FS Studio initially prototyped an mp3 download platform for iOS. The relationship has expanded to include back-end development, content migration, UI/UX design and e-commerce integration.
All products have gone to market while fulfilling the original vision. FS Studio's features are their most distinctive, powerful elements. The team's ability to deliver consistently excellent results, find innovative solutions and communicate effectively have made them a trusted long-term partner.
"They've been a great partner of ours, and my goal is to maintain that partnership going forward."
Please describe your company.
I work for a company called LeapFrog Enterprises. What we do is produce educational hardware, software, and toys for kids anywhere between the ages of six months and eight years old.
What is your role and responsibilities?
I am the vice president of global content development. My job and my team's job is to produce all the content that goes out into the world with the LeapFrog name on it, whether it's producing physical books or the content that goes on our toys, or digital apps and games for our proprietary platforms, or for Apple, Android, or Amazon devices.
Could you describe the business challenge that you were trying to address with FS Studio?
The first thing that they were working on for us was refreshing the look and functionality of our developer studio website. Because we produce a lot of our products ourselves, from the hardware and software perspective, we maintain a developer portal that serves as an archive of documents, SDK [software development kit] versions and things like that, that our developers have access to. It had gotten outdated, and the FS Studio guys were brought in at first to refresh the look and feel, add some new functionality there, make it look a little bit more modern, and add some more modern functionality to it. That was our original work with them, and then quickly it blossomed into lots of different kinds of projects, and they've been a valued partner of ours for several years now.
Please describe the scope of their work in detail.
One of the first things they did for us after the developer studio website was build a prototype for us to download mp3 files for the audio jack on Apple and Android devices. So, we have a line of plushes called Scout, and Scout has connected features where you can personalize the plush with your child's name, favorite food, favorite color, and things like that. It had been dependent upon a PC client for doing all of that, for handling the connection between the device and the customization.
What we wanted to do was make that a little bit more nimble and provide the same functionality, but for mobile devices. Some members of our internal engineering teams had doubted that it was a viable solution. FS put together a nice prototype for us to show that it was a viable solution, and that's the way that we have ended up connecting that particular product and maintaining the feature set, while adding this new functionality.
From there it has grown into lots of different things. In time, they have developed a really clear understanding of our proprietary software, proprietary firmware, and they have done some really integrative core technology development for us. Last year, we worked on a product called LeapTV, which was a home gaming console designed for young kids, and one of the features of LeapTV was that it had a camera attached to it. We wanted to use the camera for a couple of different things. One, for allowing the kid to become the star of the show, putting the kid within the game content itself. Then, we also wanted to use it to provide some light tracking, so that we could turn our controller into a wand essentially, and make kids be able to use that as a baseball bat, or a sword, or whatever. FS built what we ended up calling LS Vision, which was basically that functionality for our hardware. On top of that, they also helped pitch it. When we were starting to get behind last year on LeapTV, FS brought in additional engineering resources to help shore up our internal firmware efforts.
We've been working with them for the last year or so on a tool that allows us to take all of our proprietary firmware-based content, which we call Brio, and port it over to Android. They've built a porting solution for us that allows us to take basically whatever components of our library that we want, and put them in an Android environment or a new tablet that we're working on. So, they've really gotten involved in some high-risk and high-reward products for us, which showed a great level of technical capacity and technical innovation.
The custom development they've been doing for us would have been largely on the Web, and then moving into Brio development for our devices. They modified OpenTV to produce LS Vision, and then now working in Android and building an Android analog of our SDK to enable the Android porting layer that they've been working on for us.
They are also building some software for us as well. We've got what we call reward stores on all of our platforms, and FS has built the store itself handling the transactions as well as developing the user interface (UI). So, they are now moving beyond pure engineering and into UI/UX [user interface/user experience] and interactive content for us.
How did you come to choose FS Studio?
The head of our developer services team had known Tim Martin [CEO at FS Studio], and reached out to him when we started to work at refreshing our developer portal. The work they did there was excellent. Because what we do is so specialized, and because a lot of our software and hardware is so specialized, having somebody who knows how things work and being able to go back to them repeatedly as a partner is incredibly valuable to us. As our aspirations and ambitions grow for what we want to do every year, we need to reach out more and more often to outside service providers. Having somebody who knows how you work and who they're working with intimately, makes the selection process on vendors so much easier, especially when they deliver so consistently.
Could you provide a general cost estimate for this engagement?
I don't know off the top of my head. It really varies by product.
How long have you been working with them?
The relationship with them has been ongoing for about three or four years at this point.
Could you share any statistics, metrics or user feedback that would demonstrate the quality of their performance?
What I would point to is the fact that these platforms exist at all. The fact that LeapTV made it into the marketplace last year, with all of the functionality that we had wanted it to have, is a testament to not only their raw development ability but also the teamwork and collaboration that they bring to their projects, the level of communication that they bring to their projects. LeapTV especially was a really challenging project, and their role in it was so central to the success of the platform. The fact that it's in the marketplace, I think, is a testament to their skills. It was an ambitious undertaking and we couldn't have done it without them.
The one that we're about to hopefully wrap up in the next few weeks, they're essentially providing the entire content library through the construction of this porting tool. We're doing some native Android development for some content, but the vast majority of the content that will be available to customers is being provided via the service that FS is producing for us. So, again, we wouldn't even have a functional platform if not for their efforts.
In terms of internal stakeholders, the fact that we've continued to go back to FS for repeated work, and not just more of the same, but with increasing complexity in each project, shows that they have earned our trust and delivered as they've promised. They are also now working with more than one team within LeapFrog. They are working with my team, the global content development team, but they are also now supporting out internal engineering teams in a couple of different capacities. They've built trust outside of my department within LeapFrog, so that's a great sign for them.
I think in terms of customers interacting with FS's work, you have to look at some of the reviews for LeapTV and look at the marketing material for LeapTV, the best feature on the platform, the camera-based gaming, the games where kids themselves become the center of the action. That was all through FS Studio. It's really the most compelling feature of the platform, and that's all their work.
From a project management perspective, they've been superb. When issues have emerged, it's rarely been their fault. It's usually because of internal issues here at LeapFrog, complications that we've created. What I can count on is that they will always communicate clearly about where they are, they will always take their dates extremely seriously, and they will always drive to deliver on time and on budget. In cases where things have lagged, it has not been their responsibility.
In hindsight, are there areas in which you think they could improve as a service provider, or are there certain things you'd do differently as the client if given the chance?
No. I have a great amount of respect and admiration for the work that they do, for their willingness to dive in and find solutions, for their ability to communicate on increasingly complex technology endeavors, and their desire to get the work done with such a high level of quality. They've been a great partner of ours, and my goal is to maintain that partnership going forward.
What advice, if any, would you give a future client of theirs?
With anybody, I think it's all about having clear expectations upfront, a really clear scope of work, making sure that you have skilled folks on your side who are responsible for managing the engagement with FS, so that FS can do their best work. We've been working with them for so long, and everything has always turned out well for us. Just make sure the lines of communication are open and that the scope of work is clear and understood.