If I Knew Then: CEO of Kid-App Maker Toca Boca on Finding Intrapreneurial Success
Just as entrepreneurs have a desire to build great products or services, so too do employees. Enter: intrapreneur, Bjorn Jeffery.
His company, the San Francisco-based children's-app maker, Toca Boca, started out as an offshoot from a research and development team within the Swedish-media firm Bonnier Group. "We were looking at the future of media from different angles," says Jeffery. "Opportunities arise all the time, and I simply followed the ones that were most compelling at the time."
Turns out, he's not the only one who thought apps for kids was a market brimming with potential. A little more than two years after launching his first product, the intrapreneur -- that is, a term used to describe entrepreneurial employees -- watched his games including "Toca Tailer" and "Toca Kitchen" get downloaded more than 44 million times.
YoungEntrepreneur sat down with Bjorn to learn more about his success in app making and the challenges he's encountered along the way:
Q: What’s it like operating a startup inside a multinational corporation?
A: Bonnier is entrepreneur driven. It’s very decentralized and bottom-up. Everything is about the individual, the entrepreneur and making big bets on people and ideas.
In our case, it’s a good fit. The only thing I really get from Bonnier is money, which is good. It’s like having a startup with a friendly bank.
Q: Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?
A: I would have been more confident and pushed our marketing even more. I think we were searching and thus being cautious for a little too long -- an effect of my personality. But knowing what I know now, I would have done more right away.
I also would have taken risks and aimed a little higher. I now live in San Francisco, which is new to me, because I was born in London and grew up in Sweden. The amount of people that you meet in San Francisco that are interesting is huge. Placing yourself in an environment with people you want to work with and being part of the growing web movement is something I think I would have done earlier.
Q: How do you think young entrepreneurs might benefit from this insight?
A: It's a nice reminder that effort pays off. Entrepreneurship is about finding others that buy into your ideas and finding ideas that make other people find you.
If you want to be entrepreneur don’t necessarily be an assistant to an entrepreneur but start a project to help out or volunteer.
Q: Besides inventing a time machine, how might they realize these sorts of helpful pearls of wisdom sooner?
A: I don’t think you can. I think what you can do is give yourself a break and not be so hard on yourself. There is plenty of time to do many things, even if it’s hard to see what the value of your situation is at any given time.
Having a goal and direction is key, however. If you constantly revisit where you want to go or want to become, it seems like you almost subconsciously end up in situations that cater to this goal.
Q: What are you glad you didn’t know then that you know now?
A: Being naive is not necessarily the best way to success, but it has helped me a lot. If I’d known what structures I was up against, I don’t know if I would have taken them on.
Q: What's your best advice for young entrepreneurs?
A: You have to put yourself in situations where serendipity can occur.
I can look at other people and wonder how they are successful, but I realized a little later in life that the difference is really small. It’s about placing yourself in position where you stumble upon interesting people. Go to places where these people are. It’s not a guarantee, but it increases your chances of serendipitous moments.
-This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.
What do you know now that you wish you would have known then? Let us know in the comments below.