We met with TinkerToys co-founder Sebastian Friedrich to talk about child-oriented CAD-software, 3D printing and the future of the toy industry.

The three founders of TinkerToys Sebastian Friedrich, Sebastian Schröder and Marko Jakob met as co-workers at a business consultancy, soon finding out all three shared the intention to create something of their own.

The trio is a heterogeneous team, combining diverse skill sets. Sebastian S., father of two wants to promote creativity and connection to new media in children. Marko brings the commercial expertise to the team. Sebastian F. previously graduated as an industrial engineer, did research on 3D printing and built up a makerspace. Before founding TinkerToys Sebastian solely worked at microenterprises and startups, adding valuable experience from former entrepreneurships. They began to ponder their options, searching for the product best suited to put the 3D printing technology to use. Even back then there were already plenty of bright and colorful 3D printing materials available. The idea to create toys for kids was born. However, setting foot in the toy industry would be a challenge to overcome. Standardized mass merchandise which can be produced in large quantities is dominating the toy market. What would a 3D printed toy have to be like?

Toys reinvented

Expenditures only make sense when focusing on the niche of individual toys. Thanks to the technology of 3D printing, children should be able to design their own toys and hold them in their hands soon after. This would become the fundamental idea behind TinkerToys. TinkerToys was founded in 2015 and is located Leipzig Lindenau. The thought process behind the company is how to combine 3D print technology with a good product idea in a sustainable way. Thanks to TinkerToys children have the opportunity to design their own toys through a model kit based, child-oriented CAD software. Simply put, kids start with a basic element which can be supplemented by additional modules, resulting in unique and individual toys. There is much added value to be had in all production stages. Children are not only dipping into their creativity while using the software. They are being taught how things to build things, how to think spatially and how to solve upcoming problems using digital tools. How do I build a toy that does not only work on screen, but also in real life? TinkerToys allows the unfolding of creativity in an age-appropriate way and adds a personal connection to the process of "being given a new toy".

Value added through learning

Sebastian estimates the chances of reclaiming customers from the mass merchandise based toy industry as reasonable. TinkerToys will not be able to discourage people from buying the next mass product. It is simply not the company's focal point. The entrepreneurs are looking to people who care about added value when buying toys as their target audience. People who reduce TinkerToys to just the finished product fail to recognize the added value behind the idea. The company wants to raise awareness of the fact that things can still be self made while using modern technology. Aside from regular craftman's trades, digital tools offer new ways to craft something. The steps of programming and design allow for new creative processes that result in a finished robot for example. In cooperation with their select partners, TinkerToys is planning on investing into this area.

Related to the software TinkerToys uses, this would mean being able to not only add elements to the basic modules, but functions as well. This way the adaptive nature of the product could be taken to the next level.

Design stations in schools and shopping malls

Meanwhile TinkerToys specializes in the organization of workshops, often utilized by schools and shopping malls. In schools software and hardware are used to varied extent. Thus enabling project weeks, combining different subjects and learning content in an applicatory way. Schools often use this offer for younger grades. For some time past TinkerToys holds cooperation with the HABA Digitalwerkstätten. HABA owns multiple branches and workshop-stores with emphasis on digital education and programming. For TinkerToys this cooperation acts as a multiplier in brand awareness due to the HABA trademarks prominence and reach. The mobile version of the HABA workshops often collaborates with schools, strengthening the market position in this area. Just like a pop-up store TinkerToys realizes thematic weeks for kids and passerby's in shopping malls, raising sojourn quality. The feedback the company receives is consistently positive. Fitting the sustainability concept TinkerToys only uses biological, corn based 3D printing materials that are ecofriendly, biodegradable and BPA-free.

TinkerToys then and now

After a few years of being TinkerToys the company did learn a lot. The actual group of buyers is a different one than first expected. Originally the company wanted to sell to private customers via their own stores, producing locally and decentralized. Experience has shown that this is just not realistic from an economical standpoint. Setting foot in the toy industry with a new brand also proved to be harder than expected, given constrains in their marketing budget. The toy industry is one of the last industries whose products are commonly bought at local retailers. The amount of product sold online is comparatively low, posing a challenge for companies like TinkerToys that only operate on the internet. How are we being found by potential customers? A relevant question the company has to answer. The idea of self-manufacturing toys using digital tools is brand new, innovative and therefore widely unknown. Based on these facts large parts of the efforts are focused on creating mindfulness and awareness for this new concept. It is all about creating demand for the do-it-yourself-toy idea. Currently the TinkerToys team consists of six individuals with branches in Leipzig and Magdeburg. In the future the company aims to expand its position in the segment of individual, ecofriendly toys and digital education. This of course involves the strive to also expand their event and workshop business.

Sebastians advice for entrepreneurs: never lose sight of the projects funding! Furthermore, team composition matters. Try to balance the division of competences and look out for skills necessary for the company's success.

Quick questions to Sebastian Friedrich, co-founder of TinkerToys

Why Leipzig?

I moved here for work and now I do not want to miss it. The city is beautiful, especially in the west.

Your insider tip for Leipzig?

The district Plagwitz with its canals is gorgeous. The atmosphere is great, which is why I chose to live right there.

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