WITH shelves lined with Star Wars figures, Pokemon characters and cuddly collectibles, many would believe this is the room of a child – not a millionaire businessman.
Toikido made £4million profit last year alone – an astonishing feat for Darran, whom few would have predicted such success for during his younger “disruptive” years.
Darran says: “I think we did £12million in revenue last year with £4million profit, which for a team of 13 that is only three years old is good.
“I’m very proud of what we have made. We’re a punchy little British creative company and I want to see how far we can take it.”
‘Unlikely to amount to anything’
In school, he was forced to sit at the front of the class to prevent him from disrupting other pupils and at the age of eight narrowly avoided being excluded.
“I was politely asked to leave the school for vandalism and likely sounding off to whoever told me to behave,” he tells us.
“Fortunately my mum spoke to the school and said, ‘Listen, give him another chance’ and they did. It was a big lesson for me.”
Teachers had low expectations for his life outside of school, including one who wrote in his school report: “Darran is unlikely to amount to anything.”
“I didn’t really like school,” he tells us. “It wasn’t really for me and I didn’t excel there. I was always interested in business and learning.
“My dad was a car dealer and used to make me shake hands with whoever he sold a car to, he taught me a lot about business values and work ethic.”
Darran believes it was his dad who instilled in him the importance of working hard and having an entrepreneurial spirit.
He landed his first job on a paper round at the age of 10 and had several ‘side hustles’ – including flogging his comics on the school playground.
He recalls: “My dad worked days and nights and some Christmases too, he was 100 per cent work ethic. I learned from him and was out there hustling from age 10.
“At weekends, I would start with three paper rounds. Then I’d come home, look at The Beano and The Dandy comics and re-sticker them ready to sell at school on Monday.
“I’d then go to London Irish down The Avenue, where I worked for £2 an hour collecting glasses and stocking the fires.
“I was just this zippy little kid whizzing in and out, collecting glasses and washing them ready to go again.
“I liked having my own money. I wasn’t a spender, I preferred to save. I think I liked having the independence and joy that came from money.”
Between part-time work, Darran scraped “average” GCSEs but when it came to his A-levels in biology, chemistry and physics, he struggled.
“I got two U’s – ungraded – which effectively meant I shouldn’t have even turned up,” he said.
It forced him to take a year out to redo his exams, so he worked as a shelf-stacker in Tesco for £5-an-hour, while attending night school to top-up his grades.
“My parents couldn’t afford to pay for me to do my A-levels again so I had to work for it myself,” Darran explained.
He believes this experience was formative, as he learned how much he loved getting to know people and storytelling – skills he would further hone later in his life as a salesman.
After graduating from university with a degree in Sports Science, he says he fell into merchandising by accident because he “needed to pay the rent”.
“Having worked in Tescos, I thought merchandising was how you put things on shelves and how you display boxes,” Darran explains.
He worked in 4Kids Entertainment’s legal department sorting contracts and invoices until he was offered a role in the sales team.
On Darran’s second day with the team, he realised he made the right decision after seeing a colleague’s royalty cheque – for a whopping £3million.
“They came into the office with champagne and this comedy-sized cheque, it was for millions of pounds,” he recalled.
“I went home that night and told my mum, ‘It’s alright this industry, I think it may be alright’ and from there I never left.”
Within a year Darran was managing the Pokemon brand in “30-something countries” and travelling internationally with the job.
Since then, he’s worked for the likes of Universal Pictures, Mind Candy, MTW Toys and Mediatonic Games.
“It’s amazing really,” he says. “If you look at Ninja Turtles, I bought it as a kid and ended up selling it as an adult. These brands have the power to sustain generations.”
For years Darran dreamed of starting his own merchandising company but it wasn’t until the Covid-19 pandemic that he made the decision to break out.
“I was at home watching what my kids were playing and saw a gap in the market, particularly in gaming,” he says.
“There was this whole eco-system of indie games like Gang Beasts that my kids loved yet no one was doing anything about it.”
Darran launched Toikido in September 2020 and in a bid to ensure the start-up’s success says he didn’t take a salary for 14 months.
It seems his early sacrifices paid off as last year alone, they sold 20 million toys in 100 worldwide markets.
Now Toikido has a deal with Netflix for their animation Back To The Outback and worked with Aardman Animations, the company behind films such as Wallace & Gromit.
The company also created Albärt the mascot and digital games for the UEFA Euro 2024, in Germany, and recently, they launched their first online game Piñata Smashlings, which is on Roblox, and accompanying merchandise.
When asked if he’s a millionaire, Darran tells us: “Yes on paper but I’m overdrawn today, I have three boys who spend half of their life in the fridge and play every sport known to man.
“I think by my last count there were about 50 pairs of boots downstairs – from cricket spikes to rugby boots, tennis trainers and more.
“I don’t live a millionaire’s lifestyle. I drive an electric VW, so I’m not racing around in a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. ”
He credits creating a “super team” with endless creativity and being able to bring merchandise to market before competitors as part of the company’s success.
Darran adds: “We’re very lucky, I’ve built this kind of super team where we’re able to keep everything in-house.
“We’ve got this great team together who are all just experts in their own field and we also understand this new space, how to talk to game developers and be very creative.”
Darran says the company’s “secret sauce” is having “enough storytellers to bring kids on the ride with us” – but also credits his own children with giving inspiration on what type of games to work with.
He says: “I sit with them and ask, ‘If I gave you £20 what clothes or toys would you buy from these games? It’s my own working eco-system.”
Piñata Smashlings is available to play on Roblox. Collectibles, surprise boxes, playsets and plushies from the game can be bought in Smyths and The Entertainer. Find out more about Toikido’s work here.