Kids and tech is a hot topic for us parents. So we put our questions to G-Jay Yong, dad of one and founder of kids' tech brand myFirst, to get the lowdown on all things tech...
G-Jay has always been a high flyer in tech, working as a ghost designer for a whole host of brands (think Walmart, Tesco) before starting his first company, Oaxis Asia, in 2010. But the arrival of his daughter took his career in a different direction. Alongside his founding team, who were also becoming dads, G-Jay was suddenly exposed to the world of kids tech, or as he discovered – lack of it. We caught up with G-Jay to find out how he turned this into an opportunity, as well as quiz him on the dilemmas we, as parents, regularly face with tech (screentime being one). Here’s what G-Jay had to say…
Hi G-Jay! Let’s start with how myFirst came about – can you tell us what inspired you to switch to kids tech?
It was down to my daughter. She was two, and I was using my DSLR camera to take pictures with her. Toddlers being toddlers, she was keen to use it too. But at 2kg, it was way too heavy (and expensive!). So I started to look for a kid-friendly camera. And then came the problems – there was nothing out there, only toy equivalents. That’s when the team started to think about creating a kids version and starting myFirst.
How has being a dad influenced your designs? Although your daughter is only six, does she get involved?
The team’s kids are the product managers for sure (read: bosses!). For example, they help us choose the colours and have challenged our preconceptions. For instance, the whole notion of boys picking blue; they’ve actually been opting for red, yellow and orange. The kids also get to try out the products and are pretty honest with feedback! When my daughter does like something, though, she’s pretty enthusiastic. One of her favourite products is the myFirst Voice microphone; she even takes it to bed with her!
We all worry about the dangers of tech for our kids, such as too much screen time – what advice would you give to parents?
The safety of products is so important and can often be overlooked. We can focus on screen time, cyberbullying and social media, but don’t forget the physical products in the first place. Every electronics product has some form of radiation and should be robustly tested, but unfortunately, standards differ from country to country. It could also be things like functionality. For instance, many headphones are made for users aged 15 years and over, and the volume isn’t suitable and can be dangerous for younger listeners.
Is tech part of life now for our kids?
In my opinion, tech is unavoidable. We should think about using tech to improve and enhance play; it doesn’t have to be negative. For instance, our Sketch Book doesn’t have an LCD screen, so although you have the benefits of saving the images, avoiding paper mountains etc., you don’t need to worry about the effect on the eyes.
With the average age of getting a smartphone being as young as seven, what age should we introduce our children to technology, and how should we do it?
Our team actually have really different views on this, interestingly! I’ve always believed that you can introduce tech from an early age but that this is done gradually. For instance, starting off with only 30 minutes access to technology a day where I’m involved and introducing the technology initially. Now my daughter is older (6 years-old), she can access tech independently, although the time is still limited. But we actually find that she wants to play with us, and this is more exciting than playing with tech on her own.
A colleague takes quite a different view on tech and, until recently, hasn’t really allowed tech for his kids. This has backfired a little in Covid-19 times, where he’s had to resort to tech for HBL. Because the kids aren’t used to it, they become more obsessed with it. It’s almost better to have access in moderation, and then it becomes a norm, rather than no access and then it’s almost craved.
What makes myFirst different from other tech brands out there?
Typically there’s two types of tech products – toy brands and tech designed for adults. Toys are usually designed, and the electronic or technical element is an afterthought, for instance adding lights, so it’s often simplistic. At the same time, adult tech products are too complicated. At myFirst, we’ve taken tech products and stripped them back to make them suitable for kids. For example, a camera – making it light and durable, simple and easy to use, yet still having the functionality of a camera, rather than just a pretend toy.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
We’ve actually been fortunate. On a personal level, it’s meant I’ve been able to spend more time with my family. In terms of the business, sales have gone up due to home-based learning. And we’ve had some really proud moments with our watch phone being ranked number one in Singapore. On the flip side, we haven’t grown our sales overseas as much because travel isn’t an option.
We can imagine running your own business and being a dad is busy – how do you manage it?
Time management is key. Luckily, as the rest of the team at myFirst have kids, it really helps. We all try and make it home for dinner, even if it means we have to catch up on work later. We also dedicate weekends to family time. When we could travel, we’d go on research trips, and the family would come too. You’d get inspiration in the strangest of places. For instance, our headphones came from watching my daughter trying to use the in-plane earphones on a flight. They didn’t work at all, and it got me thinking about a kid-friendly solution.
How is Father’s Day celebrated in your family?
What activities do you enjoy as a family?
We’ve really got into baking over the pandemic – a favourite is cookies! We also like trying out different science experiments like the lemon volcano. We go outdoors and exercise together – we’re into cycling at the minute. My daughter is pretty artistic as well, so we might do some drawing together, and she’ll probably put on a concert for us as she loves performing!
The final piece of advice for parents when it comes to tech?
I’d say don’t be afraid to embrace technology, but at the same time consider safety when picking any electronic toy, not just smartphones or tablets. If you see an electronic product that’s really cheap and think it’s too good to be true, it probably is!
Thanks so much, G-Jay!