LittleBits was overwhelmed by
demand in its early days—you sold
out of your products in your first
two weeks. How did you recover?
I considered hiring a team in China
to run our manufacturing operation.
But if you expand to China, it
becomes a matter of running two
companies at once, with t wo offices
and two teams doing quality control.
I found a supply-chain partner here
instead, to negotiate with manufacturers and suppliers. And so we pay
an extra fee, and we give up some
equity, but it’s well worth it.
So should more manufacturing
come back to America?
Trying to compete to make little
plastic pieces cheaper here than in
China—that ship has sailed. And, to
be honest, it’s not that interesting.
There’s a real resurgence of personal
manufacturing here, and of high-end manufacturing of complex
devices. I think that’s where the
U. S. can really stand out.
How do you decide which opportunities to pursue—or to pass up?
A lot of people in the toy industry
gravitated toward us initially. It
was great, except the buyers
pressured us to drop our prices. But
these are electronics, and they’re
complex and expensive to make. To
make something cheaper, you have
to really reduce the functionality.
We did a $29 kit to try that out—
and it did very badly. People wanted to do more with the bits, instead
of getting dumbed-down products.
You moved here from Lebanon to
attend MI T. Are changes in immigration policy affecting littleBits?
I’m on an artist’s visa now, and
there was a period when I thought I
was going to get kicked out of the
country, despite having 45 employees. And I had to think about
moving littleBits, even though I
love New York. We have a lot of
really talented foreign students
coming out of our schools whom we
can’t employ, because they can’t get
visas. At least if there were more
postgrad visas, people could stay a
few years to prove themselves, and
I think that would be very valuable.
The founder of littleBits invented
electronic building blocks that snap together
magnetically. Selling them helped her
reinvent the gadget company
By SCOT T GERBER Photograph by DAVID YELLEN
Ayah Bdeir started
lessons at age 12.
Two decades later,
New York City–based
littleBits sells miniature
electronics in more
than 70 countries.
SCAN THIS PAGE TO WATCH AYAH BDEIR
DISCUSS WHY ROBOTS WON’ T TAKE OVER THE
WORLD. (See page 8 for details.) For the
Founders Forum video with Inc.’s Scott
Gerber, go to www.inc.com/founders-forum.
FOUNDERS FORUM 120 - INC. - MAY 2015