GoldieBlox is the new darling of the tech and consumer media. The Oakland-based toy company manufactures a building set designed just for girls — not just to give them the pink-and-pretty version of LEGOs®, previously always marketed to boys, but to appeal to the way girls learn and discover, and to encourage them to develop a love of design and engineering.
The company’s story is an amazing one: its success originates from a fall 2012 Kickstarter campaign that was wildly successful and funded the first round of production for the toy. That story has started popping up everywhere: Forbes, The Atlantic, Wired, Time and many other national news outlets. At the heart of the company’s success is its ability to tell their story in fun, smart, emotional and colorful ways throughout all its marketing channels — originating with the Kickstarter video that started it all.
The first shipment of GoldieBlox literally arrived at the Port of Oakland from China on the day I interviewed GoldieBlox founder and CEO Debbie Sterling. Needless to say, it was an exciting and emotional day for her. But she generously gave me a few minutes of time to talk about GoldieBlox’s online content, and how she believes the company is ultimately all about storytelling.
S7: Can you talk about what inspired you to do this in the first place? How did you go from being an engineer who recognized there weren’t enough women in your field, to starting a toy company?
Debbie: I studied engineering at Stanford. After I graduated from college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I spent eight years doing a lot of different jobs and searching for my passion. I knew I wanted to help people and make the world a better place.
I was working as a brand strategist at a big ad agency a few years ago, and I loved it. The work was creative and interesting, but in the end it wasn’t really helping anybody. I also worked as a marketing director for a jewelry design company, Lori Bonn Design. I started designing their jewelry displays and packaging and learned a lot about the emotion and branding behind the jewelry.
A couple of years ago, a friend of mine who also studied mechanical engineering started talking about how, as the youngest of four kids and with three older brothers, she always played with hand-me-down LEGOs. She never understood why that might be considered weird for a girl.
As soon as she said that, it was like fireworks had gone off! This was what I was born to do: I became obsessed with it. I went to the toy store and was horrified at what I found: we haven’t evolved much since the 1950s. I found all the worst gender stereotypes. There’s a huge gap in the marketplace, and I saw that I can really make a difference in girls’ lives.
We want to get girls interested in engineering early on. I didn’t even know what engineering was until I was a senior in high school.
S7: As a small business owner myself, I know it’s hard to put some distance from what we do in order tell our story in a way that makes sense to other people. As you started to articulate your story, did it come naturally, or did you struggle with it? Was there a process you went through?
Debbie: I knew enough to know that the Kickstarter video was everything: it would make or break the success of the campaign. I’m genuinely excited and passionate about my project, and I wanted to capture the essence of that in the video. I didn’t have an office, and we wanted some kind of natural setting, so some product design colleagues let me set up in their workshop. My husband owned a video production company at the time and helped me get fancy video camera equipment and plan the shoot.
I went shopping for a new dress, and got my hair and makeup done. We shot the video, and my husband did a first cut. And I said: “It’s way too slick! This doesn’t feel like me.” It was too polished, and it didn’t seem earnest. People said, “It’s great!” but I was upset. I insisted that we reshoot the whole thing.
So we ditched the fancy equipment and my husband and his business partner borrowed a camera, and we set up on the living room floor of my apartment. Even though we had filmed this before, I was still very nervous, and felt unsure and vulnerable about being on camera. I drank some wine beforehand. And my friend, bless her heart, stripped down to her underwear so I wouldn’t feel so self-conscious. It worked!
We spent all day shooting that second video. My apartment is in San Francisco, so we had a siren go by every minute. Finally, surrounded by supportive family and friends, and a little more wine, we got the video version that we wanted.
I attribute a lot of our success to the storytelling in that video. It was the right platform to share what GoldieBlox is all about.
S7: You have a really impressive social media presence. What role do you think social media and blogging have had in your success so far? What’s your strategy behind the content you publish on your different channels?
Debbie: I have a team of four people, and we all collaborate in on the kinds of things we want to do. One team member is responsible for posting everything. On Facebook, we’ve learned by doing; posting different things to see what gets more attention. For example, a lot of our Facebook fans are engineers themselves, so when we post about engineering things we get a lot of engagement. They love it. Also, a lot of Facebook fans are customers, so posts about the progress of shipments and availability of the toys are popular, too.
On Twitter, we’ve been experimenting with posting inspirational quotes and updates about what’s going on with GoldieBlox. We retweet our press coverage. There’s not a ton of strategy that goes into it. We’re so young. We’re trying a bunch of things and analyzing the results.
I started the blog back when the company was only me. I treated it like my journal, and wasn’t writing it for anybody except close friends and family. It wasn’t a marketing thing; I was just trying to document my journey and what I learned. I didn’t know how many people were reading it until people started saying things to me about things I was writing! Now our team continues to use it as our journal and reflect on our progress and our mission. We’re also inviting female engineers and friends to share their stories. We want the blog to be more personal. It’s boring when you read company blogs and they’re dry and all about the products. We get so busy with our day-to-day work, so it’s a great opportunity to sit down and reflect. When we’re not trying to boost our readership, the content is way more interesting.
S7: Do you have a “magic formula” that works for you about when and how often you post?
Debbie: We always try to post on Facebook on Tuesday afternoons — that’s the busiest time. We try to tweet three times a day, and post at least one additional time a week on Facebook. We would do more if we had more manpower. We do try to respond to everybody who posts or sends us a message — we’re listening and hearing what our audience is trying to say.
S7: If you were to give one piece of advice to businesspeople who are trying to successfully tell their stories through online content, what would be the one thing you’d want them to know?
Debbie: Video is by far the most powerful way to tell your story. For me personally, it was all about capturing the GoldieBlox story. That’s a hard thing to do. It’s hard to act natural in front of a video camera, yet video is the easiest thing to share and consume in this lazy day and age. If you’re genuinely passionate about something, it’s going to come through. If you have the guts to do it, even though you’re vulnerable and putting your face on it, be there! I had to do two takes, but it worked.
We just filmed another documentary-style video and plan to keep sharing our stories that way. Our company is about storytelling. People respond to that!