Appetite for Development

By Marcia Faye

Peapod Labs and Uppd are both startups that began life as apps created by IIT students. Now alumni, the apps’ founders may come from different academic disciplines but share qualities exhibited by successful entrepreneurs—that of being forward-thinking, self-motivating, and hardworking. Here is a snapshot look at the apps that came out of their efforts.

Peapod Labs ›

Co-founded in 2010 as a startup by Guillermo Krovblit and Junyoung Yang [Jared Allen (M.Des. ’11) is also a co-founder but no longer with the company] through an IIT Institute of Design independent project, Peapod Labs links the digital world with the physical world through more than 20 educational apps developed for children through age five, such as ABC Wildlife and Firehouse Adventure.

Junyoung Yang (M.Des. ’11)
Photo by: Bonnie Robinson

Inspiration: “The iPad,” says Krovblit. “When we first heard the Apple announcement, we assumed the point of view of user-centered designers. We immediately saw that it was going to be a fresh, green space for all sorts of new things and envisioned a device that could potentially change the way people interact with technology, especially in the education field.”

Guillermo Krovblit (M.Des./M.B.A. ’11)
Photo by: Christophe Testi

Kudos: On December 31, 2013, Peapod Labs apps had been downloaded 1 million times through the App Store at $2.99/app. Individual apps have been recognized by Children’s Technology Review, iLounge, and the iTunes Hall of Fame. Last year, the ABC Actions app received a “mention” in the nonfiction digital category of the Bologna Ragazzi Awards. The awards are an initiative of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, considered to be the world’s leading professional fair for children’s books.

Words of wisdom: Krovblit says that one of the greatest elements he has learned through his graduate program is the necessity of user testing. “In your mind, you are developing an award-winning, Nobel Prize-deserving, game-changing product,” Krovblit says with a laugh. “The way to validate your product is to let the actual users actively use it and try to understand the interactions that take place. You must utilize whatever you have in your skill set to record what happens to make your idea better or decide if you have to kill the project. The last word on whether or not your product is successful comes from the user, not the designer.”

What’s ahead: “Our true goal is to make a difference within the education industry,” Krovblit explains. “We want to create a link between our company and something really big, perhaps an insightful finding that enables people to learn more efficiently or to become more engaged in the learning process.”

Uppd, LLC ›

Jeremy Abrams (LAW ’14)
Stefanie Bassler
Photo by: Michael Goss

Jeremy Abrams and Stefanie Bassler were looking for a fun side project last year; he was interning at a law firm and she had just left her job as an innovation consultant. Inspired by video, social media, and gaming, the friends quickly drew up a business plan for Uppd—a free mobile app that allows users to upload videos of themselves engaged in a sporting activity, for example, and then challenge others to “up” the competition for virtual and real-world rewards.

Backgrounds: Abrams launched his first startup—an e-publishing company—at age 15. Since then, he’s participated in five other ventures and has worked as an early user interface/user experience designer for Bassler earned a Master in Business Innovation from the Monterrey Center for Higher Learning of Design (Mexico) and launched her first company in Mallorca, Spain, in 2011. “Our diverse yet complementary backgrounds as well as our established friendship created the perfect mix for business partners,” says Abrams about his working relationship with Bassler. “As we have heard over and over again, it’s 99 percent about the team and 1 percent about the idea. Our inspiration for executing the particular idea stemmed from our deep-rooted belief of inclusion and community. We believe there should be no barriers to entry when it comes to skill competition. Anyone and everyone should have the opportunity to compete, and we wanted to create Uppd in order to level the playing field across the world.”

Kudos: Putting aside his public-speaking jitters, Abrams took first place in the 2013 Elevator Pitch Competition hosted by the IIT Entrepreneurship Academy and won $500 from Elance Chicago to hire a graphic designer.

Gender Bender: While app development is still a male-dominated field, Bassler believes the tide is turning. “As a consultant, I helped to manage both internal and client teams in Web development projects, so it was a natural transition to begin my own tech company,” she says, noting that Uppd—her first app project—has evolved into a full-time job. “Women are beginning to take on more roles within engineering and technology as gender role perceptions continue to shift.”

Words of Wisdom: “Don’t get discouraged, but do enjoy the ride; some days we feel on top of the world and other days we feel at the very bottom,” Abrams advises to other students looking to develop apps. “It’s all part of the fun and there hasn’t been a single bad experience that has left us without a valuable lesson learned. Our intention is to create a platform in which everyone around the world can compete on an even playing field. Uppd is nothing more than a solution to this intention.”