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I’ve loved being involved in Orbotix from the very beginning. I got to know Adam and Ian, the founders, even before they got into Techstars. Their original company name was GearBox and they probably wouldn’t haven’t gotten into Techstars except that both Nicole Glaros and I said “we love these guys – fuck it – let’s try a hardware company this time.”
Paul Berberian, one of Adam and Ian’s lead mentors during Techstars joined them as the third co-founder before demo day and we led the seed round shortly after. Orbotix is now 40 people, with hundreds of thousands of Sphero’s out in the wild and being played with, and a new product (currently codenamed 2B) coming out this fall.
The company is on the forefront of a new category I like to call “connected play.” It’s not a static toy, like kids have been playing with since the beginning of time. It’s not a game on a pane of glass like an iPhone or iPad. It’s a dynamic toy that you can play with online, via your pane of glass, or in the real world, with friends, connected together online. And it gets upgraded continually, with new software and new games.
I’ve talked in the past about how I love origin stories. I bet you didn’t know that before there was Sphero, Adam and Ian made an iPhone-based garage door opener well before that was cool and trendy. Enjoy the three minute origin story of Orbotix.
If you wonder how kids describe a Sphero, this short video will make you smile. And then laugh. And then smile some more. One of these kids needs to be on The Voice.
Sphero says, “buy me, buy me, buy me.”
I’m a big fan of Jason Calacanis’ show This Week In Startups. I usually run naked (no headphones) but when I listen to something it’s usually an interview or a book.
Amy and I had dinner last night with Paul Berberian and his wife Renee and Paul mentioned Jason had interviewed him at Techstars FounderCon in Chicago a few weeks ago. So – I grabbed my iPhone, downloaded the interview, and listened to it. Dynamite stuff.
Earlier in the morning I read Jason’s post on LinkedIn titled The Great Venture Capital Rotation. I think it was originally titled “The End of Venture Capital Sort Of” (based on the URL). In addition to being provocative, it lined up nicely along a few others posts on this topic from Fred Wilson (Leading vs Following), Hunter Walk (AngelList Syndicates Will Also Pit Angel Against Angel) and Howard Lindzon (So You Want to Angel Invest…Be Prepared to Lead and Follow.) Naval, Nivi, and the gang at AngelList have really busted some stuff open and it’s interesting to watch it play out.
Teaching kids to program is not an easy task – their attention span is short and what they are able to accomplish in a brief period of time is often uninspiring which results in them losing attention quickly.
Robots help a lot with this!
The Orbotix team has turned their Sphero into a fantastic programming aid to introduce coding to kids as young as 4th grade. In about an hour kids will be commanding their robot to drive geometric patterns while also learning a bit about angles, degrees, time and distance calculations, loops and conditional branching. If your my age, you might remember Logo and turtle graphics. It turns out to be really cool to toss a robot into the mix, instead of just a computer screen.
Coding is done via a simple app on either Android or iOS devices and sent to the Sphero via Bluetooth. The younger kids learn to program using a simple scripting language developed by Orbotix called MacroLab – the older kids learn BASIC which Sphero can interpret to do some complex tasks.
Orbotix is hosting a “Sphero Rangers” event at the Google offices here in Boulder this Saturday from 11am to 2pm. Robots and programming devices will be provided – but bring your smartphone if you want to use your own. Attendees will also be able to get a Sphero at a discounted price. If interested sign up here: http://www.meetup.com/