All posts in “parents”

Jiobit launches its more secure, modular child location tracker starting at $100

To date, child location trackers have failed to live up to consumer expectations. They’ve arrived as oversized, bulky watches too large for little wrists, and some have even been designed so insecurely, that it would be safer to not use them at all. A new kid tracker from Jiobit, launching today, wants to address these problems by offering a fully encrypted location tracker with a more modular form factor that makes better sense for small children.

The Chicago-based startup was started by a father – Jiobit’s co-founder and CEO John Renaldi  – after he experienced firsthand the terror of losing track of his then six-year old son at a local park.

“I was a Vice President of Product at Motorola, and was out on a family trip to downtown Chicago with my son, daughter, my wife,” Renaldi explains. The family was at Maggie Daley park when it happened. “Before I knew it – I can’t tell you how I got distracted – but in a sea of other children, I lost track of my son for 30 minutes,” he says.

The child eventually found his parents – he hadn’t wandered off at all, but was having a grand ol’ time playing and didn’t even know he was “lost.”

But the incident led Renaldi to try every sort of tracking product on the market. And he came back disappointed.

“I looked into all these products and they were all storing their certificate keys in the clear. They all were hackable. And I’m just sitting here looking at this thinking, ‘oh my god.’ If someone just spent a little bit of time they could completely intercept all this communication,” Renaldi says.

So he decided the solution was to build a kid tracker himself.

The startup raised seed funding, and brought on co-founder and CTO Roger Ady, previously a director of engineering at Motorola. It went through TechStars in 2016, and raised a little over $3 million at the end of the program. To date, it’s raised $6 million since its founding in 2015.

The team played around with different designs, but decided against a wristwatch for a variety of reasons – including not only the bulk of the device, but because some schools banned them as classroom distractions.

The Jiobit tracker launching today is small (37mm x 50mm x 12mm) and lightweight (18g or less than 4 quarter coins), and can be worn in many different ways. It comes with a built-in loop attachment for attaching the device to shoelaces, drawstrings, or if it’s being placed in a pocket.

Another attachment, the secure loop, lets you attach it to belt loops, shirt tag loops, or buttonholes.

Although the secure loop is more challenging to attach and remove, from personal experience, I’d recommend this option as the child can’t remove it.

(My Jiobit disappeared one day at school, because it was not secured – and now that it’s offline, it’s just gone forever since the school can’t find it.)

However, in my brief time with the device and app, I thought it was better designed in terms of setup and usage than others I’d tried in the past.

Unfortunately, Jiobit doesn’t have an insurance program for lost or stolen devices – only an accidental damage warranty. So I’d suggest not making my mistake, given the cost.

The Jiobit starts at $99.99 for the device with a year contract, or is $149.99 for a non-contract device with the option of a commitment-free $7.99 per month plan.

It ships with its accessories, cable, and charging dock. More accessories, including colorful covers and other attachments, are in the works.

To locate the child, the Jiobit utilizes a combination of Bluetooth and GPS.

If the child is beyond BLE range – like around your backyard, perhaps, you can switch over to a Live Mode in the app to see their GPS location as a dot. The accuracy of this system is about as accurate as GPS is in a mapping or navigation app. 

Parents can also use the Jiobit app to set up a geofence around specific locations, like home or school, in order to receive check-in alerts when the child leaves or arrives. They can also add other family members, trusted friends, nannies, etc. to a “Care Team” in the app to give those people access to the child’s location.

The company has taken pains to secure the location data that’s stored, says Renaldi, which is a differentiating factor for this company’s solution.

“Everything stored at rest – both on the cloud and on device – is encrypted,” he explains. “Any local data, as well as the encryption keys that are used to transmit the data, are all in a tamper-proof piece of silicon on the device that’s akin to what’s in your iPhone that stores your payment keys for your credit cards. That secure element – that same architecture – is used for us,” Renaldi continues.

That means that no one can get to the keys, even they gained physical access to the device.

“That’s a first in the industry for location tracking products,” Renaldi notes. 

The data is also secured in transit over Wi-Fi, cellular and Bluetooth, as the Jiobit is assigned a unique key – an authentication token – that allows the company to protect the data moving between the device itself and Amazon’s IoT cloud. (More on this here.)

