SOTM – Playfully: Helping You Mark Your Child’s Growth Milestones as a Solopreneur
Being a parent is one of the hardest, yet most rewarding things we can do in our life. We want what’s best for our child and are willing to do almost anything to help them develop and strive throughout life. But there are times in a parent’s life where we question if we are doing enough. Is there something else we can do to help our children grow?
There’s actually is. It’s an educational app called Playfully that was designed by Manisha Shah and her team. This fun and engaging mobile app caters to parents of children ages 0-3 and helps provide developmental tips and daily activities to support a child’s growth. The easy-to-follow platform could be the solution to parents’ concerns regarding their children learning.
Here’s what Manisha has learned from her experiences in creating an app and becoming an app entrepreneur.
1. What made you decide to start Playfully? What unique purpose in the market does it serve?
MS: My daughter Anya was born in 2014. As new parents, my husband and I heard a lot about how important it is to nurture her growth, especially during the first three years of life. But we often found ourselves wondering, “What does that really mean? What are we ACTUALLY supposed to be doing?” Our pediatrician would tell us to read to her or talk to her, but even that wasn’t too clear — what does it mean to read to a 6-month-old? She just wants to put the book in her mouth! So, we’d carry on, playing the same couple games or “reading” the same books, all the while wondering…isn’t there something more that we should be doing?
Since Anya is a preemie, we were able to take her to follow-up visits with specialists (physical therapists, occupational therapists, developmental pediatricians), and one of our earliest visits there became an “aha” moment for me. As I watched the occupational therapist evaluate her, she would narrate and explain Anya’s behavior, giving me tiny little jewels of information about how she’s growing. That banging on the table she was doing at 6 months? That was actual growth, not random! It was her early way of attempting to pick up an object. And those games she was playing with Anya while evaluating her? Those were mini-games that we could be playing at home. In just a few minutes, the OT had completely transformed how I interpreted what my daughter was doing, and we left with a deeper appreciation for her AND had more fun at home together because of the new ideas we’d learned.
I found myself wishing I could visit the clinic more often, and realized how much I valued the wealth of practical knowledge these professionals have. We only had access to them because of our unique situation, but how incredible would it be if everyone could learn from them? What if there was an app that could give people access to this information? I’m a software engineer — I could build that! The idea kept coming back to me over the next year, to the point where it turned into I SHOULD build that! And finally, in 2016, I MUST build that or I’ll regret it. And here we are.
We launched Playfully in May 2017, and it’s been great watching it grow and evolve. Our mission is to bring parents the expert guidance they need to help their child grow. We deliver actionable content to parents daily to help them effectively engage with their children and build positive parenting habits. You can check out our app or our email newsletter for free!
2. What has been the hardest challenge as a business owner, and how did you handle it?
MS: One of the hardest challenges has been balancing time effectively between the many hats I wear as a solo entrepreneur, and feeling like I’m not moving “fast enough.” I am the company’s full-time engineer, and I’m also doing product, customer service, social media, you name it. It requires being really thoughtful and diligent about where you’re spending your time, and having to say no to taking on things that you really wish you could be doing. And then being OK with the fact that you know you’re not doing everything you should.
One of the things that helps me is the impact/effort prioritization exercise. First, you write down all the things you’re currently spending time on and the initiatives you want to tackle (big or small) to help drive your business goals. Then you go through and determine if it’s low or high effort and whether it will have a low or high impact. In general, you want to pick things that are low effort/high impact or high effort/high impact. I try to balance my time such that I get some of both each week. It’s great to have the small wins to keep morale up, and it’s great to work on the high effort/high impact items to feel like you’re investing in the future. For me, it’s important to feel both of these things weekly.
3. What was it like to launch a brand new app?
MS: It’s equal parts exhilarating and terrifying. It’s amazing to see what you’ve put together come to life out there in the world. The best part is hearing from people who are enjoying what you’ve built. It’s also terrifying knowing that what you put together is out there for everyone to see and judge — what if they don’t like it?? I’ve come to realize that it’s actually great to hear from people who have criticisms — it means the problem you are working to solve is important enough to someone that they cared to share their feedback. That’s great! It gives you something to work off of and iterate on and ultimately gives your work greater meaning.
4. Is the app industry more difficult to be an entrepreneur/business owner in? Why or why not?
MS: This is my first experience as an entrepreneur, so I’m not sure I have a good comparison point. But there are a lot of compelling reasons why being in the app industry made sense for me and for Playfully. We want to be with parents where they are and want to give them bite-sized, tailored content to help them build the parenting skills they want to cultivate. The app ecosystem is perfect for this: Parents already turn to their devices for help, so if you can build a product people want, the App Store makes it easy to deliver and market your service to people who are looking for it. Having an app also lets you deliver personalized experiences, fit into people’s existing routines, seamlessly reach new audiences that can benefit from your service, and easily collect payment for your product. And because of my background, it was the easiest path for me to build and launch something with a very small team that impacts people around the world.
5. What advice would you give to new business owners, especially those who want to build an app of their own?
MS: The advice I wish I had followed more closely in the earliest days was to find scrappier, hack-ier ways of delivering our service first, before building anything. We could have learned a lot while also providing value to people without having to build an app from the get-go. I would encourage people who want to build their own app to first see how they can test their idea in non-technical ways, or by leveraging tools that already exist. Does your app idea have to be an app at first? How can you provide your service manually (or over email, over text, or in a simple static website) at first to see if people even sign up, to learn how they use it, see if they will pay, and learn how to find more people like the ones who do? It is a better use of your time learning how to find your market and hone your product before you spend a lot of time building an app.
I’ve also found that giving away something for free is a great way to get distribution. For example, we have a free email newsletter that gives parents a personalized, weekly developmental and play tips based on their baby’s birthdate. Parents find this newsletter extremely valuable, and we’ve sent over 350,000 emails to date. I often get replies from parents sharing how excited they were to get the tip of the week.
Playfully has worked with early childhood experts to provide you with the most advanced and researched-backed daily tips and activities to help with your child’s language, physical, social/emotional and cognitive development. Each child is different and develops in their own way. Playfully was designed to help your child progress developmentally while supporting you, the parent, every step of the way. Upon completion of games and activities, the Playfully app will mark off your child’s milestones to show you their progress. Take the guesswork out of wondering if you’re doing enough by providing your children the opportunity to learn thanks to the Playfully app platform.