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The Inspiring Story Behind MGA Entertainment, a Billion-Dollar Toy Making Company

Isaac Larian is the CEO and billionaire founder of MGA Entertainment, a toy manufacturing company. The company has had its fair share of wins, including its launch of Bratz dolls as far back as 2001 and it’s recently released its L.O.L Surprise toys. Larian had his childhood in Tehran slums where he wasn’t able to enjoy a lot of experiences which he hopes and tries to create for the kids with the toys his company makes. His dad had a little shop that sold textiles and Larian was put in charge of taking payment from their customers and also restocking inventory.

MGA recently released its L.O.L Surprise toys

He mentioned that he had been working since he was 9 years old when he would attend school and from there head to his father’s shop, and subsequently do his homework before sleeping. According to him, that was all the children he had. He said his only escape was watching Hollywood movies as it was the idea he had about America.

Search For Greener Pastures

At the age of 17, he was able to convince his parents to release him to travel to the U.S. so he could look for better opportunities. His parents borrowed the sum of $753 from family members and they bought him a ticket. In 1971, he arrived Los Angeles alone with just a suitcase and one blanket from his mom.

Larian’s parents borrowed money from family members to purchase Larian’s ticket to America

He said he was scared as he was merely a child at the time. He said he did not speak English and there was nowhere he could stay and so he would move around the city crying and on an empty stomach. A friend helped him and he was able to get an apartment. Later, he got a dishwasher job where he earned $1.65 for each hour he worked. From there, he moved on and became a busboy and subsequently a waiter.

After trying to save for close to one year, he enrolled in a part-time program. He was able to pick up American English through watching movies and television. In 1978, Larian graduated from the California State University. He was awarded a degree in civil engineering but soon discovered that there were still some other ambitions he still had. Larian said he knew he was cut out to become an entrepreneur as it was what he learned over the course of time he worked at his father’s shop.

Launch Into Business

He went ahead to launch Surprise Gift Wagon, a little mail-order business dedicated to selling decorative brass goods imported from Asia. He said he worked out of his apartment and in about 9 months, his sales were nearly $30,000.

A short period after that, he began to sell imported electronics like hand-held video games. His company emerged as the first accredited distributor for Nintendo handheld video games in America in the 1980s. He went ahead to change the name of the company to Micro Games of America. The portfolio of its products had significantly expanded by the 1990s and the name was again changed to MGA Entertainment.

That was around the time when Joe Trushus (a toy inventor) went ahead to show Larian a talking doll prototype. By the year 1997, the company released the doll known as Singing Bouncy Baby.  His biggest breakthrough, however, came sometime in 2001 when the Bratz doll was launched. In only five years, Bratz doll became a billion-dollar phenomenon all around the world. Larian said when it’s at the peak, the doll made up to 75 percent of the company’s total sales.

Bratz dolls became a billion-dollar phenomenon all around the world in only five years

MGA Entertainment V. Mattel

The success of the company was put on hold by a case between the company and Mattel as to the owner of the Bratz brand. It was the claim of Mattel that Carter Bryant, the inventor actually developed the Bratz idea as an employee of Mattel. The legal battle took a while and the company wasn’t allowed to continue the sale of the doll during the period and it adversely affected the sales of the company. In 2011, a jury ruled in the favor of MGA and it returned to selling Bratz again.

Recently, Larian made the offer to buy Mattel but Mattel’s board dismissed the idea. Larian had suggested that the 2 companies merged for a price not disclosed. The chairman of Mattel, Christopher Sinclair replied Larian’s letter to the effect that the proposal wasn’t in the best interest of the company as well as its shareholders.

After an end came to the legal battle with Mattel, the company has again gone ahead to expand its portfolio. Larian said the company is currently the largest toy company that is privately held in America.

He said it generates yearly sales of over $1 billion. He also said the company is profitable but he didn’t disclose the profits. The CEO also emphasized the importance of innovation in the toy-making industry.

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