Boy, have the times changed since we were kids. Long gone are the days where coloring books and board games made up the lay of the land and the etch-a-sketch was about as technological as it got.
Today’s children are surrounded by technology and all that it has to offer, especially when it comes to the online world. And while the internet can prove an amazing tool for learning and exploration, it must be handled with care. A number of platforms and services are popping up to help children and parents navigate the waters and facilitate interaction in environments that are both fun and safe.
One of the latest companies seeking to tackle this market in Brazil is Zuggi, a platform comprised of search engine features, social interaction and games geared towards kids. Zuggi’s platform is aimed at children ages six through 12 – a coveted audience also targeted by competitors like Tweegee and Club Penguin.
In terms of internet access rates for children, Brazil is still quite far from reaching the levels obtained by other more developed economies. However, the numbers are improving. In 2010, 6.9 million Brazilian children between the ages of five and nine had internet access in their homes, representing about 42% of the population in that age range. Assuming a penetration growth rate of 19%, this number should reach 13.9 million by 2014. And considering that the Brazilian media market is worth an estimated US$33.1 billion, tapping into that capital via products developed for children is a sound idea – especially considering that kids have a huge influence on their parents’ buying decisions.
Zuggi CEO and founder Natália Andreoli Monteiro spoke with us about the potential of this growing market and her plans as to how to tackle it.
Emily Stewart: What about Zuggi specifically, beyond its interface, is geared towards children?
Natalia Andreoli Monteiro: Zuggi is a platform for kids 6 to 12, where they can grow their full potential among their real friends in a safe environment. Zuggi offers a variety of innovative and fun learning experiences for children, contributing to the development of self-awareness and skills such as creativity, imagination and socialization. The search engine is part of the learning process and incentivizes children to build their personal learning environment. The safety of our search engine is what makes it geared toward children. Our technological expertise is in content filtering. We use artificial intelligence to filter out inappropriate content with a data classification algorithm that can exclude it from the search results, making Zuggi the best option for a child doing online searches.
Club Zuggi is where the fun and learning really happen. At Club Zuggi, kids are involved with a fun and challenging story of the Planet Zuggi and its habitants called Zuggitos, who motivate children to seek knowledge. It provides a selected gallery of fun and educational games and videos, curated by our team of specialists. It also has feature of bookmarks that promote self-awareness and a collectable stickers album that stimulates learning and peer engagement.
ES: What is Zuggi’s business model?
NAM: It is becoming increasingly difficult for companies to communicate directly with children due to legal limitations for advertisers. Laws are supported by great institutions that protect the rights of children and teenagers on the grounds that they represent an audience with characteristics of vulnerability and fragility in relation to the tool of persuasion that is advertising. As a result of the “immaturity” of the young audience, several speakers pointed to early eroticization, eating disorders and consumerism as the harmful effects of such advertising.
According to TNS/InterScience, children influence about 80% of household purchasing decisions in Brazil and, therefore, companies do not want to stop communicating with this audience, despite the restrictions. For these companies, Zuggi is a qualified channel of communication where the message can be given in the correct way, aligned with advertising regulations. In an innovative way, companies are encouraged to use our platform for storytelling of educational and fun content for children through great tools and activities. They can also target the audience by age, sex and region, measure any kind of interaction with their brands and maintain an open dialogue with parents and educators.
ES: There are a number of children’s platforms out there right now on the market – KidBox and Tweegee, for example. Do you consider them competitors?
NAM: Since we are a web platform, we consider as competitors every other web platform targeted at children 6 to 12, because we are going to dispute for their same amount of time. We would include online games websites, content portals, safe search engines, browsers, virtual worlds, social networks and educational platforms. At the same time, however, Zuggi is going to be open for partnerships with these companies in the near future. We know that we are always going to co-exist in a child’s life. They are not going to choose from one or another, and they are going to use some of us at the same time.
We want to provide methodologies, tools and experiences for children that contribute to their self-awareness, skills development and dream realization, helping them to make better decisions in life. We are working with concepts of entrepreneurship for kids and transmedia storytelling, using technology as a facilitator of the process, to create a personal learning environment for children. Zuggi is unique because it is a complete platform that effectively boosts the child’s learning and self-awareness in a way that none of our competitors do.
ES: Zuggi has worked with Aceleradora and presented at BR New Tech. What have your experiences been with both? What did you gain?
NAM: With Aceleradora, we had amazing mentoring sections at the Campus Party Brazil 2011 that made us much more prepared for the startup competition. At BR New Tech, we were selected to pitch to an audience full of investors, entrepreneurs and media professionals. The results for both were media coverage, great advice and important contacts.
For the time being, Zuggi will be concentrating its efforts on the Brazilian marketplace, the home of its founders and team. Later down the line, the company will seek expansion in other areas of Latin America, testing the waters in English and Spanish and utilizing the knowledge gained through Startup Chile to develop an effective and, hopefully, successful strategy for other parts of the world.