By SARAH CHAIN
Daily Record/Sunday News
When Eric Thiegs graduated from Susquehannock High School in 1991, the first text message hadn’t yet been sent. Flash forward 18 years. Even in 2009, you could barely walk down a street without seeing someone hunched over, tapping on a cellphone.
Thiegs, with a decade-long career in marketing, and his wife, Rebecca, an English teacher at Red Lion Area Senior High School, couldn’t help but notice the influx of technology among kids.
“Kids are embracing technology they carry around in their pockets, and abandoning real writing,” said Thiegs, 40.
Their shared desire to inspire enthusiasm for writing led them to Stage of Life, an online journal and blogging community they created with family members in 2009.
“We launched it as a literacy experiment,” Thiegs said. “We can get them hooked on writing — really, on blogging — and give them a voice to write about what’s important to them as teenagers, but then help them stay passionate through other stages of life.”
The website has grown to attract more than 330,000 visitors in 2012, and 630,000 pageviews.
As smartphones gained prominence, Thiegs went back to the drawing board, this time to create a mobile writing app that would allow users to create and share stories with their iPhones.
Thiegs hired York College senior Nate DeRose, 22, as an intern in fall 2012. Together, they looked at analytics for Stage of Life’s web traffic.
With nearly 40,000 visitors accessing the site from a mobile device or iPad, Thiegs wanted a way to engage the site’s mobile audience.
“A lot of the time, (visitors) are coming to the site, checking it out and leaving,” Thiegs said. “Could we hook them on this literacy mission?”
Together, Thiegs and Nate settled on the idea of a game, set up similarly to Zynga’s “Words with Friends,” which allows friends to play a Scrabble-like game on their mobile devices or through a Facebook app.
“As soon as you can invite a friend to play with you, it becomes a lot more exciting,” Thiegs said.
Writing Race, as the app is titled, would allow two users to collaborate on writing a story, each person contributing just a few words at a time. An optional competitive mode would award users for quick responses and penalize for misspelled words. Once the story reached its preset word limit, users could post the story online or save it to their smartphones.
Nate’s input as a younger mobile user was valuable as they developed the concept to reach teens or people who aren’t interested in writing “but actually spend all day texting each other,” Thiegs said.
After spending a few months finalizing their plans, Thiegs approached different mobile design companies across the United States. Estimated prices to bring the game to life ranged from $38,000 to $210,000, Thiegs said.
“It comes down to the level of the company and the detail and richness of interface, gameplay and graphics,” Thiegs said.
Thiegs set up a fundraising campaign through Kickstarter, a platform that crowdsources donations for creative projects. Individuals can donate online to “back” the project, receiving incentives for different levels of giving. For Writing Race, levels range from a personalized thank-you on stageoflife.com for a $5 contribution to an offer of free advertising and first access to development updates for contributions of $10,000 or more.
As part of Kickstarter’s terms, if a project does not meet its goal by the deadline set forth — for Writing Race, $60,000 by Feb. 9 — the project receives none of the pledged funds.
“Kickstarter is by far the most popular of the crowdsourcing websites,” Nate said. “We wanted to integrate Stage of Life users in the experience.”
As of Jan. 31, backers had pledged $194.
Thiegs acknowledged the risk of not meeting their goal, but is encouraged by good feedback from mobile design companies they’d approached.
“Every other week, they’re asking about it,” Thiegs said. “If they keep hounding us on it, there’s something there.”
Missing their Kickstarter goal “wouldn’t scratch the project,” he added, it would just push back the launch date.
Name: Eric Thiegs
Lives in: Dallastown
Family: Wife, Rebecca; two daughters
Occupation: CEO and co-founder of Stage of Life
Hobbies: Theater director at Red Lion Area Senior High School
Online: To contribute to the Writing Race Kickstarter campaign, visit kickstarter.com and search for “Writing Race.” To learn more about Stage of Life, visit stageoflife.com.