BEST OF BUSINESS
2015 was a big year for Colorado companies.
Ayear ago, not many people knew what a BB-8was.
Fewer probably knew what a Sphero was.
Not anymore, thanks to a magical force that manifested itself as Bob Iger, who brought the two together. As Disney’s CEO, Iger mentored Boulder robot-toy maker Sphero to create a toy based on the spunky, rolling droid featured in “The Force Awakens.”
“Itwas an incredible happy coincidence and lucky timing,” CEO Paul Berberian said in an interview as Sphero’s BB-8 prepared for its debut in September.
But it’s not like Sphero just built another cool StarWars toy.
It built the StarWars toy that dominated news coverage and hot lists when the movie’s toy extravaganza began in September.
This BB-8 sold out everywhere. At Sphero’s own store, shoppers snapped up all 22,000 in stock on the first day. Amazon lastweek included it among products that were actual holiday best-sellers.
Sphero, which changed its name from Orbotix, can’t say exactly howmany of its BB-8 toys have sold because of confidentiality agreements with Disney. But the company did tell Bloomberg that sales of BB-8s in the first month nearly matched Sphero’s sales in all of 2014. (And prior to BB-8, Sphero had sold 500,000 robots since its 2010 inception.)
Life is just not the same at Sphero. The company doubled its staff this year to more than 100, from 50 late last year — and it has an additional 20 job openings. Plus, it raised $45 million in a funding round led by Walt Disney Co.
Sphero may never be able to separate itself from StarWars. And with an army of BB-8s out there that are waiting for software updates and new features from the company’s developers, it has no plan to.
But the little toy-robot company that could continues to stick to its original mission: Build fun, connected toys.
“This year has been transformational for Sphero on somany levels— from pure growth to product development, Sphero continues to expand the realm of what’s possible when it comes to robotics,” said Claire Tindall, a Sphero spokeswoman.
Its latest Sphero, the see-through SPRK edition, targets educators and kids who want to learn more about how robots and programming work.
“There’s no rule that says learning shouldn’t be fun or that playing can’t be valuable,” the company said at SPRK’s launch. “If there is, we created SPRK to break it.”
The BB-8 app-enabled droid by Sphero, which sells for about $150, is based on a character from “The Force Awakens.”