Sphero was prepared to conquer the planet last year. The company quintupled its product release schedule, flying high with all the assistance of a Disney licensing deal that gave the globe several Star Wars droids and speaking Spider-Man and Lightning McQueen robots.
The majority of the layoffs were based from the company’s Colorado headquarters, however, employees cuts affected its international offices at the U.K. and Hong Kong.
“We restructured our team on Friday to align with our product needs,” a spokesperson for the company informed TechCrunch. “As we look to our product development schedule for 2018 and beyond, we were not likely to go that deep, so we had to make some changes for how the teams were ordered”
The move is a step back to the company and a bit of a surprise for those who were following its trajectory from afar. After engaging in Disney’s accelerator back in 2014, the hardware startup got a small investment in the amusement goliath and started production on that a BB-8 toy released alongside 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 Automobiles franchise, together with Sphero Mini, a smaller, sub-$50 version of the smartphone controlled ball that started everything.
The startup had bolstered its headcount to meet the needs of its much accelerated output.
It’s telling, naturally, that the layoffs come soon after the holidays. “[Sales weren’t] what we’d anticipated,” the spokesperson said. “We still consider ourselves a young startup. It’s the right time.”
The reduction comes because it shifts toward a product roadmap more in accord with this pre-2017 days — placing it at closer to one to two products per year. “That might be our sweet spot,” the spokesperson added. “We are still fairly young, but the 1 portion of our company that continues to glow is what we’re doing in instruction. This allows our company to focus on that vision.”
This restructuring finds Sphero investing more of its existing resources into the education side of its organization. The company was working in the group for some time, leveraging its hardware inventions within an offering designed to target colleges, but that side has mostly taken a backseat to Sphero’s more industrial offerings until now.
Educational robotics — STEM/STEAM especially — 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 by the looks of things, following month’s Toy Fair at New York won’t be much different.
However, Sphero gets the marked advantage of building in addition to its own popular robotics platform. In fact, it ran pilot programs in its native Colorado that garnered policy in places like Wired and The New Yorker this past year and in 2016.
The company’s SPRK+ Education offers educators and parents that a stage for instructing coding and robotics. Sphero’s package lets youngsters program its connected toys via coding, offering a true world robotics platform on the cheap.
“[Education] is something we can actually own,” that the company’s spokesperson says ideally. “Where we do well are these experiences 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 new startup, Misty Robotics. It isn’t designed to be a direct competitor, focusing instead on home assistant robotics, but former staffers did join Bernstein in the new company. Misty will even have its own programmable robot, even though its own offering, the Misty that I, is focused primarily on mature programmers.