What do you get when you combine an 8-year-old female rapper, a Rube Goldberg device made out of toys, and a Beastie Boys tune? A commercial for GoldieBlox, a company that makes engineering toys for girls, that has garnered 3.5 million views on Youtube in under two days and gives the world a new twist on the 1990s Beastie Boys hit, “Girls.”
When I first spoke to GoldieBlox founder Debbie Sterling, she was in the midst of a running a Kickstarter campaign that raised nearly $300,000 for the development of her first products: a series of toy and book set starring a kid inventor named Goldie and her wacky friends, including a bear from Brazil and a dolphin ballerina. One year later, it’s obvious that Sterling successfully tapped into the growing movement to get girls more involved in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.
GoldieBlox sets are now available across North America. They’re in Toys “R” Us, hundreds of independent retailers, and on Amazon.com, where they rank as some of the best-selling toys. There are GoldieBlox T-shirts, hoodies, and onesies. Once a one-woman show, Sterling now has 13 employees. And by next Christmas, she expects to have six new toy sets available for young girls.
Sterling is hard at work on future GoldieBlox products (“So many of my peers work at tech startups where you can kind of whip something together and launch it the same day. We have to work at least a year in advance on everything we do,” she says), but she and her team also have some more immediate projects in the pipeline. Aside from the new commercial that just went viral, there are two new GoldieBlox products slated for the holiday season (the GoldieBlox and the Parade Float toy and book and a Blox + Bits expansion pack), an online “play gallery” featuring young girl inventors, and a campaign to get a 30-second GoldieBlox project into the SuperBowl broadcast.
The Rube Goldberg device was not, unfortunately, concocted by a group of young girls. It was created by Brett Doar, an engineer who made the Rube Goldberg device for the band Ok Go’s popular music video. After Sterling contacted Doar to inquire about getting help with the commercial, he told her that he had seen her speak at Google’s Zeitgeist event just a few weeks prior. “He was really excited about GoldieBlox,” she says. In the end, the GoldieBlox team came up with “probably the most ambitious video ever made,” she laughs. So far, it seems to have paid off.
GoldieBlox also has a real shot at getting airtime during the Super Bowl: It was recently selected as one of the final four applicants in Intuit’s Small Business, Big Game competition for small businesses to get a 30-second commercial during the big game. The viral GoldieBlox commercial is much too long, so Sterling and her team are working on other concepts (a sliced and diced version of the longer commercial wouldn’t be the worst idea). Whether GoldieBlox gets the spot will depend on if they win the most votes; if they do, the GoldieBlox message will be blasted to more than 100 million viewers.
The toy and book sets aren’t yet easily available for international shipping, which hasn’t stopped international buyers from paying hundreds of dollars in shipping to get the devices. Sterling says her team is working on partnerships with international distributors.
All of the current and upcoming GoldieBlox products are geared towards girls ages four through nine. Age four is an ideal starting point, explains Sterling, because it’s when kids start identifying with their gender, and when they begin to choose their own toys. Ideas for new products come from extensive testing. Most recently, GoldieBlox put on a “junior hackathon” at Facebook, where employees’ children participated in a building competition.
Eventually, she suggests that the GoldieBlox brand may move beyond toys, into video games, school supplies, and online products for older kids. “We want to have GoldieBlox become a beloved character around the world–a role model for kids showing them that engineering, technology, math, and science are fun and help change the world and are appropriate for girls too,” she says.