In 2006, Robert von Goeben, a venture capitalist turned electronic toy designer in San Francisco, contemplated shifting course again. Instead of making more gizmos that required electricity and intricate parts, he’d listen to his wife and create a simpler line that would appeal to parents who identified with the green movement. “An Inconvenient Truth,” former Vice-President Al Gore’s Oscar-winning documentary on global warming, was attracting mainstream attention. Organic foods and household items billed as environmentally friendly were flying off shelves in supermarkets. “Children’s products were the next domino to fall,” he says.
As questions about toy safety made headlines the following year with the recall of more than 17 million Chinese-made toys, von Goeben partnered with former marketing executive Laurie Hyman, a business acquaintance from his days at Redleaf Venture Management, a venture capital firm in Saratoga, Calif. Together they invested $200,000 of their own money to launch Green Toys in 2007 to make playthings from recycled plastic milk jugs. The Mill Valley (Calif.) company was profitable from its first year on, with revenue from online sales and retailers growing 70 percent annually to $5 million last year, von Goeben says. He expects it to continue expanding at that pace through 2015.