I’m marking our beta launch with a look back at what inspired Kinzoo in the first place.
When you run a startup, it seems like every week brings a new milestone and every day presents a new challenge you’ve never encountered before. (Sometimes that challenge is networking at a conference, and other times it’s assembling an ergonomic office chair.) In the coming months, we’ll be beta testing the Kinzoo app, so things have felt especially busy lately. As we launch our Early Access Program, it feels like a good time to sit down and reflect on why I started this all in the first place.
I haven’t always been in the tech world, and in fact, I arrived in the industry via my background in corporate finance. But back in November of 2017, I was working as the CEO of a Vancouver-based tech company called Grideo that created a tool for private video sharing. Our product was designed for and marketed to businesses, but an interesting thing happened when I brought my work home: we shared the app with my young daughter, and together, we used it to connect with our extended family. One evening, I watched her light up as she exchanged videos with her grandparents and had something of an epiphany: recognizing the massive potential for a product that connected families, I stayed up all night writing a business plan. The next day, I started researching the market in earnest, and couldn’t find any messengers out there that catered to me and my family in the same way.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of tech companies making products and apps for kids, but many have questionable features or safety risks. I think this is largely because of the nature of the tech world — where profit is tied to data and companies are incentivized to build products that keep you hooked. But, I saw how much my daughter loved connecting with our far-away family, and I wanted to give her a safe space to keep sharing with them. I wanted to give her something that wasn’t just secure, but also fun and easy to use. And I had a gut feeling that other families would see the value in something like this, too. Two weeks later, I’d done my research and Kinzoo hit the ground running.
In the course of researching kid-tech, I didn’t just learn about the apps and products out there. I also learned that a lot of other parents had questions and concerns about how to introduce technology to their kids. We’re inundated with headlines about addictive apps, dark patterns and social media-induced mental health crises, and every new guideline seems to leave us with more questions than answers. How much screen time is safe? When are kids old enough to go online? Will technology turn my kid into a zombie? And I know firsthand that it can be a daunting task to sit down and read all the research, especially as a busy parent. But I also believe that technology can absolutely be a force for good in our kids’ lives. In all of this, I realized that Kinzoo could be much more than a messaging app. It could be a better proposition for tech — and a more trusted way to introduce it to our children.
This app that we’re beta testing now is actually our second kick at the can. We initially took a family video sharing app to market, and it was a good product. It just wasn’t a great product. We worked really hard on that first version, and it was a humbling moment to realize that we didn’t get it quite right. But, as a company, you want to be stubborn on your vision and your values — and flexible with everything else. Our first product was a proof of concept. We generated a lot of interest and downloads, but we needed to fine-tune the app. We listened to feedback and rebuilt.
The reality is that kids are getting into tech earlier and earlier, and I wanted to help remove the question marks for families. I also want families to be able to connect without worrying about their kids’ safety. I think a company that’s creating a product for children needs to hold itself to a higher standard, and that means building trust over user counts and prioritizing organic growth over viral expansion. And that’s why our team makes decisions as parents first and as a business second.
You gain traction in tech in one of two ways: you either inspire people with your product, or you hook them with manipulative features. We’re here to inspire people.
As we beta test, we’re excited to hear from everyone — kids, parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents. But my hope for Kinzoo is that it’s much more than just an app. I want Kinzoo to be the most trusted brand for incorporating technology into our children’s lives. I think that in conjunction with families that use our product, we can help shift the conversation around tech and empower our users to be positive mentors and to teach great digital citizenship.
And I can’t wait to see where our vision and values take us next.
– Sean, @thatdigitaldad