Our guest this week is Ian Bernstein, CTO of Sphero.  Sphero is creating a new category of toys called “Connected Toys” that take the best of what kids and adults love about their smart devices and fuse it with our robots that exist in the real world. 

Ian’s passion is in electronics and robotics. Ever since he was 12 years old he has been building robots.  Learn about how he parlayed his love of robotics into one of the most successful robotics company in the country.  Sphero is a robotic ball that can be controlled with a smartphone.  The company also makes the BB-8 toy robot featured prominently in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. 

Episode Flow
– 1:00 — Ian’s first robotics project
– 5:00 — The college years
– 7:00 — Ian’s (very interesting) first web design project!
– 10:00 — Applying, (and re-applying to Techstars)
– 13:00 — Using a smartphone as brains for a hardware device.
– 17:00 — Ian meets his co-founder
– 19:00 — Friends & Family funding
– 21:00 — Building the first prototype
– 22:00 — The Techstars years
– 24:00 — How we settled on a smartphone-connected ball.
– 31:00 — Shipping the first hardware product
– 33:00 — Sphero gets a CEO!
– 36:00 — CES && Many many Pre-orders
– 39:00 — Sphero v1 ships!
– 41:00 — Sphero gets used for Education
– 44:00 — Star Wars && The Partnership with Disney
– 47:00 — Hitting Scale in a Massive Way
– 52:00 — War Story
– 58:00 — Engineering Values
Quotes

The energy of being around other people who are super motivated to start companies was a primary reason we joined an accelerator.

When I first started out building Sphero, I was working out of my basement. I didn’t have a network and I didn’t really know anything. Joining an accelerator was a really great resource.

In 2009, I had thought that everybody is going to have smartphones in 5 years. I thought to myself: Why can’t I use this device as the brains for a robot?

People were using our product for things that we hadn’t even thought of.

What if we turned our product from more of an engineering thing into more of a character? What if we had a story mode? And it worked! We saw engagement skyrocket when we launched.

The first day our product came out, we sold out worldwide in 2 hours.

We decided to restructure the company into a product team structure. This gave us more visibility into the products. It also gave us more granular accountability for outcomes.

Each product team has it’s own core set of people. But for specialized things, or if you need a crunch period, we have a core engineering team that can help out with various specialities.

We have support structure in China. In many ways, they are an extension of our core team.

Really think about the engineering, but also how you want users to *feel* when they use your product. What emotion do you want them to have?

Think about how you hide complexity from the user. How do you use engineering to create an incredible experience and emotion for a user?