The colourful world of HeyHey Apps

HeyHey Apps is a software company based in Ghent, Belgium who build fun, creative, educational apps for young children.

Embracing a simple philosophy that everything their make should be ‘beautiful, colourful and put a smile on faces’ they launched in 2012 with their first app HeyHey Colours becoming the most popular app in the Kids category in Belgium last year.

Two more apps followed – HeyHey Pix, a photo bomb app bursting with colourful doodles to add to your pics (just as much fun for adults as well as children), and game HeyHey Match. The team have just released ‘The Artist Series’ update for HeyHey Pix, bringing artwork by Mr Penfold, Sebastian Touache of Jeanspeiziel, News and Luca Lugosis to your finger tips – making this cool app even more addictive! Here we talk to the guys to find out more about the project, working together and where they get their ideas.

First up, can you tell us a little bit about yourselves, how the three of you met, where you studied and when you first became interested in app design?

We are Bué, Pieter and Stefan. Quickly describing us:  Bué is the artist, Pieter the Nerd and Stefan the Suit. We are all from Ghent in Belgium and have known each other for years. Stefan and Pieter have been working together in different companies for the past 11 years and Bué and Stefan have known each other since the nineties, growing up in Ghent. Pieter studied Computer Science, Bué is Ghent’s favourite street artist and Stefan studied graphical arts and digital media. Studying, that seems like a really long time ago.

Give a brief history of HeyHey Apps – how did the idea come about?

When you live in Ghent, you’re familiar with Bué – his colourful pieces are all over the city. When Stefan and his wife were pregnant with their first son, they asked Bué to paint his room. Bué did a great job and we started talking and we agreed to try and build a colouring book app. Pieter agreed if Bué agreed, et voilà. We started working on HeyHey Colours.

People interested in street art and illustration listen to our story – this is an opportunity to stand out from the crowd.

Explain the journey that led to you working for yourselves?

After developing HeyHey Colors in our spare time (while working full time) we quickly realised that we wouldn’t manage to realise a second project in our spare time – developing an app after working all day hours was just too much. We decided we wanted to try to build a business out of creating apps, and being in our mid thirties, we thought it’d be the right time to take the leap.

How challenging was it to build the app? Did you have any experience / skills in app development?

We didn’t! Pieter and Stefan worked for several software companies building B2B software, so we knew where to start and where to land and what to expect along the way. But we never made something close to an app. Pieter is great. He is a hardcore developer, always looking to learn new stuff. “Hey Pieter, maybe we could use this or that technology.” … the next day “Okay, what are we going to build with it”. We knew that with Bué’s drawing skills and Pieter’s developer skill we would be able to make an app, but the hardest part is finishing an app. It needs to be finished, as in 100% finished. In B2B software development, software needs to work, when developing apps, your app needs to be finished 100% from day 1, which is challenging and which is a different way of working.

Heyhey Pix by Heyhey Apps on Vimeo.

 Setting up a business can be expensive  – how did you fund the project?

We knew that if we wanted to start a business we would need two things, money and time, which are basically equal, so we needed one thing. We didn’t really know who to contact. We knew that one of the previous owners of a company we used to work for had become an investor. So we send an email to the ‘info at’ address and we met, and met again and a couple of months later we agreed on how much time we would get.

Were there any moments of doubt along the way as you were starting out? How did you overcome them?

Oh yes, there were and still are. We still have a long way to go. We are aware that we still need to learn a lot, that we haven’t build our best app, that we haven’t had the best idea ever. We are also convinced that the only way to get better is to continue working. Learning, exploring and that hopefully along the way we will run into that idea or that app that we are looking for.

Did you have previous experience running a business or did you learn on the job?

We didn’t. Our investor does, so if we have a question we can always consult his experience.

Have there been any particularly challenging moments along the way? What has been the most important lesson you have learnt?

Well the most challenging is to build a company that can be self providing, apart from that we just work and do our best. We are not the people to launch mantras, but we do believe in a ‘chaqu’un son métier’ approach. Everyone does what he does best and we avoid interfering. Pieter won’t say to Bué how he should design stuff and Bué won’t say to Pieter how elements in a game should interact. Of course we are open to one another and give our honest opinions, but we’ve seen so many people endlessly meeting about topics that are outside their field of expertise. That’s a waste of time.

How do you organise your work load? Describe your working process: What does a typical day look like?

After deciding what we want to create and roughly wire framing the screens we will need, Bué starts creating these screens. Bué is our designer. He starts by creating a world, a universe (at the moment we are working on a game). He creates different moods for levels, different characters, etc. Stefan takes these designs and translates them in whatever they need to be translated so Pieter can use them in the code. Nobody really knows what Pieter does, but it involves mathematics. Once a project is almost finished, Stefan transforms himself in a marketer and starts contacting what could be interesting publications for the project we made and hopes he finds people interested in our project.

