Ryerson grad Debora Rubin shows off Ping Pong Story at her company's Ryerson DMZ headquarters. (Emma Childs/Ryersonian staff)

Ryerson grad Debora Rubin shows off Ping Pong Story at her company’s Ryerson DMZ headquarters. (Emma Childs/Ryersonian staff)

On a planet far away, cavemen wander through Egyptian pyramids. Astronauts explore the Sahara desert and princesses fly through space. All this and more is possible in the world of Ping Pong Story, a website created to develop the imaginations of children while promoting literacy at an early age.

Ryerson graduate, Debora Rubin is the founder of this online portal. She created Ping Pong Story after noticing that children are being targeted by social media at young ages. She wanted to use the platform to encourage literacy and creativity. 

Ping Pong Story is a website where children can piece together elements of a story by combining cartoon backgrounds with spunky characters and quirky objects to create virtual pages, which are then tied together by the visitor’s writing. Once published, friends, family members and vistors from around the world can flip through their stories online. Rubin gave The Ryersonian a demonstration.

Rubin conceived Ping Pong Story remembering a childhood game in which her and her friends would take turns writing a story back and forth. When Rubin was nine years old, she and her friends used to write stories together by each contributing a paragraph until the story was complete. Although the current website doesn’t have this interactive “ping pong” feature, she hopes to incorporate it in the future.

“I thought, why not recreate that experience but digitalize it?” she says. “Someone will start a story and kind of throw it to a friend who will keep writing and that person will throw it to someone else.” With the vision in place, Rubin took her time to develop a prototype as she focused on finishing her bachelor of commerce degree.

The software made its debut in June of 2013 when Rubin launched a beta version, meaning that there were still kinks to be smoothed out. After a trial period of seven months on the market, Rubin rethought her business model and took the website down to make adjustments. “We’re making the website better, improving it, and we’ll be launching it again by the end of April,” she explains.

She says became clear that she needed to focus on building a visitor base. Instead of charging parents for subscriptions as she had originally planned, she introduced free memberships for parents and paid memberships for schools.

All the developments are made at DMZ, where Rubin brought her idea in 2010. “Back then the DMZ was new,” she says, explaining that entry demanded a lengthy three-step pitching process. “It wasn’t that easy.”

Rubin says the pitching process took a total of two years before her business model was approved, but that it was worth the wait. “That’s how I started. I got some funding (from the DMZ) and that’s when I could start hiring people to build the beta website.” With big developments in store, Rubin’s team, which started with just two, has grown to eight members working under the roof of the DMZ.

Within two days of working in the DMZ, the entrepreneur had a surprise visit from Canadian author Margaret Atwood. Upon praising her software, Atwood suggested that Rubin look to the television industry to expand her cartoon world.

“It was great… I was like ‘wow,’” Rubin blushes.  And although Rubin waves it off, there’s no doubt she might revisit this idea in the next chapter of her life.

Emma graduated from the Ryerson School of Journalism in 2014.