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Matas Petrikas is CEO and Founder of Berlin design studio, Vai Kai. He is also father to two daughters - Lia (9) and Mila (2).

In this edition of Life Stuff we ask Matas how he and his wife Dalia manage to fit in all the life stuff that is required of them as creative professionals and parents. Matas tells us about the Vai Kai workshop, about his favourite spot at home - and about how he needs to look out for his 9 year old daughter stealing his job!

Over to you, Matas! 

I am the CEO and Founder of Vai Kai. We build interactive wooden toys, little creatures for kids that react and communicate with each other. We started the company because we wanted to bring an added tactile, sensory dimension to playing with digital toys.

Vaikai - Connected Wooden Dolls

I have a few bits that I try to do every morning. I have a glass of water with a slice of lemon, I do 15 minutes of exercise, I make coffee with my wife (we are total coffee geeks) and I eat a bowl of muesli. If any of these things is missing, I’m sure the day will be affected.

In general, the morning calm/chaos balance seems to depend on the mood of the kids. If they are grumpy, it’s going to get hectic - but if their mood is good, the process will be much easier. Music helps. Nothing loud or epic, just simply some kind of positive beat in the background seems to do the trick.

Of all the things we need to do in the morning for the kids, packing school breakfast definitely stands out. I have a sense that it’s a constantly evolving process which probably at some point will culminate in us making perfectly arranged bento boxes!

Matas at work in the Vai Kai workshop

I'm at work in the Vai Kai workshop every day. Because we are still a very young and small company, it’s easier for me to describe the things that I don’t do than the things I do! My co-founder Justyna and I have split the responsibilities in such a way that she’s taking care of the things closest to the product - design, supervising manufacturing, supply-chain relations, while I’m focusing on marketing, fundraising and communication. We have a bunch of great people that we can rely upon to get things done on a project basis and it’s my task to find more of them.

We have established quite an efficient agile flow at work. Monday starts with planning and Friday ends up with demos and retrospectives. Our workshop really shapes what we do. We work in a shared space so we're surrounded by designers, makers and hundreds of objects - some of them produced just hours ago, some hundreds of years old. I really enjoy the tangibility of our work environment. If you look at our desks, they are covered by layers of notes, books, cables, wooden toy parts, prototypes, cutouts and computers of all sizes and configurations.

Vaikai - Connected Wooden Dolls

Later in the day, if it’s my turn to pick the girls up from school, I find I need to have some kind of ‘reward of the day’ for them which helps them transition from school mode to home mode. We love to go to playgrounds, cook food, read and listen to audio books together. I’m learning to keep my phone out of sight and we do fun things as a family that also have an emphasis on learning. Of course, we also play with Avakai. Mila, the little one, is in her possessive phase right now, so it means that every time we have our prototypes at home she just grabs them and claims them as her own. She's not planning on sharing her Avakai with anyone!

Bedtime isn’t easy in our house. I never could understand how in some families all parents need to do is say, ‘Goodnight!’ and their kids go brush their teeth and go to sleep! In our family we start with teeth brushing as a 'time-to-go-to-bed' signal. Then comes the reading books in bed, the gradual light dimming etc. but even then, the results are often unpredictable. How bedtime pans out depends on the mood of the little one. It’s not unusual for us to fall asleep exhausted next to her while she’s still singing.

Trying to keep work balanced with life stuff is the biggest personal challenge for a parent who’s running a startup. In the early years, having a good balance is impossible. Mainly because you can’t plan anything, things happen and you have to take care of them because there’s nobody else that can step in - tech problems, financial worries, kids getting sick, traveling abroad for days, schools closed, meetings rescheduled and so on. When I’m with the kids, they should be at the centre of my attention. Parallelism doesn't work. You have to switch off. And it’s super hard sometimes.

Avakai unlocks imagination and creative play with kids

Design and creativity are definitely 'present' at home. The most vital force in our house is, my oldest, Lia. She’s a relentless artist and maker, covering all available surfaces with her creations. No device or object, even created by great designers can compete with the sense of freedom that her work radiates. A lot of things we own are rather calm and understated because we don't want objects to compete with our kids' creations. The other day I asked Lia what she wants to be when she grows up.

She said, 'CEO of Vai Kai'. So I guess the program is clear!

My favourite part of our home... I love our mezzanine. I love sitting on the sofa there and watching the street outside. It's probably the most tranquil place in our house and has the best view. On winter weekends, often the whole family manages to squeeze themselves onto that sofa, almost like Tetris blocks, reading books, playing games and watching the snow outside.

If the girls were 100% in charge of my free time, they'd definitely go on a binge-watching spree! We try to control their screen time a lot so I'm sure that's the first thing they would do. In between the movies we would probably spend our time at the ice cream shop. The latter part is completely ok with me :)  

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