[The Turning Point] How parenthood inspired these friends to launch an AR edtech startup for kids
The definition of fun and entertainment has changed over the years, especially when it comes to children. Today, gadgets like mobile phones, tablets, and laptops have become an integral part of children’s lives. In fact, one of the things that parents struggle with nowadays is to reduce the screen time of their kids.
Back in 2016, IIT Kharagpur graduates and long-time friends Vivek Goyal and Dinesh Advani, who had recently become fathers then, struggled with the same problem. They found it difficult to keep their children away from gadgets and entertain them in other ways.
PlayShifu Co-founders Vivek Goyal (L) and Dinesh Advani
They started discussing about various alternative methods. Initially, the idea was centred around toys. However, the duo concluded that toys didn't provide rich variable content, whereas digital toys with content didn't involve any physical interactions.
“A child’s brain development in the early years is centred around play and entertainment. The biggest of all, toys and games, lacked the intent to help build foundational skills in kids in their early childhood. That’s when it hit us - what if screen time became more hands-on? It'll open up unlimited possibilities to merge learning and play,” says Vivek.
They looked forward to create something fun, yet meaningful, for kids. Thus,was born in 2016. Developed by a small team of passionate parents and tech-savvy innovators, the Bengaluru-based startup uses Augmented Reality (AR) to provide educational games for kids.
It has 16 products that offer unique tactile play experiences for kids aged between 4-12 years. It helps children build STEM and other foundational skills such as critical thinking, engineering, and geography.
“Using AR, we merge tactile and digital play to bring immersive experiences that challenge and help develop cognitive and motor skills in kids,” adds Vivek.
The startup’s best-selling products include Shifu Orboot and Shifu Plugo. While the former allows the kid to discover new cultures, eras, and space missions, the latter is a gaming system that helps in building STEM skills through story-based challenges.
Like most entrepreneurs, some of the initial challenges that Vivek and Dinesh faced were limited to the ideation of products and hiring a passionate core team. Now, two years down the lane, challenges have grown three-fold.
“The toy industry is very sensitive to compliance and regulations. We continuously have to keep evaluating ourselves for safety concerns, content quality, value proposition, etc. Every aspect of the product goes through intense scrutiny, which sometimes can last weeks,” says Vivek.
“In less than four years of incorporation, we became a multi-million-dollar company, clocking 4X YoY growth,” claims Vivek.
He adds that this massive growth is a result of its strategic expansion of sales globally. PlayShifu is now available in 15 countries, including India, the US, Canada, UK, Japan, Ukraine, Russia, Australia, and the UAE. Through retail and online channels, the startup claims to have a user base of over 300,000 children and counting.
The startup is now planning to expand to newer geographies, and also plans to launch new products by 2021 that focuses on building foundational skills for the Gen Alpha kids (2-12-year-olds). These include Shifu Tacto (a series of phygital board games), and additional platforms in Shifu Orboot and Shifu Plugo.