought out factories in countries like Vietnam and Mexico where they could manufacture the product. With travel to Asia no longer an option, they hired a staffer on the ground to help coordinate with factories, and they secured factory production space anticipating the possibility of high demand for certain types of products. Early on, Alex also contacted international distributors and is now setting up virtual meetings for the fall in place of in-person meetings that would typically taken place in Hong Kong.
Vango has already built relationships with distribution partners in the USA, Canada, and internationally, and the game will be available in 30+ countries by mid 2021. The company is also planning on expanding into several new categories for 2021, including girls’ collectibles and outdoor.
Not bad for a three-person team at Vango and one four-legged hungry staffer!