An Interview with littleBits Founder and CEO, Ayah Bdeir

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This is the first in a series of interviews with toy and play industry influencers. The purpose of this series is to find out what they have to say about their businesses as well as how they see the present and future of how children and adults play and will play. As importantly it is to shed light on how those of us who work in the business of play can best serve those who play with our products.

Ayah Bdeir is a toy industry superstar. The Montreal native made the Fast Company 2013 list of "Most Creative People in Business", 2014 Popular Mechanics' "25 Makers Who are Reinventing the American Dream" and Entrepreneur magazine's 2014 list of "10 Up and Coming Leaders to Watch". And let's not forget, she is also a TED Senior Fellow.

Her company, littleBits, makes products that empower children to playfully create their own inventions. The components of her toys consist of reusable, magnetic color-coded, electronic building blocks, which beautifully intertwine construction and technology to create an entirely new building experience.

Here is my conversation with Ayah:

Richard:

Can you tell us a "little bit" about how you were inspired to create littleBits?

Ayah:

I have an engineering background, but have always been interested in art and design. I developed early versions of littleBits as part of a project to help industrial designers improve their prototyping process, and make it easier for non-engineers to use electronics in their work. As I started demoing littleBits, there was enormous excitement from kids, parents, and teachers, who wanted to use littleBits in ways I had never anticipated. Seeing them engage with littleBits, I realized there was a very big opportunity to change the way kids learn about technology, and to change their relationship with technology from passive consumers to creative problem-solvers.

Richard:

Ayah, you have a great personal story as well as exciting company. How and where do the two intersect?

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Ayah:

littleBits is very much a reaction to my own educational experience. I originally wanted to be an architect, 
but my parents and teachers said I owed it to myself to be an engineer because I was good at Math and Science. i did my undergrad in engineering but I was actually not interested – I found it dry and boring. Then after attending the MIT Media Lab for graduate school, I first saw how you could combine amazing advances in engineering with great ideas of design and social change. I felt like all students should have this experience.

 

Richard:

We hear a lot about the paucity of women in the hard science professions. Yet, your product seems to be gender neutral in that you want all children to get excited about science. Do you have a sense of the percentage of boys and girls playing with littleBits and if not do you think it makes a difference.

Ayah:

About 30-40% of our users are girls, which is quite high for electronics, although we’re working to get it even higher. Our “hidden mission” is to get more girls into technology, and we think that having a gender neutral product will help us accomplish that. We are very thoughtful about being gender neutral in every aspect of our work: the look and feel of the product, the colors, the photography, the inventions we showcase, and most importantly the team we hire. The more diverse our team is, the more inclusive the product is.

Richard:

Can you share with us any of your plans for future products?

Ayah:

We are planning something BIG with the team from Star Wars, a culmination of our work in the Disney Accelerator. I can’t say anything more just yet, but will have more details to share very soon!

Richard:

How do you think the toy industry in general is doing in supplying children with fun ways to get involved with the sciences?

 

Ayah:

The category is a lot bigger today than it was even a few years ago, but I think a lot of the STEM toys are still missing the “fun” element. The motivation to learn has to come from the kid; it can’t be forced upon her.

Richard:

One of the questions we like to ask those we interview is: Was there a toy that you had as a child that inspired you to go into the hard sciences?

Ayah:

There were many–my dad got me and my sisters chemistry sets, electricity kits, and programming lessons, but the most inspiring toy for me was always LEGO.

One thought

  1. As an expert in the toy industry , I am curious to learn of your opinion of Littlebits chance for success in the toy industry ? So many STEM companies trying very very few succeeding and when you look at the leaders in the category Mc2 from MGA comes up !
    These price points are very high and the abstract end result and additional crafting concerns me that kids today will not be drawn to the product in enough “mass” numbers to really expand beyond specialty stores.

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