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Today's storytime is brought to you by the letter K — for Kindoma

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/4/2015 (786 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Carly Shuler, the CEO and co-founder of a kids' video-chat company called Kindoma, has a good personal story about how she got to Sesame Street.

But chances are she will be known for what she's done after leaving the iconic children's media enterprise.

Carly Shuler is the CEO and owner of Kindoma, a company that has created an app for families that combines video chat features and children's stories so parents can read to kids while they're away.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Carly Shuler is the CEO and owner of Kindoma, a company that has created an app for families that combines video chat features and children's stories so parents can read to kids while they're away.

Her Winnipeg startup has been attracting interest from venture-capital firms, winning pitch competitions and receiving awards for its kids' video-chat platform.

While there's plenty of mindless apps out there that become blockbuster successes, there's lots of very serious thought and considered execution around the Kindoma enterprise.

For starters, both Shuler and her partner, Tico Ballagas, a Stanford computer science PhD who works out of Palo Alto, Calif., have been working on using digital media and informal early-childhood education for more than 10 years.

They cut their teeth working with a think-tank connected to Sesame Workshop -- the gold standard in the field.

It gives Kindoma instant credibility as the company develops apps for parents and grandparents to communicate with their kids from a distance.

"Skype and Facetime with young children actually do not work," said Shuler, 37. "A three-year-old cannot engage over a video call. Young kids do not want to chat -- they want to play. You don't have a long conversation with a three-year-old in person, so why do we expect them to be able to converse over video chat?"

Kindoma's first app, called Storytime, has already won several honours, including a prestigious gold medal from Parent's Choice for mobile apps.

"We are a kid's app, which may seem really cute, but ultimately, we intend to be the default way for young kids and their families to communicate (via mobile digital tools)," said Shuler, a transplanted Calgarian.

Parent's Choice, the esteemed arbiter of children's play time said this about Kindoma Storytime: "It's a video-chat app that allows users to read together -- in real time. With the app installed, and a solid online connection, the chosen ebook appears on both users' screens; page-turning is synchronized and when one reader points to the text or image on the screen, a duplicate shadow hand appears on the other user's screen. This way, everyone is on the same page, literally and figuratively."

Storytime has 2,000 active users (and more than 90,000 downloads) and a library of more than 250 downloadable books on PDF. Just recently, the company launched beta versions of two new apps -- Drawtime and Talktime.

But rather than become just a mobile-app-development company, Shuler said the vision for Kindoma is to develop an entire ecosystem so Kindoma becomes for adult/young children chatting what Skype is for grown-ups.

The company just finished raising $250,000 in an early-stage round of financing and hopes to raise another $2 million in the next 12 months. While two co-founders are the only employees now, at any given time there are another seven or eight people on contract working on projects for the company.

As it is developing, it has become one of Innovate Manitoba's all-star clients. The local startup-support organization sponsored Shuler's appearance at the Canadian Financing Forum event in Vancouver in February, which she won. Kindoma also won last year's Manitoba Venture Challenge. Shuler swears by the benefits of that organization's three-day boot camp for emerging entrepreneurs.

"It was so valuable," she said emphatically. "I took the boot camp shortly after we started Kindoma (two years ago) to learn about finance, raising capital and all sorts of things you need to know when you're starting a business.

But Kindoma is not about making a quick buck.

Ballagas, who met Shuler when he was working with a Nokia lab that was partnering with the think-tank Shuler was at, said they've had good feedback from Silicon Valley venture-capital players, enough for them to continue to believe they're on the right track.

"We think it will be fundable, absolutely," said Ballagas, who actually was the original founder before Shuler became co-founder and CEO. "At first when we released Storytime there was some concern (among the venture capitalists) that we were just a book play, just a niche segment play. Around here (in Silicon Valley) the really broad plays get funded."

Kindoma has not yet arrived at where it wants to go, but Shuler and Ballagas have a fearless resolve that they know the way.

"We started with an app and we very quickly learned that you do not build a big company on an app," said Shuler. "What we want to do is solve the problem of family communications."

They were thinking about and researching the topic even before the invention of the iPad. Then the general thinking was there was no way parents were going to let their little kids play with this $1,000 device.

"It was a really cool time to be an observer of all this," she said. "We watched it go from nothing, and it seemed like overnight it (the iPad) was the hottest toy of the year."

The research project that spawned Kindoma was focused on military families with a family member stationed away.

But there is a much broader target audience. In the U.S., one in three kids lives away from at least one biological parent, and with the average age of first-time grandparents -- who are increasing tech-savvy -- at around 50, the thinking is the predisposition to use this kind of technology to stay in touch with young loved ones will only grow.

"The other thing to consider is that parents and grandparents and young children are among the hardest segments to design technology for," Ballagas said. "And what works for them would work in the mass market as well."

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Martin Cash.

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