Linda wrote this article for London Entrepreneurship Review a digital magazine run by London Business School and Deloitte Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Children are becoming more and more digitally native. My daughter at the age of two was more adept at using my Android phone and her younger sister at the age of 18 months was the master of my iPad apps! Over and over again I’ve observed this across multiple children’s behaviour, much to the amazement and amusement of the adults.
So how has this trend become so widespread? Meri Rosich, entrepreneur (founder of Quality Time Labs) and mum of two children aged seven years and three years is also intrigued by this advancement.
She founded her company after publishing a book with her sister on how to make video calls more engaging between kids and their grandparents who live far away. The inclusion of all things nice: sugar, spice and even spaghetti led to the evolution of the ‘Dinner Time’ app launched by Quality Time Lab in February 2014.
Speaking with Meri about her experience as an entrepreneur, it is evident that, while she sort of stumbled into entrepreneurship (following a voluntary redundancy at a previous employer), she was actually prepared to get stuck into setting up a business and get her hands dirty. Undaunted by her lack of technology expertise at the time, she took the challenge head on by fact finding, researching, exploring, trying things out and making the most of both her successes and failures. Her desire to learn along the way as she built up her business has paid off, as even without a CTO (a role which she fulfils herself) she now successfully develops digital apps from scratch and even provides app strategy advice to reputable technology companies.
More interesting perhaps is Meri’s purpose for doing this. Meri proposes that in the same way that Sesame Street took great advantage about the evolution of the television to teach children, a new set of entrepreneurs is emerging that will deliver a new way of child learning through digital devices. She sees this emergence of new learning tools as the key to breaking parents’ scepticism and even sometimes outright dislike for children playing on devices.
“I think there’s something very powerful and positive that mobile devices bring to the education of our children. Of course it has to be well directed and used. But in the same way that Sesame Street came out in the 70’s and helped parents use the television for educational purposes, I believe that there would be a number of companies like mine that would come out thinking it’s such a wonderful opportunity that our kids have access to all the information in the world at their fingertips and use it for good.
My son is seven years old and still doesn’t write very well but he knows how to activate the microphone on a tablet to ask a question and find the answer.
This is the future of education. It’s really about asking the right questions and getting answers rather than memorising and going through exams… the traditional way that we learnt.”
Is she right? A recent survey of 1,500 parents, conducted by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, revealed that children spend more time with educational TV (42 minutes a day on average) as compared with mobile devices (5 minutes a day on average).
The results of the survey may seem like a no-go zone for future entrepreneurs, but for any hungry – yes, hungry! (that’s the only way to succeed in this field) – entrepreneur who has a vision in this particular sector, it spells pure O-P-P-O-R-T-U-N-I-T-Y, especially when compared with the vast uptake of children to digital devices such as e-readers and tablets (62% from the same survey).
Rovio (makers of Angry Birds app) for instance has seen exactly this opportunity and is working with the University of Helsinki to develop an educational programme covering various subjects including: maths, language and social interaction.
So it’s quite obvious that Meri’s passion is headed in the right direction. And beyond tech education, she has other views on entrepreneurship…
Becoming an entrepreneur
“Before anyone goes into entrepreneurship they should try it a little bit, volunteer with a start-up for a few weeks to really understand what it is. The media glamorises entrepreneurship; the truth is that this industry is probably one of the worst to be in because it’s a complete emotional roller coaster!
Also, you’re putting yourself out there and have to get ready to fail and make mistakes and that’s absolutely fine but that’s not for everybody. Not everyone is ready to make that transition to say ‘yes I failed at this…but I also learnt a lot’ and then move on to the next product.”
“Have an understanding of what kind of start-up you want to be. You can become a career entrepreneur where you learn how to sell your idea to investors. In this case, you have to know how to present the idea of growth and future very well to investors.
Alternatively, anyone can be an entrepreneur and you can start very slowly, make your customers very happy, and focus on your product. You can have hundred very happy customers and still have a very successful business.”
Combining motherhood and entrepreneurship
“Build a very strong support network of friends that (you) can turn to for solutions. In terms of family, it’s really important that when you start something, you don’t go completely alone, you need to have the support of your family. It’s like the MBA – you don’t do the programme alone, your whole family does it with you.”
Advice to hesitant ‘mumpreneurs’
“The world has changed. Don’t let anybody tell you that your idea isn’t good. Just go out and prove it. Today you can prove things very cheaply. You may not get it right the first, second or third time, but hits can come at thirty or fifty tries as in the case of big #1 apps. But also be intelligent so if something hasn’t happened 200 times, it’s probably not going to work!
It’s all about being able to find out what’s going on in the world and not being afraid to try!”
And finally, some key takeaways for aspiring entrepreneurs…
- Be prepared to learn, make mistakes and grow from the experiences of your start-up.
- Never allow any shortcomings to stop you; rather learn what you must to achieve what you must.
- Start big, start small, just start! And of course, use all the support you possibly can that is made available to you on the journey.