Thijs Bosma (37) started a games studio in the Chinese megacity of Chengdu in 2012. Today, the Chinese-Dutch company is world-famous for its Dr. Panda Kids Games series. Bosma wants to turn Dr. Panda into a worldwide brand. The Chengdu-based company is working on a Dr. Panda TV animations series and on the production of innovative toys that seamlessly work together with the apps.
Dr. Panda is a famous series of tablet games for young children aged 3 to 8 years old. The global success of the apps – Dr. Panda has been downloaded from app stores 65 million times – started in Sichuan’s IT city. Dr. Pandas Supermarket, Dr. Pandas Animal Hospital, Dr. Panda's Restaurant and the other dozens of titles are the backbone of the game company in the metropolis of Chengdu in central China.
The adventure began in early 2012 with $ 750,000 funding from venture investors. Within eight months the games studio had become profitable. With a staff of 52, the studio launches a new game almost every two months. “Our games cost $ 2 or 1.79 euros. We deliberately choose a paid game strategy, as our target audience is too young for a 'freemium' model in which the game is free and game elements must be bought separately.”
30 apps range
With a range of over 30 Dr. Panda apps on the shelf, the series is far from complete. Different from apps such as Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga that stay roughly the same but get updated all the time, we choose to launch new episodes in a series. In one game, Dr. Panda is a doctor, in the next he is a fire fighter or a chef. To keep the momentum, frequent launches with new apps and adventures are essential to keep a child’s attention.”
To keep the flow going, Bosma keeps his staff on their toes. Seven launches a year is the target for Dr. Panda. "Starting this business in Chengdu gave us the advantage of low labor cost. It gave us more time to get our first products out and our strategy right. Today, not many gaming companies can afford such big teams as ours. It allows us to develop faster and deeper – better products with more and better content. In the field of graphic design and 3D animation, Chengdu is quite a breeding ground for talents – graphic artists and designers. Is it easy to get and to hold the right people here."
Rising cost of labour
Does the rising cost of labor worry Bosma? “It would if we were an outsourcing company. Over time, we would become too expensive compared to software developers in India and Russia. We are now strong enough not too be very dependent on low labor costs only. Our brand and our team of software developers – led by experienced international managers – are strong enough to prevent us from outsourcing part of our activities. What helps a lot is that Dr. Panda is getting more famous all the time. People want to work for us.”
There is no lack of ambition at Dr. Panda, that plans to open a sales and business development office in San Francisco this year. Bosma explains: “One third of our downloads come from the US, so in terms of revenue that is our most important market.”
Augmented reality toy
The company also moved into Dr. Panda toy manufacturing. “An exciting move, as we apply augmented reality technology, connecting the toys with the game. After the child has altered a toy’s looks it can actually make its appearance in the Dr. Panda game.”
Another next step: Dr. Panda animations are being produced in 30 episodes of 6 minutes to be featured in children’s TV channels soon. Disney, Netflix? “Who knows… The first shows have been produced in Europa, the rest will be produced in China.”
Build brand, boost sales
These plans, meant to build the brand and boost sales, are potentially costly, does Dr. Panda need funding from banks? “We have been a healthy, profitable company from year one. Until now, we manage fund our growth and development from our profits.”
Thijs Bosma was born and raised in The Netherlands; he is honest about where he became an entrepreneur. “China shaped me to be the businessman I currently am. Before I started Dr. Panda, I learned the trade at other businesses.” Thijs is curious what the future will bring. “My dream is to make Dr. Panda a true global brand. The new Mickey Mouse, wouldn’t that be great? The next Hello Kitty? We still have a long way to go, but we will get there some day.”