Boulder Colorado startup Seamless Toys, is one of the coolest startups we’ve heard about all year (and we’ve reported on over 1500), they’ve created Atoms, essentially toys that help kids build things that do cool things. Think erector sets, legos and blocks but for kids living in today’s times.
ATOMs were built to work in conjunction with the stuff kids already have like LEGOs, stuffed animals, Barbies, even those good ole erector sets. Seamless Toys boasts that within five minutes of taking ATOMS out of the box, kids can be creating things. Not only that but kids as young as five can create toys that interact with smart phones, move around, explode and more.
There are 13 unique modules that include a motor, light sensor, sound module, knob module, battery brick, splitter, IR laser, IR target, LED, Flip Flop, accelerometer, iOS control brick and our favorite the exploding brick (parents no worries there are no pyrotechnics involved).
Last year at CES 2012 we saw Cubelets which are robotic construction kids for kids. While those are cool, what the folks at Seamless Toys have been able to do is integrate and make their ATOMS Express toy sets something that compliments existing toys and makes them do whatever a kids’ imagination can come up with.
Imagine creating a lego house with lights that turn on and off by iPhone, or a garage door that opens. Imagine a dinosaur that rolls across the floor and has a mouth that opens. You could even build lego villages that explode.
All of this is why ATOMS were able to meet their $100,000 Kickstarter goal in just 22 days.
We got a chance to catch up with the team behind ATOMS, check out our interview below.
What is Seamless Toy Company and What in the world are ATOMS?
Our company is called Seamless Toy Company, and we just launched our first product, called ATOMS Express. ATOMS Express is a plug-and-play electronics prototyping system that helps people make things that do things. ATOMS are simple enough for a 5 year old, and powerful enough for a professional; and ATOMS require no previous experience in electronics or programming.
We launched our product on Kickstarter on November 19th, with 13 unique ATOMS, each with a unique function. Blue ATOMS are sensors: a light sensor, an infrared data receiver, a knob, a 2-axis accelerometer; red ATOMS are logic connections: a splitter, a flip-flop (holds state); and green ATOMS do things: a motor, a record-playback sound brick, an LED, an infrared transmitter, an exploding brick (that pops apart)!
There are also special ATOMS, including a Bluetooth Smart Brick (Bluetooth 4) that let’s you control Green ATOMS and read Blue ATOMS from any of the other ATOMS from an iOS device, and a rechargeable battery pack ATOM that powers all the others.
We launched ATOMS with 5 initial sets: a Prankster Set at $29 (exploding brick and light sensor), a Monster Construction Set at $49 (make monsters that move), a Magic Wand Set at $59 (control a night light and make monsters explode), an iOS Control Set at $79 (iOS Tank Rover), and a Deluxe iOS Control Set at $129 (Tank Rover plus IR to shoot and explode targets).
ATOMS are designed to work with things people already have: they work with LEGO construction sets, they have velcro bottoms and come with velcro stickers to stick onto other toys, they have holes in the corners for bolts or to sew onto things, and they’re durable and water resistant.
ATOMS met it’s kickstarter goal of $100K in 22 days, and currently has 1,135 backers with $144,256 raised. The kickstarter campaign ends on Jan 1, and ATOMS will ship in Q2, 2013.
Who are the founders and what are their backgrounds?
The ATOMS team currently has 27 team members, and over 40 kids participating in play groups.
Here’s some info about the founding members:
Michael Rosenblatt loved to build stuff. So he went to Carnegie Mellon (BS, Robotics and Industrial Design) and MIT (Media Lab, MS, 2003) to build toys and robots, and then on to Apple to build iPods and iPhones (Engineering Program Manager, and New Tech Team Leader).
David Allen, iOS Guru, is a father with a love for start-ups, data, and building technology that has a real impact on people’s lives. So it goes without saying that ATOMS got him really jazzed. For the Seamless Toy Co, David creates, particularly our iOS controls.
Rob Aimi, Mechatronics Engineer, went to MIT with Michael and the two share a love of building things. Rob is particularly fast at it and was responsible for engineering all the mechatronic elements in ATOMS in record time. For the Seamless Toy Co, Rob brings robotics engineering horsepower.
Eric Budd, Product Development Manager, knows how to manage technical projects and get products out the door on time and in tip-top shape. For the Seamless Toy Co, Eric wears many hats – product development, project management, quality control.
Shannon McCoy, Internal Operations Manager, loves the messy side of running a toy company – because she appreciates that out of chaos comes creativity, and because she’s a wizard at instilling order. For the Seamless Toy Co, Shannon runs operations and keeps us all on the same page, moving forward.
