Academics (and sometimes parents) often wring their hands about how girls seem to drift away from math and science.
Last fall, Debra Sterling, a 29-year-old Stanford engineer, decided to do something about it. “Only 11% of engineers are women,” Sterling says, “and girls start losing interest in science as young as age 8,” she says.
Though there are many factors influencing that shift, Sterling remembered being pushed toward more “girly” toys when she was younger. And she looked around and realized that most construction sets—like Legos—were aimed at boys.
So Sterling came up with Goldieblox: a building kit and storybook that kids can use to help the character— Goldieblox—solve problems by creating simple machines. In the process, girls get hands-on experience with basic engineering principles like force, friction, balance and momentum.
Speaking of momentum, Sterling quickly hit the classic entrepreneur’s hurdle: How could she raise enough cash to jump start her company—and capture the imagination of a market that was (and is) just starting to emerge?
Sterling decided that her m.o. would be to reach like-minded customers and grow her market as she built her company. She chose to raise money via crowdfunding, which would enable her to tap motivated customers who wanted cooler toys for their daughters, while stoking momentum and buzz for her product.
Her goal was to raise a quarter of a million dollars. She achieved it within 30 days.
“GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine,” geared toward girls ages ages 5 to 9, is now in production and is pre-selling online. In fact, the pre-order delivery for February 2013 sold out in less than a month; the company is now taking orders for the second delivery in April. Goldieblox iPad and iPhone apps are on their way. So are ideas for new toys. Sterling’s dream: That “GoldieBlox will lessen the intimidation factor and get girls excited about building.”
Thinking of starting a company with crowd funding? Here’s some advice culled from Sterling’s success:
Upsell the misson. Explain the greater purpose that drives your work—not just product specs, Sterling says.
Invest in video. Don’t skimp here. Your video helps to sell your project, give you credibility, and connect with funders.
Reward backers. Offering your product as a prize when people donate is a huge incentive for people to open their wallets. Sterling says you can also track customer interest this way, to a degree.
Connect with influencers before you launch. Sterling offered launch-day exclusives to the Atlantic and TechCrunch blogs. She also got key entrepreneurs to blog about her launch.
Arm your ambassadors. Sterling provided a team of 125 friends and family members with sample tweets, Facebook posts, and outreach emails to generate exponential exposure.