Interview by Allison Grinberg-Funes
You’re the Head of Product at Tinybop. Can you tell us more about the company and what you do?
Tinybop makes educational iOS apps for kids. They’re designed to encourage kids to be more curious about the world around them — to ask questions, to wonder why? And how? And to be inventors and storytellers. We have two growing series of apps: Explorer’s Library and Digital Toys. The Explorer’s Library apps introduce kids to big, universal subjects, like The Human Body, Simple Machines, Weather, and Skyscrapers. Digital Toys apps empower kids to build and test out different creations; their own video games in Infinite Arcade, scary monsters in The Monsters, and robots in The Robot Factory, which was the 2015 iPad App of the Year. We have 11 apps out now, with two more coming out this year.
I’ve lead and grown the product team since Tinybop started (in 2012), and now work on both product and oversee day-to-day operations. On the product side, this means figuring out our product roadmap (we have plans to expand to Android and build a school-focused product in the next year), making sure all our projects are appropriately resourced, figuring out and communicating product strategy to the team, and serving as a touchpoint between the product team and design, engineering, marketing, research, etc to make sure we’re on the same page and that all the products really look and feel like Tinybop products.
The company has grown a lot. For other Tech Ladies who are growing teams or are members of teams that are growing quickly, what’s some advice you can give regarding how to scale responsibly?
Scaling is so tough! There’s no shortcut around it. A few things we have done, or are doing, at Tinybop:
- Stay open to changing processes: as a team we are very iterative about processes themselves. Whether it’s deciding which tools to use (Trello vs. Asana vs. Pivotal) or how to run a concepting meeting, we stay honest about whether it worked or not. From project-to-project, I encourage my team to ask, “Did that work? Or are we just doing it that way because we did it before?” If the latter, I encourage them to try and think of a better way the next time.
- Documentation: We recently hired a few new product managers and I realized how much information was bottled up in a few people who had been at the company for a long time. I think it’s really important to give people the history, strategy, and documentation around both processes and products so that they can be empowered to make decisions and take action. Our product team is currently working on a big product onboarding document that goes through all major stages of development, product values, strategy, and each of the apps we’ve released.
- Don’t just focus on hiring, think about internal growth: When you’re growing your team and scaling up processes, I think there’s a tendency to think about how new people are going to solve all your growth problems. But, I think it’s important to take a step back, look at the skills on your team, and make sure you are thinking about where people already on the team want to grow. A lot of people need to be empowered to do their best work. We recently did professional growth plans with everyone and I learned so much about what people want to work towards, not just about what they currently do.
Tinybop is focused on catalyzing the curiosity in children. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Ha! My younger self would benefit from a lot of advice. I was such a serious and super nerdy kid. I would tell myself to relax a little and break the rules. I was too focused on fitting in and getting good grades. The best things come out of being a little bit weird.