Following the Success of Wake, Toronto’s Tiny Hearts Looks to New Challenges

Posted by Joseph Czikk

Following the creation of three successful apps, Toronto-based software studio Tiny Hearts is looking towards what should be a plentiful summer and fall.  

Tiny Hearts’ last release was Wake, the popular alarm clock that had both users and bloggers raving about its ease-of-use and its sleek design. CEO Robleh Jama said the team is looking towards larger milestones, involving the health, gaming and education spaces.

“Some ideas are much bigger than what we’ve done and eventually we want to tackle those problems, like literacy,” said Jama, 31. “But those types of ideas might require funding. We’ll see.”

If there’s one studio that we can trust to come out with another award-winning app it might be these guys. Tiny Hearts’ recent success, and specifically Jama’s, is no surprise to Aron Solomon, an advisor to the MaRS Discovery District’s Education Innovation department. The former cofounder of Think Global School called Jama one of the best people he’s met.

“I have this crazy belief that really great human beings who work intelligently and very hard get good results. Rob is one of them,” said Solomon. “He’s had so many opportunities to take money and instead he’d rather build something really good for a really good person, than take the cash.”

Located in the Digital Media Zone of Ryerson University, Tiny Hearts has slowly but surely generated buzz. It helps when apps like 2010’s Pocket Zoo rose to the top educational app overall, or when 2012’s InstaMatch attracted over half a million downloads. The three apps have combined for over a million downloads.

Pocket Zoo garnered so much traction that the team built an iPad app for it in 2011. Created for both young and old, the app replicates a trip to the zoo: users can look at a zoo map, select any animal exhibit and get up-close and personal with pictures and sounds. The animal videos option was an obvious choice to make, but Tiny Hearts took it one step further by actually adding the “live cam” option where users can watch live video of zoo animals streaming from anywhere in the world. At one point the app was among the top 50 apps of any category.

InstaMatch was built a year after Pocket Zoo and achieved significant traffic. Building off of users’ own Instagram photos, the app was a modernized take on the classic memory game. “We took the API, mashed it up and made a memory game with a twist,” said Jama. Users can also use other Instagram photos using hashtags, such as photos of animals, cities or food.

With Wake, the studio’s goal was to modernize the alarm for iOS, taking inspiration “from minimal interfaces like the original iPod click wheel, the Nest thermostat, Clear for iPhone and the iconic Braun alarm clocks designed by Dieter Rams. Solomon believed that it was bound to be successful all along.

“He had a number one app in Pocket Zoo in the education space and then he goes out mostly to generate revenue and builds the wake app, and its gold,” said Solomon. “I think they’re really talented and I think they’ve approached things the right way, which is why they’ve been successful.”

The born-and-bred native of Scarborough, Jama broke into the tech scene as a student at York University when he created Sneakerplay in 2006. Sneakerplay was a social network devoted to sneakers, in a time when MySpace had yet to meet its inevitable downfall.

“It was an invite-only niche social network for people who were really into the sneaker culture back then and it got a lot of buzz,” said Jama. “I focused on that site for three years and we got Nike and Adidas and all these brands to support us. That was my first foray into entrepreneurship.”

Jama sold the site in 2009 and moved into a “different phase” of his life, to child-centric and educational apps. The different phase came in the form of his marriage and the birth of his first daughter. Jama was about to become a dad and he had “an idea of starting the company, but basing the first product on kids product.”

The inspiration for the name Tiny Hearts would come from his soon to be born daughter. “We used to go to the midwives to listen to our babies’ heartbeat and I thought that was the best part of going, listening to this tiny heartbeat,” said Jama.

The experience went along with the philosophy he was trying to form Tiny Hearts around, about making products that users “heart."

"It’s what we’re aiming to do and what we’ve accomplished over the few apps we’ve made,” he said.

Now the bootstrapped company is looking towards a summer of development. In the pipeline is another educational game for kids, geared towards those in kindergarten to second grade. One of their newer apps will come out on iOS 7, once Apple’s new operating system is released this fall.

It’s a safe bet that people like Solomon are expecting nothing less than another great app.

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Joseph Czikk

Joseph Czikk

Joey Czikk is a freelance writer based in Montreal, where he did his graduate studies in journalism at Concordia University. His work has appeared in OpenFile Montreal, Fundica.com's blog and the Westmount Examiner. He also has a passion for radio, having hosted a music show on CFRU 93.3 FM while completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph. A sports nut, Joey often goes... more



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