Toymail is reimagining the cell phone for teenagers
It’s been some time since we checked in with Toymail, the youngsters messaging startup that piloted its first product on Kickstarter again in fall 2013. Its concept was to show Wi-Fi-enabled toys right into a display-much less connectivity medium that permit mother and father ship voice messages to their youngsters by way of a companion smartphone app.
The essential concept is to deal with easy cell phone-like options (i.e. one-to-one messaging) in a far cuter and child-pleasant package deal, concentrating on youngsters aged two to eight years previous.
The Wi-Fi toys supply the promise of play with the parental reassurance of connectivity however with out the undesirable aspect-impact of coaching younger youngsters to grow to be fixated on screens from a really early age. The Web-related performance in Toymail’s toys is restricted to audio options. Any visuals — past the look of the toy itself — need to be imagined by the kid.
A few years on from its Kickstarter and Toymail is in Y Combinator’s winter 2016 batch. Co-founder Gauri Nanda says it’s now absolutely targeted on constructing out a messaging platform able to addressing the mass market, with its earlier crowdfunding marketing campaign having been a approach to beta check their concepts in public (they raised simply over $eighty,000 by way of Kickstarter, and have bought greater than 20,000 toys so far).
“We’ve had a very huge yr. We bought about $800,000 value organically of that product — with none advertising and advert spend. And since then we’ve additionally raised cash from Amazon and Verizon, and now we’re in Y Combinator,” Nanda tells TechCrunch. “During the last yr we’ve been perfecting the product and releasing some new characters round it, to actually get the product prepared for mass market.”
“It’s an enormous untapped market. ninety five per cent of youngsters beneath 10 don’t have their very own telephone. And the rationale for that’s in fact… that display time is such a wrestle and telephones aren’t actually designed with youngsters in thoughts. And so what we’re actually constructing right here is the messaging platform that is sensible for youngsters,” she provides.
“YC allows us to actually take a look at how does this turn out to be a billion greenback enterprise and scale this up? Actually take a look at this isn’t only a single toy we’re constructing… We need to construct this up as a whole communication platform for teenagers.”
After its Kickstarter, Toymail has attracted funding from Amazon, by way of its Alexa Fund, and in addition Verizon (the mum or dad of TechCrunch’s dad or mum, AOL) — taking in $1.5 million in seed funding from these investments plus some angel buyers, along with $one hundred twenty,000 from YC.
Previous to this the startup was bootstrapping, helped alongside by $10 million in gross sales the co-founders generated from an earlier hardware product they constructed (Clocky).
Nanda couches the offers with Amazon and Verizon as strategic investments. “One of many very fascinating issues that’s occurred during the last yr is a variety of telecoms have come to us saying they don’t have a tool to promote youngsters underneath ten,” she says. “So we’re beginning to associate up with the cellular carriers to make this occur for them.”
(Though, to be clear, presently the toys are Wi-Fi solely — with no knowledge plan choice. Nanda says “ultimately” they could supply a knowledge model however is evidently in no rush, including: “It’s working very properly with Wi-Fi as a result of youngsters are at house.”)
One of many extra vital tweaks Toymail made to its unique enterprise mannequin was to shortly drop the preliminary stipulation of a worth for sending messages. Messages are now free to ship and obtain, and there’s no subscription mannequin linked to the toys as such — relatively the thought is to earn cash from the hardware and by way of what is going to quantity to a Toymail app retailer they’re planning to launch in future the place mother and father will have the ability to pay for extra content material for teenagers.
The shop will let third celebration corporations with related youngsters’s audio content material promote add-ons by way of the shop, with Toymail taking a 30 per cent minimize of any gross sales at that time. The goal is to launch the app retailer by June, in response to Nanda.
“Primarily what we’re constructing is an app retailer that permits mother and father to buy these songs and tales. Or maybe instructional knowledge. Or issues round time for supper. Something they need they will ship as audio to the… toys,” she says.
“One of many partnerships we’ve got proper now — Amazon is an investor in our firm — so quickly the youngsters will be capable of ask their toy to learn them a narrative or play them a track from the Alexa community,” she provides.
Final week the startup opened up pre-gross sales for its subsequent line of plush toys, referred to as Talkies (cue up your jokes about ‘hardware that feels extra like software program’… ), which can deliver some new tech parts into the combination — together with an accelerometer-powered function that lets mother and father obtain a push notification when their youngster has picked up the toy to allow them to then ship them a voice message on the similar time in the event that they select; and a humorous voice filter function that lets youngsters shake the toy to vary the sound of their voice once they report a message.
The Talkies will additionally have the ability to be related to one another, so youngsters can ship messages on to their buddies’ toys in addition to to their mother and father’ telephones. There’s nonetheless no screens on the toys to monopolize younger youngsters’s consideration, however the toys do have a 4 button interface. Toymail claims that is easy sufficient for use by youngsters as younger as two. And hopefully much less mesmerizing than the chameleonic smartphone display.
“What we’re actually constructing now’s a communication community. Past that one-to-one messaging we’re now enabling youngsters to have the ability to join with all of their family members, whether or not they have a telephone or one other Toymail toy,” says Nanda. “Audio messaging is the start however we’re beginning to add options like with the ability to ship digital GIFs for instance. So a toddler could possibly be rewarded for utilization — so the extra they keep related with grandma they might be awarded factors to unlock options of their toy. They usually’ll get GIFs like audio emojis or songs or tales.”
Further platform performance coming down the road will even permit Talkie utilizing youngsters to share the audio GIFs they’ve acquired with family and friends — so mother and father ought to brace themselves to be spammed with audible emojis by their youngsters…
“We’re discovering all of those options improve engagement extremely. Even with our first toy, we noticed that for each message a dad or mum was sending to a toddler a toddler would ship about 4 messages again,” provides Nanda. “That’s often because the kid is taking a look at this as each a toy in addition to a communications system.”
The pre-sale worth per Talkie is $fifty nine, with the purpose being to ship the toys by the top of April. The retail worth after the pre-order interval shall be $seventy nine.