Small Business 101: A Buffalo Entrepreneur on Building an Education Startup


Hey everybody welcome back to another
episode of Small Business 101 here on Arbeit U. Yes we got a good one today
right Emily did a great job booking our guest today, joined today by one of
the co-founders of Thimble you could see them below,
Oscar Pedroso. So thanks so much for coming I really appreciate it, well we
really appreciate this. Anytime, thank you it’s good to be here. Yeah thanks so I
guess start off by telling us all about Thimble.io. Sure so my name is Oscar
and Thimble is an online academy that teaches kids robotics programming and
hardware and we do that through virtual courses and then we deliver the physical
projects for you to build. So it could be a project that we sent to your house
build with your family or projects that we send to school so that technology
teachers can build these projects from start to finish with their students.
That’s such a great concept, how did you come up with that? Well it took many many
endless nights over beer to figure that one out but- as all great ideas do –
my background is in education so when I was at University of
Rochester, where I went to school, I worked in the admissions office part-time
so I started off as a tour guide and then I got involved reading applications
and recruiting students and this was in the engineering school. Then I
was part of building the campus makerspace from the ground up with
a group of other students and so we did a lot of work on campus with engineering
students but we also did a lot of volunteer work with some of the inner
city schools to work with schools that didn’t really have access to a lot
of the resources we have on campus. So you know I met really really awesome
kids who just aspire to be technologists and engineers that just didn’t have the
wherewithal to accomplish that and so you know that was like the first seed
and then in the back of my mind there was something here that I needed to
solve I wasn’t ready yet. But I did start
getting the entrepreneurial edge, so I started a tutoring business, was helping
students study for the SATs then I later helped college student study for the GRE and that turned into an application
consulting business so I was helping students figure out a strategy when they
were applying to school and that was just me. Eventually I just wanted
something a little bigger than myself, I always envisioned working with the team
and I also wanted to create a more greater impact. So I started my first
startup which was Grad fly which was like online project journals for
engineers so they can show off your stuff, and that was a higher ed play
which ended up failing. But it was the very beginnings of what Thimble would
become. Really, that’s a cool story. Out of curiosity, what was your major in
college? Math and economics major. Okay, alright cool. That’s an
awesome story. So for so who uses Thimble, what age group? All age groups, kids? Yeah I would say they just 10 and up so
right around fourth, fifth grade. We also have high school college students and
adults using it as long we’ve also had senior citizens in nursing home use
our kit to keep their mind sharp. That’s cool. But it originally launched
as a as a product for homeschool families just to serve as a
supplement for education not being taught in school particularly around
coding and robotics. So you know a lot of our parents want to get their
kids into technology at a young age but they don’t know where to start,
so we that we fill in that void there. Then that was a when we launched
out of the Kickstarter, we were primarily serving hobbyists and homeschool
families, but then we later found out that a lot of our customers identified
as parents and educators so we’ve always had this different buckets of customers
that spans anywhere from home school to people working on these projects at home
to students working on these in bathroom. Out of curiosity when you
first started what did you intend it to be? Like did you intend to like focus on
one of those and like you discovered all these different like applications for it?
