Spotlight: Bryanne Leeming of Unruly Studios
Bryanne Leeming, founder of Unruly Studios, gave an inspiring talk at the June installment of the Seacoast Human Resources Association’s breakfast meeting series about her journey in the tech field and the creation of her company. Tori, MST’s Operations and Account Support, got to meet Bryanne and test out the latest (really, really cool) prototype of the “Unruly Splats” product about to come to market, and learn more about how Unruly Studios came to be.
Hi Bryanne! Could you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I grew up in Hanover, New Hampshire where my parents owned a restaurant in town. Having this inside view of how small business works from an early age helped me learn that I wanted to be my own boss, and at the same time helped me see that it requires an intense amount of effort. I earned my Bachelors in Cognitive Science at McGill University (in Montreal) and had a great experience living in the city after growing up in a rural town. While at McGill, I took a computer science class and found myself familiar with one of the languages thanks to a computer class when I was eight years old. This early exposure to coding helped me catch on much faster in college, and inspired me to continue learning and eventually develop the idea for my company, Unruly Studios.
How did you come up with the idea for Unruly Studios? What inspired you?
I knew from a young age that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I also feel strongly that teaching computational thinking and logic at a young age is the key to getting kids interested in STEM and building out the STEM workforce with qualified, excited young employees. I lived in New York for a time and worked in product development at Harry Winston, which helped me learn about product life cycle and what it takes to go from an idea to a prototype to a product on the market.
What are you hoping to add to the toy market with your product line?
My goal with Unruly Studios is to teach kids the language of programming in a fun and compelling way. Not everyone needs to be a programmer, and that isn’t the intent behind our product. Today’s children are growing up with a lot of exposure to physical technology – computers, smartphones, tablets, video games – but not much understanding of how it actually works. In today’s world, every company is becoming a tech company. Learning about code and what it can do in the real world will be incredibly valuable to the next generation of employees, no matter what field they go into. Unruly Studios is about showing kids how cool coding can be, and games are an easy way to impress that upon young minds.
Could you tell us about Unruly Splats, your first product?
Unruly Splats get kids up and moving around, creating interactive games of their own imagination. We all have kids in our lives who spend most of their play time sitting in one place and using an electronic device. Unruly Splats are a set of two electronic floor tiles that light up, make sound, know when they’re being stepped on, and are completely programmable. Kids can program new games into the system and see how their code responds in a real world application. The only limit to what they can create is their imagination. I believe kids learn best by doing and creating in the real world, and Unruly Splats was designed specifically to make this possible and also fun.
Where are you in the production process?
We are excited to be in the final stages of prototyping! We have our fully functioning prototype, which you got to try out at the SHRA breakfast meeting, and are about to finalize the version we’ll be manufacturing. It took nine prototype iterations, over 2000 kids who tested the product, and 18 months to get to this point, so I’m very excited and proud. You can sign up on our website, Unruly Studios.com, for updates and early access to our Fall 2017 Kickstarter campaign.
Where have you found support throughout your journey from idea to product?
I was fortunate to have a great network while I was at Babson. It was a very open community of tech-minded individuals who were not only willing, but excited to offer support and share their resources. Many of the contacts I made at Babson helped me form my larger network and influenced my success with Unruly Studios. I also worked at an advertising startup in New York where I was involved with marketing and managing technology with a team of software engineers, which helped me grow my network and learn more about tech and the ways it could be applied within the context of my goals. I definitely suggest tapping into whatever local tech groups are around you and getting involved with the community. In addition to gaining knowledge and resources, you’ll be able to offer support to others in the group and share what you’ve learned.
Can you speak to the challenges of the process?
One thing that was a challenge for me in the beginning was learning to ask for what I wanted and needed. When you connect with someone and get in front of them with your idea, they will ask you what you need from them. It can be hard to get used to being that direct, but it’s so important. Go into each meeting with a clear purpose, and have a specific “ask” in mind.
Any advice for entrepreneurial dreamers?
You’re never going to feel completely ready to begin the process. Just start. Connect with other entrepreneurs and build your network early on. It has been invaluable to me to have the support of other entrepreneurs and industry minds throughout my journey. Something I hear often from those in the early stages is that they are afraid to share their idea in case someone else takes it for themselves. I have found the complete opposite to be true – everyone in the entrepreneurial community I spoke with was genuine in their desire to help, whether that was by being a sounding board for my ideas or offering some kind of assistance. Don’t be afraid to talk to others about your plans. Keeping it a secret will keep it an idea.