After achieving App Store success with the best-selling Camera+ app a couple of years ago, Lisa Bettany woke up to an app market that was saturated with photo apps. She and her team’s next photo app failed to reach Camera+’s popularity, and she started to grow weary of the big tech scene. So she moved back to her hometown in Canada to regroup. The result? She now heads up her own company, focusing on creative apps for girls.
“It’s been a crazy three years in the App Store. It’s really changed,” she says. “There was an opening in the market for something like this. Whereas in the photo category, everyone has an app with filters that interfaces to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.”
App designers are starting to realize kids and girls, in particular, want to play with apps on their own mobile devices. But most of the available apps for girls focus on shopping or style.
Bettany knows this. After three years in the making, her new company, CakeBytes Creative Inc., has launched its very first app, an arcade adventure game for girls.
Called Poppets, the app game stars lovable animal characters that have to navigate through increasingly difficult scenarios while collecting as many tokens as possible. Realizing that girls-only apps were missing a gaming element, Bettany and her team created a fantastical world that would draw young female gamers in.
“You can challenge the stereotypical role of these apps in young girls’ lives,” Bettany says. App developers don’t need to follow a specific formula to develop interesting content for girls, and these girls don’t need to see themselves in apps as pretty princesses and play dress-up. Bettany mentions GoldieBlox, the engineering-minded toy and book series geared toward girls, and says she wanted the experience of playing the app and learning about the characters to teach girls they could do anything, reach any level.
But the 99-cent game isn’t designed to contain all that the Poppets’ world has to offer. Bettany hopes to carry the app’s story into offline territory, eventually telling her characters’ stories through children’s books and toys.
“[The Poppets] are all really misfits. They don’t really belong anywhere except for this small, little world that they live in,” Bettany says. “Apart, they’re all very different, but they’re stronger together.”
The merchandise doesn’t seem too far behind. Bettany got the idea for Poppets when she found the doll version of the characters on Etsy. Out of sheer coincidence, the shop’s owner turned out to be her childhood ice skating buddy, Sarah MacNeill. They reconnected, and MacNeill is now in charge of design at CakeBytes.
Falling back into a familiar setting didn’t make the entrepreneurial path clean-cut. Even with Camera+ under her belt, she found herself with another blank slate when she set out to create a game.
“I had to go and figure out what you need in a game to get people interested,” says Bettany. She studied the philosophy of games, figuring out what elements specifically drive players to continue playing. Eventually, Poppets evolved into a 42-level game that challenges the players’ motor skills with gyroscopic tilt controls.
Bettany cites GoldieBlox as a source of inspiration in her new market, noting there’s a lot of room to be creative in the tech world when designing for girls. If GoldieBlox could do it in the toy world, then CakeBytes could do it in the app space. Earlier this year, GoldieBlox came out with a companion app and website to its already existing physical toy and storybook. And Bettany sees a similar expansion with Poppets.
“I mean, [GoldieBlox] had their own Thanksgiving float, didn’t they? And they did that in two years,” she says.
Seeing so many techie women in founder and CEO roles in the last couple of years has given Bettany the confidence to call the shots in her new venture, even given the expectations that come with having already created a hit app. Reinventing herself after Camera+ has been daunting, but her can-do ethos has carried her this far. And with her new app, she’s also inspiring girls to step outside the box.
“It’s an exciting departure from Camera+ for me,” Bettany says.