The Archive December 02, 2015

Building the Future with GoldieBlox

Female Empowerment Through Science and Technology

In 2014, CEO Debbie Sterling’s toy startup, GoldieBlox, gained significant exposure after its Super Bowl ad hit millions of screens. The company beat out 15,000 other competitors for a $4 million ad spot, in a contest run by personal software firm Intuit. But this widespread public interest didn’t come out of nowhere. This was a result of Sterling’s tireless work to create a toy aimed at little girls — something the female CEO wishes she had growing up.

At present, only about 14 percent of the country’s engineers are women, and only 20 percent of undergraduate degrees in engineering, tech and science are awarded to women.

How Did GoldieBlox Begin?

Debbie Sterling recalls her senior year of high school and the all-too-familiar and overwhelming decision of choosing a college major. Her math teacher suggested she try engineering because of her aptitude in math and sciences. Sterling was alarmed — up until that moment, she had always pictured engineers as train conductors.

However, as she entered her first semester at Stanford University, she couldn’t ignore her teacher’s words. After signing up for Mechanical Engineering 101, she realized the endless creative opportunities that engineering allowed and declared it as her major. Though engineering made her happy, she couldn’t help but feel out of place in the classroom — and eventually in the workplace after graduation. To clarify, at present, only about 14 percent of the country’s engineers are women, and only 20 percent of undergraduate degrees in engineering, tech and science are awarded to women. These statistics troubled Sterling, so just a few years after graduation, she quit her job and set out to develop a toy to encourage young girls to aspire to be more than princesses, beauty queens and actresses.

After months of meeting with little girls and developing a prototype made of thread spools, wooden dowels and various hardware parts in her apartment, Sterling partnered with Cornell researchers to test the toy on more than 100 kids. During her research, Sterling discovered something special about girls: They love reading stories and understanding characters. She created the construction toy to pair with a book series that stars Goldie, a blond, bushy-haired girl inventor who loves to build.

Though the GoldieBlox prototype was rejected from a tech accelerator program and a toy fair, Sterling still refused to acknowledge that the female “pink aisle” at the toy store had to remain the same just because it’s the norm. She finally partnered with a toy factory to produce GoldieBlox, but needed a minimum of 5,000 orders to produce the toy at the total cost of $150,000. After Sterling put Goldieblox on Kickstarter in late 2012, the toy received full backing (plus more) in only four days.

Leading the Market with Social Media

The enormous success from GoldieBlox’s Kickstarter campaign launched the company into the public eye. Merely a year after the company received funding, it released a wildly popular video in November 2013 called “Princess Machine,” in which young girls test an intricate homemade Rube Goldberg machine that they appear to have created themselves.

Despite the empowering message, the viral clip was a hiccup in the marketing campaign; the startup did not receive permission to use the Beastie Boys’ song “Girls” that played in the background. After a public apology, the company moved onward and upward. A few months later, it took over one of the few, coveted spots in the Super Bowl ad lineup.

Whether you think a toy will make a huge impact on a young girl’s future job or not, Debbie Sterling and GoldieBlox are undeniably determined to change what you picture when you hear “engineer.”

In a world where television is rapidly becoming extinct and viewers prefer YouTube, Netflix and video on demand, GoldieBlox puts the majority of its marketing efforts into videos. As the company’s vice president for sales and marketing, Lindsey Shepard, aptly puts it, “Kids want to constantly play the thing they’re watching.”

Though ultimately a mission-driven, for-profit venture, GoldieBlox distinguishes itself as a market leader by reiterating its mission to “build a brand to help the next generation [of girls] build the future” through visually viral social media.

Most recently, GoldieBlox teamed up with Emily Haines of the band Metric to create the newest video, “Lightning Strikes.” In it, Goldie’s derby car fails to start at the beginning of a race, so the girl inventor spends an entire night coming up with a solution to fix the vehicle. The marketing for “Lightning Strikes” is very calculated, as the company aims to cover a subject matter kids really enjoy: failing (think of someone tripping ridiculously — kids love that stuff).

Watching Goldie lose right away and then come up with a way to transform the derby car into a completely new automobile is exciting. Other videos teach girls how to use their “Blox” to create objects like a swing set or to reconsider gender norms (and buy the new GoldieBlox doll).

Video is only one of several ways to hear the spirited voice of Goldie and the GoldieBlox team. The brand proudly voices its mission statement online across multiple social channels, including its blog, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Parents have done crafts with their daughters forever, but that typically doesn’t involve assembling engineering tools. This particular blog post teaches girls how to make a scissor lift and offers this simple explanation: “Scissor lifts were first built to do an incredible amount of lifting work of large machines and workers.” The GoldieBlox blog offers parents a way to teach their daughters about a new subject.

Since GoldieBlox’s target market (girls 4–9 years old) isn’t on these social channels yet, you’ll notice that the brand speaks to a much larger audience of teens, young women and parents, to encourage female empowerment. GoldieBlox isn’t just a market leader for its revolutionary toy in the Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) education movement. It’s also a useful online resource to inspire and lead women in a new direction. With hundreds of thousands of followers across all its social channels, the brand is destined to continue to grow its following and spread its message louder and louder.

The Future of GoldieBlox

GoldieBlox has paved the way for many young girls to explore their potential career options and will hopefully completely dispel the notion that construction toys are just for boys.

The company recognizes organizations like Techbridge, Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code and the Society of Women Engineers for providing positive role models to young girls. Hopefully, the company will find a way to connect women in STEM positions to young girls in schools and camps.

Additionally, GoldieBlox could work alongside STEM organizations to create a computer game or mobile application for girls of an older age range, which would cover more-advanced engineering problems.

Whether you think a toy will make a huge impact on a young girl’s future job or not, Debbie Sterling and GoldieBlox are undeniably determined to change what you picture when you hear “engineer.”

Photos: Kickstarter, GoldieBlox Blog and GoldieBlox Instagram