Meet Dave Chattaway, the BMX riding CFO of Toikido, one of the UK’s fastest growing toy companies talks with LondonLovesBusiness.com and a Q&A.
- How do you see your role at Toikido? What problems are you trying to solve?
As CFO, a large part of my job is overseeing all the necessary accounting and finance stuff for Toikido. This sees me using Excel and Xero, posting journals, and paying the company’s bills and taxes. It might not sound like everyone’s idea of fun, but I find it quite enjoyable! The other side of my role is supporting the business in its growth ambitions, exploring new ideas and ventures, and raising capital. I also dip into areas like marketing, creativity, and recruitment, as I think it’s helpful to keep a financial overview across the entire business.
Problem solving is a central tenet upon which Toikido was founded by our CEO, Darran Garnham. After twenty years working in the toy industry, Darran became frustrated by slow speed and lack of creativity in the industry. He decided there must be a ‘better way’ of doing things, which led him to set up Toikido in 2020 which a fixated-on creativity and speed.
As such, we have the best creative team and setup for speed – we managed to get Among Us toys on shelf within 5 months of signing the licensing deal, unheard of in the industry. Our aim now is to see how we can move even faster. This is fuelled nicely by Darran, who is great at coming up with fresh ideas and solutions that no one else has considered. My job is to then put some numbers behind these ‘brain buzzes’, working out whether or not they make commercial sense.
- Toikido is a toy and entertainment which is already selling millions of products worldwide since its creation in 2020. Why has it been able to achieve this level of success in such a relatively short time?
I think our success has come from bringing speed and action to everything that we do. Momentum is so important in startup life, so when things work, it’s vital to put the foot down and fully ride the wave out. As a small, nimble team, we are fortunate to have “less” of everything that our bigger peers. Less meeting, less decisions, less BS basically – we focus on doing great work and having fun. . For example, we recently tried to set up a meeting with a large toy company and the next available slot was three months away! I don’t know what I’m doing next week, let alone in three months’ time! That’s because, at Toikido, we move at the speed of culture, and are ready to change tack at a moment’s notice. If we didn’t’, we’d be at risk of being left behind. We’re doing things that our competitors haven’t even thought about, never mind attempted. Being small, fast, and creative is a blessing in today’s toy and entertainment landscape.
Equally, when things aren’t working, it’s important to recognise when to kill it fast. Shake it off and move onwards and upwards – again, this is much easier to do when you’re a smaller outfit, rather than a large, unwieldy corporate tanker.
- As the CFO, your responsibilities include managing financial control and risk. How do you so successfully without inhibiting the creativity your company is so well known for?
My job is to keep the train on the tracks, not to mention well stocked, and speeding along nicely. I take this responsibility very personally, openly sharing all the company’s finances with the entire team so that they understand how we’re doing, and why we’ve made certain decisions. While there is some necessary, less creative work we must do, we recognise that this funds the more fun work that we love to do.
I also like to own the finances. I want our creative team to focus on creating stories, characters, content, and magic rather than worry about the cost of cardboard or trademark registrations – I’ve got a spreadsheet for these! I want the team to have confidence that I have the finances in order, so that they can flourish creatively. In essence, I always want to be able to say, ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’!
- You’ve worked in finance for companies such as BP, Brand Finance, Ring, and even ran your own accountancy firm. How does working in the toy industry differ from what you’ve done previously?
At the end of the day, it’s all numbers – it’s just the amount of zeros that can differ across industries! I must admit that the toy industry is a much more fun and friendly place to be compared with other sectors I’ve worked in. For example, when I was at BP, we couldn’t even go to external events for fear of being bribed, or of a competitor being there. Working at Amazon, meanwhile, was really dull and totally process driven, sucking the fun out of everything. In the toy space, however, it feels like everyone works much more collaboratively and is far more chilled out. Maybe that’s because our business is selling toys and spreading happiness!
- What is the one thing you do that is not common among other CFOS that you believe has contributed to your success?
I still ride a BMX, which I suspect is pretty uncommon among the CFO community! I do feel that my BMXer mindset has contributed to my bumpy career path – I’ve always been a bit of a rebel and an outlier, which has helped me to succeed in my work. For example, I joined BP as a graduate because it paid the most outside of banking, and got me qualified as a chartered accountant, but I then quit my nice and steady finance job to help my brother set up a new video doorbell venture in the UK, which came to be known as Ring. As this was a completely new tech space, and we both had zero experience in selling tech, we really had to make it all up. Turns out you can actually learn a lot from selling video doorbells for five years, and from eventually being acquired by Amazon! I think the mixture of cold accounting knowhow and real commercial sales insight that this experience provided gave me a strong basis to be a startup CFO.
- How does a typical day start and finish for you? Are there any metrics you look at every day, for example?
I tend to work from 9am till 3pm, and then log back on for a few hours in the evening. I really enjoy working at Toikido – I don’t suffer from the Sunday blues anymore! Equally, I value spending quality time with my family more than anything. I enjoy a good work-life balance, and this is something I prioritise. While I try to be around my family lots, I’m not always fully present at home, and this is something I’m working hard to improve. Working for a startup is tough because things move so quickly, but this is reflected in the really exciting stuff that we do. However, it does mean that I probably spend too much time on my phone!
Metrics-wise, I check the bank daily. Cash is always king, after all. I do have some monthly metrics to track, and I’m trying to become more creative in sharing these – my PowerPoint skills are definitely improving! Being surrounded by amazing creatives has pushed me upwards, and shows that finance can be fun.
- What investment has Toikido received and do you have any advice for entrepreneurs trying to secure it themselves?
We raised a small amount of money in late 2021, thanks to a prominent US entrepreneur and investor called Gary Vaynerchuk. This wasn’t planned and was very much a strategic investment, given we are working directly on various creative projects with Gary and his team. He has been the perfect investor, partner, and mentor.
From an advice perspective, I do recommend seeking strategic investment – i.e., forging partnerships with people who can bring more than simply cash to the table. The business we run is very unique, given its so IP focused, so it’s great to have a partner onboard who truly understands the value of what we’re doing and, even more so, can help amplify our aims.
- What do you think is on the horizon for Toikido and the toy industry in the year ahead?
We’re pleased with what we have achieved to date, but we are still only jogging. I’m most proud of the team we’ve built and the opportunities this has opened. Our mission isn’t to be biggest or even the best toy company out there – but we do want to have the most remarkable toys; the ones your kids nag you about. To see out this aim, we need to invest further in the gaming space as that’s where kids’ attention is increasingly focused. As such, our current goal is to become a true ‘entertainment’ company that covers both toys and gaming. The toy industry is crying out for an exciting new collectible craze, but thankfully we have our very first IP – Pinata Smashlings – launching later this year, which will respond nicely to this call.
We’re also doing plenty of seemingly random things that don’t make obvious sense straight away. We call these ‘WTF moments’, but there is a loose plan underlying it all, which in time will bring things together to make perfect sense!