LittleBits Raises Big $44.2 Million Round

LittleBits, a maker of electronic components that both children and designers can snap together to create everything from toy robots to lightweight industrial products, has raised $44.2 million in Series B funding led by DFJ Growth, with managing director Barry Schuler joining the board.

Morgan Stanley, Alternative Investment Partners, Grishin Robotics and Wamda Capital also joined the round, along with earlier backers Foundry Group, True Ventures, VegasTechFund, Two Sigma Ventures and Khosla Ventures.

The financing is a big vote of confidence for the 90-person company, which sells its small, modular electronics in kits of varying sizes and had raised just $15.6 million from investors over four previous rounds.

LittleBits has big plans for it, too, suggests Ayah Bdeir, the company founder and CEO, who says the capital will be used to support a number of new growth areas for the company.

For one thing, LittleBits plans to make a bigger push into companies like Salesforce, SAP and Twilio that have begun using its small, open-source components for their internal creativity workshops and to prototype new products.

Currently, the companies are buying the components via LittleBits’s “pro library,” a kit with 304 modules that it sells for roughly $5,000. But Bdeir says LittleBits may eventually develop a subscription model that allows customers to access different pieces on a monthly basis.

“It’s still early,” she says of LittleBits’s corporate customers. “But we have a lot of incoming interest.”

LittleBits is also hoping its kits become more widely used at schools, where it says more than 8,000 educators in 70 countries have introduced the kits to students. Indeed, sales to schools represented 10 percent of the company’s revenue last year. Today, they represent 30 percent of its sales.

LittleBits – which began life selling its kits directly to consumers – is looking to beef up sales to parents and the like who can choose from an array of products from a $100 starter set to a $149 space kit to a $159 “synth” kit that enables customers to create their own modular synthesizers. Toward that end, the company has struck an agreement with retailer Barnes & Noble, which, along with Amazon and LittleBits’s own commerce site, will begin selling LittleBits kits later this year.

The big question, of course, is what the company’s sales look like currently. In an interview yesterday, Bdeir declined to provide many metrics, offering only that LittleBits’s revenue has grown three to four times annually since the company’s founding, and that it has sold “millions of units over a hundred countries.” (Bdeir later acknowledged that “units” in this case means the components themselves – hundreds of which are packed into most kits.)

Still, the company is seemingly getting serious about extending its reach.

In early May, it brought aboard Jenny Lawton, the former CEO of Makerbot, who is now LittleBits’s chief strategy officer. LittleBits has also hired two new VPs, including Joey Neal, who’d spent two years in a variety of executive roles at MakerBot and today heads up LittleBits’s user experience and digital product group; and Shirish Joshi, a former VP of operations at Pluribus Networks who oversees its supply chain.

LittleBits also brought in a head of enterprise sales — Ryan Luikens, also from MakerBot — last October.

Luikens is the first person in the role. He’s the first person the company hired into enterprise sales, in fact. Until last fall, says Bdeir, “we were seeing a lot of large custom orders, where companies were developing whole programs around [our products], and we didn’t have anyone really dedicated to or responding to their emails.”