As we’ve found that experience trumps product, we are working on learning about new channels and different methods through which the experience can be made more scalable. Multi-level marketing (MLM) is a possibility, with a slight Colorwheels twist to it. MLM is a person-to-person marketing strategy that runs off of relationship referrals and word-of-mouth. In other words, salespeople can use their connections to make sales.
Our idea on how to use MLM is to train high school girls to run these workshops that have been successful for us. These workshops will replicate the experience and can be held in museums, after school programs, summer camps, etc. This also follows a previous learning that girls like teaching others. These workshops would then provide an outlet for sales to take place by having our kit on hand for parents to purchase after the sessions. Furthermore, this would be cost-effective as we could even have this be an extracurricular activity for girls to fulfill volunteer hours on top of padding their resume.
Another possibility is to find moms who share our vision and would be interested in running these types of groups to follow the girl scout model. It would be similar to having a girl scout system except the girls learn STEM instead! In a previous session at the Children’s Creativity Museum, we have already seen girls love the idea of receiving badges for reaching certain milestones.
We are still determining the scalability of these ideas. We have started by talking to a couple teachers about our idea who we hope will recommend some students they believe would be interested in this type of work.
After numerous takes of Miguel recording us [YUP, he really made us wear our school sweatshirts just for this vid!] Alice and I tried really hard to say those three sentences each (it was surprisingly difficult to memorize three sentences…), we finally got enough footage to put together a video for our website!
We wanted to film a video to get our mission across to parents and see if this would be enough to compel parents to sign up. We also hoped our academic background would lend us some legitimacy to parents. Unfortunately, the only sign ups so far are from parents we had already been in contact with. We are working on generating more parent traffic to our website since, at the moment, it is largely our friends who are not part of the audience we are targeting. We are starting by contacting parent networks and bloggers to see if any of them would be willing to help get our website out to their members/readers.
We spoke with one of the parents we delivered our first round of kits to in order to gather more data on the parent’s end.
- In terms of deciding on what toys to buy, most of the time she’ll just pick something she feels like her daughter would have fun with, but sometimes will consider what she has heard from other parents. This could be partly due to simply needing to find toys that will occupy her daughter’s time until she can get back from work.
- Doesn’t have a lot of educational toys since her daughter isn’t super keen on them. However, she does enjoy building structures with these wooden sticks they have that can form different shapes.
- She likes to play “teacher” and enjoys being the teacher. Confirms our finding that girls seem to like teaching other people and our product could provide an outlet for this.
- Her daughter spends a lot of time drawing and doing arts/crafts. She goes to art class once a week; it was the only after-school activity they could convince her to do. She also keeps pipecleaners, pom poms, glitter, etc. around the house for her daughter. Exactly what we included in our kit!
- She fights over the iPad with her older sister (age 11). Seems like kids these days are more technologically advanced so if we can develop a way for them to use the iPad with our product, it might add to the appeal. Perhaps we could integrate the add-ons with the iPad (e.g. other learning topics).
- The only thing she lets her daughters do online is play games. The games she usually plays includes building a pet hotel, putting together a garden, and airport mania (has to do with takeoff and landing of planes). While these games don’t seem to be ones that she can interact with other girls on, they go along with the nurturing characteristic of girls. Not sure how we can tap into this yet. On the other hand, the older daughter usually goes to this one website that has a bunch of strategy and calculation games. Hence why we aren’t targeting girls past the age of 9 for our starting kit since they begin to move on toward board games and not building things as they get older. We have to catch them at a young age!
Scott Evans is the lead designer of the annual game for FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) LEGO League (ages 9-14). After their dozen years of trying to hook young girls into science and engineering, we picked at Scott’s mind to learn any interesting findings that would be relevant for us.
- Confirmed what we had previously gathered about girls: they like/respond to stories, animals, color, and style. However, one interesting thing to note was that “of course everyone likes animals, but girls tend toward nurturing more fluidly than boys do.” It isn’t only that girls like animals for their cuteness, but the nurturing side of girls adds to the appeal animals have to them.
- In the LEGO league for ages 9-14, the ratio of boys to girls is 5 to 3. In the younger age group (ages 6-9), the ratio is pretty close to 50/50. This confirms our belief that this is the age group to target before social pressures begin to steer girls away from science and engineering. Additionally, they observed that “the age of 13 is when girls start to have a diminished interest in math and science on average.”
- Integrating animals into the games can be as easy as simply placing animals on the field, but “it’s better if I put the animals in the position to be cared for, protected, or saved,” once again referencing the nurturing side of girls.
- In terms of using stories to hook girls into the game, he bring the missions into context. For example, instead of making a mission “to get the ball off the shelf,” a better way to phrase it is “get the person out of the burning building.” Furthermore, the best thing he can say is “get Marcy, 22, who just got married, and her kitten, to safety.” The added details to the stories makes the games more tangible to girls.
- Perhaps the best response they ever had to a game was about “identifying with people with disabilities, and coming up with ways to improve their lives.” On the other hand, the worst they ever had was about nanotechnology. While both games involved designing and programming a robot to complete an obstacle course, one fit much easier under a “feel-good umbrella.”
On Saturday afternoon I went to the Tech Museum in San Jose after hearing about it from our interview with Rick. I was actually pretty disappointed with some of the quality of the exhibits (there were a good number that simply didn’t work), but I was still able to observe a good number of kids at the various exhibits the museum offered.
There were definitely some exhibits that were geared for younger versus older kids. The ages of kids probably ranged from 4 or 5 years old to preteen age (12 or 13). One unexpected thing I noticed was that about a third of those who brought the kids were grandparents. It actually didn’t cross my mind that grandparents would think to bring their grandchildren to science museums, but this shows that they care about the kids’ educational future beyond just buying them toys that might serve this purpose, verifying grandparents (a subset of the gift-giving relatives) as a customer segment for our product.
Of the numerous exhibits there, the most popular exhibits were the following:
- Getting your face drawn by a robot in the Robot Design Basics area: For this exhibit, you would get your picture taken and a robot would draw your face with a pen by processing this picture. Once the robot was done drawing, you could take the picture home with you. There was consistently a line of at least 6 kids waiting to get their picture taken since it probably took about 5 minutes for the robot to draw a kid’s face. The line was comprised largely of girls, perhaps because it could be displayed in their room and girls are all about customizing and personalizing their space.
- Jet Pack Simulator in the Exploration Gallery: You get to sit in a jet pack chair and have to line up a red light to as many targets as possible in 50 seconds. This exhibit was super popular and also consistently had a line of at least 6 kids. Plenty of girls were in line for this as well.
Some interesting exhibits, while not as popular as the previous two, still consistently had kids at them:
- Genetic Scientist: The idea is to put jellyfish DNA in bacteria to make it glow. There were four stations there and generally 2 of the 4 stations were being used. There was a touchscreen that displayed step-by-step instructions so it was pretty self-explanatory.
- In general, drawing on touchscreens was a hit. One involved drawing on a board with your choice of using your finger as a pencil, paintbrush, or spray paint. Another was more abstract where you could simply drag your fingers around and a design would automatically appear on the main screen.
Finally, at the end of my visit, I went to check out the Tech Store to see what sort of toys/kits they sold. They had the usual assortment of science kits and also had a bigger version of one of our analogs, Snap Circuits. However, the products that were most popular with girls were the jewelry and colored, polished rocks. I was taken aback by how excited the girls were by the jewelry stands in the store; it was easily the product that constantly had girls surrounding it. The colored rocks also appeared to be a hit with the girls as they were brightly colored and visually appealing. One last observation I made was how it was clear that certain items in the store were being marketed to certain genders. In particular, there were shirts being sold with words spelled out using elements from the periodic table. The girl version was a pink shirt with “CUTe” written on it whereas the boy version was a red shirt with “GeNIUS” on it. While it wasn’t pointedly stated that the pink shirt was for a girl and the red shirt for a boy, they were displayed together such that it is pretty clear to a kid which shirt is intended for a girl versus a boy. It annoyed me that the boy gets the “genius” shirt while the girl was simply “cute”.
My findings from the visit brought up some ideas for our product that had undergone the pivot to building kits. One idea was to make an LED jewelry kit based on the excitement girls had over the jewelry in the Tech Store, but would also allow us to incorporate engineering into it. It would give girls the opportunity to personalize it and express themselves. Another thought was to make instructional videos for the kits online, and this could be integrated with the iPad to incorporate kids’ fascination with touchscreens.
I visited a kindergarten class of about 20 kids on Friday at a school in San Mateo to observe kids during playtime and ask them some questions. I hypothesized that kids at this age (5-6 years old) still play together with the same type of toys and, in general, there are no gender differences perceived. It was observed that while kids might be playing together, there is a difference between playing together and sitting together but playing separately. I observed a distinct difference between girls and boys in terms of how they play together. Both genders were also playing separately from each other, but played with the same toys for the most part. Furthermore, the one gender difference perceived seems to be in terms of color where pinks and purples are considered more girly colors.
Observing the class yielded some interesting results. First of all, the main difference between kids is that boys might sit together while playing but each will do their own thing whereas girls play together and cooperate at building something. Most of the boys in the class were playing with their own thing by themselves, but all the girls were playing in groups of 2-3. Some examples include three girls working together to build a house out of Lego pieces while one boy was building a pirate ship by himself, two girls stacking and counting Magna-Tiles together while one boy was building a marble track alone, and two girls were building a three level parking garage out of wooden building blocks while one boy idly played with some blocks by himself. The only exception was the coloring table where each kid was drawing on their own. Furthermore, the only activity that has a clear gender difference is the pretend area. According to the teacher, only one specific boy will ever play there otherwise it is just girls.
One thing to note was that the girls seemed more detail-oriented while building with Lego pieces. For instance, one of the girls building the house found a piece and was like, “We can use this as the refrigerator later!” They would put aside other pieces to use for the house later including a set of pink staircases. On the other hand, the boy just seemed to be making up his pirate ship as he went along. The girls also used the only magenta pieces in the box as part of the wall for their house. This shows that even at that age, girls prefer colors considered more girly.
