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Australian startup snapshot: Shiny Things

Bring intuitive technology into maths classes

Monkeys help children learn in the iPad app Shiny Circus. Credit: Shiny Things

Monkeys help children learn in the iPad app Shiny Circus. Credit: Shiny Things

Shiny Things is a Sydney edutech startup that develops mobile maths apps for primary schools.

Founder Mat Peterson spoke to Techworld Australia about the startup’s success following a two-week vacation to New Zealand, his first holiday since he began the company two-and-a-half years ago.

The company recently celebrated a milestone of 1.3 million app downloads on Apple's App Store.

The pitch

Peterson said he discovered the problem he wanted to solve 15 years ago, when he was still in school and Australia’s laptop program was rolling out.

“At that point in time, technology was seen as the solution to the classroom, but in the end it actually made things a lot more complex,” he said.

Some subjects didn’t translate well to laptops, he said. “Mathematics has never worked very well on computers, even though they’re actually mathematical devices.”

Peterson said he aims to rectify the problem: “What we’re looking to do is to make simple solutions that are designed for teachers so that we can enable them to properly access the capabilities of technology.”

Shiny Things has 12 people on staff, including two educators focussed on content, three designers who come up with ideas for presenting that content, and four engineers who translate the concepts into working apps.

The startup specialises in mathematics for ages six to eleven, and its most popular app is Quick Maths with nearly 400,000 downloads globally, said Peterson.

What makes Quick Maths different than the non-intuitive computer math programs of old is that users use actual handwriting on the tablet screen, he said.

“You’re continually reinforcing the same muscle memory you would use for pen and paper, which of course all exams and tests are done with pen and paper still.”

Starting up

Shiny Things founder Mat Peterson bootstrapped his startup using money from a previous venture. Credit: Shiny Things
Shiny Things founder Mat Peterson bootstrapped his startup using money from a previous venture. Credit: Shiny Things

Today, Shiny Things has 10 apps on the Apple app store. There are three more apps in development that are expected for release in the next two months, said Peterson.

All the apps are sold for $2 or $3 in the Apple store. While teachers and parents are the ones buying the app, Peterson said serving students is an important priority as well.

“It is a unique juggling act. We target parents and teachers at the same time that we have to build the products for the students.”

“The students have to love it and the parents have to see the value in it.”

To strike that balance, Shiny Things has spent a great deal time meeting with parents, teachers and students. The startup is constantly collecting feedback and releasing enhancements to the apps, he said.

Peterson invested $2 million of his own money in the startup. He said much of that money came from a previous venture – a software company started in 2003 that made media tools for Macintosh.

Shiny Things has received a few government grants, he said. It has received money from the R&D tax incentive and the Export Market Development Grant (70 to 80 percent of Shiny Things’ revenue comes from other countries).

Next page: Going global and views on Australia's startup scene...

Tags Shiny ThingsstartupsAppleappseducationsoftwaremobilemathsedutech

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