Vai Kai — Before it All Began, Part 1

The origins of a different kind of a toy company

Being a child is not easy. I remember myself as a 6 year old boy, trying to understand how I should fit in at school, who’s a friend and who’s not, realising that the world is a much more complicated place than I assumed before.

When my older daughter started school I noticed she was going through similar challenges, and actually most of the kids do at this age. They are discovering themselves as part of society.

You know these kids ads where happy, clean, brightly dressed children are running around smiling and laughing all the time? Well, if you have a child, you know that it’s not like that at all. In fact, if my daughter would be running in this hyper-excited state all the time, I would be very worried, I might even call our doctor to consult with. The fact is that children are seen by most industries as these cliches of over-motivated joy.

There are very few products for kids that treat them as real humans, with complex inner lives, capable of deep emotional experiences.
Hayao Miyazaki once said: if you have a child and it turns three or so, you feel, “I have to show this kid something good.” And then you think, “There’s nothing good out there, so I’ll make a film myself.” This is how I felt.

I wanted to give my daughter a present. Something that was made for her to grow up with, something that was designed with love, built with a future in mind, open to her creativity. I couldn’t find anything like that, so I decided I should build it.

A few months later, I still wasn’t done with it, but by then I realised that I want to dedicate myself fully to building better experiences for today’s kids and their families. They deserve it, we deserve it. I quit my great job at SoundCloud, and started reading all I could find on toys, developmental psychology. Names like Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, Erik Erikson, Fröbel and Montessori, Walt Disney and Hayao Miyazaki, Brian Sutton-Smith, J.C.R. Licklider and Seymour Pappert. I was meeting with people who were making toys, marketing family products, running maker workshops, teaching kids. I discovered that play was the key.

Meeting with my future co-founder Justyna was totally unplanned, but as some unplanned things go, quite life-changing. We were sitting in front of each other that September morning in a Berlin cafe, talking about design, child’s perspective, technology, interfaces and just completing each other’s sentences. That was it, I found a person to start a company with.

Justyna and me are both driven by the vision of the world where children have access to the magic of technology on their own terms. Being in control, creating their own imaginary worlds, changing the game. Growing up surrounded by beautiful things, meaningful experiences, being inspired.

Once we started prototyping our first ideas, we were surprised to see how the objects and features emerged seemingly on their own. Every play test with kids revealed a clearer direction. The unnecessary details were cut, the games and use cases became clearer. We listened to our strongest critics, because they know exactly what a child feels, they feel it every day.

I have a second daughter, she’s 1.5 years now, and I know that once she will be going to school, I’ll already have a beautiful present ready for her.

Matas Petrikas, CEO/Co-Founder of Vai Kai

Read the second part of Vai Kai — Before it All Began, written by Justyna here.

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