By Laura Gossman

In a recent interview with Will Haughey, Co-Founder and CEO of Tegu (his brother Chris Haughey, is also Co-Founder), one of the world’s most innovative toy companies, shared the start-up story of this enterprise, along with its challenges and hopes. 

The initial dream of the Haughey brothers was both simple and complex all at once, and it really started with a question: Could a for-profit business create positive and lasting social change in an impoverished nation?

Tegu is named after Honduras's capital city.

Tegu is named after Honduras’s capital city.

On the simple side, their approach was relatively straightforward in that they wanted to help foment impact in Honduras by intelligently transforming one of its rich natural resources, wood, into a value-added product for export throughout the world.  This “transformation” process would generate jobs; more business sales = more jobs = less unemployment = less poverty.

Tegu impact

On the complex side, their dream included the creation of a brand, a product portfolio, a sales, marketing and distribution engine. This engine would all be based in the USA, while simultaneously creating a factory from scratch to export a high-end product requiring a stable supply chain in one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere.

The simple appearance of the magnetic wooden block they invented (patent-pending) is deceptive: it took them more than two years to figure out how to manufacture it on a scale that would make the business viable in terms of their goals.

Customers regularly send in pictures of their Tegu creations. This one is entitled "Equestrian".

Customers regularly send in pictures of their Tegu creations. This one is entitled “Equestrian”.

Some of the challenges surfaced because of the sheer nature of this for-profit start up attempting a triple bottom line right off the bat: environmental sustainability, social impact and financial profit.  They were advised by a supply chain professor at MIT that they had taken normal start-up risk (of failure) and compounded it. Will admitted that while they dismissed this observation at the time, the MIT professor was exactly right.  Will reflected, “it is one thing to create a brand and a product, and to sell them well; to create demand. That’s hard, and few people do it well.  It became quickly clear that doing those traditional start-up activities while establishing a factory in Honduras would involve an enormous number of moving parts.”

Tegu, Honduran hike, sustainability

This picture was taken summer of 2012 in Honduras. At Tegu they are committed to leaving the earth better than they found it, and one way they are doing that is by planting trees and supporting local reforestation.

As first time entrepreneurs, Chris and Will were making mistakes everywhere, some rookie, some understandable. Will admitted, “it was overwhelming for a good three years while the business got its footing, and God was generous and gracious, providing investors and customers for us along the way when we could have died many times.”

Will shared recently with one of their investors that these obstacles were overcome with a combination of God’s grace and grit that he gives God the credit for.  There were many times he was overwhelmed, humbled and brought to his knees. “There have been — and will be — so many occasions where all you can do is pray,” said Will.

Tegu was started from gospel-moved hearts that were committed to serving the poor with the gifts and talents God had given each of those involved. Even though all heart and talent has been thrown at the obstacles before them, Will is guided ultimately by his sense that God is sovereign, and that both victories and failures unfold as part of His purposes. He reflects, “we can wriggle and fight, but He directs our steps (Proverbs 16:9).”

While there’s no substitute for communing with God daily through prayer and His word, community plays a key role in helping remind him that God’s will is that He would be honored, first and foremost, more so than that their venture would succeed. Filling this need for this type of community, Will and Chris were selected to participate in Praxis, an accelerator program for gospel-motivated start-ups.

Will and Chris Haughey in Honduras. Photo courtesy of Matt Kirk.

Will and Chris Haughey in Honduras. Photo courtesy of Matt Kirk.

Will shared that Praxis “offered us a community that was spiritually grounded amidst the start-up chaos. There’s the saying that it can be ‘lonely at the top’.  Well, even when you’re partners with your brother and best friend, it can also be lonely as entrepreneurs in the field. Disappearing into that loneliness is a risk all entrepreneurs face in some way; Praxis offered us a community that placed priority on person over purpose and helped us convene with others who were likeminded, wanting to honor God with their ventures.”

One of Tegu's winners of their first "Monthly Build". Eli titled his photo "Birdhouse (angry) with Eli (not angry)".

One of Tegu’s winners of their first “Monthly Build”. Eli titled his photo “Birdhouse (angry) with Eli (not angry)”.

As a new parent, I am stunned by the amount of toys and gear that my 10-month-old son has already gone through. The Tegu blocks will be one of his toys that he can grow with and ignite his imagination for years to come.  In sharing with him the story of how they were made, where they are from and how they improve the world we live in, he will be receiving more than just creative toy blocks. Foundational blocks of how our choices matter to the greater good will begin to grow. I think we all want to instill this in the children in our lives as well as in ourselves.

To learn more about Tegu and shop their full line of toy products click here

Laura Gossman lives in Pasadena, California. She is the Director of Operations at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership and a recent new mother to son Benjamin and wife of Adam Gossman. She received her M.A. in Cross Cultural Studies from Fuller in 2006.

Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email the editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.

 

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