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From Generations of Toy Makers to Innovators: The Story of BLIX Robotics

BLIX Robotics

BLIX Robotics: In the dynamic landscape of education and entertainment, where innovation intersects with imagination, one company stands out as a beacon of creativity and advancement: BLIX Robotics. Founded by Abbas Gabajiwala, a visionary entrepreneur descended from a lineage of toy makers, BLIX Robotics represents the culmination of generations of passion for play, learning, and exploration.

BLIX Robotics
Picture Credit:BLIX Robotics

At the heart of BLIX Robotics lies a commitment to merging the realms of play, robotics, and science to provide children with not only entertainment but also unparalleled educational advantages. From its inception, BLIX Robotics has set out to redefine the traditional notion of toys, transforming them into powerful tools for intellectual growth and skill development.

The genesis of BLIX Robotics can be traced back to the rich heritage of Abbas Gabajiwala’s family, where the art of toy making has been passed down through three generations. Drawing inspiration from his familial roots, Abbas embarked on a journey to revolutionise the toy industry by infusing it with elements of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education.

The ethos of BLIX Robotics is deeply rooted in the belief that play is the cornerstone of learning. By harnessing the power of robotics and science, BLIX Robotics endeavours to provide children with engaging experiences that not only captivate their imagination but also foster critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and a passion for discovery.

BLIX Robotics
Picture Credit:BLIX Robotics

Central to BLIX Robotics’ philosophy is the notion that education should be both enriching and enjoyable. Through its innovative range of STEM kits and educational materials, BLIX Robotics empowers children to explore the wonders of technology and engineering in a hands-on, interactive manner. Whether it’s building a robot, programming a circuit, or conducting scientific experiments, BLIX Robotics offers children the tools they need to unleash their creativity and unlock their potential.

As a pioneer in the field of educational toys, BLIX Robotics has garnered widespread acclaim for its groundbreaking inventions and transformative impact on childhood learning. With over 25 years of expertise in creating STEM kits, BLIX Robotics has emerged as a leader in providing children with the resources, materials, and supportive environment they need to thrive academically and intellectually.

The journey of BLIX Robotics reached new heights during its appearance on the third season of Shark Tank India. With a captivating pitch and an innovative concept, Abbas Gabajiwala captivated the interest of the sharks, demonstrating the commercial potential and societal significance of BLIX Robotics’ groundbreaking inventions.

On January 24, 2024, the episode featuring BLIX Education aired, showcasing Abbas Gabajiwala’s unwavering dedication to transforming the landscape of childhood education through play and innovation. As the CEO of BLIX Education, Abbas Gabajiwala continues to uphold his family’s legacy while charting new frontiers in the realm of educational toys.

Driven by a passion for empowering children and enriching their learning experiences, Abbas Gabajiwala and the team at BLIX Robotics remain committed to pushing the boundaries of innovation and creativity. With each new invention and educational initiative, BLIX Robotics inspires children to dream, explore, and create, shaping the innovators and thinkers of tomorrow.

In a world where the intersection of play and learning holds limitless possibilities, BLIX Robotics stands as a testament to the transformative power of imagination, curiosity, and innovation. As children embark on their journey of discovery with BLIX Robotics, they not only build robots but also build dreams, aspirations, and a lifelong love for learning.

When did you start your journey with Blix?

The first Blix product as a toy was launched in 2016. The First robotics and educational products were launched in 2019 and finally it was its own independent entity in 2021.

What are the challenges you have faced in this position?

First time in the education industry. There’s a lot to learn. Too many stakeholderholder groups—teachers, principals, trustees, parents,, etc. How to satisfy all of them,, etc. Each of them has different challenges and requirements.
Making such technical products that pass European and American safety standards is tough because the supply chain for such raw materials is not always available in India.

We have seen BLIX Robotics on Shark Tank talk with us about that.

It was a great experience. I am otherwise a shy guy,, so it was tough going in front of them. It was a 1.5-hour pitch that they compressed to less than 20 minutes.
Also,, people,, this is scripted and all,, but not one bit. Apart from their help with the first 2.5-minute pitch, we are on our own. The only thing they do is enough due diligence to make sure we are legitimate.

BLIX Robotics
Picture Credit:BLIX Robotics

The impact of a shark tank is massive. A lot of orders, a lot of new connections, and a lot of business opportunities. My whole team is currently scrambling to make things happen properly.

What are the specific cognitive skills that STEAM education develops in students compared to traditional learning methods?

There are three skills that we put our focus on: creativity, curiosity,, and critical thinking. This will then include skills like problem-solving, imagination,, etc.

These skills are far more important than the the knowledge that we focus on in school. Knowledge can become obsolete, but these skills will train you to keep up with the times in any industry.

We confidently say that while we use technical and engineering products to develop these skills, if you want to be an accountant, it will make you a better accountant, and if you want to be a chef, it will make you a better chef. Etc.

How does STEAM education prepare students for the challenges of the 21st-century workplace?

