Sphero, a popular robot design company known for making toy products associated with popular movie franchises like Star Wars, Spider-Man, and Cars, has started off 2018 with layoffs. Following Sphero holiday sales figures that failed to live up to expectations, the company has shed 45 staff members across the globe, hitting a variety of departments.
The Sphero layoffs in 2018 came as a surprise to many in the industry who believed that the company had an inside track on the toys of the future.
“[Sales weren’t] exactly what we had expected,” said a company spokesperson. “We still consider ourselves a young startup. It’s the right time to pivot.”
Those Sphero layoffs came as the company quintupled its product release schedule, with its franchise licensing deals to produce robotic toys for beloved film properties seeming ready to propel Sphero toward robotic toy domination. The company implemented the majority of the job cuts in its home state, leading to Colorado layoffs alongside layoffs in the U.K. and Hong Kong.
Backed by massive brands that appeal to children across the world, the robotic toys seemed like the logical next step in the evolution of playthings, especially for product tie-ins for franchises like Star Wars, which abounds with robots. The company has released robotic toys of beloved figures like “R2D2” and “BB-9E” from Star Wars.
But the robot design company seems to have expanded too fast for its own good.
“We restructured our team on Friday to better align with our product needs,” said the company spokesperson. “As we look to our product development schedule for 2018 and beyond, we weren’t going to go that deep, so we had to make some changes for how the teams were structured.”
The company initially hired more people in order to cope with its increased success, but it has since had to pare that number down with the recent Sphero layoffs.
Sphero Restructuring: Shifts focus to Education Sector
The Sphero layoffs are part of a broader strategy within the company to pivot more toward educational robotics. A Sphero restructuring is underway that will place more emphasis on what is already a popular area of the company.
“[Education] is something we can actually own,” said the company’s spokesperson. “Where we do well are those experiences we can 100-percent own, from inception to go-to-market.”
The company has run several high-profile pilot programs in Colorado that have given children access to robotics and coding training. The company’s “SPRK+ Education” program gave kids the opportunity to code their own toys.
Aside from the Sphero layoffs and the move toward education, the company took a hit recently when co-founder and CTO Ian Bernstein left the company to create his own startup, Misty Robotics, Inc. Some other employees left Sphero along with Bernstein in order to join his new company.
Misty Robotics, with its focus on home assistant robotics, is not designed to be a direct competitor to Sphero. Although Misty also produces robotics that are programmable by owners, its devices are primarily targeted toward adult developers.
“Sphero lays off dozens as it shifts focus to education,” TechCrunch, January 21, 2018.