Great things really do come in small packages – teensy, adorable, delicious packages. At least, at startup media company yummico they do.
And what a wonderful selection of small packages they have.
CMA sat down with co-founders Traci Paige Johnson (Blue’s Clues), Caroline Baron (FilmAid), and Head of Strategy Susanna Pollack (CBeebies) to chat about delicious kids’ content, the risks and benefits of being a startup in the digital space, and menurkeys.
(NOTE: The key takeaways are covered here, but if you want ALL of the goodies check our YouTube page).
Moderator Amy Kraft (Monkey Bar Collective) plied our panel with a nutritionally dense series of questions – namely, what is “delicious” media? Traci jumped all over that, sharing that “delicious” isn’t just about good story and characters. It’s about creating a tangible world that little kids can’t wait to jump in and explore. That philosophy is at the core of everything yummico does… and it’s good for parents, too, since that kind of content helps nurture wholesome, happy, healthy kids. Everybody wins!
(FUN FACT: Traci has really clear memories of what she liked as a little kid. That’s why she makes content like this.)
Amy used that point to introduce yummico’s first property, Yummiloo, It is, objectively speaking, the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen:
Susanna explained that the reason Yummiloo was chosen to be the company’s first property was because health and nutrition were starting to become big topics for preschoolers. Yummico saw an opportunity to jump into that market and add value to that audience, creating the helpful, encouraging, educational (and ADORABLE) solution that is Yummiloo Rainbow Power.
The Willy Wonka-inspired world of Yummiloo teaches preschoolers healthy eating habits in different ways. In Rainbow Power, the Yum Yums (the ADORABLE guys in the pic above) have to collect foods all the colors of the rainbow to restart the Rainbow Machine and power the carnival. Players not only get involved in a story and help characters solve a problem, they’re also learning about health and nutrition and having social-emotional concepts like sharing and building community modeled for them.
That’s no small feat for an app.
Amy asked about the app’s development and Traci revealed they did all the creative in-house. It was an enormous learning curve for them because the technology couldn’t do everything they wanted it to. Caroline added that they went with a publisher who had a relationship with Apple and would be able to get them some publicity. Susanna shared about their social media strategy, and how it was lots of effort to get the word out even though they were featured in the App Store. In the end, though, it was rewarding to see all that hard work pay off with the audience… and the attention brought partnerships with WNET and other high-profile distributors.
(HINT: They focused on Facebook, because it was the easiest to maintain with the resources they had)
Amy broached the idea of free versus paid and Caroline responded that every time they launched the app for free they got an uptick in downloads. But, she stressed, the market is so fluid. They chose to launch an app because in the current climate it’s a great way to be seen and there’s still money in it. She reminded the room that the market could change in the blink of an eye, and the best thing a company can do – particularly a small, nimble startup – is to create LOTS of stuff to get the largest audience possible.
Yummiloo is successful enough that they’re looking for a TV distributor to build properties for it, and Susanna admitted that using an app as a pilot for a TV series was a non-traditional approach. But, she pointed out that yummico retained all of the rights to its properties – making it easier for them to do things like create television properties from apps. “You can go farther on your own without having to partner with a bigger company,” Caroline encouraged.
Their next properties look equally non-traditional (and ALMOST as adorable).
Edison the Invention Detective is an “appisode” – 7-8 minutes about a little maker girl and her problem-solving inventions that’s both linear and fully interactive (“It’s Scooby Doo for preschoolers,” summarizes Traci). They’re building an advisory board and partnerships to expand learning opportunities provided through Edison’s content, and according to Susanna they’ve already got Sprout on board.
Ash & Ollie is an app featuring two young brothers whose stories are all about current issues kids and parents face today. Like how much “Screen Time” is too much. It’s a complex issue, and the app (named “Screen Time,” because it’s THAT complex) is a great kickstarter for that discussion. Even if it’s using technology to talk about when not to use technology (“Tech is here to stay. It’s important for kids to understand it,” summarizes Caroline).
Lastly they introduced App Police, another app featuring a pair of goofy cops policing all of the apps in a child’s tablet. It’s like a little city, and each app the cops interact with is an opportunity for a different content module – and lesson (a budget app teaches math, an “Angry Birds”-esque app teaches physics, etc). There’s even a gold coins reward system in stopping the bad guys… but the best part is how the cops spend it: going into the real world and doing a fun activity together.
Traci, Susanna and Caroline shared their favorite producers in the digital space (Toca Boca and Sesame were favorites, as was Fred Rogers Center’s Alien Assignment), fundraising in the digital space (go with friends and family; VCs won’t invest in content and “the more money you raise, the less control you have,” warned Caroline), and building a startup (“Build as you grow,” Susanna advises), but the point they kept coming back to was this: you have to be your own producer.
“You can’t wait for the [big] studios to tell you what to do,” says Caroline. All media companies are trying to figure out the digital space. It’s an enormous opportunity for ALL content creators to put work out there. Especially the little guys. “Ride the wave of new things. Try to be first,” urges Susanna.
“It’s all about tapping into the zeitgeist,” Caroline clarifies. “Meeting the audience where they are.”
That sense of exploration, combined with Caroline and Susanna’s formidable know-how, and Traci’s enthusiasm for integrating narrative with interactive gameplay (“Imagine what Blue’s Clues would have been like!” she exclaimed), puts yummico in the perfect position to keep making great content.
We can’t wait for our next bite.