An Interview with Debbie Sterling, GoldieBlox CEO
Last week, I attended the Association of Washington Business’s (AWB) annual Policy Summit. AWB, Washington’s largest and oldest statewide business association, brings together members from businesses across Washington every year to help them gain insights on trade policy, small business leadership, entrepreneurship and engage in high-level, statewide policy discussion.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to host an interview with Debbie Sterling, successful businesswoman, entrepreneur and founder and CEO of GoldieBlox. Debbie studied engineering at Stanford University and, after graduating in 2005, noticed a huge gap in the market for engineering toys targeted at girls. She came up with the idea for GoldieBlox, born out of her desire to level the playing field and create more space for girls and women in the engineering sphere, something she herself had not experienced. After an experience attending the New York Toy Fair with her prototype and being told that her product would never sell, she launched a Kickstarter campaign for GoldieBlox, ultimately raising over $300,000.
Today, she is an advocate for women in engineering and technology and has been named TIME’s ‘Person of the Moment’ and Business Insider’s ‘30 Women Who Are Changing the World’. Over the course of my conversation with Debbie, I gained some key insights which I thought were inspiring, interesting and worth sharing:
Creating more than just a product — creating a movement.
With GoldieBlox, Debbie Sterling has tapped into a movement and a product. She isn’t just selling a widget (engineering kits for girls), she has tapped into a desire of parents to rebuff the traditional marketing of toys along gender lines. The idea for the GoldieBlox product came from Debbie’s experience preparing to attend Stanford, when she found that her strengths in math and technology led her teachers to recommend she pursue a degree in engineering. At the time she didn’t know much about engineering — she asked why, and why her male classmates had often been encouraged to venture into the field when her female classmates had not.
After doing some research, Debbie noticed a steep drop off of women and girls interested in engineering around the age of 11-12 — but, interestingly, not in other countries — confirming her belief that the lack of diversity between men and women in engineering was a cultural issue, not a biological limitation. She created GoldieBlox as a first step in deconstructing this societal norm and pushing back against gender constrictions. In a sense, she was selling more than a product to parents, she was selling a small piece of the puzzle of raising children in a less restrictive, more equal world.
Marketing & disruptor brands — thinking outside the Goldiebox.
Being a disruptor brand, GoldieBlox as a company did not have the funds to market the toy in the way similar products are traditionally marketed. It was not an option to purchase commercials during kids’ TV shows, nor was it financially viable to stuff cereal boxes with product samples. Instead, Debbie and her team cleverly utilized YouTube and influencers, working to secure third-party endorsements. She also won a contest for a Super Bowl Ad – check it out.
It’s a prime example of building a more streamlined, strategic combination of earned, paid and owned media to reach smaller groups of targeted audiences through trusted message carriers. Moreover, this is a case study for how smaller, disruptor brands can achieve success by clearly tying their company’s values and mission to their product and then communicating those things to their prospective consumers who are asking for, and expecting, products that make them feel good about their purchase decisions.
In the face of many challenges, Debbie persevered. She believed in her idea and her product and she didn’t give up. Now, she is inspiring and seeding the next generation of female engineers. I look forward to continuing to watch the great things that come from GoldieBlox.