BeBlocky simplifying programming and robotics for kids

BeBlocky is a gamified programming learning app for children between the ages of 6-13. It sets out to teach children the basics of programming and robotics in fun and interactive way. BeBlocky harnesses the power of Augmented Reality(AR) to project a programmable friendly robot, BlockyBot(left on the picture), into the real world. BeBlocky uses a drag-and-drop blocked based programming language which enables the children to creatively stack together programming components, such as actions, events and operations, and program BlockyBot. TechMoran spoke to BeBlocky to learn more about their business and their vision towards steering kids into technology in a fun-fueled way.

Tell us about yourselves; your team, your educational and professional backgrounds, and your journey with BeBlocky so far
My Name is Nathan Damtew. I was born and raised in Addis Ababa Ethiopia. I’m a 21year old recent graduate, class of 2018, from College of Natural Science, Addis Ababa University with bachelors in Computer Science . Ever since I was a kid, I love playing digital games, usually on my computer. But I never had the chance to learn programming until 11th grade in my high school, Saint Joseph.

Back when I first joined college in 2014, it has always bothered me why most of my classmates had trouble programming a simple “Hello Wold” app. Then later in 2017, 3 years into college, I’ve realized ,on a family holiday gathering, my cousins, who were only 10/11 by then playing Clash of Clan, a game that confuses me to this day on. So I thought if kids can understand game as complicated as Clash of Clans, they can also understand programming. That was my eureka moment. That’s when BeBlocky was born.

How would you best describe BeBlocky briefly, what does it do?
BeBlocky is a gamified programming learning app for children. It’s sets out to teach basics of programming in a fun and interactive way. It will enable kids to creatively stack together puzzle like graphical programming blocks to program BlockyBot, a friendly programmable robot. This way kids will grasp the basics of programming and also develop new ways of thinking and advance them in valuable skills.
My journey with BeBlocky . . .
It’s been almost over a year since I started working on BeBlocky. Ever since then I’ve been wearing different hats and played different roles. While BeBlocky was still at it’s early stage, I had some trouble finding the right partner. Later on I’ve decided to proceed solo hoping the right partner will come as time goes on. Now our team ranges from, 3D motion designer to programmer to business developer.
Within the past few months BeBlocky has been gaining a lot of attention. So far, BeBlocky has been nominated by World Summit Award as the best and innovative digital solution in Learning and Education from Ethiopia and recently BeBlocky made it among the finalists in AppAfrica Innovation Awards. I’ve have been accepted in Reach for Change incubator program and Tony Elumelu Foundation program.
BeBlocky has been demonstrated for over 2000 individuals on different occasions including in the Ethiopian National ICT expo 2018. It’s currently available on our website and soon to be launched on Google Play Store.

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What market gap did you spot that motivated you to start this company?
There is a growing understanding that knowing how to program is essential, especially for younger generations. According to code.org, the number of jobs requiring basic programming skills within the next 5-10 years will reach 1.5 million. Yet coding is an invaluable skill that not enough people in the workforce master in Africa. Less than 1 percent of children in Africa currently leave school with basic coding skills. Ethiopia is among the least represented countries in this digital world. One of the main reasons for Ethiopian’s under-representation in the digital field is the absence of opportunities for its youth to learn and equip themselves with the skills to contribute to the digital development. Neither Ethiopia nor the rest of Africa is ready to this digital shift.
Kids now a days are growing up in a very different world than it was few years before, with cellphones, tablets, digital games embedded in their daily lives. We’re living in a digital world and it’s only going to grown in the future. So if math and science are taught to children to help them understand the world we’re living in, coding should be taught too. Although it is one thing for them to know how to use this technologies, it’s another, however to understand the logic behind them. These children must be able to not only passively consume these technologies but also become innovators and creators of it.

Who is your target market?
BeBlocky is essentially made for primary school children (aged between 6-13), but anyone who’d want to learn basics of programming can use it. It’s designed to look attractive and interactive for children and it’s not gender specific.

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How does your company make money?
We believe learning programming shouldn’t be only for lucky few. Therefore, BeBlocky will be available for free for everyone. Since children don’t like to play with just only one toy, we’ll offer them different characters to switch too. The characters will be available on our in-app toy store with prices ranging form $1-$5. This would open an opportunity for 3D artists and motion designers to upload their characters into our toy store and get 60%-75% commission on every purchase.

Who would you say is your major competition in this space at the moment?
There are a couple for free web only platforms to introduce children to programming, but there are only few platforms mobile devices. Among the web platforms. Our biggest competitors are Scratch and code.Org. Both have a larger number of user basis, reaching over 40 Million worldwide. Other companies include Tynker and Pixels.

What is your vision for the company in the next 5 years? What is your plan for expansion? Any new products coming soon?
On our next update we’ll integrate Augmented Reality into BeBlocky. Kids love their smartphones and tablets, but still they enjoy playing with their toys. We believe adapting AR technology into our app gives them the best of both digital and physical world. This feature will make the the learning process more fun and more interactive. It will be available on our January update. Consider it as New Year gift.
We’re currently establishing a learning center here in Addis for primary school children. Learners will work on with a platform that’s intuitive and easy to use. It’s a child friendly environment in which children collaborate on given tasks and work on their own pace with the support and encouragement of an instructor. We’ll enroll our first batch on November 2018.
Within the next 3-5 years we expect to reach 7-9 Million children within Africa and the rest of the world as well. Our scaling strategy includes bringing more local characters in our app and translating BeBlocky into different languages.

At the moment, how do you measure your own success? What are your metrics?
I would consider my failures as my success. If I ever find a way to overcome my failure, which I usually do, it definetly means I’m Succeeding. It shows me am progressing. The more I keep failing, the more I learn, hetheore it wouod increase mu chance of succeeding. Of course I’ve set a road map where I would want myself and my company to be, but if it wasn’t for my failures I know I wouldn’t make it to any of my milestones. Whenever I fail, I belive it’s helping me get ready for a much bigger success. I don’t regret any of them. I just make sure I learn from them. So, everytime I fail it indicates me am on the right track and there is a success ahead, I just have to keep going.

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What advice would you give to upcoming entrepreneurs
It’s never too early or too late to start, you just have to start. Once you decide, whatever idea you have on, being only passionate about it is not enough. A lot of things will change, people you hang out with, places you frequent, books you read, working hours, vacation days and the list goes on. You have to be willing to make this sacrifices. It’s basically a new lifestyle, entrepreneurship is a lifestyle. Things will get worse before they get any better. You just have to be patient and persistent all the time. Of course there will be a couple of times you’ll hit rock bottom but that doesn’t mean it’s over. You probably are exhausted. Take a break, go on a vacation, spent some time with your family and friends or if you are still a student as I was, am sure you are way behind on school work and you have a lot of caching up to do. Either ways, take your mind of it, take all the time you need and once you feel recharged or energized get back to work. Look for a good partner or co-founder. How do you know they are good ? Trust your gut! Surround your self with good support system. I have to say I owe everything to my parents and my family. Get your self a mentor, some who can guide you trough the journey. Build your self a team. A good team gets the job done quick. And make sure you are having fun through the journey. Last but certainly not least, be grateful for everything.

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