Robotics company Sphero has had an exciting but mercurial couple of years. Sphero specializes in digital technology that offers app-enabled robotic balls, allowing its users an immersive experience through coding. After establishing itself in the toy and tech industry in 2010, Disney elevated their reputation with a licensing deal in 2014 to release innovative Disney toys. Unfortunately, in January 2018, the company announced multi-site layoffs and a new strategic positioning.
Sphero, A Rocky 2017
Sphero and Disney was a partnership waiting to happen. The Disney Accelerator Program in 2014 gave Sphero a $120,000 investment capital. As a result, Star Wars jumped on the foundation of Sphero to make the fan favorite BB-8 from Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2017. It also went on to make other toys for Disney like BB-9E, R2-D2, Spider-Man, and Cars’ Lightning McQueen.
However, 2017 holiday sales did not live up to projections. They cited movie fatigue as one of the reasons why sales were lower than expected. Consumers were also said to be looking for a deeper playing experience that the 2017 toys did not necessarily provide in terms of coding. While not financially crippled, the experience compelled them to rethink their future strategies. A total of 45 staff members were let go in the process of refocusing, spanning their global offices in Colorado, the UK, and Hong Kong.
In June 2018, Sphero raised $12M in funding, totaling to $119M, which is instrumental in their being an educational tech company. This is a return to their ethos of being at the intersection of play and learning.
They will begin reallocating their existing resources to education, with schools as their new target market. STEM/STEAM is an extremely competitive space where they would like to position themselves. Leveraging on their Disney partnership, Sphero has the advantage of further building on its reputable robotics platform.
Sphero’s SPRK+ Education now offers a disruptive package that teaches kids coding and robotics. It lets kids program connected toys, which is a real-world application of coding available at a reasonable price point.
The company plans to release only one to two products per year. Hence, with limited releases, all their products moving forward are sure to be technological game changers even toy collectors will watch out for.