Chat with… Will Haughey, co-founder of Tegu
DARIEN — Tegu, a wooden toys company, has an inconspicuous office space on Tokeneke Road.
It has, however, a factory in Honduras and its toys — essentially magnetic wooden blocks — are in over 50 countries. The product is sold through Amazon Launchpad, which helps startups market their products.
Will Haughey, 36, told us about their venture and the challenges of running a toy business.
Q: How did Tegu begin?
To learn more about Tegu, visit tegu.com.
A: Chris lives and works in Tegucigalpa, Honduras — where we got our name from — and he has been there since we started in 2009. We opened the factory in 2010, but we began the work and preparation in 2009. We both come from a business background. Chris came from the Boston Consulting Group, where he was based in Los Angeles, but traveling in Latin America. He was fluent in Spanish and he really had an interest in creating economic opportunity through business formation with the idea that there were social issues related to limited opportunities or limited employment and he saw an opportunity.
We thought we could have an impact through business, and we chose Honduras because we had grown up doing short-term mission work through our church and had a history of exposure to the poor and projects.
Honduras is a poor nation, but rich in resources. It has significant agricultural exports, and they have beautiful forests. We had a history for wood as a material growing up and also an architect grandfather, and the goal was that there was something in these woods. We started thinking about furniture, but we were inspired by an American who had been living in Germany who asked if we had thought about toys. I was 27 at the time with no kids, and from that standpoint, I was first not into toys, but now with four kids it’s completely different and it’s fundamentally changed the company.
Q: What are the toys like?
A: Our whole philosophy is free play.
Unlike the way Lego has gone, where you buy the kit and have instructions and then you celebrate, we decided to go the other way. We won’t make an instruction manual. Our whole philosophy internally was influenced by us becoming parents. We think some of the greatest things happen when least expected, and we want to free up time and play. We want to free kids’ attention from tablets to play; that type of play is at risk.
There’s no time or space, and what we see is particularly from kids from their birth to age 6 is discovery and exploration, and we want to be an advocate to help kids discover through that exploration. We’re saying we want to free up play and have these wonderful and unexpected moments.
Q: What is the concept of Tegu? The material?
A: So all of these have magnets inside in different places and you have to find the hotspots — it’s building blocks meets a bit of innovation.
There’s a couple of species primarily which we now source from throughout Central America. This wood is primavera. First of all, we’re very distinctive with our colors and use no primary colors. Primavera wood has a beautiful grain structure. (We were looking for a) lighter species; there aren’t too many of those species and finding a lighter species is really important.
Q: What’s the manufacturing process like?
A: It’s a process we developed internally. It’s patented and basically, we open the wood up and put the magnets inside — a simple product, but complicated to manufacture. Our factory is in Tegucigalpa and we produce out of there, and started sourcing from other lumber providers through the forest of Honduras.
Q: What’s been the biggest challenge for you?
A: The biggest challenge has been coordination.
We run two businesses — when you’re a manufacturer you take wood and make it a finished product and then how do you create the market? Amazon is a big part, they picked us up as an innovation as this is a an old category (wooden toys).
The biggest challenge has been technological development of the factory to meet the demand of the market, which has been more than we can satisfy, but we’re chasing and guiding this brand and we’re now in over 50 countries. The United States market is our biggest by far, and the biggest challenge has been the performance of both those entities so that they are hitting at the same time.
If you look at the toy industry throughout the year, basically all sales are rising. So much of your sales happen in the last four months of the year, and if you don’t get coordination right between manufacture and sales, you miss that. Obviously, excess demand is a really good thing and we pretty much deal with that every day. We intersect at satisfying this demand, creating demand with marketing and product development.
To learn more about Tegu, visit tegu.com.