United States: Profiles In Innovation: GoldieBlox Founder On "Reinventing Girlhood" Through Engineering-Inspired Toys

Last Updated: March 15 2019
Article by Anik Guha and Mitchell Zuklie

An interview with Debbie Sterling, Chief Officer of Fun! Goldieblox | June.22.2018

"We're reinventing girlhood as we know it."

Photo by Craig Lee

If stubborn conviction is the hallmark of a successful entrepreneur, then Debbie Sterling is destined for greatness. As she builds a multimedia empire aimed at "reinventing girlhood as we know it," she's been paving her own way in the worlds of retail and entertainment. 

Disturbed that she was one of only a small minority of women in her mechanical engineering program at Stanford University, Sterling embarked on research into the gender gap in STEM. She became convinced that the root of the problem lay in childhood, when girls are steered toward princess toys while boys are given construction sets. Her GoldieBlox construction sets teach engineering skills using a storytelling technique that appeals to girls. In books accompanying the sets, the ever-curious "Goldie" solves problems by devising simple machines.

The toy industry wasn't receptive to Sterling's prototypes. "Everyone I spoke to told me even though it was a noble cause, it would never go mainstream and it wouldn't sell because boys like building and girls like dolls—and that you can't fight nature," she says.

After tapping her own savings and raising a seed round, Sterling turned to Kickstarter to crowdfund her first production run. Her Kickstarter video went viral, and within three months, she had raised almost $1 million in pre-orders from GoldieBlox. Within just six months, GoldieBlox was in Toys 'R' Us stores across America. The success forced Sterling to scale up production at a pace she had never expected.

Sterling had tapped into a widespread anxiety among parents that their girls were in danger of being left behind by the new economy. Clever GoldieBlox videos illustrating the gender gap went viral. GoldieBlox became the first start-up with a Super Bowl commercial and a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. And Sterling herself was recognized by President Obama and the National Women's History Museum for her work inspiring girls.

Toys R Not Enough

But Sterling knew that it wasn't enough to have parents rooting for Goldie; she needed kids to clamor for her as well. And getting buy-in from kids required more than just having toys in the stores.

"The way kids play today, it's rare they'll fall in love with a toy," Sterling says. "They fall in love with characters and brands and stories, and they want to play the story. Year after year, the most popular toys are tied to an entertainment property. Big brands in the toy space have the digital experience, the physical toy experience, and the content—the shows and cartoons. If you want to compete, you have to provide an offering in the way that kids expect."

Even before she built her first toy, Sterling had conceived of Goldie as the linchpin of a retail and media empire to rival those of the most famous toy princesses and dolls. Now the question became how to bring Goldie to a broader audience of girls.

"We discovered that girls were living on YouTube and loved watching DIY [do-it-yourself]. We realized that if we could do DIY with a little STEM baked in, we could reach all of these girls pretty inexpensively with content they would love."

Sterling has since developed "Hack Along With GoldieBlox" and other shows in which energetic hosts show kids how to make edible crayons, "snackable speakers," "remote-control shoes," and the like. The company has produced chapter books about Goldie and apps that help girls learn to code and create their own digital animation. The apps have been downloaded more than 1.5 million times; YouTube subscriptions to GoldieBlox channels have risen to over 200,000 in just six months.

When it comes to DIY, GoldieBlox practices what it preaches. It produced its early toys and videos in-house, though it has started employing a licensing model. Sterling credits engineering as the "added superpower" that helps her and her team move rapidly from concept to execution. 

Sterling is sidestepping the traditional model for selling toys, in which a small group of big manufacturers, networks, and retailers use shows and advertisements to push the latest trinket. Instead, online media and sales platforms enable a small, young company like GoldieBlox to market quality content and products to a potentially limitless audience.

"Our content has a mission: to nurture the next generation of girls to get into science and math," she says. "We're inspiring Makers and showing them how to make. Products stem from that, but they do so in a natural and organic way."

Building a Founder-Friendly Board 

In 2015, GoldieBlox founder Debbie Sterling called Anik Guha, a partner in Orrick's top-ranked Technology Companies Group, with a question. Two leading lights of the toy and media industries had offered to help her company grow. How could she bring them onto the board without losing control of her company?

At the time, Sterling was the only member of the board, and she had broad voting control over her investors' shares. But GoldieBlox was growing and there was no substitute for the insight and experience that two women with deep industry experience could provide: Shawn Dennis, an executive at DreamWorks and a former CMO of American Girl, and Maxine Clark, founder of Build-a-Bear. With Guha's help, Sterling structured the board so that Dennis and Clark were designated  as board members by the holders of common stock, which is a vote that Sterling controls. In addition, Sterling was able to leverage a change to Delaware corporate law to retain multiple votes as a director and ensure continued voting control at the board level.

Having Dennis and Clark on the board—rather than just as advisors—has facilitated "a level of conversation and quality of ideas that has been extremely valuable for Debbie and the company," Guha says. It also paved the way for Dennis to be appointed GoldieBlox's president in April of this year. Since 2015, the GoldieBlox board has added two investor representatives and reflects a balance that is typical of a more mature company.

"As founder and CEO, what's unique about GoldieBlox is how intertwined it is with me as a public figure and a persona," Sterling says. "It's really important that I have a level of control in the company. As companies mature and gain new investors, it's common for founders to lose that. Orrick has helped to ensure I retain control and has protected my voice in major decisions, which is something our investors, advisors, and I all care about."

— Richard Sine  

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Events from this Firm
28 Aug 2019, Webinar, San Francisco, United States

This CLE webinar will analyze the potential antitrust ramifications of joint ventures (JVs) and other collaborations between competitors and how to balance the pro-competitive efficiencies against the anti-competitive effects of a proposed JV.

1 Oct 2019, Other, Washington, DC, United States

Orrick is proud to host the AIPN for its final breakfast meeting of 2019 for a session titled “Helping the World Gasify”. As natural gas production and use is very unevenly distributed throughout the world, often gas produced in association with crude oil is sold below cost or flared.

25 Nov 2019, Speaking Engagement, New York, United States

Lorraine McGowen will be speaking on the upcoming “Evaluating the Financial Health of an Entity” panel at the New York session of the Pocket MBA: Finance for Lawyers and Other Professionals program, hosted by the Practising Law Institute.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions