We’ve all seen the optimistic initiatives claiming that they can teach kids to code. The only problem with these well-intentioned projects is that they ignore the fact that kids need to be engaged. This is what separates Ozobots from the rest. The AI code-able robots are primarily toys and through playing with the cubed robot you learn to code. The app-enabled bot provides an interactive experience with the robot, and through teaching and programming the bot your child learns to appreciate the magic of coding. With Spiderman, Guardians of the Galaxy and other superheroes editions available, Ozobot is ushering in the future of action figures.
LA TechWatch spoke with founder and CEO Nader Hamda about the Startup and how Ozobot is changing how kids learn.
Tell us about the product or service.
We’re combining the need for creativity and learning skills for kids in an increasingly technologically minded world with the desire for a fun and empowering toy that they can grow with and play with anywhere they go.
Whether your kid sees himself or herself as a future artist or tomorrow’s astronaut, Ozobots are smart, pocket-friendly robots that empower creativity and learning through play – anytime, anywhere. With just markers and paper, kids can draw commands with Ozobot’s patented color command language while it responds with actions like spins, dance moves, zig zags and more. We’re the only toy out there with this color coding capability. As players advance, they can also hack into the robot and reprogram it using OzoBlockly, its block-based programming language.
We spend so much of our time staring at our screens, whether it’s our phones, iPads, computers or TV. With Ozobot, we hope to convert some of this screen time into purposeful playtime, turning consumers of technology into creators. Kids can apply the creative skills they’ve learned while playing with the Ozobot to create their own worlds, such as their own games, music, art or more.
How is it different?
Ozobots are easy to begin playing but impossible to master, making it a toy that adapts and grows with the player. Its small form factor allows kids to bring the robot with them everywhere they go, whether it’s to a friend’s house or on a plane. Additionally, as the only robotics platform to have a patented color command language, Ozobot provides a one-of-a-kind medium for kids to feel empowered while being creative, expanding their minds and having a ton of fun.
The Ozobot is truly a chameleon – it adapts with the player as their desire to explore new worlds evolves. From creating a scene in their own movie to coming up with characters in their own video game, there is no end to the imagination that the Ozobot can inspire in kids.
Starting at $54, the pricing can’t be beat. It’s a very high value product.
What market are you attacking and how big is it?
We’re focused on two massive markets: the tech toy market, which is estimated to reach $135 billion by 2020, and the video game industry, which is expected to reach $120 billion by 2020.
We’re creating a hybrid of experiences where children can be entertained and learn critical thinking skills at the same time.
What is the business model?
As mentioned, Ozobot is seizing the opportunity of two massive markets – toy and gaming – by bringing to market the first smart, pocket-friendly toy that empowers creativity and learning through play and adapts with the user. Players can purchase our products directly on our site or through our select retail partners like Amazon, Best Buy, Barnes and Noble, and Target.
Tell us about the experience about building a robotics company in LA?
It’s been really great so far. Working in the entertainment capital of the world brings its advantages; for example, we’ve been able to partner Disney’s Marvel to release Action Skins that supplement Ozobot play. We’re at the center of innovation with technology startups blazing their trails here, and the unity between the entertainment and technology worlds is really something special.
Building our company in LA in general has allowed us to access great talent without all the competition seen in other areas.
Plus, our offices are on the Redondo Beach Pier in Los Angeles. Working next to the beach changes you – it helps boost employees’ creativity, reduces stress and fosters feelings of happiness, contributing to a positive work environment.
Tell us a little about your background and what inspired the business?
A few years ago I noticed how much time my daughters were spending on their phones playing Angry Birds and Minecraft. They were so engrossed in their phones and their surroundings became so consumed by their devices. This challenged me to come up with a way to bring back the physical experience of fun. My daughters inspired the early concept of Ozobot and even helped come up with the name.
I’ve always been an entrepreneurial-minded person. After I received my MBA at Pace University’s Lubin School of Business, I founded my first e-business called TechnoInteractive. A few years later I co-founded and served as CEO of Cloud b, which became one of the world’s leading manufacturers of products and accessories to help parents and children sleep.
What are the milestones that you plan to achieve within six months?
We’re continuously focused on creating experiences that engage the young minds of our future generations. In the next six months, we’re working on creating even more collaborative and mission-based games and experiences.
We’re also focused on increasing our female user base. Right now, girls account for 40 percent of our users but we want to raise that to 50 percent. As part of our effort to fix the ratio, we’re working on a few products catered specifically to girls that will be released in the next year or so.
What does being “Made in LA” mean to you and your company?
We’re very proud to be in LA. Investors and entrepreneurs are no longer looking only to Silicon Valley for new ideas and view LA as a force to be reckoned with. We have the infrastructure – culture, talent and hunger for new ideas – that is unique to our city. LA is part of the conversation now, and we’re proud to be a part of that.
What else can be done to promote early stage entrepreneurship in Los Angeles?
We’re headed in the right direction with all of the different meetups across the area. It’s important that we as startups connect with each other as well as the community to share our experiences and even provide mentorship to others.
What is your favorite LA bar, when you need to kick back and relax?
We’re big fans of Taco Tuesdays at Barney’s Beanery and Friday happy hours at R10. It’s a great way to decompress and get to know our colleagues even better outside of the work environment.