Reading to your little one before bed is a time honored tradition. But with more and more parents being forced to travel away from their children for any myriad of reasons, finding a way to keep up the tradition is harder than ever. Fortunately, one app is trying to change that.
Caribu is a reading app designed to foster long-distance relationships, by allowing a child and a parent to see each other through a live video stream while reading a children's book together. The app syncs everything, making sure that family members are all literally on the same page, and even offers interactive treats like connect-the-dot puzzles.
It's an elegant solution to a problem common to today's world: connecting with people over a long distance. We were lucky enough to interview Caribu's CEO Maxeme Tuchman alongside cofounder and CTO Alvaro Sabido to learn more about the app's birth and evolution.
You have a unique app. How did you get Caribu started?
Alvaro: “Caribu was born out of Imperial College in London and it was inspired by a photo of a soldier trying to read a story to his child by holding up a storybook to his laptop’s webcam. My experience having moved countries often as a child and being read to every day motivated me on a personal level to try and solve a situation that has become commonplace.
After winning both the Master’s and the MBA’s business plan competitions receiving prize money and very positive feedback from the judges panel, we decided to go ahead and try to turn this concept into the best experience we could. Four of us from our study group came on board as the original founders and we launched the first version of Caribu in January 2014.
Shortly after, we were accepted into Microsoft Venture’s London accelerator and the UKTI Sirius Programme where we received mentorship and office space for the next year which helped us grow and establish valuable relationships with our partners.”
What were some challenges you overcame along the way?
Alvaro: “One of our greatest challenges was finding a voice for our brand. We were four men in their 20s and, while having the right skill set to produce a great product our customers loved, we had a hard time gaining insight into our customer’s needs as we ourselves were not the target demographic.
Another challenge we faced was acquiring and curating quality content. Caribu allows customers to purchase books inside it’s in-app bookstore. We were aware that, being in the early childhood storybook market, recognizable brands are on the top of the drivers for purchases and recommendation. We were only able to partner with smaller independent publishers at first because the larger brands required either a very large user count or a very large upfront payment. Our big break came late 2014 when we brought Mattel on board alongside four of their most recognized brands including Thomas the Tank which marked a turning point in our credibility within the publishing world and our growth as a platform for the best quality storybooks.”
Could you share the coolest moment you've experienced as CEO of Caribu?
Maxeme: “There have been a lot of great moments since joining the company in August but I’d have to say that my favorite was reading a book with Asher. Asher is the oldest of three kids (he’s 7). His dad is in the military and they live on base. His grandparents live in Nevada and he’s a struggling reader. It felt like we had built this app for him!
We both added each other as friends and we started reading a book. His eyes lit up as he started sounding out words. He loved the video feature and started running around the house to have his little sister say hi to me. He challenged her to read a page and helped her along. He then ran to his mom to tell her he wanted to read a book with Nanna next. She grabbed the iPad and was like ‘How did you do that!? He hates to read! He struggles with it and never wants to read with everyone. Now he wants to read with Grandma!?' This is what we do.”
What are your future plans?
Maxeme: “Our first step is to introduce Caribu to the U.S. market. Being ‘born' in the UK has made Caribu a new resource to U.S. families and we want to make sure people in our target markets know about it. The app is pretty helpful for parents who work late or travel often, parents who are deployed in the military, divorced parents, aunts and uncles that want to stay in touch, and of course grandparents that live far away.
After that, we want to move into the literacy market. I’ve been working in the education space for about 15 years and there is nothing more important than early childhood literacy. Our platform already lends itself perfectly to increasing the amount of time kids are reading and being read to so it’ll be a natural progression to now work on increasing literacy skills.”
Have any advice for a newbie app developer hoping to follow a path similar to yours?
Alvaro: “My advice would be to be optimistic about your vision but measure everything so you can make informed decisions every step of the way and know for sure if your idea is going in the right direction. Know that it will be difficult. Often, people seem to forget the difference between the momentary ‘fun' part of building an app and the unavoidable reality of needing to manage a company with all the responsibilities that come with it. If you are a technical founder, I would advise to find a partner with a complementary skill set that understands the intricacies of managing a business.”
Maxeme: “Just to echo that last point… Alvaro and I both have business degrees but he’s the technical genius. Bringing me on to run the business side helps him focus on what he needs to do to keep the app updated and responsive to our customer’s needs. We've gotten a ton of positive feedback from investors about his ability to recognize that us joining forces is the catalyst that will take Caribu to the next level.”