Tech startup: ATOMS Express

INITIAL LIGHT BULB ATOMS Express CEO Michael Rosenblatt has worked in product development for such big-name brands as Apple and Samsung; but his inclination for tinkering started when he was a kid.

“I’ve always been into making things and making tools for others to make things,” he says.

In 2009, Rosenblatt started conceptualizing “ATOMS,” modular blocks for kids to build robots, sensors and whatever else might pop into their heads. He officially launched the company last year.

ATOMS Express now has 10 employees and numerous contractors. Rosenblatt expects to double the size of his staff by the end of this year.

IN A NUTSHELL Rosenblatt describes ATOMS as “construction toys for kids who are into iPads and iPods.”

ATOMS Express will start shipping sets – dubbed Pet Monster, Magic Wand and Prankster – along with individual ATOMS this month for $40 to $120. Customers can use them to make odds and ends, from remote-controlled nightlights to robotic beasties to spring-loaded “exploding bricks” for pranksters. All sales are direct via the company’s website.

“It’s really to help kids be makers; adults, too, but especially kids,” says Rosenblatt. “If a kid says, ‘I want a Batmobile go-cart,’ the limitation is not their imaginations. It’s the materials they have and the knowledge bases of those around them. We want to build a company and the technology to bridge that gap.”

Early feedback from 11-year-old ATOMS testers Callan and Allyson Willey was rave reviews. “ATOMS are limitless in what you can create,” says Callan. “Like Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it” – with ATOMS, if you can imagine it, you can build it.”

Echoes Allyson: “With ATOMS, if you have an idea in your mind, you can bring it to life!”

Rosenblatt is in the process of lining up a local partner for prototypes and small runs, but mass production will take place overseas. “Most local manufacturers cater to medical and aerospace and higher-end applications, but they’re all really interested in us,” he says, positively.

ATOMS Express will quickly grow its catalog, says Rosenblatt. “We’ll add an ATOM with pretty high frequency. It’s a little more like Lego and a product library, rather than standard consumer electronics, with a new model every year.”

And there is no shortage of ideas for future ATOMS. “We have about five years of ideas in the queue,” says Rosenblatt.

THE MARKET The U.S. toy market is estimated at about $21 billion. While sales have been fairly flat in recent years, Lego has outperformed the market as construction toys have continued to grow in popularity.

FINANCING While the company has closed on an institutional seed round, ATOMS Express raised $183,000 on Kickstarter last fall – the goal was $100,000. “Everybody’s experience with Kickstarter is a little bit different because it’s so new and it’s changing so fast,” says Rosenblatt. “We’re really looking at it as market validation.” He says the company will pursue a Series A in 2014.

“Apple is really product-driven. That’s OK in their case. We’re audience-driven. We want to have people play with them and figure out what to do with them.”   ­— Michael Rosenblatt, founder and CEO of ATOMS Express

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