Wonderful Women: Interview with Founder of GoldieBlox, Debbie Sterling
Debbie Sterling is the Founder and CEO of GoldieBlox, an award winning toy company on a mission to ‘disrupt the pink aisle’ with interactive construction toys and stories for girls.
Sterling is an engineer, spokesperson and one of the leaders of the movement toward getting girls interested in engineering and technology.
Sterling was named TIME’s Person of the Moment and Business Insider’s 30 Women Who Are Changing the World. GoldieBlox was named one of the World’s Most Innovative Companies by Fast Company, Educational Toy of the Year by the Toy Industry Association, and became the first ever small business to win a free commercial during the Super Bowl.
Sterling has made it her life’s mission to tackle the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and maths. She completed her degree in Engineering at Stanford University in 2005 and currently lives with her husband in San Francisco.
Describe a typical day for you?
There is no such thing as an average day of work at GoldieBlox! In the true, typical entrepreneurial style, every day is a new adventure.
On any given day, I could be doing anything from a photoshoot for a magazine to a crazy, creative brainstorm with post-it notes all over the walls and the floor, to play-testing with little kids where we’re observing them interact with our prototypes, to a network meeting with one of our CEOs, to a strategy meeting with my executives.
It’s so different all the time, because I do play many roles. But that’s part of the fun of it – it’s really exciting every day. Literally not a day goes by that there isn’t a new challenge!
What do you feel are your greatest achievements?
My biggest achievements so far are the little successes, the little stories and anecdotes that we hear every day from the families that are playing with GoldieBlox, and the stories that we’re hearing from the kids.
So one example is, we got a letter from a mom who had got GoldieBlox for her five year old daughter and one day they were in a public restroom and the toilet paper dispenser was broken, and the girl said ‘mommy, it’s missing its axle!’ And the mom just couldn’t believe it, that she’d picked up on it and learned the engineering vocabulary and was connecting the toy to the real world.
There are a bunch of little stories like this that we get every day, and I feel like those are my greatest achievements so far.
What’s in your handbag?
What’s in my handbag?! Let me look…let’s see. This is really funny! Well, honestly, right now in my handbag I have a GoldieBlox action figure that I’ve been taking around the UK and taking pictures of her amongst all of the iconic UK landmarks.
She’ll be released in the UK a little bit later, but she’s sitting in there. She comes with a thirteen foot zip line, so we’re like, hooking her up all across the UK, and she’s flying all over the place. So I’ve got that in there, and…a copious amount of business cards; mine and other people’s.
What are your ambitions in life?
They’ve changed since I’ve gotten older. I’m very fortunate, and now I think I have this very unique opportunity to be an inspiration to girls and women, and I got so lucky that I uncovered this passion and obsession for what I felt to be my life calling.
Every day, I’m working towards this goal of opening up girls’ minds into these very male-dominated fields, where we really badly need the female perspective.
I know that, growing up, I was just like a lot of these little girls that I want to inspire, and I don’t look like the stereotype of what an engineer looks like right now, which I think is a really good thing.
Where do you see yourself in five years time?
In five years, my dream is that GoldieBlox becomes a character brand, and that this girl Goldie with her overalls and tool belt really becomes a role model that both girls and boys look up to, and she provides them with an alternative lifestyle where she’ll get kids excited about building things, invention, innovation, and really contributing to building their own future.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in your field?
Well, it’s funny, because I do some engineering in my job, but now I’m more of an entrepreneur and a CEO.
In terms of engineering, I would really encourage people going into the industry to think about the target audience.
Because engineering isn’t just about the technical elements, there’s also a human side to it: who you’re building for, who you’re creating things for. I think that to be a really great engineer, the more you understand who you’re engineering something for, the better. I think that’s what we do at GoldieBlox.
We really spend time getting to know these kids, and I think that it really, really improves the solutions that we’re creating.
Finally, happiness is…?
I think…happiness is this fleeting feeling that you experience when you’re not trying.
But if you’re dedicating your life to your passions, whether they be your family or career, or cooking, or whatever those things are…if you focus on those things, they’re not necessarily going to make you happy the whole time, but it’s an intense thing. You experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows doing things that you’re passionate about, but I think when that is how you choose to spend your time on this earth, that those fleeting moments of happiness come a little more frequently when you’re doing the things you’re passionate about.
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