TDmonthly Magazine!
November 2007 | Vol. VI - No. 11


Brass Ring: Poppo Pops Out Awards

Specialty Stores and Investment Drive New Company's Growth

“Specialty stores are terrific partners and act as an independent sales force.” Michael Vien, Poppo Brands
Family games by Poppo Brands took off with a "pop" when they hit the market in February 2007. Since then, the word puzzle games, Poppo! and Zotto, have collectively earned 12 awards. Michael Vien, founder and CEO of Poppo Brands, talked with TDmonthly Magazine about the secret to his success.


The whole concept of Poppo started on New Year's Eve 2005 when my wife, kids and I were playing and sharing memories of the past year. I realized that those kinds of moments matter most, and I got the idea for what I consider a model company as well as the ideas for our first two games, Poppo! and Zotto.

Our company is about PLAY — fun, learning and togetherness. Each element needs to be in play for the product to be successful. Our games are designed to entertain the whole family while enriching children’s learning experiences.

Product development at Poppo begins with “Moment Imagineering.” We imagine a moment in a child’s life and make a product that will make that experience more fun or meaningful.


I was a financial services executive for 15 years, and prepared for this business by acquiring the financial, professional and emotional skills necessary to succeed in becoming an entrepreneur. The hardest struggle was getting the capital needed to get our message and product to the marketplace in order to drive sufficient unit volume. I seeded the company with the first $100,000, and after that we found investors.

I didn’t have experience creating games and toys, and it’s not as if factories are listed in the Yellow Pages. I believe there is an incredible support network out there waiting to help you if you are willing to do your homework and take some risks. By calling friends, we were able to find partners who could help us bring the games from concept to delivery at a cost that made sense.

We’re already profitable because we’ve created a solid plan, executed well, and made efficient use of our capital while finding creative ways to keep expenses down. We may not be as profitable next year, however, because we’re continuing to invest in the business aggressively.


We launched the company at Toy Fair 2007 and the reception was amazing. We sold out of one of our products over the course of the four days.

In less than six months from the launch of our company, our games were selling in more than 200 stores across 47 states with no advertising. Our company’s success to date is from our customers fueling our growth through word-of-mouth marketing, which we call the “Band of the Brand.”

In addition, specialty stores are terrific partners and act as an independent sales force: As they get excited about our products, they take customers over to them, which would happen much less with mass retailers by the nature of their business models.

We’re mindful that growing too fast or not enough is a challenge. In the beginning, we had a few mass retailers contact us and we said, “No, not at this time.” We’re committed to the specialty market and word-of-mouth marketing to help us develop our brand and a solid base to build on before we move forward.


In addition to our customers — Poppo People — three things are important to us: First is our set of core values we call “HIFIVES.” These values are the standards by which we've woven our company, and we strive to demonstrate them on a daily basis — with each other, our partners and our customers. The HIFIVES serve as our internal company compass, our product development checklist and our core ideals for families raising children.

Second is what we call "poptitude," which is a combination of ability, attitude and aptitude — or, talent, intelligence and a healthy disposition. Our products help children develop these qualities, and we hire people who have them to ensure that we can deliver on our company’s purpose and promise to enliven and enrich people’s lives with joyful moments and memories through play, every day.

Third is the Poppo Fund and our “Play for Life” program. We find partners who are dedicated to helping improve the health, education and entertainment of kids in challenging circumstances. We’ve partnered with a children’s hospital by giving them our attention, time and resources, as well as gifts of cash and games.


The advice I would offer to someone just starting out in the toy industry is to have a clear sense of who you are and stick to your mission. Find what motivates you most and be true to yourself and your team. The toy industry is so crowded — you need to have a sense of uniqueness and celebrate it every day to differentiate yourself.

What I love most about the toy and games industry is that it makes dreams come true. Stay positive, stay focused and make sales happen.

See Poppo’s expanding product line below:

MSRP: $24.99
Age Range: 4 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Educational
General Games

Poppo! is a fast-paced word game that is educational and fun for the whole family. Parents want fun, challenging and educational activities for their kids. Kids want to play right away, hate to wait, love challenges and definitely want to win. Peter Poppo and his pals come together in this exciting, new game specially designed for emerging readers. Your child pops the lettered dice in the poppers and matches them with the word or picture on the card. Being able to rearrange and assemble letters into words in a fast-paced setting is challenging and fun. Once children master the fundamental connection among the letters, the words and the pictures they see, they will be well on their way to becoming excellent readers. Poppo! received a 2007 Major FUN Award, The National Parenting Center's 2007 Seal of Approval and a Spring 2007 Best Products Award from Dr. Toy.
— "We offer educational, character-building products that help to bring adults and kids together," Chief Executive Optimist Michael Vien told TDmonthly. "Specialty stores are going to be able to create a Poppo! package of games, books, toys and plush characters in a way that will let customers consume products in the way they want to, by interacting simultaneously across multiple-delivery methods." He added that there will soon be a Poppo Pals virtual online community for kids and parents to learn and play together.
— Poppo! garnered a TDmonthly Top Toy 2007 award for being a simple, yet useful, educational word game with the undeniable fun factor of poppers. It also introduces new characters and thrives off of the company’s well-articulated and executed mission of enriching lives through play.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 9840      (added 10/27/2006)

MSRP: $14.99
Age Range: 8 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Educational
General Games

Zotto is the addictive word game of chance and strategy. The object of the game is to have fun, of course, and to make as many words with the highest point value as possible from among the random letters popped. Form as many three- to four-letter words as you can by joining letters up, down, side-to-side and diagonally. Everyone who plays Zotto and has fun wins. The player with the highest overall score wins the game, too. Intensely addictive and exceptionally challenging, Zotto is excellent fun for the whole family.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 9842      (added 10/27/2006)

Wholesale Price: (Log in to view)
MSRP: $15.00
Age Range: All Ages
Launch Date: May 2007
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Outdoor Fun

The Fungo disc is a 175-gram Discraft Ultra-Star, a world standard for ultimate outdoor play. It is available in white, pink, orange and blue. Launch date: May 2007.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 14388      (added 7/27/2007)

MSRP: $15.00
Age Range: All Ages
Launch Date: June 2007
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Apparel

These classic, comfortable tees are of the highest quality and come with a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee. Tank, tee and longsleeve styles are available in various patterns, including Sailboat, Butterflies, Peter Poppo and more. Men’s and women’s sizes are also available. Launch date: June 2007.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 14389      (added 7/27/2007)

Elizabeth GreenspanWriter's Bio: Elizabeth Greenspan edits and writes for trade and technical publications. She has interviewed and collaborated with some of the top practitioners in their fields. She lives in Philadelphia and travels extensively for her work. Read more articles by this author


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