Alexandre Touret is the CEO and Chief Content Officer at European-based ToonYou. He founded the company in 2015. He is also a veteran of the Creative Business Cup Innovation Challenge 2015. And by the looks of his photos on Facebook, he’s a pretty fun and playful dad. His kids (he has two) skateboard and have that distinctly French coolness gliding through the streets of Paris on their boards while wearing skinny jeans and Vans. He’s a cool guy. I met him on a boat in Abu Dhabi one night at a startup competition. I learned a lot about the power of playfulness that night. And, not surprisingly, he’s fun and easy going and has 10 million ideas percolating. He has mastered the art of creative thinking – and playing. And that is about the coolest combination imaginable.
ToonYou is an app that customizes preschool content by uploading images of familiar people. Basically, your family and friends become characters in the app. You just upload photos in the form of selfies and ToonYou does the rest. Users can also get a printed book with the familiar characters.
Touret’s story is typical of many creatives and entrepreneurs – problem solving by having fun and imagining the possibilities.
“I came up with the idea for Toonyou one day while I was sitting on the couch with my son. I was inspired by Dora the Explorer – not because she was great, but because there was so much room for improvement. She was badly drawn and was always looking at the camera trying to teach children very basic lessons,” explains Touret. “My son looked at me with a sort of knowing look – as if to say ‘Fix this.’ I knew we could do amazing things just with a little bit of will.”
Touret was well aware that kids spend a lot of time on screens (iphones, ipads, all kinds of digital devices) with characters who are, well unrelated and disconnected from their lives. These characters are not their parents. That bothered him and was the a-ha moment for ToonYou. His goal became integrating parents and familiar characters into stories as heroes and adventurers. The kids became the narrators.
“Our goal is to personalize the entertainment experience while concentrating on educational content and kids get more control over the stories they are creating and experiencing,” explains Touret.
Touret has a theory that playing is not just about kids. It’s about everyone – especially entrepreneurs and startups. “Playing is missing the shot, falling from the bike, making a fool of yourself at your first try. Entrepreneurship is fueled by the same spirit. We want to live the same excitement, try something bold and unheard of and see if it works.”
Sometimes grownups have to re-learn how to play. It’s just how the world is now, according to Touret, but we can all learn by watching how kids approach play. “Leaders and entrepreneurs must realize that bold moves are part of the game. But they also have to realize what comes with the territory: failure. It happens. Even to kids. But our theory is failure is just an opportunity to try again.”
How can founders and leaders create a culture of playfulness and learning with a dab of chaos (which all lead to ideas and opportunities)?
“Lead with an environment that embraces new ways of thinking. Let people play. Let them be silly. And, as a founder, let yourself play, too. It’s how great ideas – and great companies — are built.”
And thus concluded our boat ride in the Persian Gulf. I am a better person by understanding the power of playing and learning — and just flat out being silly.