Despite all these protections, one thing that worried me was that there was a history of my child’s exact GPS coordinates being stored – indefinitely – in the cloud. The company says it will soon launch a feature that allows parents an option to save their device’s location history, so it doesn’t want to purge these records for now.

But if you don’t want to save the child’s location history beyond the past few days, you currently have to ask the company to delete your files. (There are only two people at Jiobit who can even look at the GPS history, when the customer requests it.)

Jiobit said its beta testers asked for historical data, which it why it made this decision.

But that seems crazy to me – most parents I know err on the side of being almost overly paranoid when it comes to protecting their kids’ data. I can’t imagine that most would want location data stored forever anywhere, no matter how securely. My guess is that some parents were using the “child tracker” as a “nanny tracker.”

At the end of the day, there’s a certain kind of parent who will buy a kid tracker. It’s someone who wants their kids to have the kind of freedom they remember having from their own childhood  – where parents didn’t hover quite as much as they do today. But they want a little added security.

Selling to this market is challenging however, because a lot of this consumer demand is often just talk. “Oh, I wish I had a kid tracker!” says the mom or dad trotting around behind their child all day. In practice, it’s actually hard to stop helicoptering the kid in a society where this has become the norm, and there’s social pressure to do the same.

There’s also a limited span of years where this device makes sense. Ever younger kids are getting smartphones these days. (You can convert Jiobit to a pet tracker at that point, I suppose.)

Fortunately, the company is planning a future beyond kid tracking. It’s partnering with airlines, businesses, and even government agencies who want to use its location technology in a variety of ways beyond tracking people. NDAs prevent Jiobit from discussing the particulars of these discussions and deals, but it sounds like there’s a Plan B in the works if the kid trackers don’t sell.

In the meantime, parents can buy the Jiobit here, starting today.

Kidbox raises $15.3 million for its personalized children’s clothing box

Kidbox, a clothing-in-a-box startup aimed at a slightly younger crowd than StitchFix, has raised $15.3 million in Series B funding to expand and scale its business.

The round was led by Canvas Ventures, and includes participation from existing investors Firstime Ventures and HDS Capital, as well as new strategic partners Fred Langhammer, former CEO of The Estée Lauder Companies Inc., and The Gindi Family, owners of Century 21 department stores.

To date, Kidbox has raised $28 million.

The company was founded in October, 2015, then shipped its first box of clothing out of beta testing during the back-to-school shopping season the next year.

Similar to StitchFix, Kidbox also curates a selection of around half a dozen pieces of clothing and other accessories (but not shoes), which are based on a child’s “style profile” filled out online by mom or dad. The profile asks for the child’s age, sizes and questions about the child’s clothing preferences — like what colors they like and don’t like, as well as other styles to avoid — like if you have a child who hates wearing dresses, for example, or one who has an aversion to the color orange.

“Those answers feed into a proprietary algorithm — we’re very data science and tech focused,” explains Kidbox CEO Miki Berardelli. “That algorithm hits up against our product catalog at any given moment, and presents to our human styling team the perfect box for — just as an example, a size 7 sporty boy. And from there, the styling team looks at the box that’s been served up, the customer’s history, if they’re a repeat customer, the customer’s geography and any notes [the customer] added to their account,” she says.

The box is then put together and shipped to the customer.

Berardelli previously worked at Ralph Lauren, Tory Burch and was president of Digital Commerce for Chico’s (Chico’s, White House Black Market and Soma). She joined Kidbox in September 2016 after meeting founder Haim Dabah while he was searching for Kidbox’s CEO.

“It resonated with me as a consumer, as an early adopter of all things digital, and as a multi-time operator of e-commerce businesses,” she says, of why she decided to join the startup.

Today, Kidbox’s boxes are sent out seasonally for spring, summer, back-to-school, fall and winter. However, unlike StitchFix, Kidbox isn’t a subscription service — you can skip boxes at any time, and you’re not charged a “styling fee” or any other add-on fees.

However, if you keep the full box, Kidbox donates a new outfit to a child in need through a partnership with Delivering Good, a nonprofit that allows customers to choose the charity to receive their clothing donation.

At launch, Kidbox carried around 30 kid’s brands. It’s since grown its assortment to more than 100 brands for kids ages newborn through 14, including well-known names like Adidas, DKNY, 7 for All Mankind, Puma, Jessica Simpson, Reebok, Diesel and others.

