Less than a year ago, Debbie Sterling’s concept of a toy that would teach engineering skills to little girls was nothing more than a prototype on Kickstarter.
Today, GoldieBlox holds the distinction as one of Amazon’s top 100 toys (top 20 as of this writing). The toy, which teaches engineering skills through the adventures of kid inventor Goldie, is available in 600 Toys “R” Us stores, and 400 other toy stores nationwide.
But it’s not the sales that make Sterling proudest. Instead, it’s the messages from the parents that pour in every day. Stories about little girls that sing songs about building and engineering, or are inspired to build their own toys after playing with GoldieBlox.
“My favorite story was when a mom wrote in about being in a public restroom with her daughter where the toilet paper dispenser was broken,” Sterling said. “The girl said, ‘Mommy, it’s missing its axle!’ She’d learned the vocabulary from GoldieBlox.”
Disrupting The "Pink Aisle"
An engineer herself, Sterling was floored by the lack of options for little girls in what she calls the “pink aisle” of the toy store. There were “girl” versions of toys like Legos and Lincoln Logs, but they were little more than the same toys painted pink.
After doing research herself, through everything from talking to little girls about their favorite toys to speaking with toy manufacturers, she settled on a prototype for GoldieBlox, a construction-and-book set for girls aged five to nine.
“GoldieBlox is the best of both worlds: reading and building,” Sterling explained on Kickstarter. “It appeals to girls because they aren't just interested in ‘what’ they're building ... they want to know ‘why.’ Goldie's stories relate to girls' lives. The machines Goldie builds solve problems and help her friends.”
As shown in the video, kids follow along with a picture book to use the toy, wrapping ribbon around pegs in a pegboard to make a functioning machine.
“In the first story, Goldie makes a belt drive,” she said. “But you can take that same toy and make a plane, a car, all kinds of things. We want to show people there are infinite ways to play with it.”
Sterling loves to hear from parents about kids who take the skills they learned with GoldieBlox and apply them to all kinds of projects.
“I was told about one little girl who was inspired to build a massive, multi-story dollhouse on her own out of materials around her room,” she said. “I actually designed the construction pieces to look like household objects. I was hoping to inspire a maker and tinkerer mindset.”
Just The Beginning
Sterling designed the GoldieBlox kit in 2012, writing and illustrating the picture books herself while looking for a manufacturer to mass produce the toy. Before the Kickstarter, she invested her entire life savings into production. Luckily for her, the Kickstarter was funded in just four days. By October 2012, Sterling had over 5,000 backers and over $280,000 in funds.
On the final day of the Kickstarter, Toys “R” Us contacted Sterling. This summer, GoldieBlox became available in the mega toy chain for the first time. It’s the final step in GoldieBlox’s transition from concept to commercial product.
Now GoldieBlox has seven employees; Sterling serves as CEO. In advance of the holiday shopping season, Sterling’s company will launch an additional books as well as an expansion pack of parts to go with the original GoldieBlox toy.
When not building her company, Sterling devotes her time and energy to conferences, talks, and lectures in schools as well as at the likes of Google, Twitter, and Microsoft. Most recently, she gave a keynote speech at Girls Who Code.
“One of the best things about founding GoldieBlox is that I get to speak and go to events all the time on behalf of getting kids excited and interested in engineering,” she said. “Even though the toy targets nine-year-olds, I get to inspire people of all ages.”
Photos courtesy of GoldieBlox