Get to know a Toronto startup: Tiny Hearts (InstaMatch)
With the explosion of smart phones and tablets, apps are quickly attracting some of the best and brightest entrepreneurs in the industry. Robleh Jama is no exception. After starting his award-winning app studio in Toronto, Tiny Hearts, he is quickly changing the way entertainment and educational games are being developed in Canada.
Tiny Hearts was created after the launch of his first app, Pocket Zoo, which was one one of the top 50 apps in the iTunes store and the number one app in the education category. Since then, the momentum has continued. Tiny Hearts was featured in the New York Times and Wired magazine and then a couple of months ago released InstaMatch - The Instagram Game. Glowing reviews are pouring in and the app was featured by Apple as a Staff Favourite.
I recently spent some time with Jama to learn a bit more about Tiny Hearts and how he has turned his ideas into reality.
Tell me about the philosophy behind Tiny Hearts, where did you get the name from?
Family is a big part of the Tiny Hearts philosophy. I started my studio as a way to create fun, family-friendly apps that I could eventually share with my daughter, who was born only days before Pocket Zoo hit the App Store.
I actually came up with the name Tiny Hearts while my wife was pregnant. The best part of our routine midwife's visits was listening to our daughter's precious and tiny heartbeat. That's when I suggested the name tiny heartbeats to my wife! She thought it sounded a little off and recommended Tiny Hearts. And as usual, my wife got her way!
What's your background and how did you get started in the mobile space?
I got into the creative, tech, and entrepreneurship space by accident. I fell in love with the web and founded my first startup while I was attending York University. My first site was a social network for sneaker fans. I ran it for a few years before eventually selling it. I really focus on starting businesses around things I'm passionate about since it makes work so much more exciting. Likewise, I transitioned into the mobile space because I was a fan of the iPhone and the app ecosystem that came along with it.
How did you come up with Pocket Zoo?
A huge part of the motivation to create Pocket Zoo was the fact that I was going to be a dad for the first time. I wanted to create something that was not only fun and educational for my daughter, but also something that we could share with other families around the world. Also, living only 10 minutes from the Toronto Zoo, I noticed that kids were eagerly lining up to see their favorite animals every day.
From these two experiences, I came up with a really unique idea that wasn't available on the app store. Pocket Zoo combines a virtual zoo app with photos, sounds, videos and live animal cams. People can actually download the app and watch live animal camera's from zoos all over the world at any time! In the end, Pocket Zoo allowed me to combine my passion for family, education and creating beautiful products together in harmony.
What's your work set-up?
I'm a big fan of co-working and incubator spaces. I currently split my time between Ryerson's Digital Media Zone and The Work Republic, a co-working space closer to my home in Scarborough. It's great to see the idea behind co-working growing in Toronto.
Tell me about InstaMatch.
I've been using Instagram since it launched a couple of years ago. It's such an incredible app because it brings out the artist in all of us. I wanted to add some more fun to the Instagram experience by turning it into a (memory) game that allows you to not only play with your own photos, but also discover new beautiful pictures. Taking the idea one step further, I partnered up with Jeremy Noonan and turned the idea into reality. We wanted to create an app like Pocket Zoo that would appeal to both the young and old, kind of like Pixar.
What kind of experience can people expect when they start InstaMatch for the first time?
Our fans can expect an enjoyable and beautifully crafted experience that adds fun into photo sharing. Not only does InstaMatch incorporate Instagram photos, but it also contains entertaining and unique twists on the traditional matching game with multiple ways to play. We spent many long days and nights polishing and crafting InstaMatch to a point where we're proud enough to share it with the world. We obsessed over little details to make sure that this was worthy of being featured by Apple. It's been truly humbling to see all of the great reviews and feedback so far.
Let's talk smartphones, iPhone (iOS) vs Android, where do you see the market growing in the future?
I like to look at the mobile industry holistically. I think there's room for both iOS and Android. Each appeals to a different type of audience. Debating over which one is better is counterproductive.
If you use Instagram as an example, they started off on iOS first and then eventually went on to create an Android app. I think this is how it's going to be for the next few years. Apps will be developed in iOS AND Android not iOS OR Android. Personally, I'm an iPhone and iOS fan, but I'm planning on expanding my horizons and will be purchasing my first Android device in a few days to test out the upcoming release of Pocket Zoo on the Android (or Google Play) market.
Any hints on your next project? When can we expect it?
We've already started working on our next big education app, which I'm really excited about. It will probably take a year to build the first version. Our aim is to revolutionize how kids learn to read both at home and at school.
I've also started doing some public speaking and consulting on the side. I enjoy helping others grow their product ideas while encouraging the younger generation to get into entrepreneurship. On top of all that, I recently launched Busy Building Things, an online store and lifestyle brand for makers & creators. Our first line of products are inspirational art prints that are now in the offices of some amazing companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Flipboard and Toronto's own Jet Cooper.
If people wanted to learn more about Tiny Hearts, or any of your apps, how can they track you down?
I'm on Twitter @robjama. You can learn more about Tiny Hearts and our apps at tinyhearts.com/instamatch and tinyhearts.com/pocketzoo. You can also follow TinyHearts on Twitter.
Before I forget, did Instagram's CEO (Kevin Systrom) get your blessing before he sold Instagram to Facebook for a billion dollars?
No, but his sale did definitely help us sell more apps so we're not complaining! We picked a pretty good time to experiment with gamifying Instagram. The sale of Instagram now means it's only going to reach more people!
Writing by Jonathon Muzychka
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