The Rise of Funko

Austin Graf

Think about a show or movie that you like. Maybe it’s Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Walking Dead or any Disney/ Pixar film. Chances are, Funko has created figures from that franchise. If you haven’t heard of Funko, it’s a toy company on the rise. Almost every store sells Funko products; it’s almost impossible not to see a product somewhere. They sell toys and currently have hundreds of licenses at their disposal. Their most popular product is the Pop! Line. I got the chance to sit down with the founder of the company himself, Mike Becker, for a phone interview.

Funko was founded in 1998 by Mike Becker in Snohomish, Washington. It was meant to be small and he was only going to make “older, nostalgic” bobble-heads. His first product line was a Wacky Wobbler of Big Boy. Over the years, the company has released many different product lines, some that worked, and some that flunked. Their most popular product line by far is Funko Pop! Figures, which started in 2010.

After years of hard work and a lot of stress, Becker sold the company to a friend, Brian Mariotti in 2005; Mariotti is still the CEO. Over the years, Funko has created products from hundreds of licenses. Earlier last year, they opened up Funko HQ in the same area where they began years ago in Everett, Washington. HQ serves as a place where fans and collectors can simply walk around admiring the displays or purchase products.

There have been rumors about the company branching out to different stores around the country including New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. CEO Brian Mariotti said he wants to expand the experience of the Everett flagship store to other U.S. cities.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Becker, referring to spreading the product to other cities. “This isn’t just about getting people in and trying to maximize the amount of SKUs (stockkeeping unit) and merch and products we can shove into a space per square foot.” he explained. “He’s really all about the experience and that’s why the Funko HQ, every store is such a big deal. It gives families really from all ages, a chance to, again, go to a happy place.”

Funko has created products from hundreds of lines. According to Forbes, the cost to produce these products is so low, they’re able to cater to the fan bases that other toy companies ignore. Funko focuses more on the fans rather than the products, it’s what has made them so successful.

“I think because, at the end of the day when you’re not selling a product, you sell a feel, and I think that resonates with people across the border. I think, the product is really an extension of the feeling, which in a way is easily something that’s not being spirited or we take things that are,” replied Becker.

A few of Funko’s biggest and most popular licenses include DC Comics, Marvel, and Disney. A licensing contract normally runs for 2-3 years before it needs to be renewed. The company has never lost a contract.

So I wanted to know why people collect Funko products. I just love that there are so many Funko products being made from books, video games, movies, and tv shows. For example, when someone collects baseball cards, they’re only limited to baseball. When it comes to Funko, it can be anything.

“I don’t know if I would ever say you should, I think if it makes you feel something and makes you happy, I think you should do it. That’s why we’re all going through life to try to enjoy ourselves and I always think it’s a conduit to find like-minded people. The hobby of Funko, it’s just as much about the people as it is about the product.” replied Becker.

Since leaving the company in ‘05, Becker works with Funko through Funko South. Funko South is in charge of t-shirts and preparing for events.

“Originally it was just going to be me and a couple of guys just trying to start the apparel portion of it, and that’s grown into myself and now I think we have 12-15 guys. We do a lot of the apparel, we also take care of a lot of that some of that special events like the Fundays or the Bright Night.”

Funko Fundays is a one day a year exclusive event held during San Diego Comic-Con. Tickets sell in seconds, and thousands are put on a waiting list. It’s an event held where fans get exclusive products and entertainment from celebrities.

“We’re already planning next year’s event, and we always thought of what Walt Disney once said, which is to continue to keep collecting, which means to always improve on what you did. I always think that again involves a theme, because I really think people have fun escaping into a theme typed event.”

Many people try to start their own business, and most will fail.

“At the end of the day, the secret is that there is no secret. If you put in the hard work, and you deal with, I always feel like you have two or three roadblocks, it should come up again if you’re gonna do anything you really wanna do. People usually like to make excuses, like I don’t have the money, I don’t have the time, I don’t have the background.”

Companies aren’t going to be successful on their own, a majority of it has to do with the work someone puts into it. Funko became what it is because of the people involved.

“You can deal with all of that, if you’ve got a passion, there’s a big difference if you WANT to do something and when you HAVE to do something.” said Becker.

“It changes everything on the way you go about trying to start that. If there’s no choice, sometimes when you put yourself in life in these sink or swim situations, you bring out the best in yourself, and you also realize there is no choice and you have to swim.”

Whether you want to start your own business, just collect Funko pops, or anything really, I think anyone can relate to his advice and should take it themselves.

“I would probably say, I’ve always kind of lived by… life is short, dream big, have fun, and act on those dreams, don’t just make it a someday thing, make it a part of your everyday existence, that you’re shooting for, us as humans, have a need to achieve and to better ourselves.”

Funko was a part of his everyday existence, he made it that way and look where it got him. I think if you’re afraid to do something, just do it, whether or not it works out because ultimately, it could change your life for the better.

“I think it makes the people around you better as well.”