Photography is both a hobby and an art form that people are embracing more regularly due to the prevalence of smart phones and video technology. As devices constantly enhance and older models go out of style, a lot of still usable phones are left in drawers, forgotten. Inventor JP Stoops took notice of this and created a start-up company known as Pixl Toys that aims to help people recycle their old smartphones by getting children interested in photography.

JP’s “Pixlplay” camera turns smartphones into working cameras for kids.

A means of promoting both recycling and creativity, the Pixlplay camera even has a working shutter button and is designed to look like a classic 35mm camera which enhances role playing and imagination.

Pixlplay launched a successful Kickstarter in February of 2017, and they have since shipped to more than 1,400 backers in thirty-eight countries. They are now entering major retail stores and promoting Pixlplay which is suitable for both iOS and Android.

Founder and CEO JP Stoops has over fifteen years of experience working with toys via Discovery Communications.

He's passionate about toys, apps, and technology, he is very proud of Pixlplay which is the first product he developed as part of Pixl Toys --and which shipped right around the time his first child was born.

JP Stoops recently discussed the Pixlplay camera and his hopes for the future via an exclusive Interview.

Photography, apps, and startups

Meagan Meehan (MM): What inspired you to become an inventor and have you been interested in photography for long?

JP Stoops (JP): I spent over thirteen years working in a corporate environment developing consumer products with a focus on kid’s toys. It was a great career, but I found myself staring at my computer screen wanting to do more. I wanted to build products myself. I finally got the nerve up to do it and ran a successful a Kickstarter for the Pixlplay camera earlier this year. Smartphones have made photographers out of all of us.

I don't consider myself a photographer by trade, but I find myself taking photos with my smartphone every day, and that's one thing that led me to create my Startup company, Pixlplay.

MM: How did you initially come up with the idea for Pixlplay and what was the whole design process like from start to finish?

JP: Cameras have always been popular gifts for kids, but many of the toy cameras on the market are poor quality and have low megapixels. Real cameras are expensive and easy to break. The idea for Pixlplay came when I realized that I, like the majority of people, have a junk drawer full of old smartphones.

I thought, why not make use of those devices in a way that gets kids active and creative? The result is a kid’s camera that is easy, fun, and affordable. I'm a sole founder, so the design process relied on working with many different people. I found a 3D designer on a platform called “red clay” and I did much of my creative work with freelancers and was referred to a factory from someone in my network. We made three prototypes, and the design evolved from a toddler looking toy to one with the design of a classic 35mm camera. It took over six months of designing, testing, and refining.

MM: What were some of the challenges of bringing the Pixlplay to market and how did you choose the color scheme?

JP: A big challenge was making a product that could fit the majority of all smartphones. We had to consider the size, thickness, and position of the camera lens on each smartphone among other elements. What resulted is a product that is reverse compatible back to the iPhone 4 and also one that works with the majority of Android devices as large as the Galaxy S8, just not the Plus or XL. For the color scheme, we created four 3D renderings for how to apply the color. We started off with some primary and juvenile colors. We held two focus groups and moms clearly said that we should make it look more like the real thing.

What resulted is a clean look with pops of color to give it some fun.

MM: You also created a fun app, so how long did it take you to figure out all the features and do you have any special favorites?

JP: The app took a lot of time. I brought in someone with great expertise in content design in the kid’s space. We developed over a dozen concepts for the navigation and activities and put them in front of kids in the form of flashcards that looked like a 'pretend' smartphone. We were able to confirm some of our assumptions and revise others that were not intuitive. The navigation is simple and does not include words so the youngest of kids (and international families) can enjoy the app.

It features scavenger hunts that teach colors, numbers, and objects through photography.

MM: What has the feedback from kids and their parents been like so far?

JP: Parents and kids love it. Parents like it because it helps protect their phone and saves high-quality photos on a device they are familiar with. They also love the fact that the app contains their child's photos from their camera roll while allowing them to export the photos they like. When kids pick up the Pixlplay camera, they immediately understand they are going to be taking photos. So often when kids are handed a device, their heads go down and they start swiping.

Pixlplay is all about getting kids active, and the included scavenger hunts and activities do just that. Pixlplay is also about getting kids creative, and kids are loving the editing features like adding a mustache to a face.

MM: Pixlplay promotes creativity via photography, so have fans shared any particularly interesting shots with you and how do you think photography can positively impact young lives?

JP: The photos that parents are sharing are just great. For kids 3-5, many of the photos are what you might expect...of the ground and a bit blurred. However, there is ALWAYS one shot that surprises you and reminds you that children see the world differently.

I was so excited when I saw that one parent created an Instagram account showing the photos as taken by her three-year-old daughter through the Pixlplay camera. Check out @Pixltot on Instagram to see it.

Recycling, inventing, and advice

MM: Pixlplay also promotes recycling, what other kinds of devices do you think can be effectively recycled into playthings and/or creative tools?

JP: Absolutely, Pixlplay is a great way to recycle your old smartphone and get some good use out of it. It extends the life of a very powerful device that you already have in the home. We're beginning to think about making use of other devices such as the iPad.

We're also thinking about making use of other items in the house such as empty Cleanex boxes and toilet rolls to give activities that enhance the Pixplay experience.

MM: What are your favorite things about working professionally an inventor and what advice would you offer to aspiring designers?

JP: After working in a corporate environment for years, my favorite thing is waking up each day and solving my own problems...not the problems of someone else. This isn't always easy and can make for some foggy decisions. Whether you work full time or are an inventor, my advice would be that you schedule at least two hours per week away from technology to reflect, think and collect ideas.

Write down your thoughts in a notebook. Share the ideas with people you trust. Be open to criticism, refine how you tell the story and just MAKE IT if you have the itch. There is so much that you can do on your own today that you could not five or ten years ago. Starting a company is not easy. You go through a range of emotions from excitement to doubt and joy. I'm so thankful to everyone who supported this idea and to the many people who helped bring it to life.

MM: What new inventions are you working on right now and/or actively planning?

JP: I'm working on a line of products based on classic toys that make use of smartphones.

I look at every toy in the toy isle and can see how it can be made smarter with the technology that we already have in the home! We'll likely expand within the photography and video space, to begin with and expand from there.

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