“Why I left Google to Create a Robot that a 6 Year-old Can Learn to Code” With Vikas Gypta

Through the course of the past 5 years, I am most proud of the fact that our robots have helped close the gender gap when it comes to STEM and robotics. We see just as many girls compete in our robotics competition as boys, and it’s a delight to see that the winning teams are often teams of all girls!

I had the pleasure of interviewing Vikas Gypta, the CEO of Wonder Workshop

Yitzi: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

Before I founded Wonder Workshop, I spent nearly a decade at Amazon leading the payments web service business, and then going on to found my own company Jambool (a virtual currency company), that was acquired by Google. At Google, I oversaw the Consumer Payments group for the next few years.

In 2012, I left Google to spend more time with my newborn daughter. I was also wondering what I wanted to do next. As I spent time with my daughter, I thought more about kids growing up in 21st century and the kind of tools they have access to. I recall a moment, out hiking in the wilderness of the Alps carrying my daughter on my back, when I felt I will find my work fulfilling if it made the world a better place for children. In that moment, I felt a sense of conviction — no matter if I succeed or not, no matter the walls I have to break through, if I knew my work is benefitting children in a meaningful way, I will have the perseverance to keep going.

Over the next few months I spent time figuring out how to best align my skills and interests to this inspiration. I was researching how kids can learn to code on devices like the iPad and I heard news about some countries, like Estonia, mandating every child to learn to code from the first grade. That made me curious about how early can kids learn to code, and what is the best way for them to do so. That research led me to see a huge gap in the market — while children are able to pick up the fundamentals of coding early, the kind of tools they needed to do so did not exist.

We founded Wonder Workshop to fill this need, and created Dash and Dot so every child could learn to code effectively as early as six years of age. Now, our users all over the world inspire us — seeing Dash, Dot, and Cue succeed in the hands of millions of kids around the world is very fulfilling.

Yitzi: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

When I founded Wonder Workshop, my daughter was 1-year-old. Now, she is six and this year she is participating in the Wonder League Robotics Competition, with two of her friends. Five years after I founded the company, I am now seeing my own kids benefit from the work we put in over the years. I get to live the life of our customers first hand as my daughter learns and explores the world of coding with our robots.

Through the course of the past 5 years, I am most proud of the fact that our robots have helped close the gender gap when it comes to STEM and robotics. We see just as many girls compete in our robotics competition as boys, and it’s a delight to see that the winning teams are often teams of all girls!

Yitzi: So what exactly does your company do?

Wonder Workshop’s mission is to inspire the masters and architects of tomorrow’s robots by sparking of creativity and lifelong learning through engagement with our products.

Our team, which is comprised of amazing people from Amazon, Google, Apple, Lego, and Disney, plus a number of seasoned educators, have built a family of robots that we believe has struck the right cord of meaningful entertainment that helps kids of all ages explore the world of computer science and robotics.

Dash and Dot, which caters to ages 6–10, have been a hit with children, teachers, and parents alike, driving us to continue to expand our family of robots and reach an all new demographic with Cue, made for ages 11+, and a new twist on an old favorite with Dot Creativity Kit, where we’ve we kicked it up a notch and incorporated quirky do-it-yourself projects to creatively inspire and challenge 6–10 year olds. Through personality and interactive communication, with Cue’s vocabulary of 170,000 words, you can chat and text, create challenges, and code at every skill level — from novices to advanced engineers.

We also put on an annual robotics competition called Wonder League. In its second year, the competition drew in 5,300 teams from 52 countries, which led to more than 20,000 kids engaging in coding and robotics. Half of the participants in the competition were girls, and kids were typically spending 20 hours a week programming — that’s like having a part time job! An all-girls team from Hartland, Michigan took the grand prize.

Yitzi: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

At Wonder Workshop, we’re designing products to inspire the master and architects of tomorrow’s robots. With studies showing that many traditional jobs are increasingly being made obsolete and that in the next decade, there will be more U.S. jobs in the tech sector than qualified graduates to fill them, we’re finding today’s young people are not equipped to succeed in the job market of the future.

I believe the only solution to provide young people with the resources to learn coding and robotics, while inspiring creativity. There are countless STEM-oriented products on the market today — but we really see it falling into two camps. The first category includes products that are essentially educational tools — they often have a high barrier to entry because they are primarily focused on the education market, and are often less engaging and expensive. The second category includes smart toys that are generally novel,

tied to a blockbuster movie or larger pop culture phenomenon that are filled with gender stereotypes and biases. We’ve seen interest in these toys wear off quickly, traditionally within the first week of purchasing.

This creates a gap in the market to provide something that is entertaining, inspiring, yet allows the player to learn. Our focus is to fill this gap by providing engaging robots that spark creativity and lifelong learning for kids of all ages.

An interesting story worth sharing is the story of the Pink Eagles, the winning team of last year’s Wonder League Robotics Competition. Out of the 20,000 kids around the world, this team of 5 girls from Michigan won the competition. The girls formed the team when boys, including their brothers, didn’t welcome them in existing robotics clubs — and went on to achieve what the boys couldn’t.

Our platform stands out in being able to bridge the gender gap. At every step, from design of the robots, to the creation of learning content, we’ve worked hard to ensure that girls find just as much success on our platform as boys.

Yitzi: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

I stand on the shoulders of giants. I won’t be able to single out any one person, but investors who backed us early and continue to support us are a huge contributor to our success. My co-founders deserve the credit of the success of our robots in equal measure. I can’t do what I do everyday without the support of my family and friends — especially my wife, who is the source my strength and courage.

Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Wonder Workshop has created a robot pals that are entertaining, inspiring, yet allows the user to learn. I realized that we really had something unique here particularly when we launched our first Wonder League Robotics Competition in 2015. In the second year, the competition drew in 5,300 teams from 52 countries, which was more than 20,000 kids engaging in coding and robotics. Half of the team’s members were girls and kids were typically spending 20 hours a week programming — that’s like having a part time job! An

all-girls team from Hartland, Michigan took the grand prize, which also shows that our product appeals to both genders equally — another differentiator.

Yitzi: What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why.

1. The role will evolve over time, and I will need to grow and evolve with it. Over the years, I’ve found that every phase of the company has made it necessary for me to grow in new dimensions as a leader.

2. It is important to invest in myself. It is easy to let work consume all waking hours, and as a result I’ve found that my health suffers. Continuing to invest in staying healthy is a goal of mine as the company grows.

3. Hiring for culture is just as, if not more, important than hiring for skill. When pressed to grow the team in order to deliver on immediate needs, I’ve found that we sometimes tend to optimize for skill, and culture fit gets overlooked. I’ve learned along the way that a culture fit is just as critical.

4. Ultimately, I am only as good as the team I build. As an entrepreneur, there is a natural tendency to run as fast as I can. However, if you want to go far, you want to go together with a team.

5. The role of a CEO is lonely. The job involves unrelenting stress, and I often find that the role doesn’t give me the liberty to share the stress with someone else.

Yitzi: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)

I had the opportunity to work with Jeff Bezos at Amazon. It was always inspiring and I would love an opportunity to connect with him again, and use the opportunity to learn something new.