Tech Will Save Us.
Backed

Backed from OCTOBER 2015

"Our brand is about diversity of kids and diversity of interests - but all about making with technology. Because we have more than one way to do this, we can appeal to lots of different kinds of parents and kids that might not otherwise see technology as something they want to make or feel confident with."

Tech Will Save Us was founded by Bethany Koby and Daniel Hirschmann to inspire the next generation of makers, coders and designers. They’re mission-driven to change our relationship with technology from one of pure consumption to one of understanding, curiosity and invention.

Tech Will Save Us product family

CEO and Co-Founder, Bethany Koby

I want to work somewhere now and in the future that I love going to. I was very clear at the beginning that I didn’t want to impose my ‘values’ on the company. A business is always a mirror of the founders and as it grows you need to be clear that it also becomes a mirror of who you hire.

Bethany Koby, CEO and Co-Founder, Tech Will Save Us

Tech Will Save Us started life back in 2012 when Bethany and Daniel found a discarded laptop in a bin in Hackney. To them, it represented a disconnect: today’s generations consume technology and yet have almost no understanding of how it all works. They founded Tech Will Save Us to bridge this disconnect and to change the way the next generation interacts with and makes with technology.

Tech Will Save Us design and manufacture build-it-yourself kits that are inspired by everyday hobbies such as music and gaming and tailored for children of specific age groups. Their DIY Synth Kit, for example, teaches 9-10 year olds to build an electronic synthesiser - technology that underpins much of the music we listen to today - while the DIY Thirsty Plant Kit is a reactive, solar-powered moisture sensor for plants. Their most complex product to date, designed for 12-13 year olds, is the DIY Gamer Kit, a build-it-yourself games console which not only teaches children how to assemble and solder electronic components, but also how to design and code classic computer games like Tetris. Their range of kits are all underpinned by the same philosophy: to help kids have fun and feel confident about what they can do with technology in their everyday lives.

At Backed, we love their focus on making technology accessible. Understanding technology, in our view, shouldn’t be a luxury reserved for the well-off and well-educated and achieving societal impact (and bridging a critical skills gap in the technology sector) requires taking a mass-market approach. With kits starting at just £15, a product range that accommodates children as they grow and develop, a much broader definition of technology than just coding or hardware, and major retail partners like John Lewis and Topshop, Tech Will Save Us has a real opportunity to define an entire generation’s relationship with technology. Their involvement in the BBC Micro:bit project - an initiative, alongside Microsoft and ARM, to get codeable micro-computers into the hands of 1 million 12 year olds across the UK - is a further example of their big-picture mindset.

I want to work somewhere now and in the future that I love going to. I was very clear at the beginning that I didn’t want to impose my ‘values’ on the company. A business is always a mirror of the founders and as it grows you need to be clear that it also becomes a mirror of who you hire.

Bethany Koby, CEO and Co-Founder, Tech Will Save Us

DIY Speaker Kit

Bethany and Daniel, Co-Founders, Tech Will Save Us

I loved making model airplanes with my dad. The intricacy of the model, the details in the painting of the planes and even the craft of the rudimentary technology inside has left a lasting impression on me.

Bethany Koby, CEO and Co-Founder, Tech Will Save Us

DIY Electro Dough Kit

Tech Will Save Us is far from just a social initiative, however - there’s a huge market opportunity too. Their offering lies at the confluence of several burgeoning markets. The maker movement, for example, is worth around $90bn globally, while the digital and building toy markets are around $6bn and $7bn respectively. They are quickly expanding sectors too, growing at close to 15% each per year. We believe that Tech Will Save Us has the approach, design and marketing expertise that will enable it to emerge as the household name in this space, recognised by children all over the world. Many other companies in this market, we believe, are either too niche, too technical or too expensive to become global brands.

Despite their more mass market focus, Tech Will Save Us have a no-compromise approach to product quality. Design runs in their veins: Bethany was previously Design Director at Wolff Olins while Daniel founded Hirsch&Mann, a design studio focused on interactive objects. In fact, they first met one another at Fabrica, a design research centre funded by the Benetton Group. As a result, their kits stand out in department stores, and feel more at home alongside iPads and connected home devices, than in the children’s toy department. Their DIY Gamer, for example, was added to the Permanent Design Collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, alongside the original iPod.

