MEET the DESIGNER - Bethany Koby of Tech Will Save Us
posted on March 08 2017
Introducing Bethany Koby co-founder of the coolest new tech toy company Tech Will Save Us.
There aren't that many tech toys on the market really but it's a booming space or about to go kaboom. Everyone wants a piece of this market. But few people know how to bring such style to geekdom. What we love about Tech Will Save Us is that their toys respond to the human in us, they are crafty toys, that you enjoy feeling in your hands and beautiful. They appeal to the designer AND human in us.
What technology misses most of the time is art and these guys know how to design a toy that brings out compelling meaning and experience. It's not some cold robot that can be admired for it's complex coding and pathetic eyebrow lift. No. These toys sweetly embed themselves into the non-techie heart as well.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Bethany about how they came up with such an interesting line of products.
Here she is with her husband Daniel, together they co-founded Technology Will Save Us and have one lucky little boy called Ash who is 5 years old, who obviously loves his Mover!
Where are you from?
Where are you based?
Hackney, East London
Describe your neighbourhood/ home?
We live in a converted monastery so have lovely beams in our ceiling and really interesting architectural spaces. We have 5 skylights in our house so lots of love light and views of the sky and lovely treetops!
What inspired you to come up with your company/product?
We started Technology Will Save Us in response to a couple of different things. We found a laptop in our bin and thought it was crazy that someone would throw a working piece of technology away. It really highlighted the role that tech has in our everyday lives and our relationship with it. We don’t really understand it, yet it pervades everything. Both myself and my co-founder Daniel were teaching at the time and were keenly aware of how long it takes for education to catch up with the pace of technology. The maker movement was growing and the world of creative tech tools was on the rise, we felt there was a need for a business that would empower the creator generation and empower parents while inspiring kids to make and be productive with tech in a fun and hands on way.
What were some of your biggest challenges in starting your business?
We started Technology Will Save Us in my living room when I was on maternity leave, so we know all about the challenges of starting small. One of the biggest lessons we learned was that you have to listen to your audience. It was really important to us that as we grew we listened to our users and we continue to do so! Starting off as a workshop company really helped us get to know our audience, and learn what their needs, fears and behaviours were around technology. It is important to us that we are appealing to the emotional and practical sides of why learning hands on with technology is important to parents and inspiring for kids. We have a user centred approach to design and development of all of our kits and experiences which is now very much at the heart of our business. Our users inform a huge part of what we do.
Managing a business and having a family is a lot of work, what’s your secret for staying organised?
I am a bit of a slave to my calendar. And unfortunately I have not found the perfect calendar…my Apple calendar does the job but there is a gap! Trello is fantastic, it’s a great way to manage your to-do list, and also see what the rest of the team are working on. We also use Slack which is great for our team, as we’re out and about at events or travelling – it’s a great way to keep in touch. And I also incessantly use Evernote for meetings, discussions, to-do lists, conferences etc… We work very globally, so I’ve adopted a routine that fits in well with that. I leave the office around 7pm and have a meal with my family and talk about the day. Then after my son is bed, I usually check in on emails and plan out the following day before going to bed. But we also have rituals like date night every week and Friday Shabbat dinner that support us with creating time for us.
What is your daily routine/ how do you balance family life and work life?
I have a young son, so we get up early-ish, 6:30–7am. I drink lemon water, take vitamins and stretch almost every single morning. My husband and I alternate exercise mornings and preparing breakfast, getting our son dressed (he’s only 4 so needs to be reminded to get dressed and not play) and coffee. Then we walk or ride bikes to school together. I have this theory that if you have kids and a business you need a triangle – your house, office and school and they all need to be a cycle or walking distance from each other. This helps balance all of these demands. My husband, Daniel, is also my co-founder, we take it in turns to take our son to school. Wherever possible I love to get up and go to yoga before I start the day. Date night - my husband and I have date night every week where we spend time together doing things we love, movies, dinners, theatre and sometime even the sauna! We are not perfect and sometime miss it BUT this ritual means we generally always have this time to check in with each other.
What is unique about designing for children/ what is the future of education?
We really believe that children need the opportunity to get hands-on, and have access to different ways of learning. All of our products are vehicles for education that encourage everyone to make, play, code and invent with technology. We use everyday life as inspiration for our kits as they tap into the hobbies and passions that we love. We believe that understanding and inspiration comes from hands-on experiences where people can unlock the magic of technology for themselves. These experiences and learning can happen anywhere from schools to home and clubs to libraries.
What are your future plans for your business / designs?
We are only just beginning! The maker movement in the UK is still relatively young, we have lots of opportunities to continue supporting the growth and understanding across the country. According to the NESTA over 8M young people in the UK are estimated to have an interest in trying ‘digital making’, but only 130,000 such learning opportunities were available in 2014. We hope to help expand that opportunity and encourage learning at home around the kitchen table as well as growing after school clubs ability to support digital making. Although we work with huge retailers, working with independent retailers such as yourselves is close to our heart here at Technology Will Save Us- we believe it is important to support independent businesses around us.
How do you see the world changing around you? What trends are you noticing?
Cathy Davidson, a scholar of learning technology, concluded that 65% of children entering grade school this year will end up working in careers that haven’t even been invented yet. We think kids will invent future jobs based on playing with Minecraft, making thirsty plant detectors in their kitchens and designing their own games controlled by their micro:bits. This is why Tech Will Save Us is focusing on sparking the creative imagination of young people using hands-on technology.
How do you feel about the future little citizens will live in?
When we started Technology Will Save Us, we had also just had our son Ash who was a big inspiration. There is nothing like having a child born with an iPad to make you think about the role technology will play in their lives! As a parent I want more for my son and ways to inspire him to see what he is capable of with technology.
Where do you find inspiration?
My mom inspires me as she (and my dad) have always loved the work they do and have created a life of creativity, passion and lifelong learning. Users inspire the work I do. Young people and the adults that love and support them give me inspiration and insight around new themes, skills and possibilities I could have never have imagined. Our team also inspires my work. We have an incredibly talented, passionate and dynamic group that continually invent and create experiences to delight and surprise me always!
How do you relax?
Yoga, yoga, yoga!
Name other designers who you love and are inspired by:
My favourite design shop is Darkroom in London
What’s the best advice you have received?
A fellow female entrepreneur, Debbie Wascow, founder of Love Home Swap told me the most transformational thing on a trip to San francisco. She said as a mom, entrepreneur and passionate individual you need to “outsource anything that is not core”…What she meant was you need to decide what is core and what you care about the most as a parent. Do you love bedtime, do you love morning breakfasts, do you love picking up from school…decide really what is important to you and do that well! Everything else you outsource - this can be to your partner, a nanny. These words literally transformed the way I felt about how I was balancing all of these areas of my life and helped me to feel confident, clear and happy with my choices. Of course you will need to reflect and change as things change in your life, BUT outsourcing anything that is not core, is core!
Everyday object/product that you think is especially well-designed?
Our Dieter Rams record player - Snow White Coffin.
What museum do you most like to visit?
We are absolutely spoiled for choice in London, The Design Museum is excellent, and we enjoy being able to go to the Barbican, Hayward, Serpentine and the Tate. We do regular gallery visits to some of our favourites like Hauser & Wirth, Seventeen and Victoria Miro. In New York we love MoMA (we were lucky enough to design their windows this year) and we try not to miss the New Museum and the Whitney.
Family playing with the Electric Dough Kit by Tech Will Save Us