Tog Samphel ’22 was still a student at Montclair when exciting job opportunities lured him off the academic track.
“Going to Montclair felt natural to me,” he recalls. “It was close to home, has a great reputation, and my sister and brother were students there.”
“While taking classes I worked part-time at The Wiz, the one-time electronics chain,” he continues. “I thought I was headed for a career in broadcasting or film, but I would play on the computers at the store and started to learn graphic design.”
Samphel’s growing skill set helped him land an internship at MTV while he was still a student. Word got around about his abilities and a colleague encouraged him to apply for a full-time position with AOL. When he was offered the job, he knew the opportunity was too good to pass up.
“At first, I tried to do it all, working long days at AOL in New York City while attending night classes at Montclair,” he says. “It was just too much. I left school with the goal to finish my degree someday soon, but my career kept growing.”
Samphel continued to build a resume filled with elite tech companies – SourceMedia, Inc., where he was a web designer; Nintendo of America, where he served as creative lead / visual designer; Sourcebits, in the roles of product director and design lead; ADP, where he rose from lead UX designer to principal UX designer; and Meta, which hired him for a product design role. His most recent “day job” was as head of product design at Loop, a start-up app developer focusing on social anxiety.
“I drew heavily on what I learned in my film classes at Montclair as I delved further into the UX design field,” Samphel notes. “Storyboarding and narrative are a big part of ensuring a positive user experience.”
During those years Samphel relocated briefly to San Francisco. When he moved back to New Jersey, Montclair was in his backyard, reminding him of his goal to graduate from college. “I didn’t need very many credits, but I was missing some required courses,” he says. “I am so glad that the University worked with me to make graduation possible. I really wanted to have a Montclair diploma.”
Finishing his degree in 2022, more than a decade after he left Montclair, signaled a whole new chapter in Samphel’s life. Inspired by an everyday kitchen dilemma – one experienced regularly by his mother – he developed AnyTongs, a unique gadget that turns any pair of utensils into kitchen tongs.
“When my mom was entertaining, she would rig clothespins, tape and plastic forks into makeshift tongs,” he says with a laugh. “It occurred to me that everyone could use an extra pair of kitchen tongs in a pinch. And after so many years of developing digital products, I wanted to create something more tangible.”
Samphel raised $33,000 toward his idea through Kickstarter – well above his $10,000 goal – netting just $7,000 in 2021. But the quality of his idea coupled with his savvy design sense were enough to garner a spot, and a deal, on ABC’s Shark Tank.
“Going on Shark Tank is pretty intimidating,” he says. “I’m not comfortable in front of cameras, but I pushed through. My brother, Phuntso Samphel ’04, who has experience as a financial analyst, helped me prepare for questions about profit margins and resource allocation.”
Since then, Samphel has been working closely with the show’s Daymond John, developing the next version of AnyTongs. “I am learning so much about manufacturing on a large scale,” he says. “I quickly realized that inventing a product is only about 20% of what it takes to succeed. There is a massive process to get manufacturing right, even for a relatively simple product – things like heat resistance, tension, tooling, even spring size make a huge difference in cost and production outcomes. Your new venture also needs marketing, logistics and business management.”
“The first version of AnyTongs was a learning experience,” Samphel continues. “Starting out, the goal is to fail fast and fail cheap, and to get feedback to invest in the next round. As a result, version two will have a much better chance of long-term success. Version two will be the one that you see in stores.”
While working to secure a suitable manufacturer, Samphel will be lining up social media advertising, web presence and wholesale partners as well.
The success of AnyTongs is exciting but also bittersweet as his mom – the inspiration for the product that is changing his life – has passed on. “She was a huge Shark Tank fan,” he says. “In some ways I feel like I am honoring her by doing this.”
Samphel hopes to stay connected to Montclair, now that he is an alumnus. In particular, he is eager to share what he has learned with the next generation of entrepreneurs, perhaps through teaching. “Even after college, even after discovering your passion, it is important to get as many experiences as possible,” he advises. “Putting yourself out there helps opportunities come your way.”