Funko got their start in July of 1998, at Snohomish, Washington. Funko has been doing things their own way for awhile now. What is Funko’s way exactly? The do it with fun, it is their whole premise, they want to make fun characters and items that reminds people of their childhood and simpler times. I was not able to watch the movie premiere earlier in Los Angeles, however I did watch the documentary that is now streaming on Netflix. I think the easiest way to find this is to use your search option with Netflix and type in Funko.
As a collector of a few years, what did I learn? I actually ended up learning a lot of things from the history, along with current structure. I also saw some items that haven’t been released yet, and try as I might I paused and paused and paused and never saw myself in any of the scenes at the Funko HQ opening even though I was in attendance.
Mike Becker the original founder and Rob Schwartz the founding artist were good friends. They got somewhat matching cars and went around and take pictures of old hotel signs. They went to swap meets and yard sales, garage sales, they would call it junkin, and they would find stuff and do it on weekends and after work and become part of what they did. Later on they found Sean Wilkinson, who became their third musketeer.
The group were thinking of a way to work together, one of their four ideas was bobble heads. Rob came up with a sculpt for a bobble head, “Computer Bob”. Mike was at Universal and went for a walk and stopped in front of a place called Sparky’s, which had awesome big displays up. One had all sorts of robots, the other had pez dispensers. Mike went in and talked to the owner and told him that bobble heads are the next big thing and he should have a big display of them and they need a Sparky’s bobblehead. The owner thought Mike was a bit crazy since he didn’t have a company and they parted ways. Mike was looking at a bobble head for Big Boy which was $900 and didn’t want to spend that much. He went to a Big Boy restaurant and talked to the owner about the product and idea, the manager liked it and if got approval was willing to buy some of the bobble heads.
Mike felt he needed to try to get the word out, he went back to Sparky’s and gave the manager a case of the Big Boy bobble head and told him to just try it out for free and see how it goes. The manager didn’t think it was his customer base but a day later he called back and told Mike he was right they sold out. Mike knew he was onto something at this point. Mike started going and getting licensing for characters he could get for cheap. Betty Boop let them use the license with no money down, the real kick to the company was Austin Powers, they shipped 100,000 Austin Powers bobble heads out of the garage. With that influx of money they were able to afford better licenses and keep things moving forward.
Sparky’s ended up building a huge display in the front window of Funko Wacky Wobblers. They did all of the shipping of products by hand in the early years. They had all sorts of different characters, Alka Seltzer kid, the Jolly Green Giant kid for instance. Mike at first made things he liked and played by their own rules. In 2002, Dave, the manager of Sparky’s, asked if he thought about a fan event. Dave said they could do it at Universal Studio. They had about 70 setups for the fans, they had some special edition wobblers for the event. They ended up coining the terms, Funko Funatic, and Fundays. hey also had a life size wobbler box in the display for people to take pictures of.
They touch on a few long time collectors. The first out of Indiana is Dave Goldsmith, he told the story that he called the company one time and said how much he likes the company. Mike Becker answered and said if he could answer a question he would send him some free stuff. Dave got the answer correct and said after that he was hooked. He has things from the 60s and 70s on display not only Funko. They won awards from the company, and got something from the company, of 6, when they got married which is a real nice touch.
Jacob Telles lives in Texas and he was a big collector of original sketches. He has all sorts of Freddy Funko’s and protos.
After Wacky Wobblers they started making something called Spastik plastic. They made make believe characters like Bone Daddy and El Diablo. A number of collectors early on were never technically employees but were allowed to come and work and help out with the company. Mike got all sorts of amazing letters he kept to this day, one collector wrote him a real nice letter, and Mike had a box of prototypes and figured it was a shame to throw it away, at the time he was the COF, the Chairman of Fun. So he wrote him back a letter and said a little gift from the Chairman of Fun with the prototypes. The collector wrote on the boards that he just got a Box of Fun and it sort of morphed from there where everyone was wondering they didn’t get a box of fun.
Things were doing well enough that all sorts of offers started coming in, but not everything fit their vision. Mike did it for him and he wanted to do the characters he wanted to do, he felt they didn’t have to grow. After 6 and a half years of being 24/7 hands on, it was time for him to walk away. Brian Mariotti bought the company, he was local, he was a collector and Mike thought it was a good way to keep things in tact with his employees and to not change the business very much. Brian had help with some high school buddies for the money and Brian admitted the first few years were very rough. They tried a number of things, which frankly fell flat. Brian wanted to get the rights to Star Wars, and when that did things changed drastically for them as it led to Marvel and DC licenses which is huge.
DC wanted a new type of toy that wasn’t a bobblehead, something new and something fresh. They tweaked a plushie they had to make what we now know as Pop! It was a vinyl figure that started with the likes of Batman, Riddler, Penguin, and Green Lantern. It debuted at Comic Con in 2010, and the regular collectors frankly, hated it, the collectors who were all about bobbleheads were struggling with the new direction idea. From 2005 to 2010 Funko saw about 95% of the purchases from a male. Once the Pop! came out they saw an increase of females and children buying the product. A number of stars are collectors and excited to have their own Funko Pops, including the actors for characters, Elriva, Freddy Kreugar, Green and Black Power Rangers, Incredible Hulk, WWE Superstar Zack Ryder, Cledus Seldin boxer, Chris Hardwick
Funatics Day Out 7 is touched on, I went to this event in Sacramento, it is a fan put on for fans by fans, it is an event where people can get together and have fun, play games and just interact with fellow collectors. I have been to two of them now and enjoyed both. Preview night as touched on which is an invite event where you can get a preview of the floor ahead of time and in some instances a chance to by products a day early.
Funko Fiends pin and patch club, this is meant to be a fun group to show love for vinyl, patches and pins. I am actually a member of this group. It’s fun to have that sense of common bond if you go to an event you’ve never been to or know about, just like if you’re wearing a jersey of a sports team you feel like you have something in common. It’s fun to search for patches and pins that fit your personality and nice touches to have added into trades you make.
Funko HQ and new things on the way. Mike and Brian have kept in touch over the years. Mike was gone for 10 years and Brian brought him back into lead the clothing side, Mike had a small niche business before. Brian has also been the lead for events and Brian says it’s no coincidence that things have improved under Brian’s vision.
In Las Vegas 2017, Funko had a booth at the licensing show for the first time ever. Mike Becker was roaming the floor and unexpectedly meets the Betty Boop licensor that gave him his early break. Ita Golzman who is the VP of North American Licensing, King Features, says she knows talented people when she sees them, and she says she knows ethical nice person when she sees them. She said as soon as she met Mike she knew he had the makings of a very successful company with a very innovative product. She is all about relationships and very happy she was apart of this from the beginning.
Funko HQ store was made because people would take a trip up to see the HQ and it was just in an industrial park and nothing to see, so they wanted to reward people for coming. Mike is asked if he regrets selling Funko, and he says absolutely not, Funko couldn’t reach the level it is now without Brian’s vision.