YogiPlay Raises $1 Million to Improve Kiddie Apps

By Erin Griffith , written on March 29, 2012

From The News Desk

The way kids interact with technology is adorable as hell. This one thinks a magazine is an iPad! This one thinks a TV is an iPad! The world is just one big touchscreen to them. Crazy kids.

Parents aren't complaining. Touchscreen phones and tablets are an essential tool for entertaining, mollifying and, increasingly, for educating their children.

The problem is, there are millions of kid-focused apps out there. Finding the right one, for the right age, and the right purpose, and then paying attention what the kid actually does on the apps, is time-consuming and overwhelming.

That's the issue Cedric and Michal Sellin, parents of three, faced continually, and it's why they started a company to solve it.

YogiPlay, started by the Sellins a year ago, will announce today that it raised $1 million in venture backing from DN Capital and Richmond Park Partners to make educational apps easier for parents to find and better for kids to use.

Both engineers -- Cedric, a founding member of Aruba Wireless Networks, and Michal, an early Google employee -- the couple gathered a team of ten that consists of parents, teachers, and engineers from Leapfrog, Sony, Landor, and Gap Kids to help it develop the YogiPlay tool kit. Now they're putting the finishing touches on it and securing partnerships before officially launching in the second quarter.

They're focused entirely on educational apps serving kids, ages three through eight. Their team has spent months rating and categorizing the existing apps out there, so YogiPlay can recommend the best ones to parents. That part is simple enough.

Where it gets interesting is the integration. YogiPlay has an SDK that third party app developers can use to add two simple buttons to their app. The buttons aim to improve the way kids and parents use apps. The first is the parent button, which gives any parent registered with YogiPlay access to a dashboard that tracks their child's progress across all games (provided they're also integrated with YogiPlay). It can be accessed from the Web, or from inside the YogiPlay app on mobile. There's also a multiple child selection menu so that parents can see the progress of more than one kid on the same game.

The second is the child rewards button. YogiPlay rewards kids -- without competing apps' own engagement -- for learning new things. This part is a work in progress, but in testing, YogiPlay has had success offering virtual tokens and avatars. Kids earn them across all YogiPlay-enabled games. The rewards are limited to when a child does something they've never done before, rather than repetition, Michal says.

That choice reflects the very precise philosophy behind YogiGames. The Sellins have thought about this. A lot. For example, they know kids get distracted easily, so they emphasize apps that allow kids to switch what they're doing often within an app, rather than switching quickly from one app to another without learning much. They're focused on apps that go beyond basic memorizing of addition, subtraction, and spelling to emphasize a variety of subject areas, including anything from creativity to recycling. They chose specifically to focus on educational apps for kids between age three and eight, because, as Cedric says, in that age range fun and learning don't need to be separated.

Meanwhile, app developers welcome the buttons, Cedric said, because they help solve their two biggest problems: discovery and adoption. For discovery, YogiPlay sorts and promotes apps based in age, skill set, and area of focus within its parent dashboard. For adoption, that dashboard gives the parents progress reports on the kid's use of the various games, getting them involved beyond a simple open and pass to the kid. If they see the child struggling on a certain thing, or excelling on another, they're more likely to pay attention to what's going on and revisit the apps.

Parents find out about YogiPlay's parent center through existing apps that implement the code. If they join and like the dashboard, they're likely to try out other YogiPlay-recommended apps in order to keep using it.

Four game developers have signed on and are ready to launch with YogiPlay opens its doors in the coming months, Cedric said.