Tech-driven toy startup Thinker-Tinker had been looking forward to this year’s South by Southwest gathering, where the company’s flagship smart toy was in line for attention and prime space in the display hall as an innovation-award finalist.
Thinker-Tinker founder and CEO Yuting Su, with flagship tech toy, has shifted business strategy in … [+]
Like so many small businesses touched in some way by the coronavirus outbreak, the VC-backed company found itself sidelined when officials in Austin canceled the popular event early this month due to concerns over the disease. Around the same time, Thinker-Tinker had to delay the sampling process for a new product as coronavirus forced Chinese factory closures.
“It’s disappointing but when you’re a startup you have to learn to make the best of every situation,” said Thinker-Tinker founder and CEO Yuting Su shortly after the SXSW cancellation. Her company, which makes plush, app-based educational robot Octobo, had planned for months and invested significant resources in preparing for the event, she explained.
In the few weeks since then, Su – named to the Forbes 30 Under 30: Games in 2017 – has made adjustments at her California firm, shifting business strategy for now from pushing sales and launching new products to improving products and optimizing sales funnels, she said. She’s also moved fundraising online.
“It’s now best to preserve cash spend,” Su said, noting that the startup has cut marketing costs and had to accommodate delays in China. Octobo shipped before Christmas so the outbreak didn’t affect its production, but Thinker-Tinker had to push back the sampling process for its next product by two to three months.
“The supply chain is still slowly recovering,” she said this week. “I think it’s improving day by day but still hard to say when it will be back to its full speed.”
While product hardware comes from China, Thinker-Tinker controls the app software for its toys, Su explained.
“Instead of putting resources in the sourcing and sampling process for new hardware products, which has become more challenging nowadays, we turned to see what can be done with the internal team and improve our current content on the app side,” she said.
The young company, backed by Comcast and Techstars, also has moved its capital raising online, recently launching an equity fundraising campaign with private-investing platform Netcapital.
“Fundraising can be challenging for startups even under normal circumstances, with the need for traveling and face-to-face meetings. And now under the time of coronavirus, traveling and handshakes in boardrooms are unlikely to happen, but we innovators still have to get fundings to grow the business,” she said.
“Moving the raise online is not a traditional move but we decide to be creative and adjust quickly to seek alternative ways for keeping the business going. “
Meanwhile, Su added, the various SXSW Innovation Awards finalists have formed an alliance “to discuss creative, alternative ways to keep the show going” and potentially make the awards a “co-opetition” showcase rather than a competition with a winner.
“We just recently submitted our proposal to SXSW officials. We all know that SXSW are pretty tied up with what they are going through internally,” she said, adding that the startups hope they “can stand up and help come up with a win-win solution for both sides.”
This is one in a series of stories about coronavirus outbreak effects on small businesses.