Imagine reading a book about bugs...then seeing an insect spring to life from the pages of the book itself. Popar Toys is using Augmented Reality to help kids experience just that. Utilizing a custom made webcam and special symbols on their books, kids can see themselves immersed in a world of insects and construction vehicles, or even hold the sun and the planets in the palm of their hand.
We spoke with Scott Jochim, creator of Popar Toys, and he told us about how his products are changing the way kids learn and play. However, the path to success hasn't been easy. Below, Scott tells us how years of product development, personal commitment, and teamwork helped create the innovative products Popar Toys is bringing to the market today.
In the Beginning Q. What career path did you originally envision for yourself?
A. I wanted a career path where I could still have fun! I wanted to continue to use my imagination and make a difference in people’s lives. So, you could say that I wanted to grow up to be like Peter Pan. However, I think at some point we all become adults and find ourselves fighting the urge to follow through on the Indiana Jones or Star Trek jobs we once envisioned ourselves doing. Then we begin looking for career paths that are more secure and will make us enough money to support our families.
Therefore, I chose to study industrial psychology in college, and halfway into my degree I met an engineer who was working on a Virtual Reality project to simulate atoms in a near freezing state through VR goggles and 3D interface gloves. I loved the idea that you could play in a world that was not real and you could be anything and do anything without boundaries and limitations….this was my never-never land. This was a playing field for adult to be kids.
Q. How did you come up with the idea for your first product?
A. Our firm has completed a vast array of applications, from motion simulators, to cancer therapy, to offering K-12 students the opportunity to use virtual reality as a teaching modality. When a student can hold the earth in the palm of one hand and understand the size relation to the sun in the other hand, you know you‘ve really hit on something.
When I was young I wanted to be an astronaut and explore our universe. It dawned on me that our technology could give a child the ability to launch a rocket, hold the Earth in the palm of their hand, and become an astronaut at home. So, we started working on transitioning our educational Augmented Reality engine to also work as the engine for our 3D toy line.
Q. How long did it take you to go from the original spark of an idea to actual product?
A. It took about a year and a half from when we first had the idea for a magic book to where we sit today with a collection of 3 completed starter kits: Bugs 3D, Planets 3D, and Construction Machines 3D. Just developing the Augmented Reality engine alone is a very time consuming and difficult process. This was achieved by having a great team of employees to work with, all of whom brought insightful, creative ideas to the table. Originally, we thought we would be done in under a year, but as with any product, things constantly evolved throughout product testing and in the face of an ever-changing changing market place.
Video: Space in 3-D
Q. How much money did you need to create your first prototype?
A. Traditionally, product designers will have an idea and will mold or sculpt that idea from an actual medium, like clay or wood. However, because our medium was both virtual and real, we had to embrace a way of developing that included both aspects. To begin, we built the software engine, made the tracking code, wrote the book content, created 3D animations, produced the audio scripts, designed the illustrations, and built a new web camera specifically for the book. In total, we spent well over $150,000 to get to the first real working prototype!
Q. How did you raise it and how long did it take to raise it?
A. Thankfully I have been in the business of creating toys for other companies for over a decade, so I had been saving up my pennies for just such a rainy day. For the initial stages, most of the funding came from the profit of early projects we had created over the last 10 years.
Challenges and Surprises Q. What were the top two or three most significant obstacles you had to overcome to achieve success, and how did you do it?
A. Developing a book is not an easy task. There were so many essential pieces of our product that needed to fit together perfectly in order to be declared consumer ready.
Our toy line has changed drastically from its conception. Originally our book was a board book with removable die-cut parts on every single page. There needed to be a way to install the software, show a symbol to create the 3D interactive animations, have visually pleasing illustrations, intuitive child friendly text, and somehow wrap it all together with the right bind, the right type of printing, and the right type of paper. This doesn’t even include the animations. Not being previously involved in the book industry, there was a huge learning curve. We also had to figure out how to get the price point we wanted; we had to offer the public a competitive price, while leaving enough profit margin for the firm. It was an extremely educational experience that had its bumps along the way, but after months of product testing and printing prototypes, we finally figured out exactly what layout style we needed.
