CommonSense Blog

Austin Entrepreneurs – Featuring Bryan and Amelia Thomas, founders of PopUp Play

By Bob Pearson | Mar 08, 2016

It’s SXSW Eve, so we thought we would feature one of Austin’s up and coming entrepreneurial couples this evening.  Bryan and Amelia Thomas decided to blend virtual world creativity and real world play to found a company called PopUp Play.  If you ever buy presents for kids, you’ll be interested in this company.

Here’s a brief Q&A between myself and Amelia and Bryan.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your company?

From Amelia: PopUp Play began with a conversation I had with some friends.  We were talking about our favorite toys as children, and I remembered the “Flying Phone Booth,” a shipping crate my sisters and I turned into a spaceship. Over the next year we refined the concept as we talked to people who had young children.  It was the enthusiastic response from these parents that pushed us to make PopUp Play a reality. So, we knew the business concept was really attractive to prospective customers.

What gets us excited is that kids can experience the joy and self-confidence of bringing their creations to life and playing with them. Taking a digital design and then interacting with your life-size creation is an experience previously reserved for adult engineers, architects and designers. We have brought that experience to kids.

Q: What are the most important learnings as an entrepreneur that could help others as they start their companies?

Building any kind of company will involve an entire community.  Friends, family, former co-workers, strangers, we could have not gotten this far without the help of countless people who have donated their time and money to make PopUp Play a reality.

Create a lean business canvas as soon as possible and review it regularly.  Early on, it will force you to ask all of the hard questions about your business.  As you build your business refer back to it regularly to see whether your assumptions have changed and to keep you on track.

Openly share the idea.  This is great advice from Guy Kawasaki, in his book “The Art of the Start.”  Sharing your idea with people you trust and respect will result in a huge amount of feedback that will make it better or change your direction entirely.  This value far outweighs any potential cost of someone “stealing” your idea.  After all, ideas are free, execution is where the value is.

Q: Tell us about your main product.  How do children interact with it?  What do they like?

PopUp Play enables kids to design and build their own toys.  Our first product is an experience where kids, ages 3-9, design a custom playhouse that we then manufacture exactly to their specifications and deliver a few days later.  Kids are able to easily set up their playhouse, decorate it and then play inside their creation.

The experience begins on an interactive design app called the PopUp Play Build Lab.  Kids select from options like a house or castle.  They place structural components like towers, windows, doors and roofs.  Then they decorate their creation with graphics torches, dragons or fairies.  At the press of a button they can order their creation.  We deliver their creation a few days later as a life-size playhouse.  Then the play experience continues when the kid creators decorate and color their playhouse and play massive games of make believe inside their creation.

Kids love that they can take what they are seeing on their tablet and play with it in their living room.  It’s a new way of thinking that kids otherwise don’t have access to.  When a kid sees this structure in real life that they created on their iPad, the sheer amount of joy on their face is remarkable.  The phrase “mind blown” might have been created for this moment.

Q:  When you were a kid, what were your favorite toys?

We already talked about Amelia’s favorite toy, the Flying Phone Booth.  Bryan’s favorite toy was a bicycle.  He loved the freedom it gave him to explore and go on adventures.

Thank you Amelia and Bryan, you’re building a very cool company and Austin is proud of you!  We wish you the best of luck.