PopUp Play on ‘Shark Tank’: A Look Inside the App That Allows Kids to Design Their Own Playhouse

PopUp Play entered the Shark Tank with their technology that allows kids to design a playhouse using an app and get it delivered to them, allowing them to play in their own creation. In Season 8, they struck a deal with Chris Sacca for $250,000 and their episode is rerunning tonight.

We interviewed husband-and-wife team Bryan Thomas and Amelia Cosgrove about their business, which combines the hands-on feel of their childhood toys with modern-day technology. As for their future plans, they are working with brand partners to bring their app to children nationwide.

Here’s what else they told us about…

Read all of Heavy’s Shark Tank coverage here.

How the Idea Came About

Amelia was a product design engineer for over 10 years and used on-demand manufacturing all the time. One day, she was at lunch with friends talking about her favorite childhood toys and was taken back to some of my favorite childhood memories – creating her own toys, building forts, pushing the limits of the materials she could get her hands on. She realized the opportunity to combine the toys she loved as a kid with modern technology and started the journey of creating a whole new experience.

Feedback From Parents

Amelia: Parents and kids love the PopUp Play experience. For the kids, this is the first time in their lives when they get to see something they designed in the digital world come to life. They can discover that they have the power to bring their vision and imagination to life. We hear these kinds of stories all the time. One father shared with us that PopUp Play was going to be a pivotal moment in his 5-year-old son’s life because he discovered that he could create. A grandmother said that creating with PopUp Play brought her and her granddaughter closer together. These kinds of stories put huge grins on our faces.

How Their Appearance on the ‘Tank’ Came About

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Fun for the whole fam ?

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Amelia: We submitted our application last April, when we were about to graduate our Techstars Austin program. So many people had told us, “hey, you guys should go on Shark Tank” so we thought, what the heck, we’ll apply. Later, we found out we’d made it to pitch the sharks, which led us to here.

Shifting Gears

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3… 2… 1… ?

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Bryan: PopUp Play’s original mission was to empower kids to build and create their own toys. Some of the world’s largest brands took notice and wanted to use it to offer their own custom product experience, and as shown on Shark Tank, we ended up shifting gears. While kids can still create their own toys (like gingerbread houses and castles) using the PopUp Play Build Lab, we’ve moved from a consumer-based model to one that zeroes in on delivering unique and engaging branded experiences. With this, our newest product is PopUp Tech, is a software platform targeted to brands, which enables anyone to create custom products online that are delivered to their home within a week.

Pros & Cons to Working With Their Spouse

Bryan: There are a lot of pros. Amelia is one of the best engineers I’ve ever worked with. Her technical skills set her apart from so many other makers and engineers out there. Combine those skills with the trust we have built in our relationship over the past ten years, and there is no one I would rather build this business with.
Amelia: You are completely aligned on your vision for the business. You never wonder what your co-founder really wants because you know them so well.

Designing the App

The original concept for the app came from Bryan. It was based on the idea that we wanted to create a fun and engaging way for kids to design a 3D object. That hadn’t been done before. Amelia was very familiar with professional 3D design tools and so they set out to research the landscape of kids games and combine the two. We were introduced to two guys who had spent their career designing and building games. Together they created the PopUp Play Build Lab, the first truly fun and accessible 3D design program. Before we released it, we worked with a local children’s museum for feedback and to test it with children of all ages.</blockquotePopUp Play got a deal in Season 8 for their app that lets kids design their own playhouse. We interviewed the husband-and-wife team behind the technology.

Other Shark Tank products for kids: