Technological savvy toys are becoming increasingly popular and desirable in the toy industry. Wonder Workshop is a startup company that is using its programmable robots– named Dash and Dot –to help children learn how to code and become familiarized with how computer science, coding and robotics work.
In addition to Dash and Dot, Wonder Workshop offers curriculum and lesson plans on their website which are very helpful to anyone seeking to learn about coding–and such materials are especially invaluable to homeschoolers. In addition to these educational materials, the company hosts a Wonder League Robotics competition, where kids can sign up as teams to compete with their Dash and Dot Robots for a grand prize of a STEM trip to California! There are already over 1400 teams (3000+ kids) across the US who have signed up in less than a month.
Vikas Gupta, the CEO and Co-Founder, drives the Wonder Workshop’s vision, strategy, and growth as it brings products into the hands of children around the world. Vikas learned to program using BASIC when he was 14 years old and later went on to start a company, Jambool, that was acquired by Google in 2010. Previously he led the payments and web services groups at Amazon. Vikas is a father of two, and it was the time he spent with his daughter, his first child, that inspired him to start Wonder Workshop. Vikas recently spoke to the Examiner about his experiences working with the company and his hopes for its future:
Meagan Meehan (M.M.): When was Wonder Workshop started and why was that specific name chosen?
Vikas Gupta (V.G.): Wonder Workshop was founded in 2012 with a simple yet important mission: to make coding meaningful and fun for kids. We named our company “Wonder Workshop” to describe how we are empowering kids to question, think, and create on their own. Our goal is to encourage kids to be curious and find joy in learning, and by giving them the tools to learn to code, Wonder Workshop gives agency and creativity in using Dash and Dot to shape their own play and life experiences..
M.M.: What kinds of products does Wonder Workshop offer?
V.G.: Wonder Workshop offers two robots, Dash and Dot, as well as 5 apps to use in conjunction with the robots. Dash is a real robot the responds to voice, navigating objects, and other play actions like dancing and singing. Through using the apps kids can create new behaviors for Dash. Dot, the other robot, has less physical moving functionality, but has the brains of a robot and comes with several games on the app with puzzles to guide you through use and play.
M.M.: At present, how many products do you have on the market?
V.G.: At present, with two robots (Dash and Dot) and five apps, we have seven products on the market. We also have accessories for Dash & Dot, which help give them additional looks and capabilities. They include xylophone, building brick connectors (compatible with LEGO bricks), a pusher bar, a smartphone mount to take videos, bunny ears, and a tow hook.
M.M.: To date, what has been the most rewarding part of working with Wonder Workshop?
V.G.: The most rewarding part of working with Wonder Workshop is the delight and joy we get to see firsthand when kids play with Dash and Dot. Seeing kids find “aha” moments, and serendipitous discovery of laughter are what makes working here a delight. Every time we learn about new ways that Dash and Dot are making an impact in lives around the world, often something we hadn’t even imagined, we find new motivation to continue to innovate on behalf of our customers.
M.M.: Where do you hope Wonder Workshop will be in ten years?
V.G.: We are still in our infancy, and in 10 years, some of the earliest users of Dash and Dot will be ready to go to college. I hope in these 10 years, we would have motivated a lot of them to pursue science and technology, and they would look back at their childhood as being a bit better thanks to these robots. As a company, I hope we are able to reach kids around the world with the products we build, and continue to bring them delight and learning as we grow.
M.M.: What advice would you give to someone who is striving to enter the toy industry?
V.G.: My advice to someone who is entering the toy industry is to first study the industry and decide whether they want to build a standalone company, or a one-off product, and depending on their choice, they should pursue very different routes. If they are planning to build a standalone company, they should plan well, understanding the seasonality skew and the long cycles that distribution channels have. Finally, I believe that software has a much bigger role to play in the toys of the future, and they should figure out if they see themselves as a software or a hardware company. For example, Wonder Workshop is much more of a software company than a hardware company. The robots just happen to be how our software manifests itself.
M.M.: Are there any upcoming events that you would like to mention?
V.G.: We will be attending and speaking at CES in January 6-9 2016 as well as Digital Kids Conference February 15-17, 2016. We will also be announcing the winning teams of our national Wonder League Competition on December 10.
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To learn more about the Wonder Workshop visit its official website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Blog.