Well you said home school right? Yeah we didn’t really put
our finger on who our target customer was at the time, we only knew that we would
be delivering a box every month and you would get a different project in the
mail and all the instructions were video tutorials on our learning portal and
that people would just love receiving stuff every month. Yeah that’s true I
think you thought yeah this would fit in nicely with teachers in schools but
we thought that was more down the line than been working on it right after the
Kickstarter. What’s been the biggest hurdle with
getting this off the ground? Well I think one of the biggest challenges we had in
the beginning was being in the subscription box world to begin with,
because you are forced to come up with something new everyone month. Now in the
world of subscription boxes if you’re delivering
I don’t know cigars, candy, you know it’s it’s easy to put that in a box but to
put a robotics project with all the content you need to build it and hash
that out every month that’s very challenging because it comes with you
know you gotta account for the design process testing manufacturing the
lead times to come with that and then just creating beginner-friendly
instructions that a two-year-old can understand, so you know that that was the
probably one of the most challenging things and we couldn’t deliver every
month because of that so you know that was always a disappointing newsletter
we’d send out say hey I’m ready to ship out, but we had
people who supported it, I think the key there was just
communicating what was happening and some customers got upset, but you know
that’s just one of the clutches of being a start-up is you can’t you know can’t
get everything right. Not all the time at least right? So what was it
like I mean getting into that market in the beginning, I mean is there anything else necessary directly like this? Well there is
for sure you know, there are there a lot of what
you would consider toys, stem toys, to get kids interested in technology but
there were what we saw is that there really wasn’t anything teaching you
difficult technology skills to border on an electrical computer mechanical
engineering pipe skills and so everybody sort of tiptoes around it
but no one really addresses it because it’s it’s hard. And so we have this
ambitious goal of teaching college-level material within three years or less you
know we’re not going to grant you an engineering degree by any means but I’ve
got a lot of those concepts introduced in college can be taught in very easier
concepts in the beginning. And so you know that’s how that’s how we’ve gone
about it we’re like the middle school to high school like learn learn real skills
and use real tools that engineers actually use in the day-to-day careers that’s
creative. I mean guess it’s we probably understand this for anyone watching, why is it so important for the kids to be exposed
to technology at that young age? Yeah I would use myself as an example I
mean I I didn’t really know what engineering was until my freshman year
in college which is really sad because you know I took all the sciences in
high school and a pretty good student but then I went to college and my
roommate was an optics engineer I was like what what is that? Why don’t I know about that?
and so you know I felt like growing up my parents only talked about careers and
medicine business and law and there wasn’t really anything outside of that
and so I it was too late for me to decide to be an engineer although it
would have been great I took some mechanical engineering courses but I
didn’t really yeah I didn’t take enough classes to get a minor major in it but the
cool thing was I was able to teach myself how to code just using my math
skills just from being a math major. But I think it’s important first for
students to be able to know what all these different industries and careers
can do and to be aware that there are kind of jobs out there that don’t exist
quite yet but will in the next few years and the
or they start just understanding what they should give themselves an option to
even consider whether they want to go down that path. I didn’t really have that
choice until much later I probably still could have figured it out but you know I
had already made up my mind that I would be do math an econ major. Clearly it
worked right? Yea it worked out for the long run. Yeah definitely I mean here I am
trying to create the grid an opportunity for kids at an early age to figure that
out which is great I’m always impressed whenever I go to a show and I need a
kindergartner who can point out a component and its serial number by heart
like how how do you know that? I got a little cousin and it’s like he’s smarter
than me and he’s like four I’m like I’m I’m just yeah this people are gonna put
me out of work. Like it’s incredible so yeah I wish I had that skill set of four.
Cool so what some what would be some advice that you give to any young
entrepreneurs today or anybody looking to start their own company whether or
not in this space, just in general? Well you know starting of this
is not for the faint I think if you if you have an idea and you want to turn it
into a business great. What you end up – what you start off with is not going to
be what you end up with months down the line
or even years down the line so there’s a lot of patience, resilience needed you’re
gonna make a lot of mistakes and you just need to have a really strong mind
and heart to deal with it because it gets hard and frustrating and sometimes you
want to give up but you know it’s uh for me it’s not an option and that’s I think
I’m wired that way you know what I think we’re all wired differently even
entrepreneurs. I’ve seen type days and type II type
entrepreneurs but I know the one thing we have in common is that
we’re in there to fight the good fight and we’re learning constantly talking to
as many customers or potential customers as possible and because you know that’s
that’s definitely important too, is having the ideas for the innovation but making
sure that you are staying informed with what the market has to say because
they’re the ones ultimately that are going to decide whether they pay for
your product or not. That’s great advice. Yeah it is great
advice. Kids at home watching, this is what you do. Alright thanks so
much Oscar that was awesome. Yeah that was a good one. Where do people get in touch
with you if they want to learn more? They can well they can
check us out at www.thimble.io and then if they have any questions they can reach out to me at [email protected] And yea, thanks so much. We really appreciate it. that’s a great call good thank you
cool all right well you have a couple of beers while you’re building. It’ll be nice to have something to do while I’m drinking beer so um yeah
thanks for doing this you just got you just got a customer out of this so good
work yeah worked out really well yeah and as always we will see you guys next
week see you next week Thanks

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