Innovators. They come in many forms. They dream big but they aren’t just dreamers. They form raw ideas into cool products with disruptive business models. They shatter entire industries and leave established leviathans running scared with their tails between their legs. The Innovators interview series connects you with the most driven people on the planet. What makes them tick? What advice do they have for tech founders? What tools do they use to get the job done? Read on to find out.
Debbie Sterling is a female engineer and founder of GoldieBlox, a toy company out to inspire the next generation of female engineers. She has made it her mission in life to tackle the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and math.
GoldieBlox is a book series+construction set that engages kids to build through the story of Goldie, the girl inventor who solves problems by building simple machines. Debbie writes and illustrates Goldie’s stories, taking inspiration from her grandmother, one of the first female cartoonists and creator of “Mr. Magoo.” Her company, launched in 2012, raised over $285,000 in 30 days through Kickstarter, and has been featured in numerous publications such as The Atlantic and Forbes.
Debbie completed her degree in engineering at Stanford (Product Design, ’05) and prior to founding GoldieBlox, she served as the Marketing Director of Lori Bonn, a national jewelry company. For the past 7 years, she has also served as a brand strategy consultant for a wide variety of organizations including Microsoft, T-Mobile, Organic Valley and the New York Knicks.
Debbie’s inspiration to create a mission-driven company came in 2008, when she spent 6 months volunteering at a grassroots nonprofit in rural India. She created a viral-video fundraising campaign called “I Want a Goat”, raising over $30,000 for economic and educational development in the region. This experience helped pave the way to finding her true passion: inspiring the next generation of female engineers.
What do you enjoy most about your work and why?
My favorite part of my job is interacting with kids. I’m constantly amazed and inspired by their creativity. I love watching kids play with our toy prototypes and seeing what they come up with – it’s never what you’d expect! So many of the design decisions I’ve made so far have been directly inspired by kids. It’s such a fun and critical part of the toy-making process; and it always reminds me why I’m doing this in the first place.
Where does your passion come from? What drives you, inspires you, excites you?
I’m passionate about gender equality, about proving that girls can do anything! When I first started the company, I visited toy stores to get a lay of the land. I was horrified at what I saw. It felt like I was back in the 1950’s, where all the girl toys were centered around cooking, cleaning, dolls, decorating and cosmetics. I know in my heart that girls deserve more options than this. I’m inspired by the idea of making engineering cool and relevant to girls.
Someone reading this wants to start a tech company. What’s your best advice for them?
The most important thing is to work on something you’re truly passionate about. Technology is just a means to an end, so find a problem you really want to solve, something that keeps you up at night. Don’t pursue it unless you are 100% obsessed. Once you’re truly, truly passionate, everything will follow. People will get inspired by you and want to be a part of it.
What are a few tech startups that you’re really excited about right now and why?
I’m excited about Workclub, which is Philip Rosedale’s (founder of Second Life) new venture. It’s an app that is taking the Silicon Valley entrepreneurial culture to the masses, promoting real-time collaboration where entrepreneurs spend most of their time: coffee shops.
I’m also a huge fan of Everest, a brand new app whose mission is to help people achieve their dreams. On Everest, you can write down any dream you have, whether it’s write a novel, run a marathon, learn a new language, etc. and the app helps you break the dream down into bite-sized steps. Right now, my Everest is to exercise three times a week.
The third one I’m excited about is Fitbit, a company that is using new technologies and online tools to help people stay fit. I haven’t used it myself yet, but a friend of mine was showing it to me the other day and I was drooling.
What tech tools (websites, apps, gadgets, etc.) do you rely on both for work and in your down time?
For work, we rely on Nimble, Dropbox, Mailchimp, HootSuite, Basecamp, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, iPhone, iPad, Macbook, Wacom Tablet, Quickbooks, Skype, Instagram, LinkedIn.
In my personal life, I hardly use any technology. Seriously. I practically live in a cave. I like to unplug when I’m not working (which is rare).