After nine months of developing the toy, Sterling left her sales job and went to work on GoldieBlox full time. She sunk her savings into creating that first single toy and set out with videos of kids playing with it to raise $250,000 from friends, family and angel investors. Her goal was to present a first-manufacturing run at Toy Fair in New York City. Meanwhile, she shopped GoldieBlox around to toy stores and industry authorities. "They all told me I was crazy, and girls just want Barbies and Bratz, and that it is well-known that construction toys for girls don't sell," she says.
After she reached her initial funding goal an investor and successful toy entrepreneur told her trying to sell the industry on Goldie wasn't the way to go. Instead, she needed to prove a market demand for it.
"I was worried that I would have an uphill battle to convince these dinosaurs in the toy industry that this concept would be desirable for the modern consumer," she says. So she scrapped her Toy Fair plan and decided to crowdfund her first production run on Kickstarter. If girls really did want more than just Barbies and Bratz, she would soon find out.
Sterling needed to raise only $150,000 more for her first run of 5,000 toys. As crowdfunding goals go, it was ambitious. Only about 700 of Kickstarter's over 45,000 successfully funded projects have raised more than $100,000
Thanks to a public-relations push and a video of Sterling making an earnest plea for why Goldie is needed, the campaign received national press. Sterling was flooded with hundreds of grateful messages from dads excited to have a toy with which they would want to play with their daughters to grandmothers who pioneered male-dominated fields and many who simply said the video brought them to tears. GoldieBlox reached its funding goal in four days.
By the time the month-long Kickstarter campaign ended Oct. 18, Sterling had raised $285,881 from 5,519 backers. On the campaign's last day, she received an email from Toys 'R' Us. The distribution deal was announced this month when GoldieBlox hit the shelves in its 650 U.S. stores. It also has been picked up by 400 independent U.S. toy stores.
Getting into Toys 'R' Us is a huge win, says Windle, even for industry giants like Mattel and Hasbro. Toys 'R' Us accounts for a large share of their revenue. But only time will tell if GoldieBlox can hold on to its coveted real estate. "They look at their shelf-space distribution on a daily basis," he says.
Still, some changes are coming to the "pink aisle." Along with the "Lego Friends" line, Barbie now has a buildable dream house and Hasbro now includes boys in its marketing for the Easy Bake Oven. Where Goldie is different, Windle says, is in its underlying social goals. "A company like Mattel or Hasbro isn't making a non-pink Easy Bake Oven to make a social point, they are doing it to reach a new segment of the market," he says.
But consumers shouldn't hold their breath waiting for a completely gender-neutral toy store any time soon. "The industry will remain highly segmented gender-wise," says Windle. Gender marketing in toys is so deeply engrained that Mattel divides its business segments by "boys toys" and "girl toys."
What's next for Goldie? Sterling's plans to expand are in the works. The company operates in an Oakland, Calif., office where Sterling has hired seven employees, including her husband and her sister, both of whom left their jobs to help her run her expanding business. She's working on two new sets with additional stories and buildable parts in time for the holiday-shopping season. She hopes to expand the GoldieBlox line to reach both older and younger girls as well as boys.
"In the same way that girls love Harry Potter, I hope that boys can love GoldieBlox," she says.