Debbie Sterling: Disrupting the Pink Aisle [Entire Talk] | Summary and Q&A

April 27, 2017
Stanford eCorner
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Debbie Sterling: Disrupting the Pink Aisle [Entire Talk]

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Debbie Sterling, the founder of GoldieBlox, shares her journey from being a Stanford student to disrupting the pink aisle in toy stores with her engineering toys for girls. She talks about the challenges she faced as a woman in a male-dominated field and the importance of introducing engineering concepts in a fun and accessible way for kids. She also emphasizes the need to design products for the customer and never giving up on your goals.

Questions & Answers

Q: How did Debbie initially perceive the idea of studying engineering?

When her math teacher suggested that she consider engineering, she had no idea what it entailed and pictured an old man driving a train. However, after taking an introductory engineering class at Stanford, she realized that it was an opportunity to solve problems and be creative, which sparked her interest.

Q: Why did Debbie continue studying engineering despite the challenges she faced?

Debbie stuck with engineering because she was passionate about solving big problems in the world and proving to herself that she could overcome challenges and succeed. She was determined to climb the mountain and reach the top, which gave her a feeling of invincibility.

Q: How did Debbie come up with the idea for GoldieBlox?

The idea for GoldieBlox came to Debbie during an Idea Brunch where her friend complained about the lack of women in their engineering classes. Debbie realized that if she had grown up playing with construction toys like her friend, she might have become interested in engineering at a much younger age. This led her to combine storytelling with building, creating a character named Goldie who inspired girls to explore engineering.

Q: What challenges did Debbie face in getting GoldieBlox into toy stores?

Initially, the bigwigs in the toy industry rejected the idea, claiming that girls prefer the pink aisle and are not interested in building. However, Debbie attended a social entrepreneurship conference where people embraced her idea. She learned the importance of being an entrepreneur rather than just an inventor, sharing her vision and bringing people along. She then launched a successful Kickstarter campaign and received media attention, eventually getting GoldieBlox into Toys "R" Us.

Q: How did Debbie overcome the challenges of limited resources?

Despite not having many resources, Debbie found ways to be scrappy and creative. For example, she filmed a video with her Kickstarter backers in the Toys "R" Us parking lot to promote the brand's presence in the store. She also entered a contest to win a Super Bowl commercial and enlisted her Kickstarter backers and supporters to vote for GoldieBlox. Debbie learned that limited resources can be a strategic advantage and force entrepreneurs to think outside the box.

Q: How did Debbie handle the failure of GoldieBlox blocks not fitting properly?

When the blocks did not fit well, Debbie turned the failure into an opportunity. She invested in fixing the blocks and replaced 1,000,000 of them, sending a letter from Goldie explaining the mistake and how engineers learn from failure. By acknowledging the problem and offering a solution, Debbie turned the failure into a chance to deepen the connection with customers and show them the company's commitment to quality.

Q: How did Debbie design GoldieBlox to make engineering accessible to girls and parents without engineering backgrounds?

Debbie recognized that most people are not advanced engineers, including many parents. GoldieBlox was designed to make engineering concepts accessible and fun, so kids can learn without realizing it. The company also provides resources and tips for parents to help them engage their children in engineering activities. By focusing on the play experience and making it enjoyable, GoldieBlox attracts a broader audience.

Q: What lessons did Debbie learn about designing for the customer rather than the retailer?

Debbie realized that the most important aspect is creating products that excite and engage the customer, in this case, young girls. While retailers may have their preferences and price points, it is vital to stay true to the customer and deliver something that truly resonates with them. Debbie learned to defend her customer-centric approach and not get swayed by outside pressures.

Q: How did getting investments change the trajectory of GoldieBlox?

Initially, Debbie self-funded the company using her life savings. The investment came later and allowed for more resources and growth. However, Debbie always had a clear mission and vision for GoldieBlox, and the investments helped amplify the brand's reach and impact. The core values and objectives of the company remained consistent before and after receiving investments.

Q: What is Debbie's current goal for GoldieBlox?

Debbie's current goal is to build GoldieBlox into a character brand that inspires the maker culture and becomes a role model for every little girl. She aims to create a lifestyle around GoldieBlox, similar to the Disney Princess franchise, where girls can engage with the character through cartoons, books, apps, and more. The goal is to enable every little girl to embrace her inner maker and encourage her interest in engineering and invention.


Debbie Sterling's journey with GoldieBlox teaches us several important lessons. First, being an inventor is different from being an entrepreneur. Sharing your vision, bringing people along, and embracing a social mission can inspire others to support your cause. Limited resources can be a strategic advantage, leading to creative solutions and outside-the-box thinking. Failures should be turned into opportunities for learning and growth. Designing products for the customer, rather than the retailer, ensures a genuine and engaging experience. Finally, never give up on your goals, even in the face of challenges and setbacks. Persistence and belief in your mission can lead to success.

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