When Brian Mariotti bought a small company called Funko in 2005, it sold $800,000 worth of bobbleheads a year. In 2016, it’s set to bring in more than $400 million. A lot of that is due to Pop!, its line of beady-eyed vinyl figures of every pop culture character from Princess Leia to...Conan O’Brien dressed as Superman. But Funko’s real strength is Mariotti’s love for all things cute and plastic. The Anacortes native explains how he went from gobbling up Pez dispensers to cornering the collectibles industry. As told to Matthew Halverson
I went to Shoreline Community College for four years. I’d take three classes and drop two because I was skiing. I was also waiting tables and bartending, so I would take a lot of my disposable income to an antique toy store called Gasoline Alley, just north of the U District. I got into collecting Pez dispensers in high school and got serious about it once I started making some money. Sometimes I’d spend $150 on one Pez. It was ludicrous.
When I was 23, I dropped out of college to help open and run a high-end bar in Everett. Designed the menu, developed the pricing. Meanwhile I’d amassed a pretty good Pez collection. But I met my future wife and wanted to buy a house and hadn’t been good at saving my money. So I sold the collection. It was the mature thing to do, but as soon as I did it, I got a pit in my stomach.
Sucked Back In
Sometime in the early 2000s—I was out of the bar business and doing online marketing and advertising—my wife and I were in Universal Studios. We walked by a store selling these Flintstones bobbleheads, and they were beautiful. I bought eight of them but didn’t realize for two or three months that they were made in Snohomish. That’s how I started following Funko.
A Kid in a Toy Store
I invited the owner, Mike Becker, to go golfing one day and told him what I loved about collecting. He kept shaking his head and saying, “Man, it’s like we’re separated at birth.” We struck up a friendship, and for three years I got to watch him run the company. Then in 2005, when he decided he wanted to get out of the business, I partnered with a couple friends from high school and bought the company.
We launched the Pop! line with Batman in 2010, at San Diego Comic-Con. Girls would come to our booth and say, “This is the cutest thing ever.” And I thought, “This is it.” Mike had built a loyal fan base, but they just wanted bobbleheads. Pop! appealed to anyone who loved pop culture. I’m not sure why other companies haven’t followed what we’ve done, but I’m glad they haven’t.