Interview: In the Crowdfunding Trenches with Carly Shuler of Kindoma

KindomaHave you ever heard an idea and thought, “That makes so much sense”, “Why didn’t I think of that”, or “I wish this existed 10 years ago.” That’s exactly how I felt when I was speaking with Carly Shuler, the co-founder of Kindoma, for a recent Ada’s Sisters podcast.

Kindoma is aimed at connecting kids and adult family members when they’re apart. As a parent, I wish technology like this existed when my sons were younger.

But what I really love about Kindoma is its launch story. It all happened thanks to crowdfunding on Indiegogo. I sat down with Carly to uncover more about why her campaign has been successful and how she got there.

If you’re considering crowdfunding to fund one of your products or services, there’s a lot that can be learned from Carly’s story.

Below is an excerpt adapted from an interview originally recorded for Ada’s Sisters during Kindoma’s Indiegogo campaign. And when you’re done, be sure to sign up to learn more at my free Crowdfunding Masterclass Series, which begins Wednesday, October 5.

Eden Spodek: Hi Carly. Thanks for speaking with me. Can you start by telling me what Kindoma is all about?
Carly Shuler: Kindoma creates communications tools for families. So you can think Skype for kids with an interactive twist, so we allow children and their loved ones to do things like read and draw together, even when they aren’t in the same place.

Eden: Oh, that’s so cool. I wish something like that was around when my kids were younger and we were in different places. I understand you’ve got three apps. Is that correct?
Carly: We actually have two apps available right now, and then a third one coming out over the next couple of months.

Eden: And where did you get the idea for them?
Carly: My business partner Tico and I actually met almost a decade ago now … or over five years ago … anyways, on a research project between Sesame Workshop, the creators of Sesame Street, where I was working, and Nokia Research Labs where he was working. And we were both staffed on a research project under Sesame Street’s Military Families Initiative, aimed at understanding how to use Skype, which at the time was just becoming more mainstream, to help families connect when a parent is deployed. And what we found on that research project was that adding a shared activity like reading made Skype calls with a young child go from an average of three minutes to an average of almost 18 minutes, which was a pretty staggering research finding. And it makes sense, because young kids don’t want to chat, they want to play. But at the time, it was pre-iPads and other tablets, and there was no good way to bring it to market, and so the project was not feasible, and it stayed in the labs.
Fast forward a couple of years, Tico and I decided the idea was too good, got the rights, formed Kindoma, and here we are.

Eden: That’s incredible. Do you mind talking about how Kindoma is funded?
Carly: Sure. Kindoma is a startup, so we were bootstrapped for about the first year of our life, meaning that we had no external sources of funding other than what we ourselves invested in the company, as well as a small grant that we actually got from Nokia after Tico, my business partner, left Nokia to start Kindoma. And then more recently we raised our first round of pre-seed funding. We raised about $300,000 from Angel Investors. And so that, in addition to our revenues, is what keeps us going right now.

Eden: I’m curious, and I’m sure some of our readers are as well, as why you decided to launch a campaign on Indiegogo and what your response has been so far.
Carly: I think there are two main reasons that we decided to launch a campaign on Indiegogo. First of all, there was something we really wanted to do that we didn’t have the budget for. Like I said, we had only raised quite a small round of pre-seed funding up until this point, and we’d been getting so many requests to build on Android, but that’s a big additional product that isn’t in our roadmap right now, and we didn’t have the budget for it. And so we thought, “Well, we have so many people in the crowd, in the public asking for it, maybe we should try crowdfunding.”The other reason is that we really feel like we are trying to start a movement around family engagement, and how important it is for parents and grandparents to be involved in their young kids’ lives, and how technology can help, because generally there’s this perception that technology is a negative factor when it comes to family engagement, but we believe it can just be a tool to help. And so we wanted to try and start a movement around getting people on board with that belief system, and so we thought that crowdfunding might be a neat way to try that.

Eden: I love the idea that you’re working on starting a movement around there, which leads to my next question, and that is part of what you’re doing with the campaign is that for every five dollars of backing, you’re going to donate a Kindoma Storytime subscription to a child in need. And I’m curious where you got that idea from.
Carly: Well, largely through the fact that we felt that one of the reasons that A, we want to build on Android, and B, the reasons that we started Kindoma, is that there are these use cases where we can have such an amazing impact, whether it’s families struggling with distance due to hospital stays, families struggling with distance due to military service, families struggling with distance due to having an incarcerated parent. And we felt that we could play such an important role in the lives of these families, and we felt that we shouldn’t… These families have enough to worry about, that they shouldn’t have to pay for Kindoma. And in many cases, they can’t afford to pay for a premium service like Kindoma, and so we thought this Indiegogo campaign was a perfect opportunity to allow us, together with the public, to fund the donation of subscriptions to Kindoma to these types of families.

