New York City-based Speakaboos has raised $6.5 million in a Series B round, led by Rick Segal, managing partner at Rethink Education and The Al Sayegh Group.
Joining them are Deborah Quazzo (co-founder of GSV Advisors), Helena Wong (former President of International for Rosetta Stone) and Scott Booth (founder of Lead Edge Capital) Previous investors Advancit Capital, Kyowon Group, Ninestars and Gerald Hughes also participated. Segal will be the chairman of the company’s board of directors, which include JunHwan Kim (Kyowon Group), Sanjay Chanana (The Al Sayegh Group), and former executives from The Virgin Group and HBO. Speakaboos has now raised $12.7 million.
Founded in 2008, the startup currently offers over 175 digital interactive storybooks, along with songs, games and other activities across five major categories that kids and parents can filter by. Kids can engage with the stories in any of three formats:
- Read to Me: the story is narrated, lightly animated, and words highlighted when they are read;
- Read and Play: similar to Read to me, but after the story is finished kids can interact with the illustrations by tapping and moving objects around;
- Read it Myself: no narration, but kids can interact with the illustration
While the company creates original stories, it also licenses many children’s brands from major publishers like The Jim Henson Company, DK and Scholastic through a revenue share deal. As a result, its library features popular characters like Thomas the Tank, Sid the Science Kid and Arthur the aardvark. “We bear all the production expenses such as the animation, voice-acting and testing with kids,” says co-founder and Chief Operating Officer, Noelle Millholt.
She says the company hasn’t done much in the way of direct marketing, but is getting the word out through a bevy of partnerships with distributors such as Fingerprint Play (through the KidsTime portal developed with Samsung), LeapFrog and the nabi, a tablet designed especially for children that comes with Speakaboos pre-installed.
The company is also establishing a global footprint for overseas English learners. One of its investors, Kyowon Group, is a major publisher of English content in Korea with a network of two million customers, and will be bundling Speakaboos’ content in its subscription package. Another investor, The Al Sayegh Group, which owns over 30 companies across a wide range of industries, will help distribute Speakaboos in the Middle East.
Speakaboos is attempting to straddle both the school and consumer market, offering different pricing plans for parents, teachers, schools and districts. Subscriptions for parents range from $4.99 per month to $49.99 per year; educators can purchase a yearly license for anywhere from $99.99 per classroom to $1499 per school, depending on the number of students.
Speakaboos currently claims “tens of thousands” of subscribers, according to Millholt, with roughly 60% of kids using it in schools, and the rest at home. She says kids on the platform are spending an average of 22 minutes reading per session.
Like many other digital content producers, Speakaboos is working on an analytics dashboard that Millholt says will “give parents and teachers insights not just into how many books are read, but also what specific page they struggle with, and what their favorite interactions are.” By reporting on usage at home and school, the platform can “engage parents and let them know what their kids’ favorite topics are so they can reinforce that learning offline.”
Currently available on the web as an iOS app, Speakaboos will be launching on Google Play within a month and on the Kindle within a year, says Millholt. The funding will also be used for a significant expansion of the team, which currently stands at 20 full-time employees (some of whom hail from companies like Nick Jr. and PBS Kids.) “Our focus now is on scale and be on every platform,” she says, and expects to “nearly double” the size of the engineering team.