Bethany Koby featured

Inspirational Woman: Bethany Koby | Co-Founder and CEO of Technology Will Save Us

 

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Bethany Koby is a mum, CEO, designer, art director and artist interested in creating brands, businesses and experiences that help imagine a more positive and collaborative future.

In 2012 Bethany co-founded Technology Will Save Us, a business that instigates 21st century learning - in the classroom and around the kitchen table - through its beautifully designed DIY Gadget Kits for every day life.

As the CEO, she is responsible for its strategic growth, partnerships and balancing R&D projects with retail relationships and the all-important educational agenda. Bethany’s goal is to grow Technology Will Save Us to create more impact with its products and services, while shaping a collaborative, creative, beautiful and fun business to work in.

Technology Will Save Us creates products to imagine a world where technology is more bespoke and more meaningful because people have the skills to be creative with it.

Bethany holds a BFA in Graphic Design from Rhode Island School of Design and a MSC in Responsibility and Business practice from Bath University and was a scholarship holder at Fabrica in Italy. She has been creating innovative relationships between brands and communities for well over 10 years both commercially and personally. Previously, she was a design director and social impact specialist at the international branding and innovation company Wolff Olins.

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Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am a mum, CEO, designer, art director and artist (and sometimes all five at once.) I create products and experiences for a more positive and collaborative future.

In 2012 I co-founded Technology Will Save Us with my husband Daniel Hirschmann. It was based on a radical premise: what if kids could build the technology they use, and learn more about technology in the process?

We created the (now iconic) kits and the most accessible, fun way for kids, families, and educators to learn, play, and invent with technology.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I didn’t really sit down and plan but I have always been interested in design and making even as a child. I grew up in California. I was always creative. My mother was a toy designer turned Montessori teacher and my dad was a photographer so making and creating were in my blood. Making was a part of everyday life - whether it was cooking, painting, pottery or more expansive projects like model airplanes, redecorating my room (which I did often) or planting a vegetable garden - I was never not making.

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

Investment is very male-orientated industry with very little diversity. It’s only recently that I’ve seen a shift towards different cultures and people. Most investors talk about these things but have not actually experienced it. I very quickly realised that VCs are mainly male, the tech industry is mainly male. If we can push to achieve more diversity in tech, this will result in more innovation and tech that caters to a wider range of responses and needs.

Raising a family and balancing a career is a challenging, but rewarding process. I’m very lucky to have such an amazing support network.

Finding an identity and being able to iterate my experience as a mom, wife and entrepreneur was crucial but hard.

On a typical workday, how does you start your day and how does it end?

I have a young son, so we get up early-ish, 6:30–7am. I start the day by drinking lemon water, taking vitamins and stretching. 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.

We work very globally, so I’ve adopted a routine that fits in well with that. I leave the office around 7pm, have a meal with my family and talk about the day.

After my son is in bed, I usually check in on emails and plan out the following day before going to bed. We also have rituals like date night every week and Friday Shabbat dinner to create time for Daniel and I.

Tell us a little bit about your role and how did that come about?

We started Technology Will Save Us in response to a couple of different things. We found a laptop in our garbage 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. My co-founder Daniel and I 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, so we felt there was a need for a business that would empower the creator generation and parents while inspiring kids to make and be productive with tech in a fun and hands-on way. We also had a baby and he was basically born with an iPad.

We started out as a workshop company but realized that by creating products or kits that give parents and kids the power, the knowledge, and most importantly the confidence to be able to do it themselves, at home around the kitchen table is equally, if not more, empowering.

As the CEO, I am responsible for the company’s strategic growth and partnerships. We created the company in 2012. It has since sparked the imagination of children in over 97 countries. We work closely with children to design our kits, engaging in large-scale research projects before beginning design and manufacture.

Have you ever had a mentor or a sponsor or anyone who has helped your career?

Advice can come freely and often but actual mentorship and collaboration is really special and important, the people I’ve been fortunate enough to work with have been fundamental at all stages of Technology Will Save Us.

Our advisors, Matt Webb, Tracy Doree are invaluable to me and our business. We share values, ambition and really love working together. They push me to be braver, bolder and stronger than I sometimes think I am.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

I would say that always remember this is a journey not a destination. Make sure you surround yourself with examples, mentors, advisors that inspire you to be the kind of entrepreneur and person you want to be. Always keep learning. Also, don’t just aim to ‘balance’ all your responsibilities, blend them together, make it work with your daily routine.

If you were to look back in five years, what would you see in terms of your achievements?

Building and growing Technology Will Save Us with amazing and passionate people. Our East London Mini factory houses a team of 26 content creators, product specialists, sales gurus, production experts, educators, engineers, designers and developers. We’re passionately building the most accessible and entertaining brand for the creator generation.

We have sold over 80,000 award winning kits in more than 97 countries. So far. Our kits are available online & in shops all over the world. Some of our major retail partners include John Lewis in the UK, Barnes & Noble in the US and Myer in Australia.

We’ve also been awarded some pretty amazing recognitions, the Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired our Gamer Kit for their permanent collection ‘Humble Masterpieces’. We were selected as part of the permanent collection displayed in the newly built London Design Museum. We’ve won Gold Parents’ Choice awards for 2 of our best selling kits, the Gamer and Electro Dough kits. Our newest kit, the Mover Kit, has already won a D&AD impact pencil and a Fast Company innovation by design award. Our company was also recognised as the ‘Best Hardware Startup of the year (2016)’ at the Europas.

Also, we were honoured to partner with the BBC to design the micro:bit, the most ambitious education product the BBC has created in over 30 years. A tech tool used to teach young people to make and code, the micro:bit was given to 1 million kids for free in 2016.

Tell us about your plans for the future?

I plan on growing Technology Will Save Us into the most accessible technology company in the toy industry. I hope to inspire and empower a generation of young problem-solvers with hands on technology, so that they understand how technology can help them creatively solve all the problems we face. Around 65% of children in school today will have a job that does not currently exist, we want to equip them with all the tools they need to be prepared for these roles.