Eden: And I see you’ve already got some partners on board to help you distribute the free subscriptions. Do you want to tell us a bit about who your partners are and whether or not you’ve been able to make any donations yet, or whether that’s something that you’re waiting to do at the end of the campaign?
Carly: Yes, great question. We’ve been so excited about our partnership. We have already signed a partnership with Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, which is one of the world’s largest pediatric hospitals and research centers, as well as the American Prison Data Service at the Center for Social Innovation, which aims to use technology and bring technologies into the prison system to help incarcerated people and their families become more resilient and deal with the challenges that they’re facing. And they’re going to help us distribute within that system.

Eden: That’s great. And I would imagine you’re going to be looking for more partners over time as well.
Carly:Yes, of course. I think in particular we’re looking for a partner in the military, to serve military families, to help distribute those subscriptions, and then from there we’ll be able to distribute the subscriptions that we’re able to donate through the Indiegogo campaign.

Eden: And do you think that’s something that you’re going to keep going?
Carly: Yes, I think so. The question is how, and so we’d love to look at different models, so for example we think TOMS does amazing work around the one-to-one, and we could definitely see something there, where for every Kindoma subscription that gets purchased, we donate a subscription or at least part of a subscription to a family who needs it most.

Eden: It’s really wonderful that you’re helping to connect families and that you feel so strongly about it, and going beyond the commercial side of things as well. Shifting gears a little bit and going to the business side of things, and being a founder, what have you seen as the biggest challenge with Kindoma so far?
Carly: The biggest challenge with Kindoma is simply the space that we live in, so the app space and the kid’s app space is very challenging. It’s hard to get discovered, especially as a small company without a big marketing or advertising budget. It’s hard to help people know that we exist.

Eden: And so what are you doing to overcome that challenge?
Carly: Well, one of the things that we’re doing is this Indiegogo campaign. We felt that it could help get the word out about Kindoma. We’ve also been extremely lucky in terms of our relationship with Apple, so Apple has identified us as someone who’s offering something great to the world. And so they’re consistently supportive of us in terms of features, which, as any developer will tell you, is probably the biggest way to convert into downloads. And then outside of that, the usual social methods. Facebook, Twitter, social media, and until we raise our seed round, it’s going to have to stick to those non-paid, more organic methods of marketing.

Eden: Well, there’s a lot of opportunity in the organic side of things. And hopefully you’ll get that movement going with the help of the Indiegogo campaign and word will spread before you have to get to the paid side, although I’m sure you’ll get there eventually as well. What’s the most important lesson of launching a startup you’d like to share?
Carly: The most important lesson that I’ve learned since launching Kindoma is to be data-driven and to listen to your users and to be lean, especially in the app space where you can iterate on your products after it’s out there. I think in the startup world, it’s easy to put a lot of resources against an idea before it’s proven. And we have the luxury in the tech space and in the app space in particular of being a little bit leaner and using data to drive our decisions, and so I’d recommend to anyone doing a startup that they think that way.

Eden: Very good advice. What about for running a crowdfunding campaign? Do you have any tips there? I know you’re in the midst of yours.
Carly: Yeah, I feel like I need more tips than I have. But we were really lucky, we reached over 35% of our goal in the first week, which blew my mind, and I would just say as would anyone, prepare in advance, you can’t just launch a crowdfunding campaign and expect it to live and breathe on its own. It’s pretty much a full-time job running a crowdfunding campaign, so be prepared for that.

Eden: Where can we find you and Kindoma right now? We know we’ve got another what, approximately two weeks, from the time people will be hearing our interview to back Kindoma, and we’d love them to know where to find you.
Carly: You can find us at

Eden: Great. Thank you so much, Carly, and best of luck with Kindoma. We’ll keep an eye out and can’t wait to hear more. Thank you.

So there you have it, straight from a founder:
“…you can’t just launch a crowdfunding campaign and expect it to live and breathe on its own. It’s pretty much a full-time job running a crowdfunding campaign, so be prepared for that.”

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