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Juraj Hlavac of Game Collage

Kids love apps. But not everything found in the mobile app stores these days is suitable for young, impressionable minds. Luckily, some Seattle developers are taking it upon themselves to create mobile experiences that keep kids entertained and educated, and parents satisfied.

A few weeks ago, we told you about Happly, a new iPad app designed to help kids safely explore the Internet while finding high-quality content.

Now, here’s another Seattle startup that’s making waves with its slate of apps for kids. Game Collage is winning accolades from the press and even Apple itself, which recently featured the company’s new science-related title, Bobo Explores Light, as a coveted app of the week. The small 2-person company has four apps in the Apple App Store, including Bobo; The Little Mermaid; Three Little Pigs; and Doodle Blast.

We chatted with 33-year-old founder Juraj Hlavac — a former software engineer at Microsoft who created the company three years ago — for the latest installment of Startup Spotlight to find out more about what inspires his work.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “We write mobile apps for kids that inspire, educate, and entertain.  Our aim is to squeeze as much magic out of iPhones and iPads as we can.”

Inspiration hit us when: “My brother pulled me out of an iPod Touch and said: “Hey, this is like our old ZX Spectrum, except it fits in your pocket, and has a few more bells and whistles.  Let’s get it to do stuff!”  Reluctantly, I invested into into an iPod Touch of my own and he haven’t looked back since.  Now we are reliving the 80s but with GPUs and multi-core processors, instead of 48K of RAM and 16 colors.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Bootstrap – We figured that if we can’t get our creations to stand on their own two legs, we have no business asking other people for their money.  However, as we are expanding our operations we’re definitely exploring our long-term financial options.  At this point, the jury is still out.  Stay tuned.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Kids.  They give the most honest feedback and boil down our design problems within the first few seconds of interacting with our apps.  If we can’t catch their interest from the get go, there is little point going forward, and it’s back to the drawing board for us. ”

Game Collage's new $4.99 app Bobo Explores Light has received rave reviews

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Connecting directly with our world-wide customer base.  It’s super easy for folks to get in touch with us via in-app emails and tweets.  Over the past three years, we’ve connected with hundreds of kids, parents, grand parents, and techie enthusiasts that resulted in some very unexpected, and often very touching, experiences.  For example, one mom wrote to us saying that our apps have inspired her dyslexic son to read.  A young brother and a sister in another family (5 and 7 respectively) said that because of our apps they now want to design games of their own and have sent us their prototype drawings.  Not only are these interactions meaningful, they also serve as a great business compass navigating us forward.

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “We tend not to dwell on our mistakes too much.  We make many, to be sure, but focusing on them too much hinders the forward vision and distracts from the now.  Part of our success strategy is keeping the overall picture in mind where mistakes are just bumps on the road to get us to our final goal – world domination.”

A page from The Little Mermaid

Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner:  “Hard to say.  None of us have any first-hand experience working with these guys other than feeling the nebulous wake of their respective companies.  That said, we identify with being customer-centric and with bringing something unique and innovative to the table.  You could easily make an argument about how each of these guys failed or succeeded on those fronts.  In the end, I think we would settle for a Frankenstein version of the four.”

Our world domination strategy starts when: “Space station astronauts promote our apps.”

Rivals should fear us because: “We are lean, effective,  and, like, super smart.”

We are truly unique because: “We actually care about the products we create, from the big picture all the way to the minuscule little details.  And it shows.  For example, with our latest interactive book Bobo Explores Light, kids spend about 32 minutes with the app on average each time they run it.  That’s almost 10x the average of other apps out there.  Quality and longevity are definitely our priorities.  We put a lot of thought into our designs and pride ourselves in the hand-polished nature of everything we put into the store.  Often you see larger companies mass-producing a successful formula.  We are small and nimble enough to be able to create something unique and inspiring with each release.”

The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “The app market is very saturated these days.  Because of the low barrier to entry, everyone and their mom is creating and submitting apps.  Most of them are not particularly noteworthy but the sheer volume of them is overwhelming and it’s easy for quality content to go completely unnoticed.  Our biggest achievement was and still is piercing through the avalanche of binaries and landing right next to apps from large development studios with considerably bigger means.  Look us up in the iPad Hall of Fame.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Many people think that creating apps translates to easy money.  That’s not necessarily the case any more.  If you are smart, plan well, and get very, very lucky, you can walk away from the App Store with a profit.  However, we run across small developers just starting out who have the belief and hope that packaging any old piece of code and publishing in on the store will result in millions of downloads overnight.  Having made that assumption initially ourselves, we can honestly say that it’s invalid.  It’s probably safe to keep your day job until you discover the direction that really works for you, but once you do, the process is extremely gratifying.  The advice – go for it, but proceed with caution.”

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