TutoTOONS in Kaunas: From a Startup to a Mature Company
Photo: “TutoTOONS “.
Having turned the hobby of childhood and study years into a business, they had to change their business model several times. After finding the most successful one and clearly seeing the direction of activities, today they are planning neither a lot nor a little: to be the best kids’ games developers in the world. TutoTOONS, one of the most successful startups in Kaunas, today calls itself a mature business that has outgrown the startup definition and stands among the market giants such as Disney Mobile or Barbie.
TutoTOONS began its activities a decade ago when two young Kaunas residents Mantas Radvila and Mantas Kavaliauskas founded the company and started to create educational games for Lithuanian schools.
“It soon became clear that the Lithuanian market was too small, so we started looking for opportunities to create products for a wider audience. In about the fifth year of our activities, we had to carry out an interesting project: together with the Education Development Center we had to create a digital training tool, which consisted of more than 200 educational objects. In a rather short period of time, we created many games and noticed that many of them consist of similar essential elements that programmers had to recreate. The process seemed ineffective, but we had some ideas about how to change it. In this way, the idea to create a simple tool for games and animation was born,” says Mantas Radvila, co-founder of TutoTOONS.
That was their first direction of activities: to help teachers create educational videos with a more convenient and empowering tool than a simple PowerPoint.
“In 2013, TutoTOONS was born: short for “Tutoring Cartoons”. Of course, after the first presentations to the public, the idea had to be adjusted: after taking part in the Startup Weekend event in Barcelona, where the idea is developed and the product is created, we realized that our product was too complex and too specific, and it is much easier and more promising to allow others create games themselves. Then we turned our business in the other direction: we offered the game development tool to the market,” says M. Radvila.
By the way, according to the head of the company, the transition to TutoTOONS itself was easier for the company because a team was already gathered with the right knowledge and required initial capital.
From a startup to a mature business
Is TutoTOONS still could be called a startup company? Mantas disagrees.
“I think that we have already moved from the startup to the stage of a mature company. I would say that the status changes when it becomes quite clear what the company’s product is, what its customers are and what business model the company has. I think our startup period ended when we changed our course of activities for the third time: deciding not to provide a game creation tool and instead create games ourselves. That’s why TutoTOONS today could be called a mature business.
For several years, TutoTOONS has positioned itself as a tool for people without any programming knowledge. Naturally, most of their customers were professional and amateur illustrators and graphics professionals. A lot of such clients were attracted by the business model of the company: the use of the tool was free, but the income from the games created was shared by the owners of the tool and the game developers.
“The problems started when the enthusiasm of the game developers faded away: we were able to convince people to start projects, but not to finish them. We had to allocate a lot of resources to persuade and motivate people at a distance to finish the game. At one time, we had about a hundred games that were created and abandoned, and there was so little left until the finish,” Mantas remembers the unexpected problems.
They had to admit that it is much easier and more efficient to have a team of game developers and to create games themselves while using their own tool.
“We have become a more traditional game development studio, although we use our own technology. We just realized that games are not only the main source of our revenue, but their creation is the greatest pleasure for us”.
Aim: to be the world’s best
TutoTOONS has offices in Vilnius and Kaunas and employs about 40 people. The main headquarters are not accidentally located in Kaunas: both founders of the company are true Kaunas residents, who once graduated from Kaunas “Saulės” gymnasium, and then Kaunas University of Technology (KTU). All five members of the first team have also graduated from this university. “This is definitely Kaunas’ strength proved by the success of our company,” says Mantas.
Currently, the company cooperates with both KTU and Vilnius Academy of Arts Kaunas Faculty: “As the number of jobs increases, the issue of team building is becoming more and more important, and it is especially difficult to find people with experience. But it’s natural. Therefore, our main principle is to train our own employees. We create opportunities for young, gifted people to learn, we organize mini-schools, invite for paid internships from which we select the best candidates and invite them to work with us, etc.”
At present, TutoTOONS product is mobile games for children, the audience consists of 4-12-year-olds, mostly girls. Like in all standard game development companies, the main business model is selling additional in-game content or in-game commercials.
Games created in this company are available worldwide on three major platforms: Apple App Store, Google Play and Amazon Appstore.
“At the moment, we are focused on countries with greater solvency. We can be pleased that in recent months more than half of our players were from the US. We export most of our products,” says the head of the company.
“We strive to be the best children game developers in the world. We are already competing with such world-class market leaders as Disney Mobile or Barbie. The best appraisal is happy players, and currently, we have more than 5 million of them. We try to ensure high-quality games which are aesthetic, evoke good emotions and educate children. Therefore, all of them consist of elements that belong to soft education and teach things that are very important: how to be friendly, to love your family, take care of nature, be bold and curious, and most importantly to be happy. In our games, we spread the values that are important to us as well.”
This year, the company plans to create even more exciting and innovative games for children, thus, the team will expand. The TutoTOONS invite game developers, graphic designers, data analysts, and proactive project managers to join their team.