Yuting Su is the founder and CEO of Thinker-Tinker, the company behind Octobo, a smart toy learning platform with a built-in game controller and programmable content, ad the company behind a new gaming app Trolls Music Stars, she has a great interest in creating games and toys that combine physical and digital gameplay.
You are the founder and CEO of Thinker-Tinker, the company behind Octobo, a smart toy learning platform, and an upcoming gaming app called Trolls Music Stars. Could you tell us the genesis story behind Thinker-Tinker?
I love working with people, and my works have always been dedicated to making changes that can uniquely benefit people’s lives in a nonintrusive way. I hold a dual Masters in Medical Informatics and Interactive Media and Games. Before starting Thinker-Tinker, I was an educational game designer and researcher. I soon realized that even we as a developer, have all the great intentions of creating contents for kids — the screen media itself are so limited in the type of interaction we can provide for kids. Being a mother myself, I developed a strong passion to experiment on the combination of digital and physical gameplay. So kids can still take advantage of all the interactions digital media can provide while having the opportunity to use their body and receive the tactile physical stimulation that is crucial for their development.
Thinker-Tinker provides interactive plush learning companions for kids. Our original toy, Octobo, is the world’s first interactive smart plush with expandable content that teaches ABC’s, spelling, rhythm, and the foundations for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) education and most uniquely, social-emotional learning. The kids love it, but so does the industry. Octobo is a finalist for SXSW Innovation Awards and CES’s Last Gadget Standing, winner of the Mom’s Choice Award and the NAPPA Award.
Music Stars powered by Thinker-Tinker, is a brand new collectible interactive phigital product line that is under development. The first launch will be featuring the Trolls characters and Music from Universal Dreamwork. It will follow the same vision we had for Octobo, but with a new form and new type of experience for the families!
Did you grow up knowing you wanted to become an entrepreneur?
I always thought I'd be a researcher or a designer when I grew up. It never occurred to me that I’ll be doing business – so now looking back this is definitely an interesting and surprising path that I’ve walked on. Without a business background (I grew up in a family of teachers and researchers, and I went to med school for college) – I have to learn everything about business from scratch, the first year of starting my own business is very challenging, and there are multiple times that I wanted to give up. However, I’m glad I didn’t, and now I’m really enjoying the life of being an entrepreneur and are able to fuel myself with all the passion from my work and the products we are making. The startup/ entrepreneurial lifestyle is very unique, it’s risky, but also very exciting in its own way. I love that I’m able to see a product from start to finish, to be able to work agile and creatively, and hopefully one day, I can make some changes to the world. 🙂
Could you tell us more about Trolls Music Stars and how the game works?
Music Stars is the first physical-digital cross platform play experience featuring the Trolls IP from Universal Dreamworks. The experience includes a music mobile game and a series of emoji styled plush collectibles.
The Trolls Music Stars game app will be available on both iOS and android and is a wildly fun, beat-bouncing musical rhythm game where you can challenge your favorite Trolls to epic dance battles! Create your own Troll with customizable accessories, dance moves, and music straight from your favorite Trolls movie or TV show! Plus, unlock even more in-game characters with the purchase of a collectable Trolls charm. The fun never ends!
The interactive Trolls plush charms are not only unique to collect, but also come with special digital items to power you up in the game. Each character will unlock a new zone, new dance moves, new accessories, and more. Sign up for download and early access here: https://thinker-tinker.com/pages/trolls-music-stars-club
What was the inspiration behind Trolls Music Stars?
Trolls Music Stars was inspired by the unique physical-digital integration of Octobo. Following our participation in Comcast Universal LiftLabs Accelerator, powered by Techstars, we partnered with Universal Brand Development to create a unique, all new way to play with some of the franchise's most beloved characters. Universal Brand Development globally drives expansion of the company's intellectual properties, franchises, characters and stories through innovative physical and digital products, content, and consumer experiences. Together, we want to bring a new and distinct Thinker-Tinker interface to the iconic characters of Trolls utilizing the fun and entertaining music of the franchise.
Thinker-Tinker’s flagship product is the soft robot Octobo. Could you tell more about Octobo and how it is ideal for STEM education?
Launched at CES 2020 and a finalist at CES’s prestigious “Last Gadget Standing” competition and SXSW Innovation Awards, Octobo is our first product carrying our patented Interactive Plush Character System. That comprised a plush interface and a set of unique soft sensors designed to be implemented inside the soft surface. We believe that robots don’t need to be hard and shiny, but a more comforting cuddling plush interface can make Octobo a better learning companion. The experience we provide is more like playing with a companion through exploration – which is proven to be the best way for kids to learn naturally. The flexible structure enables more contents to expand in the future for more curriculums and content upgrades. And the learning contents are all delivered through fun games, stories, and learning adventures. Octobo brings a new pattern of play to the spectrum.
What type of feedback have you been receiving from parents for Octobo?
Parents are loving Octobo! As a Mom's Choice Award recipient and National Parenting Products Award (NAPPA) winner, we have been receiving a lot of praise from parents. Octobo's unique system allows kids to play in a structured or unstructured way. This allows kids to explore their learning style on their own with the many different activities and interactions. Parents have loved Octobo for its unique way of facilitating learning through play; including the RFID tokens that reinforce various skills presented in Octobo's storybooks, and the potential for growth within the Octobo platform of apps.
“I love this product and the 2 books it is awesome my son loves it”
“We love Octobo. My son absolutely loves how he responds to tickling and hugging, and the Great Letter Search book is one one of the longest books he can sit for without getting bored.”
“The interactive elements in Octobo alone are worth buying it!”
“We love Octobo. It has gone on a couple of family trips, it is very loved….Awesome learning tool. My 2 year old has learned to identify almost the whole alphabet.”
Do you have any tips for women entrepreneurs in the gaming industry?
Diversity and inclusion is very important in each industry, and I’m proud to be a woman, a mother, a founder that brings my unique voice to the industry through my work. The game industry is not always friendly to minorities, but I do see a shift of the trend when more of us are showing presences. Believe in yourself, believe in your work, and I’d love to see more unique voices and games that is designed for different purpose and audiences in the game industry.
Do you still find the time to play games, do you have any favorites?
Being a parent with young children (also under all the stay at home situations during COVID-19), it’s especially challenging to find time to play games. However, I tried to pick up games that can engage the whole family to play together, or games that can provoke conversations so the experience of playing games is more about “sharing the moment” instead of “entertaining myself” if that makes sense. I played a lot of different games on Nintendo Switch with my 4 year olds – I highly recommend a mini game called “Jump Rope Challenge”, it’s a fitness game that simulates a jump rope and encourages you to jump as many times as you can! My son loves it and I like how it makes the whole family active!
Is there anything else that you would like to share about Thinker-Tinker or Trolls Music Stars?
Technology is constantly growing and replacing active curriculum and playtime. Screen time has caused a lot of tensions for families, especially during COVID-19. At Thinker-Tinker, we wanted to provide an easy, innovative solution to build Physical-Digital learning and play experiences by incorporating mobile devices with interactive plush companions, changing the traditional idea of what we often call screen time. So we can use technology creatively and bridges the gap between learning and play or screen-time and education – learning and fun can co-exist and happens anytime and everywhere.
Thank you for the great interview, readers who wish to learn more should visit Thinker-Tinker.