Interview: Tom Harper, founder of creative play company Little Imagineers

The entrepreneur who turned making a fort with his kids into a business.

tom harper little imagineers


Little Imagineers is the brainchild of Tom and Helen Harper and their sofa-climbing children Charlie and Harry. In an attempt to keep their boys entertained through lockdown in the absence of clubs, school and nursery they tried to create something non-age specific to inspire their imaginations and spark joy within the confines of the home. We chatted to Tom about the company, starting a new business during lockdown and  his new flexibly-working life.

You turned a lockdown game into a business. What made you take that leap?

I would say a combination of things came together simultaneously.  I’ve had a passion for child development since studying a psychology degree, love watching and making up games with my boys and the business and admin side of it are somewhat second nature having spent 15 years as an accountant. Lockdown brought everything together in a very confined space and this was the result!

How did you find leaving your job. How was the adjustment?

Strangely lockdown has helped this – I had to adapt to the slightly chaotic nature of juggling childcare with housework which also prepared me for the continuously changing and varied tasks of running a small business such as website building, product design, box filling or blog writing.

padoo little imagineers

How do you juggle your work and home life now?

During lockdown I had to work late at night or early in the morning and with this I began to feel like time was being stolen from me. On the positive side managing my own day let me plan around school pick-ups or gym classes. It sounds odd but now I’m working for Little Imagineers it’s kind of a pleasure. I know exactly why I’m doing it which I haven’t always been able to say about my work, so there’s less guilt involved. It is a bit like having a third child though!

Have you talked to other men in a similar position to you?

Not as much as I would have liked to – most of my male friends are employed and have primarily taken a keen spectator role but there are several of my female friends who have found themselves in the same position and have been incredibly helpful.  I would love to get in touch with more dads who’ve done the same, hence my keenness to hook up with WorkingDads!

How tough was it setting up the business in this period?

Hard!  Some fairly basic things just didn’t work like they usually would have before lockdown. For example, it’s taken over nine months to change the address on our VAT file so that rebate cheques (which we couldn’t cash in because the banks were closed) were sent to the right place. Not earth-shattering, but there have been a lot of frustrations. In addition, prices of all our materials, from card for our boxes to foam for our sofas have just kept shooting up. It has been a baptism by fire!

padoo little imagineers

What are your plans for the business and how have you managed it with your family moving forward?

I keep having to rein myself in with plans for the future such as holidays. For our business, Little Imagineers is dedicated to helping kids discover their natural instinct to play, explore their environment and grow creatively.

We love open-ended toys which challenge kids physically and mentally and intend to release further products not far down the line.  In the immediate future we’re keen to get as many of our first product the Padoo® out there for children to enjoy as we can, whether that’s at home, in schools and nurseries or in hotels, holiday lets or hospital waiting rooms.

My family are very supportive, our six-year-old son is very keen to help out and understand what’s going on and asks lots of questions such as ‘our we going to be letting lots of other children have the Padoo so they can enjoy it like we do?’ and ‘where are we going to store all the Padoos?’. We have also had a lot of positive feedback from friends and extended family members who have tried out the Padoo.

My son Charlie’s friend used to look longingly through the window during lockdown wishing he could have one. Thankfully this no longer needs to be the case, as the Padoo is now available online!

Read more:

Interview: Gary Lyons of PlasticBoxShop on entrepreneurship, employees and family

Author Tom Kreffer on fatherhood and writing new book Dear Arlo

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