Kidbox launches its own private labels

With the next back-to-school box, Kidbox will insert its own brands into the mix. The company will be launching multiple private labels across all ages, and every box will get at least one own-label item. The brands will include everything from onesies for babies to graphic tees to denim to basics, and more. 

“We believe we’ve identified a void in the children’s apparel marketplace,” notes Berardelli. “The style sensibility of our exclusive brands will all have a unique personality, and a unique voice that’s akin to how our customers describe themselves. It’s all really based on customer feedback. Our customers tell us what they would love more of; and our merchandising team understands what they would like to be able to procure more of, in terms of rounding out our assortment,” she says.

On a personal note, a customer of both Kidbox and Rockets of Awesome, two of the leading kid box startups, what I appreciate about Kidbox is the affordable price point — the whole box is less than $100 — and its personal touches. Kidbox ships with crayons and a pencil-case for kids, and the box is designed for kids to color. It also includes a print edition of its editorial content, and sometimes there’s a small toy included, too.

Kidbox rival Rockets of Awesome is a little pricier, I’ve found, but has some unique pieces that make it worth checking out, as well.

With the new funding, Kidbox aims to further invest in its technology foundation, its data science teams, its own labels, its customer acquisition strategy and marketing.

The company doesn’t disclose how many customers it has or its revenues. Instead, it notes that the Kidbox “community” — which includes fluffy numbers like Facebook Page fans and people who signed up for emails — is over 1.2 million. So it’s hard to determine how many people are actually buying from Kidbox boxes.

Kidbox has potential in a market where brick-and-mortar retailers are closing their doors, and e-commerce apparel is on the upswing. But it — like others in the space — faces the looming threat posed by Amazon. The retailer has also just launched its clothing box service, Prime Wardrobe, which includes kids’ clothing.

“Kidbox is at the head of a trend that sees a world in which every person will have their own personalized storefront for literally anything — be it kids clothing, furniture or weddings,” says Paul Hsiao, general partner at Canvas Ventures, about the firm’s investment. Hsiao has also led investments in Zola and eporta while at Canvas, and in Houzz while at NEA.

“Kidbox is growing at atypically high multiples. I think it is because of their deep connection with their customers — the kids, the parents and grandparents,” Hsiao continues. “The Kidbox team is also remarkable at logistics. Sounds boring, but e-commerce is fundamentally a logistics business,” he adds.

Kidbox is currently a team of 35 based in New York.

Amazon’s new ‘Alexa Blueprints’ let anyone create custom Alexa skills and responses

Amazon this morning is introducing “Alexa Blueprints,” a new way for any Alexa owner to create their own customized Alexa skills or responses, without needing to know how to code. The idea is to allow Alexa owners to create their own voice apps, like a trivia game or bedtime stories, or teach Alexa to respond to questions with answers they design – like “Who’s the best mom in the world?,” for example.

You could also create a skill that includes helpful information for the babysitter, which could be triggered by the command, “Alexa, open My Sitter,” Amazon suggests.

“Alexa Skill Blueprints is an entirely new way for you to teach Alexa personalized skills just for you and your family,” explained Steve Rabuchin, Vice President, Amazon Alexa, in a statement about the launch. “You don’t need experience building skills or coding to get started—my family created our own jokes skill in a matter of minutes, and it’s been a blast to interact with Alexa in a totally new and personal way.”

To build your own skill or custom Alexa response, users will visit the website blueprints.amazon.com and select a template.

At launch, there are over 20 templates across categories like Fun & Games, At Home, Storyteller, and Learning & Knowledge.

The templates are designed so you can just fill in the bits and pieces that make them personalized to your needs. You won’t need to go through a series of complicated steps, and no technical knowledge is required. The templates are even pre-filled and work as is, if you just want to try them out before making your own.

After you’ve filled in your own content, you name it and publish with a click. This makes the skill or response available to all Alexa-enabled devices associated with your own Amazon account. But it’s not available to the public or the Alexa Skills Store.

Families with Echo devices, in particular, seem to be a heavy focus for Alexa Blueprints. Kids have readily taken to Alexa, and today there are nearly 500 public Alexa skills built for kids alone. Families also often have private jokes and bedtime rituals where Alexa could come in – offering to “tell a Dad joke” or “start Anna’s story,” for instance. Plus, Alexa is designed as a home companion – controlling smart devices, playing music, setting timers, and offering information like news and weather, among other things.

