How a children's song helped launch a company

(MoneyWatch) Here at The Startup, we're dedicating the month of March -- National Women's Month -- to featuring female entrepreneurs.

What exactly is Duck Duck Moose? According to co-founder and CEO Caroline Hu Flexcer, the company is "the leading provider of educational apps for kids. We invent original apps that teach nursery rhymes and songs, introduce early learning concepts in literacy and math, and encourage open-ended creative play through drawing and storytelling."

She says the company's mission is "to transform early learning by building an education platform that reaches children earlier and in a more engaging way than has ever been possible. We are building a brand that is trusted by parents and educators, and loved by children by creating fun, interactive, educational experiences for them."

Rebecca Jarvis: Tell us a little about your background and what inspired you to create your company.

Caroline Hu Flexer: I have a background in design and business. I started my career in architecture, and studied at Princeton and Harvard's Graduate School of Design. I later got my MBA from Stanford, and then worked as a product manager at Intuit and IDEO.

The idea to create high-quality, intuitive apps for children was conceived when I saw my two-year-old daughter interacting with our new iPhones. It was a testament to the power of well-designed interactive experiences that even young children could figure out how to use the device. It was clear that the touch screen enabled children to interact with technology in a completely new way and it dawned on me that this new device afforded incredible potential for learning.


RJ: What were you doing before you started your company?

CHF: Before starting Duck Duck Moose, I worked at the design firm IDEO. I was heavily influenced by their user-centered design process -- the ethnographic research, brainstorming and prototyping methods, and iterative design. It informed the iterative design process that we have at Duck Duck Moose where we work with kids closely, play test with them, and iterate on our design until we get it right for them.


RJ: How long did it take to turn your idea into a business?

CHF: I co-founded the company with my husband, Michael Flexer, who is a software engineer, and Nicci Gabriel, an illustrator and designer. We met in our basement one day and decided to do a Wheels on the Bus app because that was our daughter's favorite song. We worked on that app for about 4 months before launching it in January 2009. That app was featured in the New York Times, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal, and won several awards: The "Best Children's App" at the Consumer Electronics Show, a Parents' Choice Gold Award, and a Children's Technology Review Editor's Choice Award. Apple featured it in its retail stores, on the App Store, and in Steve Jobs' keynote announcing the iPad 2. We continued on to do 14 more titles, and were profitable from the beginning. In late 2012, we took funding from two leading venture capital firms, Sequoia Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners.


RJ: What makes being a mobile start-up so exciting in the early education space?

CHF: In five years, every household in the developed world will have a smartphone or tablet, and the next generation of kids are growing up with these devices. They are the "mobile-born generation." Smartphones and tablets are fundamentally changing the way that kids are learning, playing, and consuming media.

This is a game changer for children and parents. Children are fascinated with their parents' smartphones and tablets. The touchscreens, intuitive UI, and mobile form factor make technology accessible to children for the first time. Parents can feel good about letting their children play, because these devices with the right content can be powerful educational tools. Parents can also have visibility into what their children are learning via real-time feedback and benchmarking.


RJ: What's your number one piece of advice to entrepreneurs?

CHF: Follow your passion. Nothing can fuel the creation of a good product better than passion. Duck Duck Moose was born out of our passion for children, education, technology, music and design. We feel fortunate that we have the chance to touch so many children and parents and continue to wake up excited about the potential of what we can do in the future.


RJ: If you could ask one person for advice, who would it be and what would you ask?

CHF: I would ask the educator Maria Montessori: "How would you use the iPad in your work with young children?"


RJ: Are you hiring? How do you get hired by a start-up?

CHF: Yes, we are hiring! We are currently a team of 16 in San Mateo, California, and are growing quickly. As we scale the company, we are looking to hire extremely bright, talented people who share our passion for education so that we can continue to grow and develop extraordinary apps that delight, engage and teach children in ways we have yet to imagine.

For more on Duck Duck Moose visit their website.