When Bethany Koby co-founded Technology Will Save Us, she wanted her company’s wide range of toy products to encourage children to learn and become creators of the technology in the future. Tech Will Save Us offers toys that were tested by children and loved by parents for the whole family to play with anywhere they want – may that be in the kitchen table, in the field or even in the classroom. Each kit gives a child an opportunity to unlock his/her creative potential, which will surely help one develop the skills needed to secure a brighter future.
With products shipped in 97 countries around the globe, the company has sparked so many kids’ imaginations already. Awarded with so many recognitions like Best Hardware Startup of The Year (2016) at the Europas, Koby and her team plans to develop more inspiring products for more families to enjoy while learning. They do believe that “diverse, creative and empowered kids and families will save us and technology will be at the heart of how they do this!”
Koby shares her thoughts and views on today’s toy industry, the challenges her company had to overcome and her company’s future plans in dominating the toy industry in this special interview with GineersNow.
I am a mum, CEO, designer, art director and artist interested in creating brands, businesses and experiences that help imagine a more positive and collaborative future. I’ve been creating innovative relationships between brands and communities for well over 10 years both commercially and personally.
In 2012, I co-founded Technology Will Save Us. Prior to starting TWSU, I was a design director and social impact specialist at the international branding and innovation company Wolff Olins.
I have a BFA in Graphic Design from Rhode Island School of Design, a MSC in Responsibility and Business practice from Bath University and was also a scholarship holder at Fabrica in Italy.
Describe your company.
In 2012, I co-founded Technology Will Save Us, a business that instigates 21st century learning – in the classroom and around the kitchen table – through its well-designed DIY Gadget Kits for everyday life. It was based on a radical premise: what if kids could build the technology they use, and learn more about technology in the process? We created the (now iconic) kits and the most accessible, fun way for kids, families, and educators to learn, play, and invent with technology.
Our advisors, Matt Webb, Tracy Doree are invaluable to me and our business. They have been fundamental at all stages of Technology Will Save Us.
Our London office houses a team of around 26 content creators, product specialists, sales gurus, production experts, educators, engineers, designers and developers. We also have two sales gurus in New York and one in Paris.
Our mission is to inspire the creative imagination of young people with hands-on technology and to build the most accessible and entertaining brand for the creator generation. Being customer-focused and experience-obsessed is at the centre of everything we do.
Where is this company headed? What are your future expansion plans?
I plan on growing Technology Will Save Us into the most accessible technology company in the toy industry, creating the best experience for kids and empowering them with the ability to make, build and learn with technology.
We are continually developing products for different ages, with different themes and different price points. We hope to build a real community of future makers with our online ecosystem of coding and programming tools.
THE TOY INDUSTRY
What do you think is the future of the toy industry?
The toy industry is one of the most powerful industries in the world. It shapes and moulds some of the most important early years of people’s lives through education, play and new experiences.
Recently there has been a shift in the toy industry, brands are creating child-friendly iterations of adult tech – FitBits for kids, tablets that teach and faux-computers. We’re starting to see more and more brands trying to connect apps to everything in order to add “digital” to the experience.
Despite this change, the toy industry still has a long way to go when it comes to adapting to new technology and catering to kids’ ever changing interests and needs. I think the future will be toys that prepare, empower and help shape kids’ futures.
How will today’s toys and gadgets make a difference as compared to the ones from the past?
Around 65% of children in school today will have a job that doesn’t currently exist, we want to equip them with all the tools they need to be prepared for these roles. The creative tech toy space finally offers kids the opportunity to make, code and invent with toys. Our aim is to spearhead this sector, Technology Will Save Us is dedicated to empowering kids with technology and unlocking their creative potential.
Which toy/gadget from your childhood made an impact on you while growing up?
My mother was a toy designer turned Montessori teacher and my Dad was a photographer so I was always encouraged to be hands on. I used to build model aeroplanes with my Dad, there’s something really exciting and inspiring in something arriving in parts and being able to build and create it together.
The toys and gadgets that really made an impact for me were the hands on montessori tools I was taught with. Learning by doing is one of the most empowering ways for young people to learn, it helped me become a happy, self-motivated learner.
What’s the inspiration behind your products?
For us, design means putting users at the center of our product development process. All of our kits and digital tools are created with a user-centered process that involves kids and parents at every stage from ideation all the way through to home, park and play testing.
We conduct extensive research projects funded by organizations like NESTA, Google and Mozilla, to understand what young people love doing and what skills they are learning in and outside of school. This helps us lead everything with what kids love to do rather than what the technology is capable of.
This is especially true for our latest kit, The Mover. After testing our prototypes with over 300 kids, we learned that kids love technology that is portable, reactive and open-ended. This allows them to be engaged and active while having fun.
We used feedback from kids to define the form factor of The Mover, which after testing and iterating, became a wearable. The technology we chose – motions sensors, a compass and rainbow lights – gives kids a responsive and active product, they wanted to keep using it again and again. As we continued to develop the product, we got even more excited that this wearable was not a smart watch, not a fitness tracker and not about data in a cloud but about something very clear – kids learning through active play.
Which group is your target market and why?
Our kits are for people aged 4 – 100. We want Tech Will Save Us to be the gateway for millions of families to become creators of technology around the kitchen table, in a classroom, in a field, makerspace, after school club – anywhere and everywhere. There are so many wonderful resources cropping up, we think empowering parents to support the inner maker in their kid is hugely important. Giving young people and adults access to real practitioners and entrepreneurs in tech is really transformative.
What are the future innovations that you and your company are pursuing?
We have lots of exciting projects in the pipeline… Watch this space!
Do you think your product has made an impact on your customers and in your industry?
Absolutely! We’ve been awarded some incredible recognitions, the Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired our Gamer Kit for their permanent collection ‘Humble Masterpieces’. We were selected as part of the permanent collection displayed in the newly built London Design Museum. We’ve won Gold Parents’ Choice awards for 2 of our best selling kits, the Gamer and Electro Dough kits. Our newest kit, the Mover Kit, has already won a D&AD Graphite Impact Pencil and a Fast Company innovation by design award. Our company was also recognised as the ‘Best Hardware Startup of the year (2016)’ at the Europas.
Where do you see your products heading 10 years from now?
As part of the plan to grow Technology Will Save Us into the most accessible tech company in the toy industry, we plan to grow our toy range. We want to do this by launching products that are insight driven and vigorously user tests. Children’s toys tested by children, loved by parents.
What makes your products different from your competitors?
We’re not a single product start-up. We make an ecosystem of kits and digital experiences that support a tech learning journey though different ages and abilities. We’re also more accessible and priced in a way that allows all kids to get hands on creating with technology, all of our competitors are priced at over £100, our kits start at £25.
THE CHALLENGES & SOLUTIONS
What challenges did your company face while developing your product?
Global markets are really important to us from the beginning we’ve sold our kits globally, in the US, UK and in Europe too, we have now expanded to big retail stores in Australia too. What I think is really interesting as we grow and scale is the maturity of different markets. For instance, the maker movement, is really important to us. It is a movement that is much more mature in the US, so the opportunities to sell are greater as there is a lot more understanding of the product and services that we are creating.
How did your company overcome these challenges?
It’s extremely important to test, test then test some more. We use customer insights in every aspect of the company to help us better understand the markets we are dealing with.
ADVICE TO THE YOUNG ENGINEERS
I would say that always remember this is a journey, not a destination. Make sure you surround yourself with examples, mentors, advisors who inspire you to be the kind of entrepreneur and person you want to be. Always keep learning.