Building a failing app for kids

Published May 2020

It’s so easy to read other people’s success stories and start imagining how easy their progress towards that success must have been. But what’s so easy to miss with this approach is, that with great success (usually) also comes a good bit of failure along the way.

Now, I’m nowhere near success (in this case defined as having built an app / side project that really took off and is used by thousands of people), but I have a great failure story to share.

When my daughter was around ten months old, my wife and I started to realize that raising her bilingually might be more of a challenge than we initially anticipated. My wife wanted to give her a good foundation in German, aside from English, but as she’s learning German herself, she needed a little support.

The idea for “Mighty Cards”, the offline-product, was born. I fired up Sketch and created a set of cards with numbers 1-10 and the written out name in German and English as well as a set of animals with their names in both languages. Printed and laminated, they are a highlight even today, more than ten months later.

Photograph of four cards, showing symbols with their German and English translations.
Photograph of four cards, showing colors with their German and English translations.

So far so good, but being a Software Developer, I back then decided to make an app for these cards, since there are lots of apps out there to teach kids one language, but nothing that would support a bilingual household in teaching their kids. The solution was quite simple, the same themes of cards (around 10-12 in each theme), kids can swipe through the cards and tap the cards to get the names read out in both languages.

Screenshot Mighty Cards app, showing an eagle with German and English translations

Of course, I had to over-engineer some of the parts of the app, especially the backend, with dynamically rendering SVGs into PNGs for multiple resolutions and such, so I sunk a good bit of time into the project, without knowing if anyone would ever download it.

Turns out, almost no one ever did. Restricting screen time for kids is a thing these days and I haven’t been able to reach those parents who use digital learning tools together with their kids. So even months later, only a handful of folks every month downloaded the app, and only a fraction of those decided to pay and support the app.

Instead of having an app on the store that will eventually stop working, I decided to pull the plug and remove it from sale. I still have the backend up and running for folks who decided to get the app, but I won’t provide new content at this point.

I keep wondering if with the shift of homeschooling and schools being closed around the world due to Covid-19, Mighty Cards might have a second chance, but due to very limited resources at this point, we will probably never know.

A few lessons learned though I’d like to share before concluding this post:

  • Think twice if you’d like to publish an app for kids. The App Store rules are very strict and there’s no way back ever. Even if you’re not planning on doing anything against the rules, there’s a lot of nuances to keep in mind that will likely cause the one or the other rejection along the way.
  • Never ever do over engineer your product without rolling out a version that can gauge interest first.
  • Do more research about your target audience. In my case, the physical product was received very well in my circle of friends and family, but the digital version raised eyebrows, just because it was running on a digital device.