Startup Spotlight: Miami-based Caribu offers a free app and marketplace that brings together children and family members through a video-call to read books, draw and learn together.
Company name: Caribu
Concept: Caribu is an innovative app and marketplace that allows families to connect through a video-call to read books, draw and learn together in real-time no matter where they are. Think FaceTime meets Kindle in a shared screen.
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Story: By the time Alvaro Sabido conceived of the idea for Caribu with his co-founders, he had lived in four countries across the Americas and Europe and was accustomed to talking to his family via phone or video-calling services. Both of his parents worked at media and publishing companies, so he grew up exposed to books and the importance of literacy as a skill.
Around the time he and his teammates were brainstorming business ideas during their master’s program at Imperial College in London, a picture of a soldier that was trying to read a book to his daughter by holding up a book to his laptop was trending, That very image struck them into thinking: surely, there must be a better way to engage with your kids when you’re not together.
“We did a bit of research and found that the concept of sharing content through a video-call did not exist for the children’s content market,” said Sabido, who studied entrepreneurship and management in graduate school and industrial engineering and computer science as an undergraduate. His team won two competitions at the business school and used the prize money to bring the concept to life.
Shortly after releasing the first version, the team joined the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator in London and the UK’s Sirius Programme and went on to raise $100,000. Caribu brought international brands on board such as Mattel, Maverick and Usborne as well as worked with talented content creators big and small.
By the end of that first year, reality hit, and the startup went from a fun school project to a business that had to be run. Three of the guys opted to take their post-grad school offers and Sabido decided to come back to Miami, where he grew up, to continue with Caribu.
To rebuild his team, he looked for someone who could run the business side of Caribu, had a background in education, and was willing to move to Miami. Enter CoFounders Lab, a website that helps founders find each other. After five months of searching he found Maxeme Tuchman.
Tuchman was finishing up a White House Fellowship in D.C. but was from Miami, had run Teach For America Miami-Dade and was a former Miami-Dade County Public Schools teacher. She taught 12th grade Government and Economics to struggling readers, and because of that, recognized how important it was to get the fundamentals of literacy right in the early grades. “I was determined to provide the resources to parents and educational programs that are also focused on ensuring that all of our children have the basic skills to succeed in school and life,” she said.
The app is free in the Apple App Store and revenue comes from in-app purchases of books that range from free to $3.99. Once Caribu introduces its B2B strategy, it plans to transition to a subscription model that will allow organizations to purchase access for their employees, patients, members, etc. The team is prototyping new literacy products that complement the platform and would add another revenue stream. The app’s bookshelf contains over 200 books, including educational workbooks and drawing pads, from publishers such as Mattel, Ustime and Santillana,in English, Spanish, Mandarin, French, German and Arabic. Caribu plans to include an Android and web version in the next development cycle.
“Caribu has been a huge hit in our house and with my mother-in-law in Las Vegas. She is a speech pathologist and loves that she can see the same thing my son does, so she can help him sound out tougher words,” said Brooks Anderson, a mother of three who lives at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. “It's interactive and by having a grown-up reading along, my son was able to work on books above his reading level. Anything to help kids with their reading proficiency is a plus.”
Launched: January 2014
Website and social: Caribu.co / @CaribuApp / fb.com/Caribu
Management team: CEO: Maxeme Tuchman / CTO: Alvaro Sabido
Financing: $100,000 from a friends and family round and a $60,000 grant from UK Sirius Programme. Caribu seeks to raise $600,000 in seed capital.
Recent milestones: Officially global. Caribu is available worldwide and features 200-plus books in five languages. Caribu recently partnered with Education.com and Santillana to bring educational workbooks and Spanish-language stories to the platform.
Biggest startup challenge and why: Taking its mainly B2C (business to consumer) company and incorporating a B2B model where it can license Caribu to partners that can reach more people who need its services, such as hospitals, early childhood centers, military organizations, organizations focused on seniors and corporate clients where employees work late or travel frequently.
“I would say that another challenge, that personally pains me, is fighting to keep our company in Miami,” Tuchman said. “We have a lot of potential investors that don’t know enough about the startup infrastructure here in Miami. I was born and raised here and believe deeply in Miami’s diverse community and the entrepreneurial ecosystem that community investors like Matt Haggman and the Knight Foundation have nurtured here. I want to keep our company in Miami and believe we can build the network of funding and mentorship that we need without leaving to an ed-tech mecca like New York City or Boston.”
Next steps: To move from a reading app to a literacy app. “Most parents know that reading to their child is important, but they aren’t trained to teach their children how to read. There is a huge demand for better apps that enrich literacy skills and have the added benefit of videoing in a tutor/ teacher/ parent,” Tuchman said. The team’s strategy is proprietary but it would involve adding features that will help parents know if and how their child is progressing in their ability to read on grade level. Stay tuned.
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