DMM: Toby Lenk

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By his own estimation, Toby Lenk could be making more money leading development for Walt Disney Co.'s theme park division than he is now directing an online toy startup.

The Disney job was offered to him just two years ago, but Mr. Lenk said he "didn't want to make a career out of theme parks."

Vital stats:
Title: President-CEO, eToys, Santa Monica, Calif.
Age/bio: 36, born in Framingham, Mass.; B.A. in economics and government, Bowdoin College, 1983; MBA, Harvard University, 1987.
Management consultant, LEK Partnership, 1987; hired by Walt Disney Co. as director of strategic planning, 1991; left Disney as VP-corporate strategic planning for its theme park division, 1996; founded eToys, 1997.

He has a new life now, not in theme parks, but in cyberspace. As president-CEO of eToys, the hot virtual toy retailer based in Santa Monica, Calif., the entrepreneurial-minded Mr. Lenk is quickly earning a reputation as an Internet marketing whiz.

After leaving Disney as VP-corporate strategic planning, Mr. Lenk set a goal for himself: launch a business in an area his company could potentially dominate. Six months later eToys was born.

"There's a compelling reason for consumers to get out of the toy stores: they're self-service, no sales support, horrible parking, and structurally not built for kids," he explained. And "you can [shop from home] at night after the kids go to bed."

Launched last October, eToys has generated awareness via marketing relationships with America Online and the search engines. Mr. Lenk won't divulge numbers, but he says revenues are growing.

Monthly revenues are increasing at a rate of 40% each month, he said.

eToys has relationships with 250 manufacturers, including all the majors. This fall, it will break its first advertising campaign via Kalis & Savage, Los Angeles.

"We're losing money fast on purpose, to build our brand," he said.

Is he sweating the entry of Toys "R" Us to the online market? "No, there's room in this space for a two-horse race," he said.

Betcha didn't know: Before he settled on eToys, the links-loving Mr. Lenk toyed with acquiring a bunch of golf driving ranges.

Copyright June 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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