The idea that people all over the world are using our apps which we built ourselves is a magical feeling.

Tell us a bit about your recent collaborations with Mr Penfold, Nicola Barrome, Sebastian Touache – are they all friends of yours?

For v2.0 of HeyHey Pix we thought, why not include work by other artists. Nicola Barrome, Sebastien Touache, Mr Penfold, News and Luca Lugosis are friends of Bué, and he loves their work. We decided to title v2.0 ‘The Artist Series’ which is currently submitted to Apple for review. It is a massive update. Not only can users now choose between the work of 6 great artists to doodlebomb their snapshots, but we can introduce these artists to our audience. We love what they do and we hope that the users of Heyhey Pix will learn to love them as well!

Let’s be honest, if you your kid is going to be colouring on the ipad, wouldn’t you prefer to have him colour work by some of the most inspiring artists from all over the world?

What role does social networking play in building awareness for your brand?

The importance is huge. We are working to build a business, we don’t have big marketing budgets to spend, so we need to build an audience in an organic way and that is a huge challenge. An advantage we have over let’s say a similar company is that Bué has already build an audience on different platforms that we can reach out to, but still, growing and reaching our audience is a huge challenge. We are from Belgium, which is a tiny tiny tiny market, we can reach our home market and are good in reaching markets as f.e. Mexico (where Bué is quite popular), but reaching a big market as f.e. the United States is something we are not good at for the moment. Then again, we noticed that not only blogs and sites talking about apps are interested in our story. People interested in street art and illustration listen to our story as well. This is an opportunity to stand out from the crowd. And let’s be honest, if you as a parent could have your kid colouring on the ipad, wouldn’t you prefer to have it colour work by some of the most inspiring artists from all over the world?

The good thing about being from Belgium, is that from day 1 you know you will have to work your way around other markets to make this business work, you should never lose focus of your home market, but we know we need to concentrate on other markets.

What are your main sources of inspiration?

No lack of sources of inspiration. First there is Bué’s work. Everything we do is based on his work. Happy, colourful, joyful, a bit naive, always positive. We have seen his work evolve and we evolve together with him. Bue knows his way around the streetart/illustrator world, he shares amazing stuff with us at the office. ‘Yo guys, check this guy from Mexico out.’ ‘Stefan, what do you think of this painting’ ‘Pieter, I am playing this game on my phone, check these backgrounds’ Then there is everybody’s interests.

We love playing games, we are part of that generation that grew up with games, we have been gaming for the past 30 years. Bué is a toy collector, Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Designer Toys, you name it, Bué is always surrounded by toys.

Pieter is a Mario fanboy. Don’t give him a Mario game or he won’t put it down before beating it. Stefan plays games with his 4 year old son on the 3DS and the iPad. Bué is a toy collector, Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Designer Toys, you name it, Bué is always surrounded by toys. And then there are the people we work with and the people around us. All our audio is created by the great guys from Auditheque, they always come up with the best sounds and they can bring our apps to a higher level.

What do you love most about what you do?

We love doing things, creating stuff. After a day’s work you can have such a great feeling, the feeling that you made progress, that something looks good, that you learned something new, that you discovered a way to run an app twice as fast on an iPhone 4s. Stuff like that. We avoid meetings. We decide everything we do in a couple of minutes, and then everyone goes to work. And we change a lot along the way. That’s the great part of being small, being able to actually make decision within the space of seven breaths! The idea that people all over the world are using our apps which we built ourselves is a magical feeling.

If you could got back in time and give yourself one piece of advice / change anything what would it be & why?

As for me personally (Stefan) … I should have waited another year before getting a new baby! #zombiemode Just kidding.

What are your hopes for the growth & development of the brand? Any new apps in development?

We hope that we can make our business work. We have tons of ideas, amazing people in our network that we love to talk to for future projects. We are currently working on two new apps and updates for Pix and Colors. Our new apps will be games, real games. That’s a first for us. One targeted at everyone who loves a game every now and then and the other targeted at kids based on the games we enjoyed most as children.

Buy HeyHey Pix, HeyHey Colours and HeyHey Match on the iTunes store – prices start at 69p.

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Posted on Apr 3rd, 14 by | Twitter: @lisahassell

Founder & director of Inkygoodness, Lisa is a published writer and arts journalist, focusing on creative business, graphic art and illustration and design education. Her words regularly appear in Computer Arts, Creative Bloq, Digital Arts and IdN.

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