Interview with Hayley from SymbolSmash

Paolo Lenotti
By Paolo Lenotti
10 May at 13:41

It’s always encouraging to hear positive feedback so we were, of course, very excited to speak to Hayley at the start of 2013, who had completed our App Design course last year. Hayley and her mother have subsequently pulled together and managed a team who have launched SymbolSmash – an iPhone app that is after our own hearts, delivering educational content via a technology platform! SymbolSmash takes children on a step-by-step interactive, musical, storybook adventure to introduce them to classical music as well as helping them to learn a whole range of skills.


Here is our interview with Hayley who met with us in our little East London Neighbourhood to talk realising of ideas via technology, learning curves and the reality of developing an app.

1/ Hayley, tell us about where the idea for SymbolSmash originated from

The idea for SymbolSmash originated from the music classes my mother gave my siblings and me when we were kids. We created music from the kitchen pots and pans, and became an orchestra together as we played, sang, and conducted. It was easy and natural to inspire us further by teaching us about the composers, musical instruments and definitions of the signs in the music. She has continued teaching other children in schools and at home over the past 15 years.

Her philosophy is that children can enjoy learning as a much as playing if it is presented in a fun storybook style which is the most loved and easiest way for children to enjoy as they learn.

We wanted to give all children the opportunity to be introduced to this way of learning. My mother’s first ideas included publishing a pack for schools, but as technology advanced and we began to read about the boom of educational apps, we decided an app would be the best way forward.

2/ How long did the overall process take: from inception to execution to the product being live on the iTunes App store?

In 2011, as a part of my Entrepreneurship module at university, I decided to use her idea to create a hypothetical business model and undertook the EwB App Design course to further my own understanding of the process of creating an app.

I started studying the trends in the market, putting together analysis of our potential competition and reading about promotion strategies. Graduating in July 2012, we decided to create the app.

We looked into coding companies for over four months – this was a difficult process, as we desired a company with both design and coding skills that operated within the UK. Many of the successful kids apps on the App Store are created by big publishing companies, or else by in-house developers, so finding a recommendation was hard.

It was also hard to find a company who understood our vision. We finally found a company, and began in September, running through until November when we sent an application to be reviewed by Apple. This process only took 10 days, which was a huge relief as it can be much longer; Apple can reject your application if there are bugs present.

3/ So between 5-6 months then?

In theory, but the process is not over – we weren’t convinced by the first version of the app as it did not completely align with our vision, and feedback from the parents of children who’d trialed the app backed this up. In January, we halted promotion of this version, hired a new designer and this April began development for version two.

The new designs are now complete. The format is much more child-friendly and the plans have received good feedback. The development for this stage of the project will be completed in June 2013, by which time we will test the product on children and then submit to the App Store.

4/ Had you had any experience creating an app before?

No – just lots of scribbles of potential app ideas for Entrepreneurship and Enterprise modules at university. There were a couple of investment meetings for various ideas but this was the first to bring to fruition.

5/ What technical knowledge did you have prior to starting the course?

No coding experience at all, although I worked with a lot of my coder friends at university for fun. My university modules were all tech-based, so it was a lot of theory on technology, human psychology + technology, business insights on tech companies and startups etc. I attended a few tech conferences like LeWeb to better grasp the market.

6/ Why did you choose our course over other courses or methods of learning?

I’d been thinking of taking a course in app design and the next day one appeared on Groupon! Before I bought into the deal I took a look at the methods involved and it seemed perfect – love reading, watching videos and taking tests. I bought it, checked it out and it was great – better than I’d imagined as the text was fun, easy to read and retain and great case studies of the creation of apps on the market.

7/ How steep was your learning curve?

Very! The format of the EwB course aided me very quickly, especially for the initial stages of the project.

There were many more aspects of creating an app that I had to learn along the way – tax laws for different countries, licensing for the music we wished to use as well as product liability insurance, setting up the company we run and so on. As apps are still a new commodity, even the accountants and lawyers we spoke with had to read up on these features – then we were recommended a specialist app PR who helped us better understand these aspects.

8/ What else have you learnt along the way?

Our development company is great, especially their design team. In our first version they really helped us understand the limitations of what was possible and also cost-effective as we hadn’t worked in tech before.

In the new version, we incorporate all the elements that they helped us to plan but have embellished on it to make it more user-friendly. We created new designs, complete with characters to guide and play parts in the story-aspect of the app.

Another big step was learning about our market and the sort of app required to suit their needs – as our market is for children, we had to plan an app that was easy to use, particularly bearing in mind they have smaller hands! Our first version put more of an emphasis on the fun element than the learning element – this has been balanced for version two.

This is my first time managing a project of this scale and now my mother and I have a designer, a coding team, a recording engineer, and our PR contacts to speak with on a daily basis. Keeping everyone happy and doing it with patience is probably the toughest thing I’ve learned.

9/ Which aspects of the course did you find the most helpful in terms of applying your knowledge to your business?

Choosing a name – only 11-12 characters – reserving the name, taking it out on Facebook, twitter etc. creating the website. (Units 1 / 17)

Not overcomplicating it/feature creeping – so much we could do that we cut out from the beginning (Unit 12)

Tag lines – ours is “making classical music fun” and we looked at other examples to realize this as it is simple and describes what we do. (Unit 3)

Building databases, promotional activities like making a video, use of promo codes and technical differences iPhones and tablets as well as Apple vs. Android were other things we found helpful. (Units 7 / 9)

10/ If you could offer one piece of advice to people considering registering on the App course, what would it be?

If you have an idea, register! It’s much harder to come up with something afterwards. Check it’s not been done and if it has been done, ask yourself: do you have a way to improve it?

If you do register, really listen to the advice in the first couple of Units – go to a designer first, then approach a programmer once all the designs have been done. Keep the project simple and consult everyone you can find before release by letting them play with the product and ask them for feedback.

11/ If you were to do the course again and could change one thing, what would that be?

Maybe if there was more talk about not just the different platforms but the different languages of code that the app could be built in it would help when you approach your developer.

12/ How many times has the app been downloaded to date?

We’ve had over 200 downloads from Nov-Jan. This reflects the halted promotion of the app in January and, though we continue to sell one or two units, we will be promoting version 2 hard over the coming months.

13/ Finally, what is on the agenda for Symbol Smash for the rest of 2013?

April / June we will be marketing whilst the development of version two begins. Prospective launch to the App Store in June, and then further marketing and promotions. Symbolsmash 2.0 will be launching in June 2013