But families aren’t the only ones would could take advantage of Alexa Blueprints. College students could use the flash cards custom skill when studying, while a group of friends or roommates could design their own trivia games. And Airbnb owners could set up a skill for their houseguests.

After you’ve created the custom skill, it will be available in the Skills You’ve Made webpage on the Blueprints site. You’ll also be able to enable, disable and delete your skills.

The feature could give Amazon an edge in selling its Echo speakers to consumers, as it’s now the only platform offering this level of customization – Apple’s HomePod is really designed for music lovers, and doesn’t support third-party apps. Google Home also doesn’t offer this type of customization.

All three are competing to be the voice assistant people use in their home, but Alexa so far is leading by a wide margin – it still has roughly 70 percent of the smart speaker market.

Alexa Blueprints are available today in the U.S. only.

The full list of Alexa Blueprints available at launch is below:

At Home

  • Custom Q&A: Customize responses to your questions
  • Houseguest: Make your guests feel at home with quick access to important info
  • Babysitter: Help your sitter find things, remember steps and get important info
  • Pet Sitter: Help your pet sitter care for your favorite animal

Fun & Games

  • Family Jokes: Create a list of your favorite jokes for when you need a laugh
  • Trivia: Create your own multiple choice trivia game on any topic
  • Inspirations: Curate a list of your favorite inspirational quotes
  • Family Trivia: Play together and brush up on family history
  • Bachelorette Party: Play to find out how well the bride’s friends know her
  • Birthday Trivia: Play to see who knows the birthday girl or boy best
  • Burns: Roast your friends and family with lighthearted burns
  • Compliments: Flatter your favorites with a list of custom compliments
  • Double Trouble: Find out which couple knows each other best with this customizable game
  • First Letter: Play a game of categories starting with a certain letter

Storyteller

  • Adventure: Write an adventure story where your child is the hero
  • Fairy Tale: Customize an interactive prince and princess-themed tale
  • Sci-Fi: Create an interactive story with a far-out theme
  • Fable: Create a short narrative with a moral of the story

Learning & Knowledge

  • Flash Cards: Study, test yourself, and master any subject by voice
  • Facts: Keep a list of facts on your favorite topic, all in one place
  • Quiz: Challenge yourself and others with a customizable quiz

Amazon rolls out remote access to its FreeTime parental controls

Amazon is making it easier for parents to manage their child’s device usage from their own phone, tablet, or PC with an update to the Parent Dashboard in Amazon FreeTime. Since its launch in 2012, Amazon’s FreeTime Unlimited has been one of the better implementations of combining kid-friendly content with customizable profiles and parental controls. Today, parents can monitor and manage kids’ screen time, time limits, daily educational goals, device activity, and more while allowing children to access family-friendly content like books, videos, apps and games.

Last year, Amazon introduced a Parent Dashboard as another means of helping parents monitor screen time as well as have conversations with kids about what they’re doing on their devices. For example, if the child was reading a particular book, the dashboard might prompt parents with questions they could ask about the books’ content. The dashboard also provided a summary of the child’s daily device use, including things like what books were read, videos watched, apps or games played, and websites visited, and for how long.

According to a research study Amazon commissioned with Kelton Global Research, the company found that 97 percent of parents monitor or manage their kids’ use of tablets and smartphones, but 75 percent don’t want to hover over kids when they’re using their devices.

On Thursday, Amazon addressed this problem by allowing parents to remotely configure the parental control settings from the online Parent Dashboard in order to manage the child’s device from afar from a phone, tablet or computer.

The controls are the same as those available through the child’s device itself. Parents can set a device bedtime, daily goals and time limits, adjust their smart filter, and enable the web browser remotely. They can also remotely add new books, videos, apps and games to their child’s FreeTime profile, and lock or unlock the device for a set period of time.

The addition comes following last year’s launch of FreeTime on Android, and Google’s own entry into the parental control software space with the public launch of Family Link last fall. Apple also this year made vague promises about improving its existing parental controls in the future, in response to pressure from two Apple shareholder groups, Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System.

