Interview with Yuting Su
creates a character-based learning platform that can turn any character into an interactive plush companion that parents feel comfortable putting into their kids' hands. They transform screen time to quality, active play time.
Thinker-Tinker delight in creating magical and surprising experiences for our little ones and their families.
Hi Yuting! Could you please tell us a bit more about Thinker-Tinker and what led to your founding the company back in 2016? When did you first get the idea for Octobo?
At Thinker-Tinker we create a character based play platform that can transform any lovable character into an interactive companion that parents feel comfortable giving to their children. The Thinker-Tinker characters can be a kid's best buddy in so many different ways. They can help with learning school subjects, to get better with their behaviour and by having a play pal that they can love and relate to. This idea was inspired by how many kids are using mobile phones and tablets. We know that 42% of kids who are eight years old and under have their own tablet, and we know this number is going to keep growing. We wanted to turn this screen time into meaningful play type. I think in the future, it's inevitable that kids are going to be on screens more and more. Instead of saying no to this, how do we make the experience more meaningful for them? That was the start for Thinker-Tinker and our first product Octobo.
From idea to final prototype, what was the process behind developing Octobo? What did some of the toy's early prototypes look like?
The process of building the Octobo product was a very exciting but challenging journey. We were very innovate in a way that brought many different elements from many different fields together and merged them in a way that suited our customer, the kids and families. These elements include, the hardware, software, the plush toy and story boards. There is also character building, world building, accessories and thinking into the future about the business model. All of the things that I listed were involved in the iteration process to figure out what the end product looked like. To create the physical design, we started with a foam ball that we got from Joanne and we tested it out and we asked a lot of families what they thought of it and how they would prefer it to be laid out on a tablet or phone. Then, we started to make our prototypes with fabric and a glue gun and we eventually decided on the best animal for this, the octopus. We then bought a lot of octopus plush toys from Amazon, and tailored them to different shapes and sizes to fit in the interaction model that we were creating. Then once we knew what we needed, we started to make a high-fidelity physical product. We sewed it and we hand picked up the fabric. Once we had the product, we started going to conferences and exhibits to talk to people and to see how they play and to observe their play pattern. Once that iteration was complete, we brought the product to our manufacturer to create a sample.
Prior to founding Thinker-Tinker, your expertise was in game design, IoT and similar fields. How has founding Thinker-Tinker been a crash-course in entrepreneurship and business?
I think the fun thing about running a startup or being an entrepreneur is really the environment. It pushes you to learn so many different things and break out of your comfort zone. My background is more on the digital side, I know how to code, I know how to develop mobile apps and develop games. Even games and toys are sort of a similar field but they're actually really different especially on the business side. Starting to develop the optimal product was more of a passion that I had to create a better product that merges a digital and physical experience together. We developed this prototype and then we started to ask ourselves, how do we actually produce it? There's a lot of learnings in manufacturing, like 3D modelling, physical product development and how to bind the digital experience into a physical product. Then after that, a challenge we faced was around our business models. We knew it wasn't just about putting it out there and selling it. We needed to think about how to grow the company to become even bigger, to be more sustainable, to be a model business that can bring more values into the future. That's also the thing that we've been continuously working on with our mentors, advisers and internally with the team to think of different opportunities and consider what is out there and how we can grow into it.
What's next for your work with Thinker-Tinker, as well as your work with Toy Pioneers Club? What does 2019 hold in store for you?
2019 is going to be a very exciting year for us. We're going to launch the Octobo product. We have a bunch of very interesting production plans lined up. We're creating more content, more apps, more storybooks, more experiences for our kids and family to expand on top of the existing platform. We're also going to launch a new production line to bring in new characters and a new product line. That's going to add a lot of value to the Thinker-Tinker family, so stay tuned. As for the Toy Pioneers Club, I have a great passion for giving back because I got a lot of support to be where I am right now and to grow the company to this point. I want to give back. I think that is the core mission for Pioneers Club as we want to encourage more people to develop their ideas to join in on the fun of creating kids toys. I want to see more innovative products out in the market. Come join me on this very exciting journey and create cool products together.
How did your time with Techstars influence the development of Thinker-Tinker and Octobo?
Techstars was an amazing experience for me. It's like a start-up bootcamp but it not only pushes the business but also myself as a founder, to grow into a better leader for the company. For instance, initially we were planning to create more of a product itself, but then at Techstars, we realised there was potential to create a platform because we're using a tablet and we have our proprietary hardware that doesn't need to be limited to one size. We can make it modular and we can build more content on top of it. There's a lot of potential for what we can grow into. My background is more on the design and creation side of things. I'm more familiar with product development. But through my time at Techstars, I took in a lot of learnings, including how to talk to investors, how to build a better business model and how to look after finances. All of those things are very important for me as a founder and CEO to lead a company that will grow for a longer period of time and faster. I would say Techstars is a great place to be for early startups like us. Also, the connections that come out from the Techstars accelerator is incredible. We are especially into the Comcast Techstars program and we are working closely with the Comcast family. Comcast has so many different branches and divisions that we are connected to and that's really helped the business grow.