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From Sesame Street to Startup Success: New App to Connect With Your Kids

Parents & grandparents improve interactions with their kids thanks to this Winnipeg startup. Their amazing app gives families a meaningful connection across time zones.

In the heart of Winnipeg’s downtown is an office space dedicated to supporting multiple fast-growing businesses all with one thing in common—an intensely passionate entrepreneurial mindset.

One of these startup businesses is making waves in the app world with its game-changing storytime and video chat tool. Kindoma is an app designed to be used by kids with their family members, no matter where they are in the world.

It’s similar to Skype, but made specifically for kids, and features interactive reading and games. With over 250 books available right within the app, parents can have storytime with their children even when they’re on the road and away from home. They can see each other, share a book together and see where they’re each pointing to on the page.

Kindoma is led by Winnipeg CEO, Carly Shuler, along with her business partner, Tito Ballagos, who keeps the team connected to the Palo Alto tech community.

With impressive international press coverage from The New York Times, Parents Canada, USA Today, The Guardian, The Huffington Post and a host of other online media outlets, Kindoma is set to find itself on even more devices of families wanting to find that meaningful connection—no matter the distance between them.

Watch the below video as Carly tells us about her startup success, the challenges she’s faced along the way and her advice for future business startup founders.

We chatted further with Carly to learn more about Kindoma and their successful operations.

How did you get started and what made you think this was a the right project for you?

Our journey for Kindoma started over seven years ago on a research project between Sesame Workshop, the creators of Sesame Street where I was working, and Nokia Research Labs in Palo Alto where my business partner, Tico, was working. We were staffed on a research project under Sesame Street’s ‘Military Families Initiative’ aimed at understanding how to use video chat to help families connect when a parent is deployed.

Through that project, we found that adding a research project like reading or drawing helped video chat calls go from an average of three minutes to an average of 20 minutes. Young kids don’t want to chat—they want to play.

Fast forward a couple of years when iPhones and tablets gave us a mechanism to bring this to the world. We decided the idea was too good to stay in the labs so we broke off and formed Kindoma.

What have been your highlights so far?

Tico and I have been working on Kindoma full-time for two years and it’s been quite a journey. From a product perspective, we have two apps on the market and we’ve been earning a ton of awards, including the Parents’ Choice mobile app category.

From a startup perspective, we had a wonderful journey here in Manitoba. We won Venture Challenge two years ago and then went on to win top startup at the Canadian Financing Forum. Now we have an office and we’re here at Startup Winnipeg.

What’s it like to be a startup in Winnipeg?

I think it’s a wonderful place to be a startup. The talent is amazing. Since my co-founder and business partner is in Palo Alto, we are a bit of a unique case. But we found the talent here to be amazing…and we love building the team here in Winnipeg.

What’s it like working in Innovation Alley?

It’s probably pretty much what you would expect it to be. It’s lots of fun—we have video games in our office and we have pizza parties. (laughs) There are amazing, brilliant people around you who are always working hard and playing hard—so we have a good time.

It can be lonely being an entrepreneur. So you have other people who are struggling with similar problems that you can talk to, and that’s absolutely fundamental. You can’t make all the decisions yourself. We’ve developed a really strong community through organizations that helped us put this together.

What’s unique about doing a digital startup?

It’s unique because you don’t have a lot of the barriers to entry as you would in another startup. For example, if you’re making a physical product you need to consider manufacturing costs and locations for storefronts. Distribution outlets like the app store allow us to get product so much faster and much easier.

Kindoma Universal_Full from Rafael Ballagas on Vimeo.

What would you say to someone who’s thinking of doing a startup?

The first thing you need to think about is your team and the people you’re going to work with. That’s the most important decision you’re going to make. Then you need to think about the problem that you’re going to solve and what is the pain point that you’re trying to address.

What problem does Kindoma solve?

We solve the problem of the fact that having a video call with a three, four or five-year-old is so challenging. We went out and talked to people about what that pain point was.

We found the kids weren’t engaged, so we give family something to do together over video chat. We found that a lot of the UI’s in common video calling products have a big red hang-up button—so kids are pressing the most beautiful thing on the screen.

So we make a kid-friendly UI. We allow kids and families to do what they would do if they were together in the same place, so we tried to make it as natural as possible.

It makes me proud when we get emails or reviews that say they’ve developed relationships with young kids in their lives because of the tools that were providing them.

How do you use data to drive your decision-making?

Now after a few years, Kindoma is data driven in all of our decision-making. We follow the ‘build, measure, learn’ methodology in that we put something out there and it doesn’t have to be perfect. We see how people react and then we iterate. We weren’t that way at the beginning, so this is been a big learning curve for us.

When we started, we built a big beautiful product and put it out there. What we’ve learned is that it’s much better to put out something that might not be in its final stages and might not look like how you wanted to eventually look, but we use it to gather data because then you can make decisions that are informed.

What would you say to someone who was considering starting a digital media company in Manitoba? Should they do it and why?

If someone’s thinking of starting a digital media company in Manitoba, they should certainly try. There are a lot of resources that they can tap into to get going so start talking to people. Talk to other cofounders. Talk to other organizations like Startup Winnipeg, Innovate Manitoba, New Media Manitoba and Futurpreneur— and start testing the waters.

What what do you think the future of Winnipeg startups is?

I think this community can become a bright spot in the digital media landscape. Look what Manitoba is for film and compare what the province has done with film industry tax credits and helping film companies get off the ground—they are doing the same things in interactive digital media.

Digital startups can provide amazing opportunities for Manitobans and job opportunities that weren’t before possible.

Learn the 20 reasons to start your business in Manitoba to get more tips about the Winnipeg startup community.

Mark Glucki

Mark has been developing digital blog communities for 10+ years that connect business and tech pros with their inspirational stories. He developed a North American best practice on creating great experiences on social networks and spends as much time learning about entrepreneur success stories as he does producing content for others to enjoy. Mark is also a commercial photographer focusing on product and location images. His work can be seen at Wonderlab Photo.

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