Inside BTS: How The Idea Was Born
How did we come up with the idea of building a storytelling app for parents — and what are the very first steps?
In this series of articles, we will share some insights on how we’ve built this app, the community and everything around it.
We have launched the app internationally on Oct 27th 2017 and it’s available for download for the iPhone on the App Store here: Bedtime Stories — read & tell App.
We thought it would be worth to dive deeper into how Bedtime Stories came to be.
#1 How The Idea Was Born
#2 Building The Core Team
#3 Building The Content Team
#4 Developing The Stories
#5 Building A Product
#6 Building A Community
Follow the Red Rabbit
I’ve always been a huge fan of stories and my older daughter Nola shares this passion — right from when she was a baby our bedtime ritual included goodnight stories.
When she was around 2,5 years old she invented a little red rabbit named “Lampa” — she wanted to hear stories about him and soon only her mom was allowed to read bedtime stories — I had to tell her about Lampa.
At first, these stories were short, but soon both of us wanted to invent longer adventures — more and more characters joined. There was Alon, a baby dragon that hatched in our garden, Marvin, a grumpy gnome that lives beneath the earth and Rosalie, a tiny garden fairy.
Soon both of us couldn’t wait for another exciting adventure and I started jotting down notes and planning new stories ahead.
I started to talk to other parents and many struggled to tell stories in their own words and even for an experienced storyteller, there are days where you’re just too exhausted to come up with something exciting.
The idea of building something that helps other parents and myself started to grow and very soon I thought that a mobile app would be a great thing — you can read a story on your way home and you’re prepared to tell it freely.
But there are hundreds if not thousands of books, ebooks, apps, and websites out there — what could be the core benefit of this app? What pain point of parents could we address and how could we add value to bedtime rituals?
Designing the Core Functionality
I started analyzing the market and after reading many many children books, downloading loads of apps and exploring countless websites, three basic premises started to form:
1. Serial stories are great for kids (and parents)
2. We need to make it easy to remember stories for parents
3. Stories can be interactive and it’s more fun when the kids join in
When kids fall in love with characters, they want to hear the story over and over.
So I wanted to create serialized stories — continuous adventures with beloved characters and settings.
It’s nothing new of course, there are many great series of children books and TV shows are kind of the same thing, but I wanted to build a platform where you can easily explore a great selection of serialized stories and ideally this collection would grow over time.
This is how the concept of Storyworlds was born.
Each Storyworld contains a multiple of 5 stories, so at the beginning, you already have at least 5 stories to tell. And not only would we publish more Storyworlds, we would also continue the adventures within these worlds.
But how could I provide more help for parents, how should they remember the most important parts of the stories so that no matter how they tell them, it would be an exciting experience?
A well-crafted story works emotionally because it is well crafted. So each story follows a certain set of rules that makes it exciting for the audience.
Since I’m an author myself I knew that it was always easier to have some kind of outline to quickly see if and how a story works or not — so why not provide something similar for parents?
The idea of Storypoints emerged: every single story will have two distinct views:
The full story view that basically is a short story for children, written with loving care by an author.
And the Summary view where parents can dive into the action and remember the 4–6 most important points of the story.
Each of these points should be short enough to be easily remembered, but specific enough so that the story will work even if everything in between is improvised.
We did a great deal of experimenting with that format and I will go into more detail in one of the following posts “Developing the Stories”.
The great thing when telling stories freely is that you can improvise, interact with your children and let them join the fun. They can come up with characters, stuff to do next or just simply by adding their very own ideas.
Of course, this will be possible with written stories as well, but what if there was a feature that would generate story prompts that you can follow and build your own story?
This is how our Storybuilder was born.
Again I did a lot of research since there are many story games and generators out there, but I felt that either they are too loose where it’s really hard to build an exciting narrative, or too strict where there’s not much room to improvise.
We have built the Storybuilder to be exactly in the middle: provide a solid set of clues to follow so that you’re not lost, but leave enough room to explore your very own stories together with your children.
Where to Start?
All right, so far so good. Three basic premises for the functionality, but what now?
I’ve never built an app and where should I start?
The first thing I did is to create a pitch document that explains what I wanted to do — this would make it easier to get the idea across.
A very good friend of mine, Andreas Klinger, is an experienced CTO who built a number of start-ups — so we had a chat.
He gave me one of the most important tips I have ever received: don’t wait for something or someone to make this happen. Start to do it yourself and you will find the right people along the way.
“But I’m not a designer nor did I ever code an app” was my initial reaction.
“That’s true, but you know how to use Photoshop. Get familiar with mobile design and hack together a first dummy.”
And that’s what I did. I found a Photoshop template for a mobile app and played around with it.
Now I know that Photoshop definitely is not the right tool for this, but back then it was all I had and all I knew.
And I have designed the very first dummy to get my idea across. It was super complicated, had thousands of features and was not optimized for mobile in any way, but that didn’t matter.
I had something that I could show to people and it even worked on my iPhone as a very first dummy app (Invision is a really great tool for that: http://invisionapp.com).
I’ve probably spent too much time getting this dummy right, but it really was the time I needed to figure out how this idea could turn into a product.
Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the finished dummy with the alpha design:
Great, What Now?
All right, this was as far as I got on my own. Now it was time to find a team and authors to write the stories.
Building the team was a real eye-opener for me — I could have never imagined finding such a great and passionate bunch of people.
The development of this project was a lot more than just building an app — I have built many important relationships and found great friends along the way.
In the next article, I’ll share how I found the core team that made this all possible — Martin and Moritz.