After Ben Baltes earned a BS in Computer Science from the University of Texas at Austin in 2013, he worked as an animator for Indie-Pop and a Software Engineering Intern at Sotera Defense Solutions. While working for Microsoft as a Software Engineer he became well versed in the emerging technologies of 3D Printers and virtual reality. Baltes and several of his tech friends would often get together and toss around ideas for apps, software and creative uses for emerging technologies.
In early 2016, one of his friends remarked how neat it would have been if they had had access to 3D Printers or some of the other technology when they were kids. What might they have been able to do with them? That question was the impetus for creating a 3D Printer that would be kid-friendly and enable children to make their own toys.
They set up a website and Facebook page and began to generate hype for the idea. Interest was growing when Mattel announced they were creating a 3D Printer to make toys, launching a huge campaign that threatened to swamp the efforts of Baltes and his friends.
Facing such a giant in the toy industry could have been an excuse to give up, but it only made Baltes more determined. Like any successful entrepreneur, he was fully committed to the project and had, in fact, given notice at Microsoft. In an article he wrote on Medium.com in August of 2016, he explained that the question of how a small startup could compete against a large business had always seemed backward to him. Instead, he says, the real question is how the big company is going to compete against the small one. Sounds a bit like David and Goliath, doesn’t it?
Because Baltes had worked for large companies, he understood that often people work there because it’s their job and they are interested in incentives other than creating the best product. He firmly believed that having the passion and determination to get things right is a much more important factor in success than the amount of money or resources you might have.
In August 2017, Toybox initiated an Indigogo campaign, and was 100% funded by the end of the first week. They were able to extend their campaign beyond the initial period and by September 29, 2017, had obtained 682 backers, raising $155,605 (283% of their original goal)!
An article on DigitalTrends.com on August 27, 2017 noted that because of the Toybox 3D Printer, parents no longer had to drive to the mall to get a new toy, since now the child could make their own at home!
Rutger Ansley Rosenborg wrote a review of the Printer on Nov 6, 2018, and quoted Adam Huttler (CEO of Exponential Creativity Ventures) as saying that 3D printing is a “pretty nerdy hobby that isn’t broadly accessible.” According to Huttler, Toybox has distinguished itself by focusing on kids and chipping away at the technology by making small but important design choices.
The Toybox 3D Printer operates at the push of a button. Toys can be selected from an expansive catalog provided by Toybox, from models imported in STL, OBJ and gCode formats, or the user can use their own design through easy-to-use apps and tools. The printer creates the toys from PLA filament, which is non-toxic and compostable, and comes in a variety of colors.
The Toybox team continues to design and offer new toys and additional apps, and has no intention of being satisfied with their success to date. According to Rosenborg’s article, the company’s five year plan is to have a Toybox 3D Printer in 10% of all households with children six to nine years old. But like all passionate entrepreneurs, the Toybox team likely won’t be satisfied then either; as Baltes says “…who’s to say they won’t catch on with adventurously creative adults as well?”