As a business, they have gone a long way in reducing many of the risks associated with hardware / toy manufacturing. For example, they’re developing greater interoperability between kits and layering on more software components for their products. This reduces some of the innovation and development risks, extends the lifetime of their back catalogue of products, allows for quicker deployments of new content and greatly improves the value of each product for their customers.

As founders, Bethany and Daniel are truly inspiring. Their passion and energy was a hugely important reason we decided to invest in Tech Will Save Us. They are a wonderful example of mission-driven founders: a team that puts heart into a project, energises those around them, draws in great talent and gives a business a North Star. The passionate, motivated and open culture they have built at Tech Will Save Us, as well as the amazing community of makers, parents and children they’ve inspired outside of the office, is testament to this.

At Backed, we are thrilled to be part of the mission to make hardware - and technology more broadly - a relevant, fun and central component of a child’s education. Tech Will Save Us, we believe, will play a key role in delivering that mission.

The
Interview

We chatted to Bethany, CEO and Co-Founder of Tech Will Save Us, about culture, legacy and repeating success in the toy industry

Technology Will Save Us in 140 characters

Technology Will Save Us is one of the UK’s most exciting, design-led technology start-ups focused on learning. The company is on a mission to spark the creative imagination of young people using hands-on technology.

Co-Founder, Daniel Hirschmann

What do you hope Tech Will Save Us’ legacy will be?

A generation of digital creators empowered and excited to invent their own jobs in the future. They will solve new challenges and create new opportunities with a deeper understanding of the technology in their lives.

Are there toys you played with as kids that inspire you today?

I loved making model airplanes with my dad. Two things in particular left lasting impressions on me: (1) How fun it is to make things with the people you love. We learn things about each other and what we're good at in a way that school can not always demonstrate. (2) Project based learning is super fun and helps us gain confidence. When the project is finished, we're left with an artefact of our learning which is very powerful.

Co-Founder, Daniel Hirschmann

DIY Thirsty Plant Kit

What advice would you give to wannabe hardware startups?

Set a vision and goals for why you are starting your business before you start to sell, Kickstart, or meet investors. As your business grows, keep refining the vision and goals. Don't be afraid to challenge them to keep you focused. Once refined, make sure you and your team are 100% committed to them!

How would you describe your culture at Tech Will Save Us and how did you go about creating it?

I want to work somewhere now and in the future that I love going to. I was very clear at the beginning that I didn’t want to impose my ‘values’ on the company. A business is always a mirror of the founders and as it grows you need to be clear that it also becomes a mirror of who you hire. We defined our culture with an exercise called Tech Will Save Us Mars. We all had to send 3 people from our team to Mars to set up the company and explain the values they demonstrated such that Tech Will Save Us Mars was going to be as awesome as the UK. It revealed who we really are and what is really important to us, not what we want it to be which can be very dangerous and self indulgent. We use them in our review process, in our 1:1s, in the way we work together and even when we argue. We hire by them and fire by them, they are that important to us.

Watching your partner grow as an individual and as leaders in the business can be truly powerful for any relationship.

Bethany Koby, CEO and Co-Founder, Tech Will Save Us

Repeating success is notoriously hard in the toy and games industries. How have you managed that?

The most important thing for us is our product development process, which includes an extreme user-focused design and development cycle, scrum based working methods and internal stakeholder engagement at all key moments.
I think our success has been driven by our range: our brand is about diversity of kids and diversity of interests - but all about making with technology. Because we have more than one way to do this, we can appeal to lots of different kinds of parents and kids that might not otherwise see technology as something they want to make or feel confident with.

As a husband and wife team, is it tricky to switch off from work?

Of course it is! This can be a good and a bad thing…The good thing is that building a business has allowed us to develop even more trust, admiration and respect for each other. Watching your partner grow as an individual and as leaders in the business can be truly powerful for any relationship. The not so great thing is that it can sometimes be hard not to think about the business and talk about it all of the time. So we try to create rituals that we stick to: times where we agree not to talk about work but about perennial interest and goals. Times that are off limits for phones and tech, and most important is our annual pilgrimage to South Africa where we reconnect with nature, society and each other.

What other early-stage startups excite you the most?

We're super intrigued by Magic Leap - if the rumours are true, it could have a significant impact across all industries and markets. Local businesses we love are Unmade, Blaze, Deliveroo, Roli, Fabulous Beasts, Jukedeck and Lostmyname

Find out more about Tech Will Save Us, Bethany and the team at techwillsaveus.com