Four years ago, Connie Bossert was in the car with her family on the way to a Thanksgiving gathering when she wondered out loud if her husband could build a smartphone app.
Bossert, a mom of two in Willow Spring, had heard about the wild success others have had creating popular games and knew her husband, an IT guy with a computer science degree, was a quick study.
"Sure," he said. They started brainstorming ideas for games in the car. That discussion eventually turned into their first game now called Spazzle, a spin on the old-fashioned mole-whacking game.
And that's how Fairlady Media was born. In the last four years, Bossert and husband James have created more than 30 games for the iPhone and iPad with millions of downloads. Their latest focus: Educational games for young children.
Bossert, who holds a doctorate in educational psychology, but has stayed at home for the past six years with their young daughters, does the graphics and illustrations. Her husband works on the programming.
Bossert, the company's CEO, is today's Made by Mom Gift Guide featured mom.
That first game was enough to give the couple a taste of success. They'd sold the game for 99 cents per app until they learned that others had unlocked the code and were able to post the game online for free.
So the Bosserts let the game go for free, making a little money by putting ads on it. In the first month, the game was downloaded 600,000 times. In the first few months, it totaled more than a million downloads.
With success under their belts, the couple decided to do family-friendly games only. No blood and guts. No fighting or death. They've had some hits, such as Bust a Marble. They had some duds too.
About the same time, the couple created a game just for their young daughter, who was learning to count and would often count the same object more than once. The simple game lets kids count objects. Once they touch an object, it becomes animated and they know not to count it again.
"Within two weeks, she was counting correctly," Bossert said. They decided to sell the game, calling it Whizzit 123. It wasn't an immediate hit, but, over time, they realized they had more than 10,000 downloads.
"With that sort of trickling effect, we might be able to make a business," she said.
While the couple had mostly focused on creating casual games, they began building more educational games for kids.
Grandma's Garden came out in April and almost immediately received strong reviews from parents and others.
The game was among the top 10 educational games for both the iPhone and iPad after it launched and was featured by Apple in several categories, including "Fun Learning" and "New and Noteworthy." The game, for kids ages 1 to 5, includes seven mini games and asks kids to help Grandma in her garden, picking produce, watering and other tasks.
In October, Fairlady Media launched Grandpa's Workshop, for ages 2 to 6. Here kids help Grandpa with various projects in his workshop. The game, which also includes seven mini games, includes actual video of real construction projects. Again, the game has gotten high marks from reviewers and lots of downloads. It also sparked more sales of Grandma's Garden.
Not only did Bossert want the games to be fun and educational, she also wanted it to be loving - an emotion that's hard to find in most apps. So, in Grandma's Garden, kids are occasionally asked to give grandma a kiss. In Grandpa's Workshop, he asks for a high five.
"We've had lots of kids who will actually kiss the iPad," she said. "That was just wonderful to see."
The Bosserts hope the growth continues from here. They have plans for more games. And they also are working with other companies to build games. They've been part of some Curious George and Hello Kitty apps, among others.
Connie has always planned to go back to work once her younger daughter, now 4, enters kindergarten. She's hopeful that they can create enough games to make Fairlady Media her full-time job, allowing her to work from home. (As an aside: You might remember Connie, who also helps lead the Mothers of Preschoolers program at Hollands United Methodist Church).
"This keeps us really busy," she said. "It's one more role to add to the list. But I'm really happy with the direction it's going ... It could be my full-time job."
Go Ask Mom is featuring a dozen local moms as part of our Made by Mom Gift Guide. Check back on Wednesday for our next featured mom!