Sphero was prepared to conquer the planet last year. The company quintupled its product launch schedule, flying high with the help of a Disney licensing bargain that gave the world several Star Wars droids and speaking Spider-Man and Lightning McQueen robots.
Nearly all the layoffs were based from the company’s Colorado headquarters, however, staff cuts affected its international offices at the U.K. and Hong Kong.
“We restructured our staff on Friday to better align with our product requirements,” a spokesperson for the company informed TechCrunch. “As we look to our product development schedule for 2018 and beyond, we were not likely to really go that deep, so we had to make some changes for the way the teams were structured.”
The move is a step back to the company and also a bit of a surprise for those who have been following its trajectory from afar. After participating in Disney’s accelerator back in 2014, the hardware startup got a little investment from the amusement goliath and started production on a BB-8 toy released next to 2015’s blockbuster Star Wars reunite, The Force Awakens.
In 2017 alone, the company released new toys according to R2D2, The Last Jedi’s BB-9E, Spider-Man and Pixar’s Cars franchise, together with Sphero Mini, a smaller, sub-$50 version of the smartphone controlled ball that started it all.
The startup had bolstered its headcount to satisfy the needs of its accelerated output.
It’s telling, of course, that the layoffs come soon after the holidays. While not catastrophic, the finally tally pointed to the need for a rethink in strategy going forward. “[Sales weren’t] what we had expected,” the spokesperson said. It’s the right time to pivot.”
The decrease comes because it shifts toward a product roadmap more in line with the pre-2017 days — placing it closer to one to two products each year. “That might be our sweet spot,” the spokesperson added. “We are still pretty young, but the one part of our business that continues to shine is what we’re doing in instruction. This allows our company to focus on that vision.”
This restructuring finds Sphero investing much more of its present resources to the education side of its organization. The company was working in the category for a while, leveraging its hardware creations within an offering designed to target schools, but that side has mostly taken a backseat to Sphero’s more commercial offerings until today.
Educational robotics — STEM/STEAM specifically — is an extremely competitive area, too. CES last week has been overloaded with companies large and small pushing into the group with a variety of different platforms, and from the looks of things, following month’s Toy Fair at New York won’t be considerably different.
However, Sphero gets the marked advantage of building in addition to its own popular robotics platform. In fact, it conducted popular pilot programs in its own native Colorado that garnered coverage in areas like Wired and The New Yorker last year and in 2016.
The company’s SPRK+ Instruction offers parents and teachers that a platform for instructing coding and robotics. Sphero’s bundle lets youngsters app its connected toys via coding, offering a true world robotics platform on the cheap.
“[Education] is something we could actually own,” that the company’s spokesperson says hopefully. “Where we do well are these adventures we could 100-percent own, from inception to go-to-market.”
Sphero co-founder and CTO Ian Bernstein also recently left the company to turn out out a fresh startup, Misty Robotics. It’s not designed to be a direct competitor, focusing rather on home assistant robotics, but former staffers did join Bernstein in the new company. Misty will even have its own programmable robot, though its own offering, that the Misty I, is focused mostly on adult programmers.