When Suzanne Xie realized that traditional media companies were transferring children’s books to tablets with little innovation, she set out to find a way for kids to better engage with the technology. Today, Suzanne is the founder of Hullabalu, a company that creates interactive story apps for kids.
Suzanne sold her first company, a street fashion community called Weardrobe, just three years out of college in 2009; it’s now part of Google. For Hullabalu, Suzanne has already raised $1.8 million, and their first story app, about a female purple panda named Pandora Beribolt, is a hit. (It’s $3.99 for iPhone, iPad, and iTouch – not yet ready for Android users.)
We sat down with Suzanne to hear her tale.
Pandora is an interactive story, but also meant to be educational. How are you measuring kids’ learning experience?
We’ve built a proprietary analytics system that tracks how kids are using the app and how much time they spend on it. We're using data to help us learn for future books and apps. We also intend to share that learning with parents in the future. So, for example, they can see how their kids are building their vocabulary or even developing certain character traits. There are a lot of interesting ways to merge creative content and analytics on the back end.
How far have you gotten in terms of metrics? What kind of traction are you getting, and how do you measure it?
As a new company we’re really happy with the kind of engagement we’ve seen. We hit No. 1 in books on the first day we launched, and are regularly featured by Apple in the New & Noteworthy section. We're focused on engagement first – it's important to us to understand how kids are playing through the story and what parts engage them the most. Since launch earlier this summer, we've had over a million swipes in the app, and we’re seeing a large portion of kids play the story daily. That’s a lot of usage. The average player is in our app for over 15 minutes compared to three to five for other story apps.
There are so many apps launching every day. What advice do you have for an entrepreneur marketing her new app?
It’s really hard; we’re also constantly learning. The thing you always hear is that quality rises to the top, especially in the app store. I don’t know much about the other platforms, but with their rating system, people are very active, and making sure you have a quality app does make a big difference. Even things like, when we first launched the app, we found some bugs and changed them quickly. We saw people say right away they were happy this was fixed. Parents are really paying attention.
Most Silicon Valley investors look to invest in technology platforms, not creative media companies, because they’re far more scalable. How did you raise capital in spite of that?
This came up when I was fundraising. Most tech investors aren't willing to make a creative bet. Their experience is investing in platforms or tools, and we're creating original IP alongside that, which is viewed as risky. Most meetings I had were pretty binary within the first 15 minutes. It was always either a very clear “No way, you’re crazy; you’re gonna try to go up against Disney?” or “Yes, we’ll invest. Done.”