A friend of mine emailed me a video about a female engineer, Debbie Sterling, who was raising money for her new company. Frustrated that the engineering industry was so male-dominated, she created a construction toy for little girls with the purpose of exposing them to the world of engineering.
The video was so heartwarming and inspiring; I immediately wanted the toy for my little 4-year-old girl. So did a lot of other parents because Debbie has had a tremendous response to her product! As an entrepreneur myself, I was very inspired by Debbie, and wanted to know more about her story. So lucky me, I was able to interview her about her new, amazing company, GoldieBlox.
What do you think makes this toy so special and what sets it apart from other toys out there for little girls?
GoldieBlox stands out for several reasons:
1. Designed by a female engineer. Bringing my unique perspective and inherent understanding of little girls (because I once was one!) makes GoldieBlox truly special.
2. Reading + Building. While all the other construction toys are a bunch of pieces in a box with an instruction manual, GoldieBlox is a compelling story about a girl inventor who solves problems by building simple machines. It leverages girls’ strong verbal skills as a way to get them excited about building. It provides the context as to “why” you’re building what you’re building, instead of the “how” to build something step-by-step.
3. Strong Engineer Role Model. GoldieBlox isn’t a fashionista, nor does she build beauty parlors or pony stables. She is a much-needed female engineer role model character in a world where Thomas the Train, Bob the Builder, Lego Man and Sid the Science kid reign supreme.
When did you first come up with this idea and what inspired you?
The idea was born at an event called, “Idea Brunch,” a tradition I started with my group of friends. At “Idea Brunch,” we’d get together, cook breakfast, and take turns presenting our latest crazy ideas to the group. During one of those sessions, my friend Christy, a fellow female engineer, was complaining about the lack of women in the field and suggesting that her interest in engineering was cultivated by playing with her older brothers’ hand-me-down Legos. Thus, the idea for “pink Legos” or “engineering toys for girls” was born. I was completely hooked ever since.
What kind of response are you getting to it so far and from whom?
The response has been enormous. We have thousands of parents from around the world who have pre-ordered on Kickstarter and our website, anxiously awaiting to give GoldieBlox to their daughters. Tons of interest from the press – from Forbes to Huffington Post to the Atlantic to the Boston Globe to BBC Worldwide News. Retail stores (both big and small, domestic and international) are knocking on our door. We get hundreds of emails from talented people who want to work for GoldieBlox, from people who want to invest in the company, from people who just want to help it succeed in any way they can. It is truly humbling.
How did you come up with the name, Goldieblox?
I came up with the name in the one place where almost all great ideas are born: the shower.
What is your background in engineering and how did you become interested in this field?
I studied Product Design, a specialized major within the department of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford. I didn’t know what engineering even was until my high school math teacher suggested I consider it as a major when she was writing my college recommendation letter. She turned me onto engineering and I am forever grateful.
As an entrepreneur, what steps did you take to start your business?
I raised a seed round of investment from friends and family to get started. I hired a corporate lawyer who led me through the company formation and fundraising process. I also hired two intellectual property attorneys to help me secure trademarks, copyrights and patents on my work. I launched on Kickstarter as a way to prove the concept before introducing the toy to retail stores. The campaign was so successful, I felt justified in finally paying myself a salary and making my first hire: a VP of Sales.
How did you design this toy and what sort of research did you do ahead of time?
I read a lot of research studies and articles about gender differences and cognitive development in children. I interviewed elementary school teachers, non-profit educators, parents, toy-makers and product designers for inspiration. I organized as many play dates as I could with friends’ kids to observe their play patterns. I also observed kids and parents shopping at toy stores. I read as many children’s books as I possibly could. All of this research led to my big “aha”: combining reading with building.
To design the toy, I read a bunch of do-it-yourself science experiment books at the local library for inspiration. In one of them, I found a home-made belt drive which looked cool, so I started prototyping my own version using a pegboard from the hardware store, wooden dowels, thread spools, ribbon and Velcro. I wrote and illustrated a rough draft of a story about Goldie, the girl inventor, and her quest to build a belt drive machine for her dog, Nacho. I even sculpted a little figurine of Nacho out of clay. After about a week, I had a working prototype. It wasn’t pretty, but it was enough to start showing to kids and making improvements based on their reaction.
What sort of research did you do after designing it?
I recruited the efforts of two design researchers trained at Cornell to help put together the research protocol for gathering data from user testing. We tested the prototype on over 100 kids (girls and boys, ages 4-12) by visiting the homes of over 40 families and 3 schools. We created our own quantitative and qualitative design research rubrics to take notes during the tests and evaluate the interaction. We also videotaped every test for further analysis.
Do you have a plan to expand your business to more products then just this first one?
I’m developing an entire series of book+construction toys to explore all kinds of engineering principles. Book+Toy 1 (“GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine”) is a belt drive, Book+Toy 2 is a parade float vehicle, Book+Toy 3 is a pulley-system elevator. In the future, Goldie will build circuits and even learn to code! We’ll work on different levels of complexity so that GoldieBlox can cater to different age ranges. We’re also introducing new characters with different ethnic backgrounds (female and male) to add more diversity to the GoldieBlox line.
Are you just selling your product directly to consumers or are you planning on selling to stores as well?
GoldieBlox will be hitting retail stores and online retailers across the US and Canada this Spring, in addition to being sold on our website, goldieblox.com.
Where do you see your company in 5 years?
In 5 years, I see GoldieBlox as a character-led children’s brand (ex. Thomas the Train, Dora the Explorer); where she becomes a beloved role model for boys and girls. Beyond the series of book+construction toys (our flagship product), I envision GoldieBlox expanding into video games (which are proven to develop spatial skills), apps, cartoon shows, apparel…the sky is the limit. After all, GoldieBlox is a much-needed female engineer role model and I want to spread her story far and wide.
What is your overall mission with this toy and new company you have started?
To inspire the next generation of female engineers.
Visit www.goldieblox.com to learn more or to order your very own!