Disrupting the Screen: Backing Tinkergarten to Get Kids Out to Play


A little more than a year ago, I got a note from Brian Fitzgerald, a Product Manager I met while I was at First Round.  He was "taking time with family" to figure out what's next.  

Most people take that to mean that they'll stop spending as much time with their family and go on to work at another startup or be a founder themselves.   Brian, on the other hand, doubled down on family and decided to work on the side project he started with his wife Meg.  

Brian and Meg are parents of three little girls.    They spent a lot of time thinking about who they would like their kids to grow up to be, which made them look back to their own childhoods.  What they realized was that the best memories they had as kids were spent outdoors.  They thought about ways they could make sure that their children would spend a lot of quality time getting out of the house.

What isn't surprising is that their plans for getting the kids outside became Tinkergarten, a distributed network of leaders providing outdoor learning experiences.  You see, Meg is a career educator, so play is never just play.  Play is an opportunity to learn and discover.  Brian, as a product manager, spent his whole career thinking about how to solve customer needs in a scalable way.  So as friends started bringing their kids to the play sessions that Brian and Meg created for their kids, it was inevitable that the conversation turned to creating a scalable model for it.

I give a lot of talks and always say "If you have a thing and you're not sure if your thing can be a thing, come talk to me."  That's exactly where Brian and Meg were when we first met.  Meg was very pregnant and they hadn't really done much work on a business model.  I introduced them to the founders of Zumba, chloe + isabel, and Zogsports--all companies that depended on creating scalable in person experiences, especially around training.  

If you ask me what companies in my portfolio have the biggest potential, Tinkergarten pops into my head.  I learned a lot about distributed models through my prior investment in chloe + isabel, and saw the potential of outdoor experiences as a business through Brooklyn's own Tough Mudder.   I fully believe that they are at the beginning of building a national and even global brand--the Boys and Girls Scouts of the next generation.  Plus, it's a great opportunity for additional income and is a positive addition to every community.  

I'm also excited to work with great co-investors like John Katzman, founder of Princeton Review who knows a thing or two about distributed edtech businesses, Mike Walsh from Structure, and Don Katz the founder of Audible.

One of my investors asked Meg what happens to Tinkergarten in the winter.

Her response? 

"We put coats on the kids." 

Here's to going out to play--in the mud, the snow, and sure, when it's sunny out too.