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Pinblock on ‘Shark Tank’: A Look Inside the Toy Startup


Pinblock entered the Shark Tank in Season 8 with their unique building block sets.

We interviewed its founder, 21-year-old Vlad Smolyanskyy, who told us that the idea was born when he was constructing with LEGOs and realized the pieces didn’t have the flexibility he wanted. The startup was formed in Brooklyn, New York, with his friend, Shijun Xiao. Xiao has since resigned, and Smolyanskyy gets help from classmates and friends who are curious to see what working at a startup entails.

The toy allows you to create three types of designs- 3D models, wearables and pixel art. The feedback Smolyanskyy receives from parents has been extremely favorable. “Millennial moms are very concerned with the development of their children so they resonate with our goal to bring back creativity to building blocks,” he explained. “Most of the feedback we get is excited parents sharing what their children came up with.”

His appearance on the Tank came about after his professor at Baruch College forwarded him an email announcing a final casting call for the show in New York.

Here’s what else he told us about…

Interested in Pinblock? Buy a set here.


How the Idea for the Company Came About

One night after work I dropped in on an old friend, ShiJun Xiao, with whom I later founded Pinblock. Not finding much to do, we pulled out a mixed bin of LEGOs that were at his home. Since the pile was a mess and no manual was in sight, we were forced to build creatively. It was surprisingly difficult – many of the pieces were too model-specific and when I tried to make myself a LEGO watch, I realized that it would be totally impossible since the blocks offered no flexibility. The idea sparked to create the ultimate creative block. By coming up with a solution to every flaw that we found in the design of the LEGO block, we pieced together the final design for Pinblocks.


What Makes His Blocks Different

 

Unlike LEGO, which over time evolved into pre-packaged, model-specific assembly sets, Pinblock is a building toy that was solely designed for creative building. Every Pinblock is exactly the same, letting kids spend more time building instead of looking for the right piece. Also, Pinblock’s unique design unlocks completely new building possibilities, such as the elongated round connecting pins which allow all Pinblock models to bend and turn. P.S.- It also doesn’t hurt to step on.


Interesting Designs, Including One of Mr. Wonderful

 
I don’t exaggerate when I say that possibilities are essentially endless. I made myself a Spartan gear set (helmet, shield, and a sword), a four-foot-tall model of the Empire State Building, and created a pixelated portrait of Mr. Wonderful which you’ll see tomorrow. I could go on and on but essentially we split all designs into three categories: 3D models, wearables, and pixel arts. You can check out a bunch of epic models on our website’s gallery page. 

Interested in Pinblock? Buy a set here.


Nerves in the ‘Tank’

This is how I spend my weekend's. #thuglife #pinblock #toys #goodlife

A photo posted by Pinblock (@pinblocks) on

Right before the actual pitch, it was surprisingly nerve-wracking. I wanted to smile, but my face would twitch, so I tried not smiling, which didn’t help. My awkward attempt to look normal continued with no avail. But during the actual pitch, it completely disappeared. I think at moments I totally forgot that I was even being filmed. It’s negotiations, everything you stand for is on the line; there’s not enough mental bandwidth to care about anything else. 

 


Pros & Cons to Running a Business in Brooklyn

What can be better than a nice book and a slice of pizza ? #pinblocks #pinblock

A photo posted by Pinblock (@pinblocks) on

The biggest cons all have to do with limited and expensive space. I live in a one-bedroom apartment with four other family members, so I originally only worked from coffee shops. After getting some traction, I rented a tiny office, but the rent is so high it definitely takes a big toll on our growth. Add a storage unit in Brooklyn, big enough to store all the inventory, and now you’re in a race against a crazy burn rate. The best part is lots of 24-hour venues which support my whacked-out midnight working schedule.


The Downside to Using Kickstarter

Even though we funded, it wasn’t the best. To the outsiders, Kickstarter is a platform where great ideas are realized and bad ones get sent back to the drawing board. When I launched my campaign, I soon realized that in reality it’s a race in PR. If an entrepreneur creates a lot of buzz in the first few days, the Kickstarter algorithms will keep the campaign on the top, If an entrepreneur didn’t know that, their campaign will quickly get buried on the eightieth page and never see light again. Because creating a lot of buzz is not a cheap endeavor, people with great ideas who are in the biggest need of funding rarely actually get it. 

 

Interested in Pinblock? Buy a set here.


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