Jocelyn Leavitt: CEO & co-founder of Hopscotch
What brought you to the name Hopscotch?
Hopscotch is a programming language that can be used to create games. We originally built this as a programming language for girls. While we were thinking about our company’s name, Hopscotch stood out because it seemed really unintimidating; it’s a game that you actually make yourself. You draw these blocks and progress through them.
What makes Hopscotch unique?
There are 1000s and 1000s of programming languages out there. Most coding languages are typed but there are only a handful of programming languages out there that aren’t typed and Hopscotch is one of them. Hopscotch is a visual programming language, so when you are building something in Hopscotch you are actually coding.
How did you meet your co-founder?
My co-founder Sam and I met at this event organized by a mutual friend four years ago. We got along well, so we continued to hang out after the event. We realized we wanted to build a company together after we kept hacking on side projects.
What were you working on before launching Hopscotch?
We were working on a side project to create a toy designed to help engineering appeal to girls when I had the idea for Hopscotch. At first, we thought it was too hard and we didn’t really pursue it. After working on that side project, we returned to our [initial] idea and got really excited about the potential for building a mobile programming language with all the mobile devices [out there].
How did you come up with the idea for Hopscotch?
How long did you work on Hopscotch as your side hustle before working on it full-time?
We worked on it for over a year. You have to work out your idea as a side project at first; I don’t know anyone who didn’t work on startup as a side project before launching full-time. Or if they did, they were an entrepreneur before. Even then, I know some really successful entrepreneurs who had some companies before and started their new company as a side hustle.
What were your goals when you first started Hopscotch?
When we first started, I knew that I wanted to build a big company with sustained impact. Even though part of our mission was to increase accessibility to programming, I didn’t come from a programming background -- I’m not an engineer. I felt like I was a smart person and I wanted to learn how to make things without setting up an environment and learning how to speak in a very specific programming syntactically heavy language. I figured there had to be a lot of other people out there like me that wanted to build stuff who would get captivated by solving the problem using a visual language like Hopscotch. If you have an idea [then] it’s super empowering to be able to say, “I can make that myself.”
How did people initially find out about Hopscotch?
For a long time prior to the release, we worked on the product. We blogged regularly. We tweeted at people. We tried to build some word of mouth anticipation about Hopscotch and got a lot of press.
To what would you attribute your early success?
Sam and I both decided early on that this was what we were going to do and we didn’t really give ourselves a deadline (i.e., if we didn’t finish it by this date, then we would stop). We were both working on Hopscotch part-time and financially bootstrapping it ourselves. We both thought, we’re going to keep working on it until it’s ready -- until we’re ready to go. And so we did. We raised money, paid ourselves to work on it full-time and hired a team.
Hopscotch is geared towards people ages 8 to ∞. Do you see a difference between how children use Hopscotch and adults?
It’s actually pretty similar. We made Hopscotch look a little bit young when we first released. That was a mistake we made early on. What ended up happening that a lot of people pigeonholed us into a niche for really little kids when in fact there’s nothing intrinsically young about coding itself.
How is Hopscotch potentially altering kid’s career paths?
I think that Hopscotch is exposing kids, especially kids who might not have exposure, to programming. I think the upper class, nerdy white boys will be okay. But if you look at people who don’t fall in that particular description, those people might not have been exposed to something like Hopscotch. They are now exposed to the idea that they have the power to create their own stuff and build their own software. That’s deeply powerful. Just knowing that you can do it, and knowing that programming is actually fun.
Are people learning other programming languages after Hopscotch?
We hear about kids who start off in Hopscotch then go out and try other programming languages. What we learned from them is that they like Hopscotch the best because you can use it to do the most in the shortest amount of time.. We suspect some of our users will eventually graduate on to typed programming languages. But we also see a lot of other users who like Hopscotch and want to stay on Hopscotch.
What’s your favorite game on Hopscotch?
It changes all the time. Right now, there’s a really great game that’s called Colored Matching Dots. It’s a great game that somebody made where you have to figure how to make the color by matching different dots.
What problem do you face with Hopscotch today and how are you going about solving that?
A big problem that we face is that it is very hard to experience Hopscotch if you don’t have an iPad. We are solving that by building a webplayer. If somebody builds a Hopscotch game in the app, another person will be able to play the game in a browser. Another big technical challenge is that we ultimately need to be on phones. Even looking at how the iPad’s screen is so much smaller than your typical computer screen, it’s a challenge to figure out how to fit all the complexity onto a phone.
How have you used your Ivy network?
Not very much right now. I do meet a lot of local friends who are founders. When I first started, DEN [Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network] didn’t really exist.
What do you think is missing in the startup world that you wish existed for Hopscotch?
I’m actually very happy with the community in New York. It’s big enough to be vital and a lot of interesting stuff happening and companies of every size here. But it’s not so big that all anybody ever talks about is technology startups. New York is such a dynamic place precisely because there’s so many different industries here.
What’s Hopscotch’s mantra?
You need persistence and grit. It’s true if you’re a Hopscotch user or part of the Hopscotch team. And this is one of the things that learning programming teaches you. Nobody is going to get it right the first time if they’re trying to make a game. They’re always going to find mistakes and bugs. Programming teaches you how to persist even in the face of repeated failure. You just have to believe that there is a solution and try a lot of different ways. Sam and I felt this way when we started the company; we’re going to figure out how to make it work. Maybe it’ll take us a long time, but we know that there is something here. We know it’s something that’s deeply interesting. We have a strong product market for what we’re building and now it’s just about continuing to grow and further refine our product.
Is there anything that you wish you would have known starting out?
I wish I had known that regardless of the advice you receive, you will always make mistakes. You just have to live through the experience and try to build resilience into the DNA of your company. The best way to avoid making mistakes is to go find other founders who are a little bit ahead of you who already took on that phase of their company. These experienced founders can give you advice about what to do. And don’t just take one person’s advice -- find at least three people and ask for advice. If their advice all lines up, follow it.
Where do see your company going in the next ten years?
Hopscotch has so much potential. It’s really exciting when you think of where we could go. If you look at these mobile devices; everybody has them. They’re more powerful than the computers were when I was in high school. We see Hopscotch as an innovative solution to interact and build interactive software using a mobile device that’s mobile first -- making it something that anybody can do.
Any last points?
Again, I’m not an engineer. But if you can program in Hopscotch, can you code? You could say yes because I can build some really complex things in Hopscotch. Does that make me a coder? Yeah, maybe. Maybe so.
Thanks Jocelyn for the interview! We can't wait to see what Hopscotch is up to next! .::Ivy Startup Mag::.