With the increased activity in the parental control market, Amazon’s FreeTime may lose some of its competitive advantages. Amazon also needed to catch up to the remote control capabilities provided with Google’s Family Link.

There are those who argue that parental controls that do things like limit kids’ activity on apps and games or turn off access to the internet are enablers of lazy parenting, where devices instead of people are setting the rules. But few parents use parental controls in that fashion. Rather, they establish house rules then use software to remind children the rules exist and to enforce them.

The updated FreeTime Parent Dashboard is available via a mobile-optimized website at parents.amazon.com.

Edtech company Kidaptive raises $19.1 million for its adaptive learning platform


Edtech startup Kidaptive, an adaptive-learning company that begin its life with a suite of curriculum-focused iPad games for kids, announced today it has closed on $19.1 million in Series C funding, in a round led by Formation 8 and Korean education company Woongjin ThinkBig. The investment follows a deal with Woongjin that will see Kidaptive powering an English language learning system Woongjin Compass wants to build; as well as deal with its parent company, a large publisher with half a million paying subscribers, to personalize their tablet experience.

The deal is one of several in the works for Kidaptive, which now styles itself as more of a “big data for learning” company, rather than maker of educational kids’ games it was known for just a few years ago. Its early apps, which involved interactive storytelling, high-quality animation, and puzzles, had helped to create educational profiles for the young players while helping young children with reading comprehension and math skills, as well as improved cognitive, emotional and social functions.

[embedded content]

The technology powering this experience has since evolved into Kidaptive’s “Adaptive Learning Platform,” a cloud-based assessment and reporting platform that can create learner profiles with actionable insights for parents and teachers. Another important aspect to Kidaptive’s platform is that it adapts in real-time based on how well the learner is performing in order to personalize the learning experience further.

The platform can also incorporate educational activity that takes place offline to enhance those learner profiles. This is especially important at younger ages, where parental involvement – like follow-up conversations to trip to museums – could help reinforce what the child learned. In other contexts, like language learning, for example, the platform could suggest to parents supplemental materials based on the child’s performance, like additional workbooks or videos to watch.

Kidaptive had specifically targeted the Korean market a few years ago with the acquisition of Hodoo English, an MMORPG which teaches children English. The acquisition was for both the IP and the team, giving the company a foothold in Korea, and a way to expand into China.

In addition to the deal with Woongjin, Kidaptive also has projects in the works in India and China. These are still under NDA, but the deal in China, which launches at the end of this summer, involves a large brick-and-mortar retailer that sells its own educational technology products (physical goods), which it wants to enhance with parental feedback mechanisms from Kidaptive.

In India, several deals are in the works, which Kidaptive hopes to announce by Q3.

Meanwhile, Kidaptive is working with the U.S. government and PBS KIDS a part of a $100 million five-year federal grant to create a personalized learning ecosystem. Kidaptive will be providing the adaptivity and learner profile management—two central features of the grant, says Kidaptive CEO P.J. Gunsagar.

“Our ability to ask the right questions at the right time by understanding who the learner is and provide actionable insights is unique. Just like Facebook has created a social graph, and LinkedIn a professional graph, our goal is to create are learning graph,” he explains.

The company is live with one PBS KIDS app associated with digital series The Ruff Ruffman Show, but it will be rolling out in two or three more this year, and multiple apps over the next few years.

As Kidaptive becomes further integrated across this PBS KIDS ecosystem of apps, the learner profiles will take into consideration the data generated from across all the PBS KIDS app where it’s live.

However, Gunsagar stresses that parents are in control of how this data is used.

“You own the learner model, not us…this is the parents’ and the childs’ model, it stays with them to make sure we’re optimizing the experience for them the way they want,” he says. The parents will be able to control how this data is used by requesting insights or not, or by disallowing the data to be shared across apps, if they don’t want it to be.

Gunsagar says big data for learning is starting to take off, and he believes his company will achieve profitability within the next 12 months as a result of its deals. It expects to manage 10 million active learner profiles within the next four years.

With the funding, Kidaptive plans to increase its 50-person team by 20 percent in the U.S. and 20 percent in Korea. It will also hire 5 people in China and 3 in India. The product itself will be further developed as well, with the next focus on test score prediction – something that half a dozen test prep companies in India and China talking with Kidaptive are now interested in.

Featured Image: Aping Vision / STS/Getty Images