Verena Pausder is Founder and CEO of Berlin-based Fox & Sheep, a leading digital publisher that works with authors and illustrators to create apps for kids. Felix Oldenburg sat down with Verena this week to discuss her work and next directions.
Ashoka: Verena, your mobile games company was bought by toy giant Haba a few months ago, and you are perhaps the best known entrepreneur in Germany focusing on parenting in the age of Angry Birds. What do you tell concerned parents faced with an accelerating world full of small screens?
Verena Pausder: It’s a real challenge, as we parents can’t relate to our own childhood when it comes to dealing with the digital world. What’s more, we don’t yet have long-term studies on development and learning in the digital age. So for now, we have to accept that the digital world is part of the lives of our children and look to the opportunities it brings. In order to be prepared, parents need educating for the digital age as much as our children do!
Ashoka: What is next for you personally after your apps hit the front page of the App Store – the equivalent of winning the Oscars in movies?
Pausder: That’s only the first step. It took us five years. Doing more of the same is great but also business as usual. Therefore, the next step is about developing better educational content that helps today’s children build the skills they need: it’s about turning children from consumers of the digital world into creators of the digital world. In fact, we are opening a digital lab in the next weeks in Berlin for kids to come up with their own applications, digital stories and games – drawing from their own real world experience. I want kids to say: ‘I designed this on my smartphone,’ not just ‘I played it.’
Ashoka: Why start in Germany? Other markets have more children, and more children in need.
Pausder: You’re right, it’s a global game. But I start where I am a parent. We have the first schools cooperating and parents bringing their kids. The next step is moving to our largest markets in Turkey, Russia, Japan, US. The beauty of creating digital content for learning is that you can provide it at zero marginal cost to anyone in the world once you have used your home market to finance and test the first implementation. Education used to be national. In this century, it’s global. Children from anywhere will be able to access our tools.
Ashoka: Do you see yourself as a social entrepreneur?
Pausder: Absolutely. This is not mainstream business yet, but the world changes quickly. I hope we won’t spend our whole lives in front of screens. I’m excited to use new tools for great causes. In Germany, we’re often more concerned with risks over opportunities and this holds back innovation, including innovation that benefits everyone and society as a whole. That said, topics like data security and protection are important and we have to solve them in order to give transparency and control to users. This is something Europe has to work together on to set a solid foundation for the future of the digital world.
Ashoka: You’re meeting new Ashoka Fellow Joerg Richert next week to help him think through applications for street children. What’s the potential here?
Pausder: Giving access to kids is so much easier in the digital world. Before, you needed to raise money to provide education to kids who could not afford it. Today, the marginal cost of extending education technology to disadvantaged user groups is zero. In a few years, I would love to hear a story about a refugee kid who came up with a world-changing idea that was only possible because she had access to digital education.
Ashoka: Your top three app recommendations for parents?
Pausder: I’d recommend Tynker for creative coding, Puppet Pals for making movies, and Pop for drawing on paper and telling digital stories.