Orbotix rolls out robot ball for Target audience
Orbotix Inc., the Boulder-based company that manufactures Sphero, announced the rollout Oct. 3 on the company’s blog.
Being carried by Target is a major milestone for the company, chief executive Paul Berberian said. Orbotix was founded in 2010 and its cofounders, Ian Bernstein and Adam Wilson, went through the TechStars Boulder startup accelerator that summer.
Getting onto Target’s shelves in time for the Christmas shopping season will dramatically increase Sphero’s exposure and introduce consumers to what Berberian calls “the most amazing robot in the world.”
“The name of the game in consumer electronics and gaming is getting in front of customers,” Berberian said. “We feel like we’ve been out there for a long time telling our story, but most people have never seen a Sphero. This is essentially our launch.”
Orbotix has used a savvy social media and web campaign to market Sphero, and highlights in the company’s young history include a well-received debut at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. President Obama gave Sphero a test drive during a trip to Boulder this spring.
The buzz — along with $11 million in investment from venture capitalists — has made Orbotix a standout among Boulder startups. Orbotix has transformed that into retail success, shipping tens of thousands of units through online sales at sites such as Amazon and Buy.Com, according to the company. The retail price is $129.99.
While Target is not the first bricks-and-mortar retailer to carry Sphero — it also is available at Brookstone and some Apple Stores — Target’s reach is by far the broadest. Target is the third-largest retailer in the United States, according to the National Retail Federation.
Orbotix is “locked and loaded” for the 2012 holiday season, but Berberian expects Sphero’s breakthrough from a cool gadget to a must-have hit could come next year.
“I think we can generate a lot of awareness in 2012, and become the hot toy in 2013,” Berberian said.
To create that breakthrough, Orbotix is planning a greatly expanded marketing push that will parallel the company’s online campaign. Orbotix won’t do national TV ads, Berberian said, but it is trying to generate national exposure through an aggressive public relations campaign. The company’s hopes are for mentions in influential print publications and an appearance on a national morning talk show.
Target will stock Sphero with other “app accessories,” a new category that received dedicated endcap status in the consumer electronics area last year, Target spokeswoman Kristy Welker said.
Sphero does not have a direct competitor that can match its features, but it is going up against an array of cool products in the general gadget market. But unlike those projects, Sphero is supposed to get better after it is unwrapped, Berberian said.
Orbotix plans to further refine Sphero’s control software and continue to develop additional mobile app games it can play. There are about 15 games available now, and Orbotix intends to release about 20 before Christmas.
“The value is in more games. … It’s not just a one-trick ball, it’s got so many things you can do with it,” Berberian said. Sphero can be driven by the smartphone on floors or table tops, respond to physical obstacles and be used as a game controller.
Getting Sphero to do anything has been a process filled with challenges. As Sphero rolls around, it is easy for a user to forget it’s actually a small robot with a motor, processor, gyroscope and power unit. The apps to control it from a smartphone have to be developed by software engineers.
Berberian outlined the technical challenges in a recent history of Orbotix on the company blog. The company Bernstein, Wilson and Berberian launched in 2010 has since grown into 35 employees and had to master mechanical and electrical engineering, software design and manufacturing.
“We’re doing a lot of hard things, and we’re doing them well. I feel like we’re three businesses in one,” Berberian said. “I feel we’ve done a bang-up job with $11 million considering all the things we do.”
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