From student entrepreneurs to international success: How BubblyDoo's peer-to-peer network helped them build their dream business

Toine Habets, founder BubblyDoo

Imagine if your child could immerse themselves in a fantasy world where they play the leading role in adventures with their favorite characters. The startup BubblyDoo, founded in 2019, makes it possible through personalized books, board games, and more. Using well-known figures like K3, Bumba, Paw Patrol and Spongebob along with a personalized avatar, children get to be the main character in their own stories. Toine Habets, one of the four founders, talks about BubblyDoo’s journey through Birdhouse and beyond.

A clear mission & business model

BubblyDoo was founded while all its co-founders were still studying. They had a clear mission: to personalize the physical world, enabling children to immerse themselves in their own unique fantasies. "In the digital space, personalization was already everywhere," says Habets. "Video games for children typically always have an avatar. But with physical games and books this wasn’t yet the case. We wanted to make a difference."
To make their mission a reality, BubblyDoo developed a software platform that allows parents or children to personalize the names and physical characteristics of characters via a website. "Children are our users, but parents and grandparents are the end customers. You could say we're trying to create a connection across different generations," Habets continues.
BubblyDoo has been using a direct-to-consumer model from the get-go. This might seem pretty capital-intensive, especially in a country like Belgium, but the team came up with a smart solution. "We typically have cash inflow first, and then the outflow," Habets explains. "We only produce books once they've been purchased. This also allows us to invest what we need to in marketing and advertising."

"We only produce books once they've been purchased. This also allows us to invest what we need to in marketing and advertising."

Birdhouse, the network that got the ball rolling

Building a business is no easy feat. Limited resources and networks can create significant delays, and speed is one of the critical factors determining a startup's chances of survival. That's why the four founders, student entrepreneurs at the time, applied to the Birdhouse accelerator program a year after founding the company.
"Birdhouse is the kind of network that a startup needs to really take off. They provide mentors and connections with relevant people in our industry. We've really benefited from the engagement of the people involved in the program. Plus, we learned a lot about hiring in a short amount of time, which would have taken us ages otherwise," says Habets.
The program’s peer-to-peer learning and support also gave BubblyDoo a huge boost. "We got to join a program with other entrepreneurs who were all trying to do the same thing we were. Some of them had experience with things that were completely new to us. I really believe that you can only become a great entrepreneur if you learn from the experience of others. And let's not forget how important it is to have emotional support. Since there are four of us running BubblyDoo, we don't feel too lonely, but the mental stress can be tough. It's really nice to talk to others who are going through the exact same thing."

Credibility as a critical asset

The credibility BubblyDoo has gained through the Birdhouse program was also very valuable, says Habets. "As a young entrepreneur, I felt like it wasn't always easy to be taken seriously. We had nothing but our drive, limited capital, and the bullet loan that Birdhouse had granted us. But soon we noticed that the accelerator was opening doors for us. Everything started picking up speed. Right after the program, we started our first round of funding, and I noticed that investors saw Birdhouse as an extra seal of approval."
According to BubblyDoo, they're still reaping the benefits of participating in Birdhouse today. The startup has secured licensing deals with big names such as Studio 100 and Spongebob, frequently consults with other members of the network, and has established an international presence. BubblyDoo is now active in seven countries, and this year they're expanding to six more. "We grow threefold every year. We owe that to our valuable network, but also to the flying start that we were able to make thanks to Birdhouse," concludes Habets.