Alex Tongue, Vango Toys: As Bezos says, “Focus on what makes your beer taste better.”

by Bruce Maguire (Freeman Public Relations) | 06 Oct 2022

Biographies and Interviews


What are your roles and responsibilities in our industry?

Providing value to our customers is our top priority, and since most of them are kids, that value comes in the form of fun! Of course, the value of toys and games goes beyond just having fun – they help improve social skills, critical thinking, fine motor skills, imagination … the list goes on!  But if we’re not providing that key value of FUN, then we’re not fulfilling our key responsibility in this industry.


What is your claim to fame in the industry?

The first product we launched (The #UpsideDownChallenge Game) was nominated for both a TOTY and TAGIE award!


What has been your biggest achievement?

Getting the company off the ground with our first product (The #UpsideDownChallenge Game) has been our biggest achievement. In the first year after starting the company, we had all sorts of obstacles thrown at us - a global pandemic, trade war with China, container shortage, economic uncertainty. Despite all of this, the game was a big success and continues in popularity today.



What was your biggest failure?

Not learning to ask “dumb” questions earlier in my career.


Do you have a mantra that you live by?

I probably should. I might take a phrase from Bezos – “Focus on what makes your beer taste better.”


Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?

I used to travel the World Cup circuit for downhill skateboarding, but after my primary sponsor ended my contract, I had to face reality and get a (real) job. I ended up working for a toy company and fell in love with the industry and the process of solving the puzzle/riddle that is creating and launching a product. I had been told by someone at my first NY Toy Fair that once you start in the toy industry, you will never leave. Apparently, they were right because here I am now with my own toy company with no intention of stopping any time soon. The one thing I’d change about what they said is that once you start in the toy industry, you will never WANT to leave.


What are you working on now?

We’re always working on new product lines, but I believe strongly in quality over quantity, so you won’t see us releasing a ton of products. I’d rather have a few innovative brands that we believe in 100% and are willing to back with big marketing campaigns, than a ton of different SKUs that are mediocre and destine to just sit on shelves. As for what’s next?  All I can say now is that we’re expanding beyond the games category.


What has kept you motivated to stay in the toy industry?

Why would I want to leave?!  J


If you look back at yourself 10 years ago is this where you thought you’d be?  Where did you think you’d be? What changed? What went right?

The toy industry wasn’t even on my radar 10 years ago! My original plan while in college was to go into  the medical field; then that changed to business with the intention of ending up in the outdoor industry. The toy industry drew me in though, and I couldn’t be happier that it did! I’m still an avid outdoorsman, so making a brand of outdoor toys is on my to-do list. 


Do you have a typical workday and how does it play out for you?

No day is the same in terms of the work I’m doing. The only consistency is that I exercise (weights or running) before lunch every day, without exception. Doing this helps keep me focused and more productive during the day.


What is the worst job you’ve ever had and what did you learn from it?

I’ve enjoyed every job I’ve had. I don’t know if I’ve just been lucky or if that’s just a mindset. I’m sure that some jobs suck, but I think you can find reasons to hate any job so a lot of it is just a mindset.  


How do you recharge or take a break?

I recharge by getting outside, whether that’s hiking, fishing, or just going for a drive on a backroad. Thankfully, I live in the Pacific Northwest so there is no shortage of places to go recharge. I think that when you’re trying to solve a problem, a change in environment can really help. For me, being outside is what does the trick. 


What words describe how you think or how your brain works?

Maybe a sponge? I really like to hear other peoples’ perspectives and absorb as much information as I can.


What do you read every day, and why?

I read fairly often, though not as much as I’d like. I’m currently reading “Sam Walton: Made In America” which has been a really interesting and inspiring story.


What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?

I schedule every single thing I need to accomplish each day on my calendar. It acts as my to-do list and keep me focused on what is important. As any business owner will attest, there are a hundred items that need to get done at any given moment. Without a list of what needs to be accomplished for that day, it would be far too easy to get distracted and end up filling your time with tasks that aren’t moving the company forward.


What are your favorite sports and sports teams?

I’m more into the alternative sports, but right now my favorite “sport” to watch if F1. I got into it a few years ago and am now obsessed! It’s interesting because the competition is between drivers, but also a competition between engineers to build the best car. I just need to figure out what toy brand I can make to sponsor a team and convince them to let me hop in the driver’s seat for a couple laps, Ha Ha!


What is your favorite night out?

As anyone who has met me would know, I’m not really a “night out” person. Does camping count?


Summer or Winter?

Fall. But if I had to choose, then summer. I live in Oregon so winter usually just means non-stop rain.


Everything would have been different if…

…I had known what world events were about to happen after I quit my job to start Vango. I’m really glad I choose to start Vango when I did, but had I known what was about to happen in the world, I’m not so sure I would have.


The toy and game industry clearly has….

a lot of incredibly creative people. Considering how much newness there is every year in this industry, it draws in a lot of creative people. We’ve worked with some great inventors and being able to review cool new product ideas is one of my favorite parts of this job.



What’s next?

We just launched a new family game called Blackbeard’s Treasure Hunt. It’s a fast-paced color-matching game with a great “wow” moment at the end when gold coins pour out of a treasure chest. It’s on Amazon now and will be coming to Target in January.


We have a few new games launching in Fall ’23, as well as brands in a couple of other categories that you’ll hear about soon!


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