Monday, December 19, 2011
Interview with Cliff Boro, KidZui
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Last week, San Diego-based Kidzui --the kid's website and kid-friendly browser developer, announced another round of funding, and also launched Zui Studios, a new effort to create original content for the portal. We thought it would be interesting to hear about why KidZui is investing in original content, so we spoke with Cliff Boro, KidZui's CEO.
Give us an overview on KidZui. It looks like you now have a search engine, a browser, and now a content studio?
Cliff Boro: At KidZui, our job is to give kids access to the best content on the Internet. The passion of the company has remained consistent, although the manner in how we do that has evolved. Our goal, from the outset, since 2006 when we put the company together, was to bring together the extraordinary content on the Internet, whether that is a website, games, or videos for kids. Kids are increasingly online all of the time, or desiring to be online all of the time. But, it's not easy for kids to get to the great content for them, in a way that has their parents' trust and permission. Our goal, is to give them access to that great content.
Our biggest task in starting the company, was creating a way to find the best content. That's the foundation of the company we are. We hired initially the Editor-in-Chief at LeapFrog, and then creating complex spidering and algorithmically generated ways to find the best games, web pages, and YouTube videos for kids. We also hired 200 teachers and parents in 25 states, so that we eventually created a library of 5 million web pages, video games, and YouTube videos. Our best known and first product was the KidZui browser, which we started as a paid service, went freemium, and went entirely free in October of 2010. What has stayed constant through that, is it is a truly kid-friendly user interface, which allows kids--even nonreaders--to browse all of that content. That's been our mainstay. However, even though it's free and only 2 megabytes, a teeny download, the reality is that having any download and having to have parents in the equation to get to kids, just created friction. While it's the leading Internet browser for kids, which we are proud of, we've been the leader with only half a million kids, which leaves us with 90 million that ought to be using the browser. So, we built Zui.com, to offer an easier way for kids to get to that content.
What's the idea behind Zui Studios?
Cliff Boro: Zui.com launched four months ago, and is a portal and search engine for kids. Zui Studios helps us of having Zui.com be from kids, for kids, and to kids. What Zui studios is doing, is bringing kids into Zui.com, intially in two ways. The first thing that we're doing, is we're producing a daily, under two minute video, using real awesome kids, one of whom is a genuine YouTube star, with over 20 million YouTube views. These kids are kind of what MTV VJs were in the 80's, except they're creating things for kids on the internet. They are talking every day about the latest, greatest, games, websites, and videos, and making them directly link-able on Zui.com. So, every day, they can get the best content, which is increasingly content coming directly from kids. Those kids are content experts, they're passionate kids in games, about YouTube videos, and different areas and subjects--there are kids totally into Justin Bieber, or totally into hockey. Those kids are feeding content to us, and the Z-jays feature that content every day in a video program. That was our first inititive with Zui Studios. The second thing we are announcing, is Zui Stars. What we're doing is Zui Stars, starting with five kids who all have a massive YouTube following, all really creative and amazing kids.
Lio is one of the five, who is also the host on Zui Stars, along with other kids around the world. One is fifteen year old singer Jordan Jansen in Australia, another is an eight year old rapper in Georgia, Matty B, who literally has 90 million YouTube views of his raps. So we've forged a partnership with these stars, and obviously, their parents, and featuring them on Zui.com. It can be challenging to find good kids content on YouTube, and we're featuring them on Zui.com, and they're also helping us to spread the word on YouTube. It goes both ways. We're also opening things up, so that any kid can send us a response video, and they can become their own featured Zui Star. We're taking our skills on reviewing content, and getting out of the way. The neat thing with kids, is you can have a wholesome way to see other kids, and have kids contribute content, without the danger trap of YouTube comments and all sorts of the things that go on in the wider Internet.
It sounds like you're trying to spur a little bit of crowdsourcing content for the site?
Cliff Boro: Yes. Obviously, KidZui as a company has always rested on not creating content, but curating it. I know curate is the buzzword of the moment, like pivot, and they sort of go hand-in-hand. We've been curators or uber-curators, but now we're letting kids get more involved in that curation. Obviously, we're featuring kids and creating content on our web show from kids, but we're definitely more and more looking at crowdsourcing with Zui.com, giving real kids the ability to add real content for other kids.
Will the content you create just go on Zui.com, or will it also be on YouTube?
Cliff Boro: Some of the content is going to be featured exclusively on Zui.com, and ultimately for the kids we're not forcing them to post on Zui, they can still promote content on Youtube. But, our hope is that because Zui.com is a better experience for kids to get to the content they like, they'll use us. And certainly, we're doing it in a way that parents can feel much better about. Ultimately, we need Zui.com to provide an incredible experience for kids. I think it is, and obviously it will continue to get better.
Why original content, and how much did you look at production costs for content?
Cliff Boro: That's a fair question. We entered into it carefully. Our number one job is finding the best content on the Internet for kids. Our core thing, is you can go to the Zui.com portal, and find movies, music, and other content organized around brands and ratings by age and gender. So, our primary thrust is still facilitating content, as a portal, aggregator, and search engine. Zui.com is a product for kids, to kids, and the number one reason we're doing this is creating the buzz around the whole authenticity of the brand experience. We want this to be coming from kids, rather than us. This was a key thing for the brand, to answer the question. It obviously cost money to hire a very talented executive producer and commit to a daily video. That is obviously filmed a couple of times a week, because kids have school and lives, and aren't going to come to the studio every day, so we are doing this very efficiently. It is a serious commitment. I think that there was no question, however in putting a studio together that there has been huge price drops in equipment and editing tools, which have made it possible to have the audacity of a daily web show. It's much more affordable than you would think.
What's the next big goal on your horizon?
Cliff Boro: We didn't announce it, but last Friday, we launched the Zui Bar. It's powered by a very successful company called Conduit, which has become the leading provider of white-labeled, browser plugins. We launched that quietly, and we're testing that before making a huge amount of noise. However, it's interesting, because kids or parents can download this tiny browser app in Internet Explorer, Chrome, or Firefox. It's a synthesis between a browser and a download. Many successful companies like Zynga and Miniclip use this bar technology. What it does for a kid, is it allows mom and dad to share a computer, but you can then really neatly get Zui.com on a browser. It allows kids to get to the newest games, newest videos, all right there. In a world where making things easier is important, Zuibar is important.
We've launched a lot of stuff, and we're only a 23 person company, and I think we've had one of our more productive months of executing, perfecting, and iterating. We will be adding more kids as ZuiStars, having kids spokespersons for Zui.com. We've also just worked with Matty B to create two television spots. We're taking advantage of this weird thing that happens in the TV market, starting Monday the 19th, when the toy guys are suddenly gone from advertising, and you've got kids at home watching TV for Christmas and New Years. We're not a big company, so we really did this carefully, but I'm excited that we'll be rolling out a national television ad campaign featuring Matty B and his original rap on Zui.com, which will be airing on Disney XD, Nickelodeon, The Hub, and Cartoon Network in a national campaign. That's big for us, and will be a big source of traffic for the holidays. We've been on a traffic tear lately, and I think we've got a really neat window to burnish that, and get our brands in from of the kids during the holidays, so we get a big start into 2012. It's a big thing, which we just closed the other day.
Thanks, and good luck!