Gabrielle Fuqua, Community Manager, brings her love of children – her own, and those she works with daily in the Boulder community – to the ATOMS team. Under Gabrielle’s guidance, the Seamless Toy Co knows what kids want because we have incorporated kids into the process of creating their own toys.
Fiona A., Chief Creative Officer, is a 7th grader at Summit Middle School in Boulder, CO. She loves to create – whether by singing, acting, writing or building toys that do stuff with ATOMS. As CCO, Fiona is in charge of making sure ATOMS are designed for kids, and by kids.
Where are you based?
We are based in Boulder, CO, right at the center of town (Broadway and Pearl)
What is the startup culture like where you are based?
The startup culture in Boulder is like nothing I’ve (Michael) experienced in any of the places I’ve lived – New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, Silicon Valley. The startup community in Boulder is extremely tight knit. Everyone working at a tech startup in Boulder is 2 degrees of separation at most from anyone else. Even though it’s a fairly big metro area (250K people), the startup community converges through several highly active networks – Boulder Open Coffee Club, an semi-weekly open forum for entrepreneurs; Silicon Flatirons – a more formal, 50-event-per-year, organization run through the University of Colorado Law School; and Tech Stars, a Boulder-based accelerator. There may be more startups in Silicon Valley, and more programmers in Boston, but none of those places have the entrepreneurial density that Boulder does.
It was because of Boulder’s tight entrepreneurial network that we were able to move so fast – we built the team from 2 (David and myself) to 25 in just 10 days, and we built working prototypes of all the ATOMS in just 3.5 weeks.
Another neat thing about the startup community in Boulder is that most people here live and work in the same community. The average commute time for people on our team is 5 min (by bike). Compare that to the average commute in Silicon Valley, and everyone on the team automatically has 90 more minutes in their day to get work done or living their lives.
What problem does your startup solve?
We enable people without electrical engineering and software backgrounds to make things that do things, and people with those backgrounds to build things faster.
Let’s say your 6 year old daughter wanted to make a “pet creature” that jumped out and roared to surprise her brother when he turned the lights on in his room. With ATOMS, she could sit down and build that in a few minutes, with our Monster Construction Set, or using ATOMS with LEGO and craft materials around the house.
In another example, let’s say you wanted to build a motorized pan-tilt tripod for your iPhone to take more controlled or time-lapsed panoramas. You could do that with ATOMS in minutes.
What is one challenge that you’ve overcome in the startup process?
Getting to our Kickstarter goal was a challenge and a success. At first we were explaining the vision well, but not the product. We weren’t getting as many backers as we thought we should be, and we made some changes to our Kickstarter video based on the data we were receiving from the analytics. The new video still had the vision statement, but was much more product focused, and that seemed to be what the audience was looking for – the conversion rate nearly doubled.
Who are your mentors and role models?
We’ve had a handful of great mentors in the Boulder startup community, but it’s been a distributed effort (on the order of 2 dozen), so probably too many to list.
This is going to sound cliché, but our role models for this company are probably Thomas Edison, and Steve Jobs. Let me explain…
Thomas Edison, because… and not many people know this…. he systematized innovation. Most people think he was a lone genius who invented the light bulb like Doc Brown fell off the toilet and invented the Flux Capacitor. The Edison Labs were factories for innovation – at their height over 200 people worked there. They created a process around systematically creating new things. \
Steve Jobs, because even though I didn’t work with him directly at Apple, my boss met with him regularly. Through that proximity I learned that really his top priority was just to make the best possible products. In any company, whether a startup or the largest company in the world, there are always too many things to individually optimize. So in light of that, leaders have to choose what objectives to focus on – and hopefully if they choose well, everything else falls into place. Steve never sought to maximize profit or market reach – he just drove everyone to make the best possible products, and all those other aspects of the company fell into place.
Whats one thing the world doesn’t know about you or your startup?
Up to now, ATOMS has had zero full-time employees. This has been a side project for everyone involved up to now, but we’ll be hiring several people full time in January. It’s getting more “real” every day. :)
What’s next for your startup?
Immediately, we’ll be at CES, Las Vegas, and Toy Faire, NYC. Then have several growth challenges ahead.
The first challenge is getting ATOMS into production. We’re not worried as the team has a lot more experience in this aspect of the business than anything we’ve done up to now (crowdfunding and PR), but it will definitely be a lot of work, and it’s not risk-free.
Our next challenge is that we need to decide whether to grow organically, or seek institutional financing. We can grow faster with VC financing, but we have enough momentum now that we don’t need to go that route.
Related to the above, we have lots of strategic questions to focus on, like how soon we pursue retail channels, and what audiences do we focus on as we expand the product line.
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