Shark Tank - Friday, Jan 13th 9|8c on ABC
CEO: Vladislav Smolyanskyy
ABC Press Release
“… a 21-year-old from Ukraine and now living in Brooklyn, New York, makes the Sharks speechless with his epic display of block toys and his knowledge about the toy industry…”
Vladislav was born in Ukraine and grew up under the influence of his self-made entrepreneurial father. While still a child, Vladislav lost his father and the family spiraled into very dark and hard times. In 2006 he and his mother immigrated to Brooklyn, NY where Vlad finally had an opportunity to step into his father’s shoes, establish himself as an entrepreneur and bring happiness back to his family.
Feeling alone in a new country Vlad discovered his passion for learning, especially everything related to business. That obsession came in handy when with his friend, at 19 years old, Vladislav quit his job and started his first company within one of the most competitive industries in the country.
“I had no idea what I was getting myself into, I was just a kid from Brooklyn trying to make it. I couldn't have ever imagined what kind of sacrifices I was going to have to make, what kind of decisions I was going to have to face, and what kind of tests life was about to throw at me.”
Pinblock® is a building system which reinvents construction sets by making every block exactly the same shape. Without requiring a restricting manual, and with its unique design, Pinblock building blocks unleash the creative potential of a child making it the perfect STEM toy.
Video explaining Pinblock – 3.4 Million Views
A note from the founder
I'm very grateful for the opportunity to work on my passion, expand my horizons and become a better entrepreneur while helping develop the next generation. Pinblock for me is a chance to inspire many young minds and therefore change the future of our world.
Pinblock has been a great journey but we still have a long road ahead of us. Thank you for your support, contributions, and many happy moments that you chose to share with me and the Pinblock team.
If you would like to personally reach out to me, it would be my pleasure: Vlad@pinblock.com
- ▼Tell us how the idea 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 LEGO's 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. 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.
- ▼How did the team form?
- It was just the two of us, myself and my friend ShiJun. That changed in March 2016 when he resigned and I took over all the operations. Some of my classmates and friends really wanted to see what it's like to run a startup so many of them volunteered to help at various stages of Pinblock.
- ▼How is your toy different from others on the market?
- 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 :)
- ▼What feedback do you get from parents?
- Millennial moms are very concerned with the development of their children so they resonate with our goal to bring back creativity to building blocks. Most of the feedback we get is excited parents sharing what their children came up with. It's funny but we also often hear that parents themselves struggle to come up with really cool ideas, I guess creativity becomes more restricted with age, but kids just get it and that's what matters the most.
- ▼What are some cool designs you can make?
- 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 4-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.
- ▼What are the pros and cons to operating a business in Brooklyn?
- The biggest cons all have to do with limited and expensive space. I live in a one bedroom apartment with 4 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. Best part - lots of 24 hour venues which support my whacked-out midnight working schedule.
- ▼What was your experience like with 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 80th 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.
- ▼How did your appearance on Shark Tank come about?
- I became close with one of my professors at Baruch college. She was working on getting a PhD in management and was very interested in my management philosophies at Pinblock. One day she forwarded me an email which announced the last casting call for Shark Tank, which also happened to be in NY. I knew my odds were slim but I couldn't have not given it a shot. Within a month, I was in LA pitching to the Sharks in person.
- ▼Were you nervous in the Tank?
- The infamous 30 second "stare-down", right before the actual pitch, was surprisingly nerve wrecking. 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.
- ▼What are your future plans? Will you introduce more products?
- I'm always observant of opportunities to improve something in this world. Many potentially viable ideas come to me but for now I just write them down and don't give them much thought. Growing a start-up is insanely difficult as is, but doing it without having a laser-like focus would be simply impossible. But at the end of the day I'm 21 and I can't imagine doing anything but entrepreneurship. I'm certain you'll see many more products from me in the future.