The workforce is changing very rapidly. Today,, when we hire new talent, we don’t see what technologies or knowledge they have gained gained through experience. We check how easy it it is for them to learn something new, be able to research and train themselves on it,, and develop mastery of that topic.

To be able to do this, they need to have a cognitive mind. To be able to anticipate problems, to be able to take responsibility for full tasks, etc.

Today, AI and other technologies are taking over many of the mundane tasks that people used to do earlier. But these AI tools need to be managed, trained, tracked, and implemented. The individual has to have the confidence to be able to manage the AI just as much as they have the confidence to do it themselves. STEAM helps them develop the fundamental skills to do this and provides them with the foundational knowledge of these technologies as well, so that when the individual is faced with them, it is familiar to them.

Can you describe a time when you had to adapt to a significant change in your professional environment? How did you manage it?

I was always a technical creator. I loved developing the products, the content,, and the pedagogy behind them. When I started BLIX and I had to manage an entire organisation myself, I had to put these skills to use to use to solve problems in accounting, HR, production, sales, etc.—things I had never done before.

I knew I needed a team to help me do this. I knew I wanted cognitive minds in all parts of our organisation. So when,, for example,, accountants would come for interviews,, I’d ask them basic questions like how to how to calculate the basic price and GST value of a product with,, say, an, an MRP of 345 rupees. And I’d give them the GST% applicable. You would would be surprised atd at how many of them would get it wrong. They would subtract the GST percent from the MRP and think they got the answer right, but very few would think of cross-checking it, which would tell them that they got the wrong answer.

BLIX Robotics
Picture Credit:BLIX Robotics

But this kind of thinking helped us understand the much deeper aspects of these departments. For example, in a school where the owner is the decision-maker, they depend tremendously on the teacher for their experience. So we knew that our products weren’t supposed to be designed for the schools or even the students; they were supposed to be designed to make the teachers lives comfortable. Because if they were comfortable and confident, the programme was successful, and on the other hand, if your product is good, if the teacher is not satisfied, it’s a fail.

We used such thinking to create radically different styles of operation.

What emerging trends in our industry do you think will shape the next decade?

Technology will become seamless in our lives. It will leave little for us to explore,, and more of the AI spoon will feed us with what we want. This is dangerous for our minds because smart technologies make people dumb. So, here are a few predictions from me:

  1. Schools will be less responsible for our life preparation than they are now. Life as we know it, where we study for 20 years and then work for the rest of our lives, will not work. Learning will continue for life.
  2. The world is going to become very competitive because a few people will be able to get a lot of things done. If you are a part of this intelligent few, opportunities and money will flow freely; if you’re not among this small group, any productive work will become difficult. Because of this, the wealth gap will also increase.

How would you prepare our organisation today for the technological and market changes expected in the next 10 years?

  1. Start adopting technology today. Make it a priority, important,, and urgent,, even though we don’t think it is. When digital marketing started, not many people did it. Whoeverever created a strong foundation, built their brand digitally, got sales digitally, improved their their reputation digitally,, and overall has a lot of digital learning. Today,, if someone tries to do any of that, they will find it very difficult to succeed. We were late in this space ourselves,, and we realised how tough it is to catch up later.

Describe a problem you faced that had no established solution. How did you approach it, and what was the outcome?

When I was working with my brother at Zephyr Toymakers (my family business), we got an order from Hershey’s for 1 million pieces of one of our MECHANIX sets. They gave us a timeline of 4 months to execute the entire order, with very strict delivery dates. At that time, we made about 10,000 pieces a month of that product. We couldn’t let Hershey’s have doubts that we could deliver, so we said done.

Executing it was another task. All our main vendors flat-out refused to be able to do it. We had to visit many of them, discuss with them their own businesses, and then come up with a way to get this done.

We had to get new tooling and machinery because our calculations stated that our current capacity was no match, and we had to figure out how to get things in place in such a short span of time.

BLIX Robotics
Picture Credit:BLIX Robotics

Training a packing team takes time. Here,  we had to hire 40 new people and figure out how to train them in a ridiculous amount of time.

Finally,, we met every delivery timeline,, and the order was executed flawlessly.

Though we never made any money because we invested in the new machinery and tooling, it did make me feel like I could take on any challenge. I think that one project boosted my confidence quite a bit.

How do you balance innovation with practical constraints in your work?

I believe innovation is not innovation if it isn’t practical. There are many crazy ideas that sound amazing but are just impossible to implement. Also,, putting constraints honestly is the best thing you can do to channel creativity. We do the same in our organisation. In case there is uncertainty about a process or item during a brainstorming session, we find ways to test the executability of the process or item.

What technology or tool do you believe is undervalued in our industry, and why?

A notebook and a pen. I have used countless tools to manage minutes in meetings, make to-do lists, take notes, keep track of projects, etc., but nothing has been more effective than a notebook and a pen.

How do you lead and motivate your team during times of uncertainty or rapid change?

