My 8-year-old daughter, Ava, went through a phase where she was obsessed with Toca Boca.
Unless you have kids or are in the app business, you’ve probably never heard of Toca Boca. But the Swedish developer makes apps that lets children do simple things to animated characters, like give them a haircut or dress them in funny hats and wigs. No scores, no competition.
Turns out, simple is good. Toca Boca apps have been downloaded more than 85 million times, the company says, and right now Toca Hair Salon 2 is the number-two most popular app in the Kids category of the iPhone App Store — alongside apps from major names like Disney and PBS Kids.
So when the company reached out and asked me if I wanted to interview its CEO and cofounder Bjorn Jeffery, I passed the opportunity to my daughter. She allowed her brother Marlon, who’s 4, to ask one question as well. We did the interview via email.
BUSINESS INSIDER: Where did you get the name “Toca Boca”? Does “Toca Boca” mean something?
“Toca La Boca” is Spanish and means “touch the mouth”. It refers to our logo that has a mouth. Originally, our intro animation was intended to be amini-game. So you had to touch the mouth to start the app. But that wastoo complicated so we decided to use an animation instead.
Also, we wanted a name that was fun to say, easy to say, and that would work in many different countries.
BI: Where did you get the idea from?
BJ: From the beginning we were called “Rainbow Teeth” and that was a name that came from a colleague, Jens Peter de Pedro’s daughter. But that name didn’t work so JP came up with Toca Boca instead.
BI: Where do you get your music?
BJ: The music is normally written specifically for each app. We work with musicians that get to see the app and then they make music that fits with the overall theme.
BI: Do you make the apps yourself?
Yes, we make all of our apps ourselves. The Toca Boca apps are made in our studio in Stockholm, Sweden. And our sister studio, Sago Mini, makes theirapps in Toronto, Canada. But I don’t make any apps myself. I leave that tothe talented team of designers, artists, and programmers in Stockholm.
BI: Can you name some of your favourite Toca Boca apps?
BJ: We have 27 apps so it’s really hard to choose! But I really like Toca Band because the song gets stuck in your head and makes you want to dance! And Toca Town because there are so many things to do and explore.
BI: Where did you get the idea of making children’s games/apps?
BJ: It came from my colleague Emil Ovemar and myself when we were working together on a project related to the iPad. The iPad had just come out then, and we thought there were so many new and cool things we could do with it. One of the ideas was to make digital toys for kids and that was what started the idea of Toca Boca.
Our goal is to make sure that all our apps are built from a kid’s perspective, and that you’re using your creativity and imagination when playing. We even bring kids in, like you, to test them to make sure they pass the ultimate fun test. There are no levels, no winners and no high scores — just lots of playing and having fun!
BI: What is Sweden like?
BJ: It’s cold with a lot of snow during large parts of the year. But in summer it is beautiful and in the Northern parts of the country the sun never sets. Also, luckily for us, there are a lot of great app makers there too.
BI: Do you like San Francisco? What do you like to do here?
BJ: I love it! I like walking along the Embarcadero with my 9-month-old daughter, and buying great food at the farmers’ market.
BI: Where did you learn to do computer programming?
BJ: I started programming when I was about 15 or so, but I was never really very good at it. I don’t do any programming for Toca Boca and I never have either. I’m not good enough unfortunately! But I have colleagues that are.
BI: [From Marlon, age 4] Have you ever been to Redwood City?
BJ: Good question, Marlon! I have been to Redwood City. I’ve also driven through it many times and gone through it on Caltrain too.
BI: Last but not least, what phone do you use?
BJ: I use a white iPhone 6 Plus. It is pretty big, but I like it!