An Irvine-based collectibles company set out to create a pin for superfans of TV shows, comics, sports teams and others that stood out from the rest.
Travis Oliver and Dan Williams had known each other for 25 years and were developing products for a client through another partnership business in 2014, when Williams mentioned he wanted to make enamel pins that he could easily display.
It wasn’t until 2016 that Williams, president of Figpin Collect Awesome Inc., teamed up with Principal Artist Erik Haldi and Chief Product Officer Am-ado Batour to materialize the concept and came up with Figpin (branded by the company as “FiGPiN”), which stands for figure pin.
In early 2016, they experimented with designs and prototypes to create a pin backing that would allow it to stand on its own.
By March, they had the name, art and packaging to create their first samples, but they needed licenses to start selling. They weren’t sure where to start since Oliver and Williams had never dealt with licenses before.
“We knew how to make things but the part of working with licensors and paying up front, that was a big learning experience for us,” said Chief Executive Oliver.
“When we take the license, we have to give them money and then the clock starts, which is about two to three years. We need to make product, get it out, and sell it before the clock ends.”
Some of their first licenses were for rock bands like Kiss and AC/DC, and animated television show Dragon Ball Z. They released the first commercial Figpin, a Super Saiyan Goku (a Dragon Ball character) with a 5,000 run-size sold in Best Buy stores, in February 2017.
The company now holds 30 licenses including deals with Disney and Warner Bros., with access to all intellectual property owned by them.
Oliver invested about $700,000 to start the company and didn’t take a salary for several years, instead putting it all back into the company. They did not see a profit until 2019.
“Paying for licenses ate up a big chunk of the revenue,” he said.
That revenue figure has grown quickly, though, as collectors have sought out their pins, which typically run in the $15 to $20 range.
Figpin closed on $14.7 million in sales for the 12 months through June 30, a 233% jump from two years ago, making it the second fastest grower among midsize companies with revenue between $10 million and $100 million on the Business Journal list of Fastest-Growing Private Companies (see list, page 39).
Larger Pins, Tripods
Figpin stands out to buyers not just by their tripod-like backing, but also the quality of the product, company officials said.
The pins are larger than average—at about 3 inches tall—to accommodate the details of many characters.
Haldi is usually working on drawings for new pins about six months out.
“This is a style that we developed specifically for this medium. Throughout the process of really defining it, was learning about how much is too much? There’s a sweet spot of how much detail you put in it.”
Haldi aims to translate characters into pins that look exactly like what you would see on whichever screen that character gets pulled from, and to tell a story of a collection with the characters and poses they choose to include.
Buyers have a direct influence on the company’s products.
Batour reads and responds to every support ticket and is involved in groups on Facebook, Discord, Reddit and other social media revolving around Figpin. The team listens to what licenses, characters, or poses fans want to see made into a pin.
Figpin plans to develop a site in which people can build a repository of the fandoms they care about that the team can eventually use for future ideas.
Batour had worked with serial numbered products in the past before bringing that idea to Figpin.
“If you uniquely identify every single piece, you’re going to get a lot of value added down the road.”
Figpin created a physical collectible but also assigned it a digital value. The serial numbers assign value based on manufacturing statistics, like the order in which it was produced in a batch, and interactive statistics, like how early or late a person “unlocked” a pin by adding it to their digital inventory compared to other fans.
“Small run sizes don’t really grow our collector base, there’s a balance where we’re trying to meet the needs of all our collectors while still making money for ourselves,” Williams said.
While some pins may be part of the common run type versus the limited edition or exclusive pins, each one curates a specific value.
“People want rarity but also want access. I believe we’ve found a model that’s working,” Batour said.
Aside from getting their products on shelves in retail outlets like Walmart, Target, and GameStop, the team found success in selling at conventions. In 2019, Figpin set up shop at Emerald City Comic-Con and Comic-Con International: San Diego.
“We had these massive lines of people racing to get Figpins. We sold out of every pin at every Con we went to,” Williams said.
The pandemic hit Figpin like a T-bone, Batour said. Comic-Cons and other live events were canceled in early 2020.
Previously, the company prioritized selling pins through major retailers to build brand awareness and only sold a small selection of Figpin.com exclusives on the site, but direct-to-consumer is now the company’s most profitable channel, according to Williams.
“Our big business was major retailers and events, these were our big revenue streams,” Batour said. “We said ‘we have to completely reinvent the business’ and we went through a complete transformation from being able to fulfill 50 orders a day to 1,000 orders.”
Figpin hosted its first warehouse event at the end of August. It sold out with 200 attendees and saw the same level of success that the team would see at a big convention, Williams told the Business Journal.
Figpin plans to release their first NBA lineup in November and MLB in the first quarter of 2022. The collections will include retired players in addition to current players.
“Dan and I both think sports will be bigger than anything we’ve ever done,” Oliver said.
The company is also planning to expand their international presence.
“We’re expecting to continue growing, I think how fast depends on how much we can develop,” Williams told the Business Journal. “We have so much demand from international markets. We’re trying to get our arms around the international strategy so we can uncork that.”