I give my team a lot of credit. They are all intelligent and can understand what is right or wrong for the organisation. If I do not hide information from them and I discuss challenges with them, we all reach similar conclusions on what is right and wrong. Sometimess this may unevenly hurt one employee or a group of employees,, but I think when the team is involved in the decision-making process, they accept decisions that might not necessarily be to their personal benefit.

What leadership style do you think is most effective in today’s fast-evolving workplace?

Diluted Leadership. Things move very fast. Decisions take a lot of thought, time, and energy. By empowering the team to take decisions, it leads to better overall decisions.

Can you provide an example of a time when you faced an ethical dilemma at work? How did you handle it?

I once saw a smaller-sized competitor’s product that was very well designed and engineered. It had no design or technical protection that you could do, but you could see the effort gone into it. I realised that this would be a fantastic edition to one of our robotics kits. But generally,, we have a policy that we don’t replicate. Unless we can add enough variation and design to improve the product significantly, we do not make it. Now I knew I couldn’t justify the difference if we were to replicate this product.

BLIX Robotics
Picture Credit: BLIX Robotics

In spite of this,, we didn’t just create the same product and add it to our line; instead,, we partnered with them to design this product for our specs and made them our vendor. While he is still a competitor for us, he is now now also a partner in our journey.

How do you ensure that your decisions are ethically sound, especially under pressure?

I love people. I respect them and choose to look for the good in everyone. I never want to hurt someone on my journey of growth. Don’t get me wrong, I will compete aggressively, but I do believe I am able to set myself to an ethical standard.

To live with this belief,, I have to create a reason for people to love me and have trust and faith in me to do the right thing. This helps me stay on track,, I think.

How do you approach challenges in a global and culturally diverse environment?

We work all over the world. Our products are used by schools in India, the Middle East, Africa, etc., and now we are working in Singapore, Europe, and Australia too. Each country has some differences in their working style and their requirements. That being said, there are also a great number of similarities in the challenges faced by parents and educators all over the world. Even our consumers, kids, have very strong similarities in some ways and are very different from others from different parts of the globe.

So we have greatly standardised the elements of our product and service that are designed to tackle common challenges for educators and students around the world, and we modify the rest to suit each region’s unique cultural requirements.

For example,, for educators, students are going to lose components and break some parts,, and this is everywhere. They’re explorers and we allow them a certain freedom in this as well, considering that we are trying to get them to think, test out ideas,, etc. But then we have a very robust spare parts logistics system that we set up in all locations to ensure that this doesn’t hamper the functioning of the lab.

Another example: teachers are overworked,, and being in front of students is really hard. They are also usually short on time. So we have a lot of teacher support that we provide in terms of content and design of the product (which facilitates children being able to manage it to a large extent) to avoid extra burden on the teacher.

Can you share an experience where emotional intelligence helped you navigate a professional challenge?

We study the experiences of teachers and students in the classroom very closely. However well you design an educational programme or a product in the office, it is in the classroom with the teacher where rubber hits the road. A good teacher can elevate the entire experience for the students, while an intelligent but unempathetic teacher could ruin learning itself for some children.

 

In STEM education, the norm is to hire engineers to teach students about STEM. We look at it a little differently. We believe that STEM is really easy and exciting if taught right; that’s why we do it.

So instead of looking for great engineers and asking them to teach, we look for great teachers and teach them engineering. Because we realise that kids today have access to so much information and the ability to learn things themselves, if the teacher is great, the students will explore the world of STEM on their own. This actually helps us achieve the goals that we want to see in these kids.

How do you handle feedback, both giving and receiving, in a workplace setting?

Like I said, I love people,, and therefore I’m very genuine with my feedback on my team. I don’t hold back when they do something nice, and I’m very clear when I think something could’ve been done better without running around the bush. I think eventually people will will respect this and take even negative feedback not too personally.

BLIX Robotics
Picture Credit:BLIX Robotics

We have also designed our value systems in such a way that every leader in our growing organisation is someone who is empathetic, gives credit when it is due, creates an environment of no fear, and gives enough independence to team members so that they can develop their personal and leadership skills to grow themselves. People who do not fit into this mindset get left behind.

Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years, and how do you plan to get there in this rapidly changing professional landscape?

I see myself as one of the teachers in the organisation working with schools.

This is why today I spend most of my time not solving problems myself but working through problems with my team. Over time,, they understand the value system we want to follow. They learn the works, how to take decisions, what to consider while taking them,, etc.,, in the hope that these people will run the organisation in the future.

How do you envision the future of work, and how do you fit within that future?

It is very difficult for me to envision the future of work. But what I do know is that it is always going to be dependent on the people doing the work. I personally don’t like to have to worry about a lot of things. So I need people to kind of take the entire worry about their part in achieving the organization’s goals. This is so much easier said than done. All companies try to do it differently. Some through tough systems and processes, and some with a lot of freedom, training, right recruiting, culture building, a feeling of comfort, empathy, etc.

So I envision a time when we build a very large company where people are happy, motivated, paid well, and do incredible work. We work on this design every day.

News Shot 24
Author: News Shot 24

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