Winnipeg startup company helping families communicate

Kindoma Co-Founder Carly Shuler used Manitoba resources to build her business.

Sunny days, sweeping the clouds away. On my way to where the air is sweet, can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street.

One person who can help you find the way is Carly Shuler.

Shuler is the CEO and Co-founder of Kindoma, a kids’ video and messaging app helping to break new barriers when it comes to communication for children and families.

So what exactly is Kindoma?

“Think of skype for kids with an interactive twist,” says Schuler from Kindoma’s Winnipeg office, who is a transplanted Calgarian but has made Winnipeg her home with her husband and two kids.

Schuler has been working on children’s education media for over 10 years now with a goal of helping families who deal with long-distance relationships.

“There are so many families that because of work, grandparents; military families, and hospitalized families that get separated from their loved ones for long periods of time and we wanted to find a way to bring those families together,” says Shuler.

“What we want to do is solve the problems of family communication.”

Schuler began her venture into children’s media at Spinmaster Toys, a successful start-up toy company out of Toronto. That’s when Schuler began to see some opportunities through gaps in the process.

“I noticed that a lot of people there who were designing toys for kids didn’t have the background in education and they would reach out to educators who didn’t have a background in toys or media, and I saw an opportunity to bridge that gap.”

So back to school she went. Schuler attended the Harvard Graduate School of Education and received her Master of Education (MEd) in Technology and Education. This led her to one of the most well-known streets in the world.

“I was hired at Sesame Street in their research lab,” says Shuler. “Our main goal was to try and understand how new and immediate forms of technology can help kids learn the same way Sesame Street did on television when television was not an educational medium at all.”

Schuler was a part of the military families’ initiative at the Sesame workshop — an initiative trying to understand how video chat can help when a family member has been deployed. While working on this project they teamed up with Nokia, where Shuler would meet her eventual business partner and co-founder of Kindoma Tico Ballagas.

“Through the project we found that by adding reading or drawing to a video chat helped the calls go from an average of three minutes to almost 20 minutes,” adds Shuler. “In reality when you’re with a child in person you don’t expect them to have a long conversation, so video chat would have similar results.”

In 2010, when the first Ipad was introduced, Ballagas — a Stanford Computer Science PhD who was working with Nokia at the time – saw an opportunity to use the concept from the Sesame project, and start what would eventually become Kindoma.

Ballagas left Nokia; reruited Shuler, bought the rights from Nokia who owned the tech, and within six months of forming the company they had a product live on the app store.

The first Kindoma app available was Storytime, which combined an e-reader and video chatting.

“It was an easy decision to go with a reading app first because of how much we believe in the importance of reading in education,” says Shuler. The app has gone on to win many awards including the Parents’ Choice Gold Award.

With an app available and ready for the public, it was time to spread the word.

Didn’t Come Easy

Shuler has a background in education and technology but wanted to learn more about how to run a business.

In 2014 Schuler attended Innovate Manitoba’s Launch pad Boot Camp. The boot camp lasts three days and even though a significant time and money commitment comes with it, the experience Shuler gained was invaluable.

“The boot camp surrounds you with a network of people who are also starting businesses as well as great leaders who can guide you in the process,” says Shuler. “You learn about finance, raising capital, and what it takes to start a business. It has been pivotal for Kindoma.”

Shuler finished Top – 6 at the Launch Pad boot camp and went on to compete in the Innovate Manitoba Venture Challenge – coming in first place and taking home the $20,000 first prize.

“For a start-up company, 20 thousand-dollars is a lot of money,” adds Schuler.

The accolades didn’t stop there as Schuler and Kindoma went on to compete in the 2014 Canadian Financing Forum and took home top spot, beating out 40 other start-up companies.

Winnipeg is a perfect place to start a business

Kindoma currently has two apps available — Kindoma Storytime and Kindoma Drawtime, with a third app — Kindoma Playtime in the works right now, but no date has been set on its release.

The company is based out of both Winnipeg and Palo Alto California. It’s a unique situation, but Shuler says being in Winnipeg has been a perfect place to grow a business.

“The talent in Winnipeg is amazing,” says Shuler. “Being able to find dynamic people on both the development side as well as the creative side at a much more reasonable rate than in Silicon Valley has been big for us.”

Shuler adds there are a lot of resources to help anyone looking to start their own business in the city.

“Organizations like Innovate Manitoba, Futurepreneur; Startup Winnipeg are all great places to talk to and get the information you need to start your own business.”

As for Shuler, the vision for Kindoma is to develop an entire ecosystem so Kindoma becomes the go-to place for adult/young children to go to message as to what Skype is for grownups.

“We’d love to grow to a big company or partner with another,” Shuler says. “We want to revolutionize communication for families and we feel we are on our way to doing that.”

By Bill Burfoot