Innovation That Matters

Wise Words with Jonas Gam and Peder Burgaard

Wise Words

Award-winning entrepreneurs Jonas Gam and Peder Burgaard share the thinking behind their interactive swing — Son-X Octavia.

We’ve come across many innovations that seek to enliven mundane, everyday tasks; however, it’s rare that we see a business venture that aims to improve on leisure pursuits that are already much-enjoyed. That, however, is exactly what entrepreneurs Jonas Gam and Peder Burgaard set their minds to with the idea for Son-X Octavia, a device that encourages children to treat their playtime as a chance to complete stimulating challenges. The Son-X Octavia can be attached to play equipment, emitting the sound of applause in order to motivate children — for example, a device attached to a swing will play applause sounds each time the child swings higher.

Founders of hardware design for kids company, playITsound, Jonas and Peder both studied for a Masters in Information Studies at Aarhus University, Denmark. While they were studying they came up with a plan for their first product — an interactive swing, which won the university Professors Critics Award and which later evolved into the Son-X Octavia. Jonas led the company after it received a nomination for the PriceWaterhouseCooper Growth Bubble award 2009, and Peder has advised international companies in his role as Chief Analyst with the Trends and Technology Group. We put our questions to Jonas and Peder to find out how Son-X Octavia first got off the ground.

1. Where did the idea for the Son-X Octavia come from?

PB: The basic concept of sound dependent on motion originated from a university project in 2004. We kept the idea alive during the university years and found a commercial partner in 2010 to develop the idea in its current form. JG: In a kindergarten playground. Watching kids play, which is a “dynamic” pattern. Watching playground equipment, which often is a “passive pattern”, combined with a children’s record I had. On the album, my siblings and I heard the story of a talking lion. Combining these inputs in an almost unconscious moment gave the idea for a “talking swing”. Since that, a lot of new inputs and people have shaped the direction and finally, we got it done, together with our designer Henrik and electro developer Asbjorn, our play researcher Helle and the playground manufacturer HAGS.

2. Can you describe a typical working day?

PB: As the Son-X Octavia has just launched, there are lots of sales meetings. Plus we need to keep developing audio content for the next batches of Son-X Octavia. JG: I get up around 7-7:30 am. Often I have some ideas/things I forgot to do/must do now things. I give my girlfriend a kiss, hurry, start the mind map on the iPad or the calendar on the iPhone and get things noted down. During the day I normally do coordination-communication, administration and support for marketing. The intensity of each “theme” changes a lot from time to time. During the afternoon-evening I try to do as much concept development and research different phenomenon I deem important for us. I must admit sometimes it is not a straight road, and it often leads to other things than first intended.

3. How do you unwind or relax when you’re not working on the Son-X Octavia?

PB: I relax to BBC documentaries on design, history, culture, astronomy, physics, biology, neuro-science, behavioral-science etc. Those shows display truly amazing people and insights into emerging science. JG: I listen to a lot of relaxing music, such as Boards of Canada and Massive Attack — it gets me into a dreamy mode…. It sometimes leads to more ideas.

4. What’s the secret ingredient to success as an entrepreneur?

PB: Stay positive and believe in yourself and your idea! JG: Stamina, act morally, reflect and never go too far with thoughts of “This will never succeed”. Go wild but always keep a certain organization for your activities. Plus always keep track of your expenses, so if needed you can react in good time before you end up in a deep black hole of despair. A simple spreadsheet will do the trick.

5. What drove you crazy when building your business?

PB: The long investment process as a first-time startup. Plus the process of shaping the concept of motion dependent sound into the correct form. We have had many prototypes during the years.JG: “It’s a great idea, but no” but at the same time it gave me the desire to go one further. We had something and I felt this was too good to let go.

6. What motivates you to keep going?

PB: The positive feedback from friends, family and professionals. In the early stages of the concept development not everyone understood the market potential but they always gave thumbs-up for the idea of stimulating more physical activity for kids in a Nintendo Wii kind-of-way. JG: The people who have helped out. Many as volunteers and others worked after office hours.

7. If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

PB: If I were to start another company, I think I would start with a better understanding of shaping the form much earlier and be less experimental. JG: Spend less time looking for funding from various organizations and instead focus on the prototyping and take that to potential investors instead of presentations of what might be one day.

8. Where do you see your business in five years, and how will you get there?

PB: In five years time the computerised playground market will have matured and that brings lots of new possibilities. Hard work, a positive attitude and being nice to people will make us successful. JG: More products, broader integration with kids’ everyday digital life. Finding the right people is what will get us there.

9. If you weren’t working on the Son-X Octavia, what would you be doing?

PB: I would really like to become part of the Copenhagen Suborbital team. Peter Madsen is running a DIY manned space flight operation from an old factory here in Copenhagen. They have made great progress and have multiple test flights this summer. Stay tuned for Denmark becoming the fourth nation to accomplish manned space flight. JG: : Erm, it is my life. I enjoy what I am doing. Perhaps something in the line of organic food… I have promised my girlfriend that I someday will supply Copenhagen with locally grown organic carrots.

10. Tell Springwise a secret…

PB: There is no original idea (as everything emerges from inspiration). JG: Just did – the carrot thing.

11. Any final words for aspiring entrepreneurs?

PB: Study your everyday life and surroundings and find the one need not being met. That is your opportunity. JG: Do it, after a while you cannot live without it. Be kind and sincere and you will find help from many people, all the people you need to succeed. And understand when you succeed it was a team effort that got you there, not you alone.

You can read more about Son-X Octavia here, or visit the Son-X Octavia website here.