I was chatting with a computer science PhD friend a few months ago and she said something that struck me. She said that anyone can be a great programmer, you just need the 3Cs, 1) computer, 2) command-line, and 3) composure. And I thought this helps explain why many students of programming are confused by the sustained failure of their attempts to talk to a machine. I am guilty of being impatient myself and have asked my developer friends on multiple occasions “Why can’t coding become a drag-and-drop type of an exercise w/ some instant gratification thrown in?” and “Why not code on the supercomputer all of us carry in our pockets all the time?”
Enter Hopscotch. They seem to have answered my questions. I don’t see Hopscotch a la a Codecademy or Khan Academy, because as good as those companies are their coding UX is commoditized. I see potential in Hopscotch to become a highly engaged community of coding enthusiasts, something that will be very hard for competitors to replicate.
My two favorite games growing up were Dangerous Dave and Prince of Persia. I was obsessed. That would have probably been a great time to get me hooked onto developing similar games and teaching core coding concepts in the process. Hopscotch unfortunately wasn’t around when I was 10 but today young people use their mobile block-based app to easily program games and software. Each week, their users publish over 100K projects that are played over 2MM times. Seen through the lens of my friends’ comments, it is a great user engagement plan to target a young audience in the 21st century – mobile only, drag & drop interface, instant artisanal indie games, all to democratize the coding experience.
Why should parents and schools be enthusiastic about using Hopscotch to teach kids programming? When I was growing up, we were told to reduce our time playing games on computers and focus instead on analog activities. But we should have been maybe told the opposite. Games are a great way to prepare kids for the future. A future where communicating with machines will be a reality. Creating games is as hard as it gets when it comes to computer programming and is a great way to activate both left and right brain.
Hopscotch’s CEO and co-founder is Jocelyn Leavitt who has been working on this full time for ~3 years. The CTO and co-founder is Samantha John who has been full-time for ~5 years. Looks like a good combination of tech and business chops. I am also psyched that Jocelyn shares my alma mater (Go Big Green!). It appears that both co-founders share a passion for teaching and that that passion has culminated in Hopscotch.
The K-12 education market is huge in the US (~$650B I read somewhere). It will be interesting to see how much of that is addressable and then further capturable for Hopscotch. The obvious routes seems to be partnership with forward thinking traditional schools, tutors, and new concepts like AltSchool. Another great avenue will be parents (the oldest millennial cohort) who work at the largest tech companies and appreciate the product and its impact intuitively. From the outside, I’d love to see Hopscotch launch an Android app quick on the heels of the recent iPhone app launch. The revenue model seems to be based on in-app purchases currently but might need experimenting with subscription and/or ad based, for example. This is where partnerships will certainly help.
The near term challenge will be to figure out a way to not alienate the innovators who typically demand powerful features and balance this request against the need to cater the product towards new users. Eliminating the urge to be many things to many audiences will get the company to profitability. Prioritization will be everything in the goal to profitability, customer feedback coupled with company values will inform these priorities.
I am super excited about Hopscotch and will be watching them do great things in the computer programming education space.