This Kids’ App Designer Will Inspire You to Get Your Game On
It’s always exciting to see a woman kicking butt and taking names in the tech world, and we get twice as psyched when we meet one who’s also shaping the way kids learn and play. Noemie Dupuy is one such woman. As one of the co-funders of Budge Studios, one of the top makers of kids’ apps, Dupuy works with household brands from Crayola and Caillou to Disney and Hello Kitty.
We caught up with her to talk about how she got her start in the development business, what her coolest accomplishments have been so far, and what advice she has for those who want to follow in her footsteps. According to Noemie, step 1 is “Dream big.” But right after that, she says, it’s all about getting your foot in the door and working your way up.
“In my first business in audio recording for video games, I gained a lot of experience in B2B and building relationships with clients,” she says. “This has definitely played into my role at Budge. I have also always been very passionate about technology and a big fan of Apple, so it was super exciting for me to venture into app development.”
Just before the iPad came out, Noemie and her co-founders, Michael Elman and David Lipes, got the idea to start making kids’ apps from watching their own children interact with smart phones. Sensing the opportunity to enter a new market, they put their heads together and took a chance.
“We had never made an app before,” Dupuy says, “So we decided to do more than just a demo — we built a complete app that we could put to market. I sent a cold email to Nickelodeon with our idea and no app-building experience, and yet they were willing to listen to us. They were so open and approachable, and believed in what we wanted to do. That stands out in my mind as a determining moment. Since then, the whole journey has been amazing. I get to work with the biggest kids’ brands while growing my own company. I learn new things every day, and every day I am excited to come in to work.”
One of the biggest highlights of her career, she says, has been the recent launch of Budge Playgroup. “Since the beginning of Budge Studios, our kids have been key participants in our development process: They test the apps!” she says. “Their input has affected the design of every Budge app. Not only is their feedback valuable, but my daughters feel proud to participate and take their role of testers very seriously. This sparked the idea to invite other families to test Budge apps as a way for us to connect with them. We have been working on this for a long time, but our idea was ahead of the available tech.”
“When Apple launched TestFlight last year,” she continues, “We jumped on the opportunity to involve families in the creation of our apps. Today we have over 5,000 kids registered in 24 countries around the world. We have already playtested five apps and plan to playtest all our new apps from now on. On the one hand, this program is extremely useful to our production team. The feedback from families has had a real effect on our products. They are helping us make better apps. On the other hand, families love participating. We get so many emails from parents letting us know how special the program is to their kids and how much they value the quality time they spend together. We’re very excited to connect with families in this way.”
And when it comes to the psychology behind folding an educational component into an element of play, she says it’s a natural pairing.
“I approach the educational component of our apps in the same way I approach teaching my daughters. I believe the best way to make an experience educational is to teach kids indirectly so that they’re not even aware that they’re learning. I let my daughters encounter new situations, be it an adventure in the country or enrolling them in hip hop classes, and I take advantage of all the learning opportunities that are part of these experiences. Similarly, we aim to create fun experiences for kids with our apps that have inherent learning opportunities. Our food apps are some of our most popular titles; kids love playing these games, and while they’re having fun they’re also developing skills and learning how to cook and bake. We even encourage families to make the customized recipes that the kids come up with in real life.”
As a result, the studio’s Goodnight Caillou app “turns bedtime into a game and lets kids role play so that they are the ones in charge of helping Caillou complete his night-time routine,” she says, “while in Caillou Search & Count, kids practice counting within the mini games. Our latest Crayola Colorful Creatures app incorporates basic geography and animal facts into the various activities designed for preschoolers. These learning opportunities are part of the apps, while the overall experience is about the kids having fun. There are also many ways that our apps help develop coordination and observation skills. The various game mechanics that we use help kids practice these skills while they’re playing.”
In a tech environment where brand-to-brand competition is fierce and women are vastly underrepresented, Noemie says the biggest lesson she’s learned over the years is “to not be afraid to dream big,” and she admits she’s learned it the hard way. “With my first company, I was so concerned with concrete things that I got caught up on details and missed what was happening with the big picture. I built a stable and successful local business, but I severely limited the potential of the business to grow.”
Since then, Noemie and her co-founders have worked their way through a long line of successful releases, but there’s still one big goal left to tackle: “In our very first meeting about starting Budge, one of my partners proclaimed that we would be the #1 maker of kids’ apps,” she says. “Having such a huge dream led us to plan things differently and have different expectations. We built Budge Studios so that it would be #1. We’re currently #2 and we keep striving and planning for that top spot.”
What are your favorite kids’ apps and why? Spill in the comments section below!
(Photos via Budge Studios)