Every entrepreneur finds a problem and then builds a company to fix it. Sometimes the solution is an app that really only fixes a “problem” in an entertaining way. Sometimes the solution actually creates a problem — like the invention of search creating the difficult problem of finding people you don’t know you need to know. But with Let’s Play Please this is not one of those times.
Mariela Bertorelli Santori, a BizSpark entrepreneur originally from Argentina, created Let’s Play Please, she says, to provide “a virtual way to bring families closer using technology, so they can play and engage in a real and meaningful way even when they are not in the same place.” For anyone with family in far-off places (we know several BizSpark members who are traveling for months out of the year!), this definitely fulfills a need. The app is being built on Skype and Santori says that support from the Skype dev team has been “incredible.”
Mariela Bertorelli Santori, Founder, Let’s Play Please™
We asked her to answer some questions about her personal journey, and to tell us more about the app.
BizSpark: Tell us who you are and your role in the company:
Mariela Bertorelli Santori: Founder and CEO
BizSpark: What did you do before creating your company?
Mariela Bertorelli Santori: I was an entrepreneur even before I knew what the word meant. As a child growing up in my native country of Argentina I used to knit sweaters, make bracelets and create iconic home décor from recyclable materials selling them to local stores. At age 15, when I needed a high-end calculator for school, I sold layaway accounts for a local appliance store. And when I worked at Oasis International, an import/export company in Washington D.C., I talked my employer into expanding his business to start importing Argentine beef to the U.S. The move proved lucrative. I went door to door, signing up restaurants to receive the beef. When I got 50 restaurants on board, a national distributor signed with us. We eventually began selling to the nationwide Whole Foods Grocery chain. After the U.S. began restricting beef imports, I left the company to found my own import/export company, Tyerra LLC. From handmade pens made by a couple in Milan, foam puppets created in a town in Argentina, to branded cubes made in China and U.S. plastics for Visa and MasterCard credit cards, I’ve imported and exported various products all over the world. I’ve been working in private sales and manufacturing market for the last 20 years.
BizSpark: How did you get the idea for your company?
Mariela Bertorelli Santori: My daughter loves to have playtime with my parents. But they live in Argentina and we live in Chicago. We bridged the distance with Skype but we couldn’t keep her in video conference for more than few seconds before she’d wiggle her way out of my lap and back to her playroom. This scenario happened again and again with my extended family. From my nieces in Ecuador, to my husband’s family in Philadelphia, we all struggled to make the most out of our video chats together. Still, I was determined find a way for my daughter to engage in a meaningful way with our extended family. We were separated by miles but together in our hearts. Trying many different options, one day my parents started drawing scenes on paper and showing them to my daughter through the video chat screen. Viola! She began paying attention. She wanted to do more video chats because she was finally engaged. I scoured the Internet, looking for preschool activities that could leverage the video chat platform. I could only find games for older children or activities that didn’t take into account language barriers. That’s when Let’s Play Please™ was born.
BizSpark: Tell us about your funding history. Are you currently looking for funding? If so, how much?
Mariela Bertorelli Santori: So far I’ve been bootstrapping Let’s Play Please™ and have not used any outside funding. As our user base grows I can foresee needing funding to help support our application and create new, engaging activities.
BizSpark: How many employees do you have? How many developers?
Mariela Bertorelli Santori: We have five people in our team, three of whom are developers. At this point we can say that we are so happy with the team we have. Without each of them this challenge wouldn’t be possible.
BizSpark: Are you hiring? If yes, what are you hiring for and where?
Mariela Bertorelli Santori: Right now, we are considering to recruit high school and college students from the Chicago area to be part of our creative environment here at Let’s Play Please™.
BizSpark: Where do you see opportunities today in the Software/Internet area?
Mariela Bertorelli Santori: Online and digital engagement opportunities that go back to basics as well as applications that simplify our lives. Projects that keep it simple and real.
BizSpark: What do you think about the BizSpark Program?
Mariela Bertorelli Santori : BizSpark Program is a great opportunity. Are you kidding me? I am talking with MICROSOFT! Please pinch me!
BizSpark: Do you have any advice for young Software entrepreneurs?
Mariela Bertorelli Santori: Dream. Try. Do it. Enjoy the process. Connect, connect, connect.
BizSpark: Who’s your role model?
Mariela Bertorelli Santori: Mi mamá y mi papá.
BizSpark: What’s the ONE THING you would like readers to take away from this interview?
Mariela Bertorelli Santori: Even when you think that everything was invented, you will discover something that will surprise you!