Then there was the software development to consider. Every product has an evolution, but when you change something in software, it complicates other areas. There are so many little things that we as developers unconsciously do when we are using our own product that first time users never or rarely do. We overcame all these obstacles by product and market testing. It is extremely important that you test multiple age groups to see how they all play with things differently, then integrate all the essential aspects to create a great play interface for users of different age and ability.
Q. How difficult was it to meld the technological aspects of your product with the physical aspect?
A. It was extremely difficult to bridge the gap between video games and a physical book or toy. Children play with toys so differently that trying to encapsulate all these different styles into one piece of software becomes challenging. Between our animators, writers, illustrators, and coders, the process was a lot more seamless than it could have been. You have to listen to the consumer and understand that what you think is cool or easy to use may not be for the consumer. Software development is always difficult; especially when you are creating something from scratch that has not existed yet.
Q. What aspect of the toy industry surprised you the most when you first started?
A. I would have to say the sheer size and variety of toys that are available. It is amazing to me that there is such a wide variety of toys from so many great people and companies. It is hard not to get lost with so many choices, so you have to be innovative, ready to stand by your product and most of all have the right team working around you to succeed.
Q. What hardships did you have to overcome during your formative years and how did they help you preserve as a business owner?
A. I was the kid in the classroom that struggled with written and oral information. What I needed was a hands-on educational experience, and so many times I fell behind when the teachers would only write on the chalkboard or tell me the information. I had to learn creative and unique ways to process and comprehend the information outside of school.
This was time consuming, as it seemed that I was learning everything twice, but it helped me to understand and realize that not everyone understands information the same way. As a business owner, I try and create an environment that shapes its information, tasks and organization in kinesthetic ways so that my team just doesn’t recreate or follow blindly what I am asking, but rather comprehends it, so that we can find the best ways to move forward.
Q. What is the most disappointing thing that you have to live with as a business owner?
A. That there are only 24 hours in a day and there is never enough time to do everything. At some point you have to stop and either delegate or start working on a time machine as your next project…hmmmm time travel, now that would be a fantastic toy!
Q. If you had to start over what would you do differently?
A. If I had to start over I probably would have had someone on the team who specialized in the differences in book binds, printing, and manufacturing, to minimize our learning curve in the book industry.
Impact and Advice
Q. How do you hope your product/s will affect children’s lives?
A. I believe that our products are unique, engaging, entertaining, and allow kids an experience like nothing else. We love the fact that we have created a product that is so captivating. We have received countless letters from parents, teachers and children thanking us for allowing them to have a different play experiences. It’s not about creating a toy that makes you a millionaire; it’s about designing quality products that will keep kids coming back for more so they can learn about bugs, and construction machines, and planets, or maybe even to just have fun.
Q. What is one unique quality that makes your product better than your competition?
A. Our product stands out from our competitors in several different ways. As a technology company first, our entire line of toys is based on Augmented Reality and its capabilities. We provide animations and interactivity on every single page, as opposed to selective pages. We let our consumers play with our product in an array of different ways to appeal to multiple types of interactivity. One of our coolest features is that while you are enjoying and experiencing one of our 3D toys, we allow you to turn into your favorite character at the same time, and give you the option to create your own videos or pictures to share with your friends and family using our technology.
Q. What were the top two or three best pieces of advice you received and from who?
A. As a young boy I got moved up to first class on a flight and I sat next to a gentleman who shared some advice with me on the success of people. That was over twenty years. He said, “Don’t just tell people you can do something…show them.” To this day I still think of that statement, and make special note of those around me who just “say,” and those that actually “do.”
My communications teacher my freshman year of college gave me one of the greatest pieces of advice that was ever given to me. He said that there would be many times in life where you have a choice and you don’t know it. The only way is to ask. All too often we are given little or no choice and a simple question outside the normal scope of things can change everything. Even if 9 out of 10 times you get told no…that one time you get told yes gives you a 10% percent advantage over all the other people that never ask. That’s a pretty good head start. 10% is the difference from a B to A, a few thousands dollars on a car, a date with the woman of your dreams or even a free ice cream! It’s amazing just what one simple question can do.
Q. The worst two pieces of advice?
A. The worst advice I was given by my old partner in college, when we were just starting out in business and I had a goatee. He came up to me one day and said I really think you should shave your goatee ... I went ahead and shaved it but felt so uncomfortable. It is important to own who you are, as it is so much easier to walk into a room when you are comfortable in your own skin. People can sense someone who is not real and someone who trying too hard.
My guidance counselor in high school gave the other worst piece of advice. Her advice to me was to think twice about going to college, as it was not for everyone. I was quite hurt by that statement. Well, after I went to college I started a small business and within one year I was in TIME magazine for an aroma technology invention. So, my advice is, don’t let the negative slow you down. Instead, let it inspire you to prove naysayers wrong.
Q. What one piece of advice would you offer to someone just starting out in the toy industry?
A. Authenticity is the key to success for any owner, developer, and inventor. You need to own the process, product and overall feeling behind your idea. There may be days when you are praised but you also need to be prepared for the days of questioning and doubt. When the day comes, you should be able to show people the passion behind what you built.
This adventure kit comes included with all the necessary tools to explore the amazing world of Bugs 3D. The kit contains a 3D book, 3D cards, magic costume card, software and Popar Reader. Kids will have an unforgettable experience as they grow wings and watch their favorite bugs leap from the pages or cards. "Popar® Toys use Augmented Reality (AR) technology to create an immersive reading experience that will allow the user to see incredible virtually “real” 3D objects and animations that will pop off the book or card," Scott Jochim, President of Popar Toys, told TDmonthly. Launch date: 2011. Awards: 2012 Best of the Toy Fair - The View; 2012 National Parenting Center's Seal of Approval.
This adventure kit comes included with all the necessary tools to explore the amazing world of Planets 3D. The kit contains a 3D book, 3D cards, magic costume card, software and Popar Reader. Kids will have an unforgettable experience as they magically turn into an astronaut and watch rockets, space probes, rovers, and the international space station leap from the pages or cards. Launch date: 2011. Awards: 2012 Best of the Toy Fair - The View; 2012 National Parenting Centers Seal of Approval. — Fred Rosenberg, owner of Toy on the Park in Kindwood, Texas, told TDmonthly in a Winter 2012 survey that augmented reality books by Popar Toys are their bestsellers in the category.
This adventure kit comes included with all the necessary tools to explore the amazing building world of Construction Machines 3D. The kit contains a 3D book, 3D cards, magic costume card, software and Popar Reader. Kids will have an unforgettable experience as they magically turn into a construction worker and watch bulldozers push trees off the page, cranes lift huge pipes, and excavators dig foundations. "Popar® Toys use Augmented Reality (AR) technology to create an immersive reading experience that will allow the user to see incredible virtually “real” 3D objects and animations that will pop off the book or card," Scott Jochim, President of Popar Toys, told TDmonthly. Launch date: 2011. Awards: 2012 Best of the Toy Fair - The View; 2012 National Parenting Centers Seal of Approval.
Writer's Bio: Justina Huddleston graduated Magna Cum Laude from Emerson College with a BA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing in 2009. After graduating she was the on-site director of the Boston Children's Museum gift store for a year, selling educational, developmental, and creative activity toys that tied in with the museum's exhibits. Justina also interned at children's book publisher Candlewick Press before moving from Boston to Los Angeles, where she is now Editorial Director of TDmonthly Magazine. Read more articles by this author