Interview with Elena Höge, founder of Yaldi Games

Elena Höge is the founder of Yaldi Games, a startup game developer with the mission to create meaningful entertainment for both children and adults.

Yaldi Games’ first title, Wholesome – Out, blends the best aspects of videogames, digital learning and traditional outdoor skills, together to create an inspirational range of activities including foraging, nature awareness, sustainability practices, healthy cooking and fun crafting.

What’s your career background?

Even when I was still in school, I knew that I wanted to have my own video game business. So I studied Business Computing, to gain the business and technical skills. And then I did a Masters at the University of Edinburgh in Design and Digital Media, which provided me with skills in 3D art and game design.

Since finishing my studies I have worked as an Operations Manager for a software startup and as a game researcher and designer for Sumdog (who produce an educational maths game).

Where did the idea for your business come from?

I was out foraging for the first time, something my parents started when my dad retired. I couldn’t identify a single tree, plant or mushroom and it just dawned on me that I had lost touch with nature.

But being out there, looking for wild food, it was like a treasure hunt. And I realised that I could put this experience into a game, and that, if I integrated real knowledge, I could teach people about nature and inspire them to go out and reconnect. Just like I did.

How did you move from idea to actual business?

I was part of a number of programs and accelerators that taught me how to create my very first lean canvas, how to define my product, market and audience.

I learned that there are a lot of grants that can fund early development. So I applied to them, and with every application my business documents got better.

When I was part of the Converge Creative Challenge, I set up my business plan. I ended up winning the competition, which provided me with a prize fund of £41k and gave me the opportunity to build out my prototype.

What’s your USP?

Our game is called Wholesome – Out and About and it can inspire outdoor activities, healthy cooking and analouge craft and play. Essentially, we are creating a family game that is meant to decrease the ever-growing screen time of children and adults and reconnect them with nature.

Wholesome will contain real information on trees, plants and mushrooms, teaching about nature in a safe, digital environment. It also contains factual recipes and crafting instructions that our users can download and recreate at home.

Our mission is to build a bridge between digital and analouge and inspire users to make real, offline memories – like starting to felt with your children or making jams with your friends.

Wholesome aims to blend the fun, educational aspects of digital technology with a range of exciting outdoor activities, to encourage an interest in the natural world, the pursuit of new hobbies and a passion for learning new skills.

Who’s your target audience?

At release, Wholesome is meant for children aged 7-12, their parents and female Millennials interested in nature, cooking or crafting.

How do you spread the word about what you do?

I have created a website and a Facebook page (@wholesomegame) and posted about Wholesome in a few foraging groups, as a test to see how people react. It was amazing to see how overwhelmingly positive everyone was.

Parents were telling me how they would use Wholesome for home schooling, or to make foraging interesting to their kids and educators saying they would use it for class. Since then I posted regular updates about the development and I’m planning to approach foraging, cooking and crafting blogs to see if they could write about us.

Getting the word out, especially to parents so that we can involve them early on, is essential. So I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to talk about Wholesome here.

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

Posting in foraging groups in Facebook was our most successful campaign. It was very short, mostly because I am the only person doing it and I have to juggle a lot of other tasks. I can’t wait to be able to hire a marketing expert who can help.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Right around in August 2020, my biggest gap was that I couldn’t show customer validation. I had created surveys and held interviews, but with just the concept in mind, it was hard to get the idea across.

When we finally had the prototype I was able to take pictures and through posting them on Facebook I finally got proof of concept. The feedback was so positive that I became sure that I was creating something of value.

And your proudest moment so far?

Answering to my future players comments on Facebook was by far the best and proudest moment so far.

I remember a woman who told me her eight year old daughter was really excited for the game. And I told her that if her daughter had a favourite meal, we could put that in the game and put her name to it. That made the girl really happy and me as well.

Why is work so important to you?

My work is important to me because I know it can improve people’s lives. If I can inspire children and adults to discover the wonders of nature, to go out more, to learn to cook and eat healthy or to discover a hobby that will give them comfort on a stressful day – then I will try to do that.

If I can get just one child to make a happy memory, it’s all worth the effort.

Who inspires you?

I think both nature and people inspire me. Nature is beautiful and wondrous. It inspired me to capture its knowledge and preserve it in Wholesome, and then share it with the world. And people because they are so creative and passionate.

They can make the most beautiful things: art, recipes, crafts and then share it with others. I want to involve people in creating the content for Wholesome, to put their creations and knowledge into the game and help them spread the word.

How do you balance your work with your family?

Since I started my journey with Wholesome, I have spent a lot more time outside with my parents. I hope that when I have my own family I can do the same with them.

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

I’d say look for programs and accelerators and grants – there are a lot of resources out there that can connect you with other entrepreneurs. It’s the perfect starting point, even if you don’t have a fully formed business idea yet.

Then I’d advise you to get a mentor, especially if you’re a solo founder. It’s great to have a mentor who you can ask questions to, or just meet up and chat. They help you refine your idea and figure things out.

And most importantly, make sure what you are doing is meaningful to you. A business can take a long time to establish, you should be sure that what you are doing is something you won’t grow tired of in the next 5-10 years.

If you are passionate about it and you know it can create value for other people, you will have all the energy you need to make it happen.

Elena is one of this year’s Young Innovator Award winners. The Award programme, from Innovate UK and The Prince’s Trust, recognise young people from across the UK with great business ideas who have the potential to become successful entrepreneurs and future leaders in innovation.