One surprising observation was that the coloring table is the most popular activity for both genders so sticks must be drawn to see which kids get to sit at the coloring table during playtime. When asked why they preferred the coloring table over other activities, the general consensus seemed to be that they could bring what they made home with them. The girls seemed more interested in drawing nature scenes or making something for their parents whereas the boys drew video games they played. One interesting thing that happened while I was observing them was one boy was using pink to color some faces and another boy called him out on using that color so he switched markers. Another boy justified using pink on his drawing by saying most ears are pink.
I also brought one of our analogs, the Snap Circuits Flying Saucer kit, and was able to have a couple kids test it out. The teacher first had one of the girls in the class who had made a lemon battery with her dad to try it first, thinking she might have more interest in electronics compared to other kids. I tried to have her look at the pictures on the box and paper and figure out how to put the circuit together, but I ended up needing to do it for her. She didn’t seem particularly excited about it, but liked the end result of the flying saucer. Another girl came over when she saw us working on this. She mentioned that she had done circuits before with her older brother (aged 9). She has something similar to this toy at home that also makes a fan. She was able to take it apart and put it back together since she had some knowledge about how the wires need to be connected to the battery for it to work. She seemed to be more interested in it, or at least wanted to show that she knew how to put it together. Finally, one boy came over and said he had Snap Circuits at home but had a bigger version with more pieces. He had received it for Christmas and only his dad helps him with it.
All this suggests that circuits seem to be bought more for boys than girls. Also, parents need to have some knowledge about electronics in order to teach their kids so that they can develop more intuition on how to build a circuit. The one problem I noticed with this analog was that only one person can really play with Snap Circuits at a time, which would likely lose appeal for girls faster since they can’t easily work together with this toy.
Finally, there was one toy sitting out on a table that seemed pretty cool but apparently doesn’t get used much since it is probably a little hard for them, according to the teacher. The toy involves wood pieces with wooden screws. There were some diagrams included on how to make a crane and helicopter out of these pieces, but perhaps at that age, they need more help deciphering these diagrams.
We met with Rick Needham, Director of Energy and Sustainability at Google and parent of an 8-year-old daughter, on Wednesday to continue our parent interviews. We went into the interview with the hypothesis that girls are looking for a channel through which they can express themselves. Our conversation with Rick confirmed this and introduced further insights on what girls might find valuable in a toy.
- Girls seem more social so having an online component would allow them to play and connect with friends. This will also allow them to personalize things. It can possibly disguise the fact that they are learning things as well since they’re playing together online.
- Having a backstory of sorts to a toy adds value to the girl. For instance, Rick’s daughter likes stuffed animals from WWF since they support a cause.
- She enjoys building things such as forts, which she’ll put up around the house, along with building fairy houses in nature. She likes to personalize things when it comes to building. For example, she’ll color all over a box (enjoys drawing). She also likes playing board games as well as outdoor activities such as playing catch, Frisbee, badminton, and biking.
- She plays the Wii some, but mostly Wii sports and dance games where she’ll drag her parents into dance competitions with her. This supports the idea of girls being more social when playing.
- As she has gotten older, she has been getting into word games (i.e. hangman, word search, etc.).
- Probably unlike other girls, she doesn’t really care for American Girl dolls (even though her friends have them), but has lots of stuffed animals. She doesn’t play pretend with her stuffed animals though; they just sit on her bed. She really liked this Build-a-Bear party she went to recently, to her parents’ surprise.
- When buying her toys, generally avoid Toys“R”Us unless going in to find a specific toy. The Wooden Horse is a nice place to find more eclectic options since most other stores have a bunch of junky stuff, but generally tries to browse the science section to find things to buy his daughter. They got her a microscope one time, but she didn’t really get into it. He tries to get her science kits, but some of them aren’t that great and a lot of times, even when you get a kit of 100 science experiments, after doing 10-15 experiments, the novelty of the item wears off and she loses interest. She’ll suggest the science kits sometimes, but doesn’t gravitate towards the construction kits.
- Recently she’s been asking for magic kits. This may have developed from watching America’s Got Talent or just seeing magicians on TV and such.
- Usually learn about toys by word-of-mouth and goes to the store for toys versus buying online, unless he knows about some specific toy his daughter wants.
- In terms of marketing differences between girls and boys, boys like to make things look more rugged and tough so a lot of toys are directed towards boys in that fashion.
- Rick takes his daughter to the Tech Museum in SJ a number of times and the Exploratorium a handful of times. She really liked the music section at the Exploratorium (basically kids get to bang on a bunch of percussion instruments there) and the bubbles. At the Tech Museum, she enjoyed the energy section where it shows how much energy you can make through wind, solar, and hydro. For instance, you adjust mirrors to get solar energy, turbo blades in the wind, and fins for hydro. She liked being able to construct things and see what happens. On the upper floor of the museum, there’s a place where you can build things with logic gates, but that might’ve been a bit too much for her. Also, downstairs you can see videos of kids trying to explain concepts, which was pretty cool. Perhaps kids can explain things better to each other and it’s more interesting to learn things from their peers?