In collaboration with Femmes du cinéma, de la télévision et des médias numériques (FCTMN), CMF Trends meets inspiring women as part of a series dealing with female entrepreneurship in the screen-based industries. For this third chapter, CMF Trends met with three women who share the duties of CEO within Tobo Studio, a company that creates digital games and multiplatform interactive experiences for children of all ages. This unique management model was developed by Judith Beauregard, Kathleen Farrell and Florence Roche.
The passion for youth content
When you enter the premises of Tobo Studio, you hit a wall… of awards and rewards. We counted 30 of them and it would seem that they have not all been installed on the wall. For a company that has been in existence for only seven years, it’s quite a feat. It must be said that, since its inception, Tobo Studio has developed one hundred or so projects for children and their families, i.e., the company’s target audiences. This orientation is at the core of the alliance of the three ‘co-CEOs’ and most certainly explains their success.
Indeed, all three began their respective careers in the technological and digital fields and it became obvious to them once they had become mothers that they wanted to focus on youth audiences. Moreover, they qualify themselves as ‘digitally motherly.’ Judith Beauregard states the following: “Youth production is what makes sense to us and it’s important to work on things that have meaning.” Kathleen Farrell adds this: “And that enables us to work with smart and beautiful things.” “Not to mention the pleasure of working in a rather healthy sector with people who have good values,” concludes Florence Roche.
It is therefore this search for meaning and values that gave them the necessary momentum to enable the youth division to become autonomous within the ODD1 video game studio. It’s an entrepreneurial adventure that they develop together, as a three-member team.
More effective management through division
Although Kathleen Farrell and Florence Roche both hold MBAs and Judith Beauregard had more or less added entrepreneurship to her bucket list, founding their own company was not a career plan. However, when ODD1 sought to sell off its youth division, all three women saw the development potential of the projects on which they were working and repatriated these projects within Toboggan (the initial name given to Tobo Studio).
“We would certainly not have started up this project individually, but the fact that we were three gave us the momentum we needed and changed everything,” explains Florence Roche. “Our three personalities are similar enough, yet different enough to ensure that everything works,” immediately adds Judith Beauregard.
However, they insist on pointing out the essential role played by their former employers at Tribal Nova. Indeed, they accompanied the women while they founded the company, provided them with financial support and gave them strategic advice to help them manage the legal and administrative aspects of setting up the structure.
“We would certainly not have started up this project individually, but the fact that we were three gave us the momentum we needed and changed everything”
The management mode stems from the role of ‘chief executive officer,’ which was naturally defined on the basis of experience and individual strengths. Florence Roche and Judith Beauregard are the executive producers and they focus on external issues. They take care of project development and financing and handle canvassing and business development in Canada and abroad. For her part, Kathleen Farrell focuses on internal issues and has the studio, its production activities and its human resources benefit from her process optimization and team management skills. “A lot of entrepreneurs do not understand how we manage to work as a team of three. For me, it’s the opposite. I would not be able to operate otherwise. I even feel like telling them ‘But how do you manage alone?’”, she adds. She does not hesitate to conclude by stating that this management mode is one of the things that makes Tobo Studio so unique.
Having visited the studio tends to confirm it. Our management mode is benevolent and influences our corporate culture. Balancing work and family is easy: flexible working hours, possibility of working from home, part-time work, everything is in place for employees to feel respected. However, beyond these accommodations, employee accountability and a real aversion for micromanagement stand out. “We were greatly inspired by the design thinking method when we started up,” explains Florence Roche. “This iterative way of working gets everyone involved and accountable at different stages.” As a result, the turnover rate is rather low in an industry where wage competition is a stark reality.
“A lot of entrepreneurs do not understand how we manage to work as a team of three. For me, it’s the opposite”
What is really obvious is the authentic passion for the projects in which Tobo is actively involved. The studio’s thirty or so employees work on anywhere between 15 and 20 projects simultaneously. “Content that inspires us, whether we produce it for others or our own projects that we are beginning to develop,” explains Florence Roche.
Thinking big while remaining humble
Indeed, if Tobo’s main activity remains producing services, the company is active on two other fronts: advisory services and original projects. Created in 2015, the Tobo Lab provides interested companies with personalized coaching on trends, uses and tools and, especially, community and social media management coaching when it comes to digital youth productions. “Today, discoverability plans have become an important production component. We’ve known that for a long time,” explains Kathleen Farrell.
“Because there exists an intense competition, and it is global, when it comes to producing children’s games. We know how to develop solid strategies to set ourselves apart and it’s a form of expertise that we have decided to monetize,” explains Judith Beauregard. This work is also the fruit of an ongoing monitoring exercise, at both content and technology levels, that both executive producers handle and the results of which can be tracked on an ongoing basis on the ‘Tobo Blog.’
This monitoring, combined to an active participation in numerous international markets, also enables them to anticipate issues that others do not see coming. That is how Smala, one of the original projects developed by Tobo, saw the light of day. It’s an app that can be used to connect in a playful manner the members of a same family, all generations confounded, in a safe context that respects privacy rights—contrary to most of the social platforms out there.
Tobo does not necessarily want future growth at all costs, but it does give importance to diversification, whether in terms of content—the partnerships with the Maison Théâtre app or the Philarmonie de Paris come to mind—or with respect to geography (40% of all sales are currently made internationally). “We are working on a three-year horizon and are fully aware that the third year will be volatile. It’s to be expected in the digital universe where everything changes very quickly,” points out Kathleen Farrell.
In any case, this horizon will always be focused on the quality of these projects “that make sense” and that have Judith, Kathleen and Florence admittedly going to bed each night with the impression of having accomplished what they had set out to accomplish.
Photos by Sandra Larochelle