Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
A Forbes 30 under-30 class of 2017 honouree, Filippo Yacob founded Pigzbe with a simple mandate: find a better way to introduce money and finance to his son. Filippo is also the creator of Cubetto, the most crowdfunded ed-tech project in Kickstarter’s history, a product that raised more than $2.8M from over 10,000 backers to date. Cubetto is currently sold in over 100 countries, and has introduced more than 1 million children to coding globally. Pigzbe has been created with similar ambition and potential. He is also an award-winning creative (Cannes Lion: Gold, Red Dot Award: Best of the Best) with a passion for design, technology and education.
What is the idea behind Pigzbe and how did you come up with it?
Pigzbe comes from a simple belief that anyone in the world can learn how to manage money smartly, and that financially literate children become financially responsible adults. All children need are simple, and engaging tools to help them along the way. That’s what Pigzbe is about: giving children financial superpowers.
It all started with my son, Alex. One day last year, I was watching him on Skype to his grandad. His grandad (my dad) lives in Italy. Waving a coin to the camera, grandad was saying:
“Your mum told me you’ve been a good boy! When I come to see you next month, I’ll bring this to you, so you can save it in your piggy bank! Hang tight!”
In a world where we can share pictures, videos, text and recordings across oceans, it struck me as odd that kids couldn’t do that with something as simple and small as a small amount of pocket money (or allowances as they call it in the US on the other side of the pond).
I suddenly started thinking about how I was introduced to money growing up. How my old piggy bank felt, all rattly and chunky, and how today everything, including banking, happens digitally, in our phones.
While traditional piggy banks provide wonderful, early routes into personal finance (earning, saving, spending) they rely on physical cash, which parents don’t often have. In fact, we’re moving really quickly towards a cashless world.
I wanted to make learning about money relevant in the context of a digital world, but without losing the physicality of the traditional piggy bank, keeping those really important kinaesthetic learning elements that comes with physical coins. And so Pigzbe was born. A Piggy-Wallet, not a Piggy-Bank. A physical home for your digital money.
When did it all start and do you have other members in your team?
Pigzbe is designed by a 15 nationality collective of super talented women and men. There are 24 of us now. As individuals, we’ve worked on awesome projects like the Cubetto Playset, the Kano Computer, SAM Labs, Hack-a-Ball, and Suzy Snooze.
Before that we worked on incredible projects for companies like Apple, Google, NASA, PayPal and Visa, prototyping space suits and building payment systems and mobile phones, so we know well what it means to deliver exceptional products for millions of people. We believe in big things and small details.
We're engineers, technologists, artists and story-tellers, and what we do can be challenging, but not as challenging as being parents, which most of us are. This sense of mission is extremely important to us, and what drives everything we do.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
For Pigzbe it’s been just over a year! So things have moved pretty quickly. But I was fortunate to build Pigzbe on top of 5 years experience in the ed-tech industry. I previously co-founded Primo Toys with my friends Matteo Loglio and Valeria Leonardi in 2013 (a company I am also the CEO of).
Primo is mostly known for creating the Cubetto Playset, which is a product used by millions of families and schools in over 180 countries to learn coding in early years. So I had already been through the process of going from a small start-up into a global multimillion-dollar robotics business.
We’ve packed a lot in one year though. From fundraising to product ideation, testing, add development, and now with our Kickstarter, we hope to quietly sell a capped 1,000 units to our first batch of community members ahead of our June 2019 release. There’s always more to do.
What was the biggest obstacle?
New technologies can be scary. In fact, any big changes can be scary. This is doubly true with cryptocurrencies and the systemic revolution that’s taking place with programmatic and digital money.
Pigzbe is designed to be a physical home for digital money, elevated by a great family app that gamifies the learning around saving, chores, tasks and allowances. The goal is to allow Pigzbe to eventually accept all sorts of currencies, from dollars to bitcoin.
For now, Pigzbe accepts a digital currency called Wollo as a replacement for physical money, which can also be spent in the real world. While we can all agree that financial education is important, it takes an open mind to accept the future of money does include blockchain and cryptocurrencies.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
Well, we’re super excited about our Pigzbe Kickstarter. We flew past our $50k goal in a little under 8 hours, which was amazing! But this is just one of a series important milestones over the last 5 years. In 2016 Cubetto became the most crowdfunded educational technology in Kickstarter’s history (we raised over $1.6m from a global community of teachers and parents). Being featured as category head for 2017’s Forbes 30 under 30 list was also a nice asterisk. It’s a superficial thing to celebrate, but I suppose it made mum proud more than anything else.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in?
We often find that people don’t think you can teach complex ideas like coding and financial literacy to children, but we complain that only 1% of 1% of the world’s population understand how to meaningfully create and interact with technology.
We know you can teach these crucial but complex skills to young children. You just have to make things simple and fun, with products that are relevant, and simple to use. That’s what both Primo, and Pigzbe are about: making complex things simple and understandable.
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
Yes, of course! It’s bad for any sector to have a gender imbalance, but the tech industry is a notorious offender. Women still are extremely underrepresented in the tech space—they haven't been presented with the same opportunities as men, and it's time to even the playing field.
We want equal opportunities for boys and girls from a young age. Lifting up women in tech goes to the heart of the very products we make. So Cubetto and Pigzbe aren't made or marketed specifically at any gender but are for all types of kids. We have this ‘let toys be toys’ approach because that learning to code and learning about money shouldn’t be dictated by whether you’re a girl or a boy. These are fundamental skills that all kids should learn, wherever they are in the world.
I’ve also had the fortune of working alongside a great female co-founder, Valeria Leonardi, for five years, and have found that having this balanced perspective is crucial to creating great products. I strongly believe that Valeria, like other amazing women in tech, has helped set an example for other women and younger generations. Representation matters and our team thinks that if young girls can see women as CEOs, co-founders and more, they can aspire to reach those same goals and be whatever they want to be.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all founders and entrepreneurs in this industry out there?
To be patient, and enjoy the process as much as possible, not just the outcome. Focusing on the present, however challenging, is more important than focusing on the future. When I started Primo I always thought about the things I hadn’t achieved yet.
Sometimes it worked as motivational fuel, but more often than not it made me frustrated and distracted. At some point, I let go and I accepted that to build one of the most beloved and ubiquitous family tech brands of the 21st century will take time.
I accepted being on a journey, and at a given point along it. Accepting the “present” made me more self-aware, happy, and excited about what I might discover along the way.
What will be the key trends in the blockchain industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
At Pigbze we trying to make blockchain technology that’s useful and consumer friendly. I think - and hope! - that we’ll start to see a bunch more startups coming into the space doing the same thing. What we lack in the space is adoption and real use cases.
Who are your 3 inspirational people / businesses in tech?
Eileen Burbidge. I don’t know her personally, but she’s an amazing ambassador for the UK tech industry and tech in general I've followed a lot of her work and her investment. I like what she stands for and how she’s going about it.
Riva-Melissa Tez. She’s an old friend and a peer of mine and I’ve known her since I was 14. She bosses it everywhere she goes, from London to Berlin to San Francisco. It’s incredible to watch, even if from afar.
The London hardware/Edtech scene — I’ve got so much respect for the group of London-based founders at Kano, SAM Labs, BleepBleeps and Tech Will Save Us. We’re all on similar missions, and all making great, meaningful products.
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.