Melissa Cash: Playing with a Real Playroom of Toys—Only in a Digital Space!
Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Spiffy here! I’m back with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Melissa Cash, the co-founder and CEO of Pok Pok. Let’s see what she is doing to make a positive impact in the world.
Spiffy: Melissa, welcome! What challenge are you addressing through Pok Pok?
Melissa: Hi Spiffy, thanks for having me! At Pok Pok, we are developing innovative ways for kids to learn through play using technology. We make open-ended, inventive kids apps inspired by the real world that empower kids to be creative and think outside the box, like our preschool app called Pok Pok Playroom. It's a place where kids get to be creative and experiment with all sorts of open-ended activities, which helps them learn and make discoveries about the world and themselves. It's just like playing with a real playroom of toys, only in a digital space!
Spiffy: That sounds awesome, where do I sign up! Can you tell our audience what motivated you to do it?
Melissa: As a parent myself, I understand how quickly children's brains are developing and have seen firsthand how they learn best through play. It's incredibly rewarding to watch a child figure something out just by following their nose, instead of having someone give them the answer. Open-ended play is such a powerful tool for learning at all ages, but it's not something that really existed in a digital space before. Kids are spending a lot of time on devices, but not all of that time is enriching. So I wanted to use technology to bring the first open-ended, creative toys to a digital space to help foster children's development in a safe and healthy way, just like the toys on their playroom floor at home do.
Spiffy: How would you say Pok Pok is working towards a more equitable world?
Melissa: We work very hard to produce really accessible and educational activities for families. All of our activities are real representations of the world around us, including different family constructs, LGBTQ+ individuals, and people of different races, sizes, shapes, and abilities. Our cities are eco-friendly, sustainable, and designed for a greener future. We work together with educators and experts to ensure we're getting every detail just right, too!
Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organizational initiative. What impact does that make on your community?
Melissa: We just released a Space update in Pok Pok Playroom, which introduces kids to planets, satellites, and space travel. This new update came straight from our community—kids asked us to make it, so we did! We try to keep the lines of communication between our design team and the families who play Pok Pok as open as possible so we can design a space that kids really want to be in. This gives them the chance to have a say in what kinds of activities they can play with, which makes the experience truly unique. It's extra special because so many kids help us make it!
Spiffy: The best kind of team work! Pivoting away from that, please share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from it?
Melissa: Long before I became an entrepreneur I worked at Disney as a product designer, based in Germany. At first I didn't speak any German, so I made lots of mistakes with the language, which led to many mistakes in my work. I worked day and night to learn German and navigate the workload of a new job, but felt defeated. I was sure I'd be fired. Over time, I realized that just because I had trouble with the language, didn't mean I wasn't smart or talented. I came to understand the value of my other skills and focused only on the things I was good at. All I did was look at the situation more positively and everything changed—my newfound confidence helped my German improve, and, naturally, so did my work. I was the only one standing in my way!
Spiffy: Isn’t that right! Now, is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Melissa: I think resilience is the most important ingredient to being an entrepreneur. For every big win you’ll make endless mistakes, but none of that matters if you learn from them. I think the most successful people dust themselves off, hit refresh, and don’t dwell on those moments or let them define their journey. I'm still practicing this, but it gets easier and easier!
Spiffy: I think I’ll join you in your practice. Thanks for speaking with me today, Melissa—it’s been an honor!
Melissa Cash is the co-founder and CEO at Pok Pok, an award-winning startup redefining digital play and learning for kids. She previously served as Product Designer for The Walt Disney Company and was Head of Operations at creative studio, Snowman. She’s an advocate for women in tech and underrepresented founders. (Nominated by Charlotte Michailidis of Parenthood Ventures. First published on the Ladderworks website on November 17, 2022.)
© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.