I’m thrilled to announce Brooklyn Bridge Ventures’ investment in Tinybop, a new Brooklyn-based studio building the most creative and thoughtfully-designed educational apps for kids. Their goal is to be a brand that parents and teachers trust to produce high-quality, fun, and inspiring mobile products that enable learning and encourage kids to explore the world around them.
They also went live in the App Store today with their first in a series of apps, The Human Body. Kids can investigate what we’re made of and how we tick in a dynamic working model of the body brought to life with interactive animations and particle physics.
Tinybop raised a seed round of about $800k last fall. Joining me in the investment is fellow Brooklyn native, Mitch Kapor, as well as KEC Holdings and Stickerbrush—but this wasn’t an easy round for Founder Raul Gutierrez to close. When he pitched, he was the proverbial "guy with an idea." Most VC funds wouldn't touch a pre-product app company. About 10 minutes into our meeting, however, I realized Tinybop was so much more than that and I committed to participating.
This isn’t a story about a hot app built by two twenty-somethings at a hackathon, only to be funded the following week. Raul is a 46-year-old dad, experienced in entertainment, media, and startups. He spent a year and a half researching the educational app market and discovered it was (and is) a market that really lacks for quality brands. He investigated successful models, like Toca Boca, downloaded every top educational app on the App Store, and played alongside his two sons, carefully observing and absorbing their feedback.
That's one of the things I noticed about Raul that played an important role in convincing me that he could pull this off--it's his insight into how kids see the world. It seems like he never stopped seeing the world from a kid's eyes. You can see it in his photos--they're often of his kids just doing their own thing. They're not selfies on a ski lift admiring mini-versions of himself. They're the kind of photos where you can tell that he's just as lost in what might be going on in their heads as they are in that moment of curiosity and exploration.
The other skill that I got to see over time was his keen sense of how to build a powerful brand on small dollars. You’ll witness, as Tinybop pushes out their first and second apps, a level of creativity, refinement, and detail like you’ve never seen in a seed-funded company.
Check out this video of kids answering the question "What do you wonder about?" that they made as a promotion:
His approach to team-building is an extension of his approach to building a product: bring in thoughtful and creative people who are invested in making an inspiring product line.
Another major factor in my decision to invest was that Raul was working out of Studiomates, a creative co-working space built by Tina Roth Eisenberg. When someone you first meet at a conference tells you that he’s going to build the best-designed kids apps you’ve ever seen, you need some assurance that a) he knows what that even means, and b) he has access to the talent that can make it happen. The level of talent and supportive collaboration among the community at Studiomates checks both boxes and continues to ensure that everything he puts out is top notch. That’s also why this is the second company (the other is Editorially) I’ve invested in from that network.
Tinybop also reminds me that my job as an investor is to ask one thing, over and over again: “How can I help?” That’s what I asked Raul a few years ago when I first met him at Brooklyn Beta. And that’s what encouraged him to ask for a meeting with me over a year later. I thank Cameron Koczon from Brooklyn Beta for bringing Raul back to my door late last summer.
I’d also like to thank my former colleague, Phin Barnes at First Round Capital, for introducing Tinybop to Mitch Kapor. Through this investment, I met Mitch for the first time, and I admire his efforts in the education space and his interest in turning Oakland into the “next Brooklyn.”
What the team at Tinybop has produced, as I hope you'll check out, is one of the most creative apps I've ever seen. Everyone at Tinybop--Youngna, Robert, Kelli, Melissa and Tuesday--should be really proud of what they've accomplished. And, to think, this is just the beginning--they'll have more apps about all sorts of things kids wonder about. Congrats on all your hard work getting out to the public Team Tinybop! I'm looking forward to new apps and new chapters.