How DragonBox an educational app beat Angry Birds in the AppStore

I have interviewed the founder of the companyWe Want To Know that is behind the app DragonBox.

DragonBox teaches kids algebra in a innovative and fun way and has reached the #1 spot in the Games category of the AppStore in Norway.

Click here to check out the app on the iTunes store. (here for the Android version)

In the interview, I was interested to hear about the specifics of the execution of the idea that helped them get so much traction.

The app is innovative and well polished but many of us have great products and yet fail to get any traction. Through my questions, I have tried my best to extract what they did that other entrepreneurs can reproduce in their own ventures.

Building a great team

I know that you are not a developer yourself and that you are not funded and yet you have managed to gather a team of talented experts to help you develop DragonBox.

Can you tell us a bit about the composition of your team (skills and geographical location) and how you found them?

My vision on this is: get the best experts that share the same vision as me, in this case people who love mathematics, or share the vision to revolutionize education thru games.

  • Patrick Marchal, former game director of a big studio Montecristo (game XL cities), based in Paris. Found him on the net through an article he wrote about serious games.
  • Jerome Lacoste, a friend, expert in building automation, lean process, polyvalent, extremely user centered, based in Oslo.
  • Regis Faller, one of the best art directors in France, extremely creative, and one of the few artists who loves mathematics. I met him while working in the publishing industry, and I love his way of thinking, he’s extremely visual, and that’s a key element in how we want to present mathematics in our games. He’s super experienced and talented to communicate with children, based in Paris.
  • Rolf Assev, former top executive from Opera Software, visionary as he sees the power of game based learning, very experimented with PR, marketing and strategy.
  • Chloe Faller, 14 years old, she drew the pokemon figures in the game, super talented, and she knows what children are interested in. Most part of the adults would have never thought the drawings would work for almost all ages. Paris.
    Luis Sanches, soundtrack, super talented, and professional, Brighton (UK), was not given so much time to make the music, so it’s pretty impressive what he achieved. I heard the music a million times and it is still ok : )
In what terms did they agree to work with you? What helped you convince them?

Good question. I guess I can be convincing 🙂 but the vision behind the company is really strong and our team and product show we can deliver what we promise. Some are shareholders because they want to stay in the long term, others got a fixed fee and they will get a percentage of sales. But basically, if people I meet share the same vision, the biggest part of the job is done because we both want to make it happen.

Build a great product

Getting an idea implemented the way you want by someone else is extremely difficult, as anyone who has tried outsourcing development can attest. Although having a team is very different from outsourcing, they both share the process of explaining one’s vision to someone else.


How did you decide what features to include and what to remove before the launch?

I basically took the decisions at the last moment. As you can imagine there are many decisions or choices to make.

Which target group, what kind of games…. it was many choices but the vision helped me find one path that turned out to be correct.

I do these games for my children, in order them to learn difficult stuff rapidly.

So the mission and vision helped me massively. Simple game, simple rules, not too much, more importantly get the flow when you play. Make it work with kids as young as possible.

How did you clarify the requirements inside your team to make sure ideas were understood?

The main problem is not to make ideas understood but rather have ideas accepted. Lots of discussion to come to the features I wanted, and very often nothing was made. Strong personalities in the team. So it’s more kind of a consensus. Same language and same goal make things pretty clear… every team member thinks and lives the product. Not that many explanations needed.

I remember you mentioned you were doing some user testing, what useful feedback came from doing this kind of testing? Where did you find the testers?

The main blocker is to get access to testers. You have to be completely crazy and passionate to be able to test the game with anybody at anytime. We are that kind of guys… test, observe, and accept that things don’t work and that you have to change it. Openness is KEY. Accept that you have to change things to make it work. Because my goal is to make it work with my own children. It is pure research actually.

Dominating the AppStore

Your app reached the #1 spot on the AppStore. Congratulations, this is a great achievement. Let’s dig into how you launched your product.

Was is a soft launch (organically from your social network), or was it a Hollywood launch (create as much buzz as possible)?

We invited journalists to come to my school to present the product. In parallel we did a lot of things to work on our own social networks. But sincerely, all that has no meaning if your product is shit…

We got PR and social network response because it is more than a game. Education and mathematics is a hot thing that is in great need for innovation. So there is a trend there and a HUGE need and market. Competitors are welcome : ) it is a new industry we are starting..

What worked the best in generating publicity? PR, word of mouth, your personal network, etc…

PR was key, for example in the US where we got a great article from Wired. Obviously the journalist saw a great story in the product.

You have been interviewed by very popular blogs and newspapers, how did you approach them to get covered?

Rolf is a very experienced PR guy, he is doing everything to set up meetings, pitch the journalists or get people to pitch journalists. I come afterwards to sell the vision. But again, if the product and vision are crap, forget about taking contact with journalists. That said, I spent 4 hours with a journalist in Sweden and she didn’t write a word about our vision and the fact that it is possible to revolutionize education… so PR work is very difficult and unpredictable. Especially if you are small. I would have never done that without Rolf… we would have gone another way.

Can you think of specific tactics you have used that helped generated more buzz? (in-app share feature, use of twitter or facebook, etc…)

We are zeroes when it comes to features like in-app recommendations… we are losing lots of momentum and sales because of that.. We missed something there actually.

But at the same time, it is difficult to implement everything and test it and have minimal bugs. And I had no experience. We decided to launch the product even if all these features were not in, to get feedback from the market. It is important to get feedback from the market as soon as possible to adjust things if necessary.

How many journalists have you met in total so far?

I met or talked to 7 journalists so far and half didn’t publish a thing about us.

Anything you wish you had done better in regard to PR?

Yep, it is important to be well prepared and anchor our speech locally. In Norway that is easy, but abroad, quite complicated. For example the optimal way is to get schools or teachers in each country that journalists can contact. All messages must be as much as possible localized. Especially in the education sector. We have to present our game as innovation and not just a product we push. I should have been better prepared at one of the interview… but we learnt from that.

Here is the Hacker News thread related to the Wired article.

I hope you enjoyed this interview, don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comments and I will pass them on to Jean-Baptiste.