Roominate is a toy with a DIY construction kit, aimed at girls who are six to ten years old.
Roominate contains everything that your young girl would need to create her own dollhouse. Kids can incorporate complex working structures, including fans, lights, moving elevators, and even spinning windmills.
The product uses storytelling to teach young children about basic building skills and electric circuitry in an engaging and enjoyable fashion. The play-set has been designed to encourage young females to take up careers in technology, engineering, and science. The idea is to encourage girls to build their own dollhouses from scratch.
Roominate sets are manufactured by Maykah Inc. – a company founded by Bettina Chen and Alice Brooks. The two women met each other while getting their Master’s engineering degree from Stanford.
Bettina and Alice came up with the idea for an interactive and unique game after learning that less than 15% of college-going females enrolled in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics) field.
The two women felt that if young girls were encouraged to build their own dollhouses, instead of getting those houses ready-made, they would develop an interest in such fields and would want to pursue those later on in their lives.
Alice remembers that she once asked her father to give her a dollhouse for Christmas. Instead of fulfilling her wish, Alice’s father gave her a saw, along with the precious advice to ‘build your own dream house’. According to Alice, it was this comment that sparked her interest in the field of engineering.
The co-founders were able to secure an investment for Roominate, which allowed them to kick off the production process. Within the 18 months of launching sales, the business had generated revenue of more than $1.8 million.
Is Roominate Still an Active Business?
Yes, as of 2022, Roominate is still in business and playing a key role in helping young girls develop an interest in STEM-related fields. At the end of 2015, the company was acquired by PlayMonster. Bettina has since moved on to other things, but Alice is still working closely with the toy company, and is excited for the future of Roominate.
How Did the Shark Tank Pitch Go?
Bettina and Alice made their Shark Tank appearance in September 2014, hoping to get the Sharks to share in the girls’ vision of not just revolutionizing the construction-set space, but also helping young girls develop an interest in fields like circuitry and engineering.
The women were looking for a $500,000 investment in exchange for a 5% stake in Roominate – a company valuation of $10 million. After explaining what they do and why, the co-founders distribute the customized Roominate toys that they had designed for the Sharks. Barbara wanted to know how Roominate was different to other kinds of toys, to which Alice said that their toys inspired an open-ended approach to playing.
The Roominate founders were anticipating $5 million in revenue that year, and told the Sharks that they are present in all Radio Shack and Toys R U stores, and have also signed distribution deals with a number of other major suppliers. Although the sets were initially designed for girls, the owners revealed that an increasing number of boys are also finding the sets enjoyable.
Mark’s concern was that Roominate does not have a D2C (Direct to Customer) model, and would have to sell its products through the aforementioned retailers. These concerns were echoed by Kevin.
Kevin also feels that the valuation is too steep, and ultimately gets out of the deal.
Barbara feels that this product needs to be targeted exclusively to females and, since the business was currently not doing that, she was out.
Mark, despite his reservations, was ready to offer exactly what Bettina and Alice wanted: $500,000 for 5% equity, but only if the co-founders would allow Mark’s daughters to be a part of the project and agree to mentor them.
Robert felt that Mark’s offer was extremely fair, before declaring himself out of the deal. Lori, wanting to be part of another project involving inspiring young women, expressed her desire to partner Mark on this deal. Mark acquiesced to it.
Bettina and Alice knew that this offer was a winner, and it did not take much time for them to seal the deal.
Following the Shark Tank Success, Roominate has grown leaps and bounds. From focusing on circuitry and engineering, the brand has now evolved – thanks largely to Mark Cuban’s tech expertise – to integrate teaching tools related to programming. The business has also managed to quadruple its sales, and, as of 2018, was available in over 800 Walmart stores as well as on the Walmart website.
Our Review of Roominate:
Roominate’s uniqueness lies in the fact that it allows kids to figure out and create their own unique structures (which is why the set does not contain any step-by-step instructions). The parts are pretty sturdy, and the toy also comes with papers that can serve as floors, walls, and ceilings. The kids can also use stickers to create unique backdrops for each of their rooms. The sets are also pretty easy to set up.
Pros of Roominate:
- Kids can design their own structures
- Teaches kids about circuitry and construction
- Encourages kids to think outside the box
Cons of Roominate:
- Occasionally, buyers have complained that the structure is a bit unstable
- A few kids, especially younger ones, might take a bit of time to get used to Roominate
- The decoration supplies have some ‘room’ for improvement
Are There Any Alternatives?
Below are a few brands/products that can serve as alternatives to Roominate:
- Ella the Engineer in STEM Treasure Hunt
Our Final Thoughts:
Bettina and Alice set out to revolutionize the construction play-set industry, and to change the demographics of STEM-related fields by encouraging more young girls to enter such careers and professionals. Roominate’s Shark Tank triumph – and the presence and support of Mark and Lori – served as a major catalyst, allowing the co-founders to speed up the revolutionary process that inspired them to establish the business in the first place.