While many of us might like to see the young children in our lives on a regular basis, the truth is that that is just not a reality for all people. Circumstances vary across the board, with divorce, military deployment and geographical distance putting barriers between adults and the young faces they wish to see.
Kindoma is looking to change all of that.
Kindoma is a brand of apps that allow face-to-face interaction between adults and young children. While it has the video elements of programs like Skype, the added interaction of apps like StoryTime and DrawTime hold the attention of children much longer, making for a longer and more meaningful call.
From Sesame Street to Kindoma
Kindoma co-founders Tico Ballagas and Carly Shuler met over five years ago, while Tico was working for Nokia and Carly was working at the Sesame Workshop, the organization behind Sesame Street. The two companies had partnered on mocking up protoptypes using Skype and an artefact to improve video calls with children. The idea was good, but it wasn’t feasible at the time.
Carly had previously worked at the toy company Spin Master, and decided to pursue a masters degree in technology and education. That ultimately led her to Sesame.
“I realized there was a big gap between the people making toys, and all of the TV shows and all the stuff the kids play with and people who have a background in how children learn and child development,” said Carly.
A couple of years after Tico and Carly first worked together, the iPad came out and changed the game. Tico saw the possibility to start up what eventually became Kindoma, left Nokia and recruited Carly to join him, even though Tico lives in California and Carly lives in Winnipeg. Despite the distance barrier, Kindoma grew.
The first app
The first Kindoma app to hit the digital shelves was StoryTime, which combined elements of a video chat and an e-reader.
“The reason we started with books is because that’s what the Sesame Street prototypes had been based on,” said Carly. “We have such a deep belief in reading and the importance of reading as well as the foundations with the project at Sesame Street. So we started with reading. We had the concept from the Sesame Project, but we began development right away and within about six months of forming the company we had a product live on the app store.”
As more and more publishers were brought on board for downloadable content, the popularity of the app began to rise. With that popularity came investors, and the ability to improve and expand. A new app is in the works, this one combining video chat with drawing.
“We closed our first round of pre-seed funding about 8 months ago at this point, and are able to use that to create our new products,” said Carly. “DrawTime, which is coming up next, is now in Beta. You can sign up for our Beta online and we’ll be releasing it in the fall.”
Like most adults, Carly and Tico each have personal connections to young children, as they have a pair of children each.
“In addition to my professional interest and just realizing there was a strong need, and around the same time as the iPad came out, I had my first child,” Carly said. “Because I travelled for work and still do travel for work, and also because I have family members who live elsewhere, I really personally understood the challenges of video chat with young children and everything we found at Sesame became much more personal to me.”
As a mom, Carly can see first-hand the struggles of keeping the attention of a child.
“When you’re with a young child in person you probably are doing something together, you’re not just sitting there having a chat over a coffee. When you add a child to a video chat, you can see why they’re very short and very frustrating calls, so when you add some sort of activity it makes them a lot more fun.”
Carly says that one of the most rewarding things about the job is the feedback she gets from people that might not have been able to see the child in their lives otherwise.
“When you get someone who says ‘this has allowed me to have a relationship with my grandchild or child’ that’s the best part.”