Morning tea with Ian Bernstein, co-founder of Sphero


Co-founder of Sphero, Ian Bernstein shared his startup experience with us in a special visit to LAB-14 on Thursday 25 August. The MAP team was incredibly excited by Ian’s visit, as he truly is a leader in the development of interactive toys and applied technology. Sphero’s star product is a robotic ball that can be controlled by smartphones, which as we learnt, played an integral role in the creation of the iconic Disney Character, BB-8.

Ian’s journey started when he and co-founder Adam Wilson were accepted into TechStars. Accelerating their growth through sheer determination, hard-work and a commitment to take advantage of every opportunity, by the end of the program, the boys had developed the basic prototype for Sphero. At this point, and after demonstrating significant success through sales of their robotic balls, Ian and his co-founder Adam were invited to the Disney Accelerator program. After a chance meeting with a Disney executive involved with the Star Wars Episode VII movie, in in the space of 4 hours, Ian and Adam developed a (very) rough prototype for BB-8, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The film was a huge success, BB-8 was a stand-out character, and Sphero’s BB-8 app-controlled droid went on to achieved ‘Toy of the Year’ status.

Here’s a sneak peek into the Q&A session we had with Ian.

MAP: There are many different accelerators around the world. How do you figure out which one to apply for?

IB: The easiest way to find out is to search for the companies that those Accelerators have funded, to give you a better idea of who they cater to. In the U.S, for instance, some of the commonly known Accelerators include Y Combinator, 500 Startups, and TechStars, which are mainly for early-stage startups. Other Accelerators such as HAX and Disney Accelerators are designed to help more established startups to scale up.

MAP: How do we go about choosing where to manufacturing our products?

IB: Most hardware companies (including Sphero) manufacture their products in China. Firstly, it is important to choose manufacturers that you can trust to reduce the likelihood of being copied by other surrounding manufacturers. Secondly, manufacturing in China requires founders to stay highly involved with the production line to ensure the quality of their products. I personally spend a substantial amount of time each year visiting our manufacturers to solve all kinds of technical issues.

MAP: What should we do if we want to expand our product line?

IB: BB-8 has been the most popular product by Sphero to date. This doesn’t mean we won’t continue to develop. How will Sphero expand our product lines to stay relevant in the market? We have products for users at different levels, so that when they have developed or progressed beyond one product, we can upgrade the speed for players or the challenge from intermediate to higher levels. This has proved effective to keep our users engaged and challenged so far.