When we started Ubooly, we didn’t know much at all about the toy industry.
Our background was in software and marketing and we had been making mobile apps for kids. Carly and I spent six months (part-time) creating our initial prototype and learning about typical toy distribution models.
While we had a few intros into toy companies at this time, it was obvious that we weren’t even close to registering on their radar. We had always planned to apply to TechStars [a mentorship driven seed funding firm], in Boulder, and as part of proving our case we launched Ubooly on Kickstarter. The project was successfully funded (this was a lot of work) and we attended a dozen or so trade shows to build some awareness (most notable was Launch festival).
About this time we started to get inbound leads from people experienced in the toy industry that were interested in helping out. One of our Kickstarter backers had experience in manufacturing and offered to invest. He eventually became an operational partner in the business and helped us to get our initial batch of product produced in China.
The product also started to really take shape and we began working on a web-based content system for managing activity scripts (Ubooly is a voice interactive toy) – this eventually became the Smart Toy platform.
Once accepted to TechStars we were really focused on customer development, beta testing the product with kids and trying to focus on core features that were resonating with our initial audience.
The app changed a lot in that period of time (within six months we released four different experiences). Ultimately TechStars was a huge catalyst, leading to meetings with a number of investors and eventually SoftTech who co-led our seed financing. We also had a dozen angels and mentors from the Boulder community invest in the company.
A year later, we’re on shelves in Apple and SoftBank stores internationally, and the conversations with other toy companies have picked up dramatically. In fact we’re on track to partner with several brands in 2015, supplying the technology and likely acting as the manufacturer and distributor.
We ran a TV commercial this fall which went really well and we will continue to air once we secure funding for the inventory and media time. We’ve also developed expertise in content marketing and have been able to consistently drive profitable direct sales.
We’re now in the process of raising our next round of funding and determining the right partners for our next stage of growth. Hopefully in another year we’ll have a range of popular characters running on Smart Toy with company apps and accessories.