Lisa Tortolani is CEO of ABCya.com LLC, an educational website that creates online educational games and apps for children. The website, which served games to over 100 million users in the past year, was created in 2004 by Tortolani’s husband, Alan. Following his sudden death last spring, she took over the role of CEO.
PBN: We know Alan developed the gaming website when he was a student teacher, and the accompanying apps several years later. Is your background in education, technology or another area?
TORTOLANI: Both Alan and I were career educators. Although we served students of different ages, we shared a similar focus of helping students learn many of the same fundamental lessons, such as grammar.
We were both aware of the struggles teachers have in incorporating technology in the classroom, even while realizing that websites and apps could make a huge impact in a student’s learning experience.
You are a mother of three. Are there applicable skills in parenting and small-business leadership?
TORTOLANI: Absolutely. First, the constant juggling required to keep three kids challenged and engaged is easily translatable to the multitasking that’s needed to run a business. Also, as both a mother and a CEO, I am acutely aware of the responsibility. … If I am not organized and efficient, others suffer the impact. Perhaps the skill that is most applicable to parenting and small-business leadership is staying cool under pressure. Rarely do I find any challenge at the office as trying as the moments I’ve had to usher a screaming toddler out of a supermarket.
What have you – or had you and Alan – discovered about the Rhode Island small-business climate so far, good and bad?
TORTOLANI: Things are certainly getting better, but the bureaucracies too often move at a sloth’s pace, and it’s hard to find top-tier talent. But running a business in the smallest state in the union also affords many opportunities that larger states do not. … If I need a referral to an industry professional … a small state means that there are few degrees of separation between me and those who can help strengthen and grow ABCya.
Who are the bulk of ABCya’s 45,000 subscribers? Educators, parents or a fairly even mix of both?
TORTOLANI: We have noticed that children generally use desktop computers in the classroom but tablets at home. So, our subscribers consist mainly of parents who are looking for quality educational games for their children to play after school.
What are some of the things you’ve found after serving as CEO of the company for the past 10 months?
TORTOLANI: I recently attended the Future of Education Technology Conference in Orlando, Fla., the largest meeting of educational technology specialists and enthusiasts in the United States. The common message was that ABCya is their website of choice because it is safe, free, intuitive and firmly grounded in educational standards. What’s more, kids love it.
Hearing firsthand feedback from so many teachers drove home how much our games have become a trusted resource. … Alan is no longer with us, but his educational activities still make kids laugh, and help them learn. And I’m going to make sure it stays that way, not only for the millions of kids around the world who log on every day, but also for our three children.
Susan Shalhoub is a PBN contributor.