Our goal is to make good reading experiences readily available to everyone – anytime, anywhere, says Sigbjørn Dugal of Pickatale
Norway-based Pickatale is an interactive storybook app for children up to eight years. It has now entered India in partnership with Delhi-based Eupheus Learning, an edtech startup that offers hybrid learning content for schools on a subscription basis.
The platform packages the K-12 school curriculum in physical forms like textbooks as well as digital to seamlessly integrate in-class and at-home learning. With this partnership, Pickatale has launched an India-focused interactive storybook app ABC Tiger for young learners between the age group of 3-12 years.
During his visit to India to launch the app, YourStory caught up with Sigbjørn Dugal, Founder and CEO, Pickatale, who also works with startup initiatives in China, supporting Origo’s portfolio companies, is a Partner of Ascend Ventures, and has co-founded and invested in several Chinese companies, covering mobile and online services, furniture, and hospitality sectors. Previously, Sig founded and served as the COO of Mezzme Ltd, a wireless service provider focussed on the media sector in China.
In an interaction with YourStory, Sigbjørn speaks about Pickatale’s long-term commitment towards the Indian edtech market, how they customise their products according to the Indian education system, and why they choose Eupheus as their exclusive India partner.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
YourStory (YS): Give us a quick backstory of how Pickatale came into being?
Sigbjørn Dugal (SD): The Pickatale story started because I believed that reading should be an integral part of the process of growing up, and that every child deserves to have access to a library of their favourite stories. But, how would this be possible if a child cannot access plenty of books whenever they want to or wherever they want to? Can you carry over 1,000 books on the bus or on the way back home? Can you carry that many books to the mountain cabin during your spring break?
When I wanted to give my own children the opportunity to read more books, I was surprised to see how inaccessible and expensive children’s books were online, and how little technology was used in the books to help children with learning, and most found on the app-stores were flat PDF’s with simple narration. This inspired me to start Pickatale in 2012.
I started Pickatale in Norway and worked hard towards turning it into one of the best children’s reading apps ever. The app now contains an extensive library of interactive children’s books. The books have been digitised - in the sense that all words, pictures, and illustrations are clickable. In addition, several books have been narrated by well-known actors and actresses. This provides the opportunity to experience books in new and exciting ways.
YS: Tell us about Pickatale’s offering. How has it evolved from the idea stage to now?
SD: There are so many apps for children out there, but we see many of these are addictive without any kind of learning value. We wanted to do something about this, and so we created an app to develop a love of reading in children.
We started as a small team. The company was started in August 2012 with Jens Rugseth as a Seed investor. This helped to scale team, develop product, and create content. In January 2014, we had 215 illustrated books, written and translated in several languages. Currently, we have more than 1,700 books in Norwegian, 1,000 books in Swedish, 1,200 books in US English, and 970 books in UK English. Our team today consists of over 80 employees in three countries - Norway, Poland, and Macedonia.
YS: How is Pickatale different from other audio and interactive books available online?
SD: Our production process has always been efficient, iterative, and agile, and our book production operations are cost-efficient and scalable. We follow a lean methodology, seamlessly integrating a global team of more than 200 illustrators, authors, and narrators. Our book creation tool, which is our own proprietary software, has allowed us to digitise books without the need of an army of developers or designers.
By combining text, sound, and illustrations, Pickatale helps young people develop a love for reading. One of our major functionalities is to enable children to listen to the story. The main difference from regular audiobooks is that children can look at illustrations and read the text as they follow each word, which is highlighted on the screen as the narrator reads. This audio support can be an important factor, both when it comes to developing reading skills and expanding children’s vocabulary.
The key to developing a love for reading is to gain access to books that children like. To become good readers, children need to practice, but reading should preferably be interesting and fun. Our app distributes children’s literature in a whole new way and makes a wide selection of books available at an affordable price. Our goal is to make good reading experiences readily available to everyone – anytime, anywhere.
The selection from about 1,000 Pickatale originals and many more partner books, some of them with the beloved Disney characters, is what we offer to our readers. Our users grow by the day and we have witnessed immense success in Norway and Sweden since we launched in 2018 and 2019, respectively. We are expecting to further grow in the UK where we launched in October 2019.
YS: What caught your attention to India?
SD: India is, in the first place, a country which is striving to increase the level of literacy by implementing various educational platforms and reforms. We believe that a large market such as India needs a solution for literacy such as the one we have.
Mobile devices are the backbone of internet growth in India. In cities, 30 percent of the population own tablets. India is paving the way to a multi-million user market, with mobile devices taking the lead. We also believe that the Indian market can be a test market for the rest of Asia, and that can help us understand the needs of other Asian markets.
YS: Why did you choose Eupheus, which is a K-12 edtech startup, while Pickatale caters to children?
SD: Eupheus, most importantly, is an edtech company with which we share common values - innovation, ethical values, and the belief that we want to make a difference in the world. For both Eupheus and Pickatale, children come first. Education and knowledge transformed and shaped by today’s hi-tech standards and the digital world are the key focal points which we have in common.
The second main reason is the fact that we cater not only to the needs of children aged 0-12, but also teenagers interested in subjects such as science, nature, space, history, geography, and social sciences. We offer a wide range of original Pickatale knowledge books that according to their structure, illustrations, and text appeal to all K-12 grades.
YS: Where do you place India as of now in your strategy to expand.
SD: We believe that for the time being, and in the future, India is the crucial market to be successful in as it is moving in the right direction. It is investing a lot of effort, talent, and research into the development of education and knowledge.
The reading books we offer are the right solution for this course of development. While Europe requires a product focused on leisure reading, India has been striving to create knowledgeable readers who would gain a deeper understanding of the world and the thought processes.
YS: How do you plan to capitalise in India? What are your key strategies for the next 12-24 months?
SD: In the first 12 months, we would like to capitalise on micropayments because the first and foremost principle of our company is that learning and reading should be affordable. Every single child is entitled to and should have access to education.
In the next few months, we will focus on penetrating the school market and expand our programme and platform in schools across India. In the meantime, we are developing a support learning programme that will cater to kids who lack access to education, especially to those who strive to acquire English as a foreign language.
We have estimated that the market is ready to engulf our projects and the customisable learning materials that we offer, so we are sure that our platforms will reap the rewards of success quite soon.
YS: Can you tell us about your India investments?
SD: We are prepared to invest whatever is necessary to make this a success story in India, and ensure that as many as possible will have access to the product and are able to learn, develop, and explore our immense library.
We believe that every child should have the opportunity to discover the scope and availability of the reading and learning material that we offer and find out that they have more advantages than traditional learning. Our goal is to make education fun and entertaining in order to appeal to the needs of individual kids and cater to their different interests and abilities.
(Edited by Megha Reddy)