Social networks aimed at kids aren’t a new concept. ScuttlePad and Togetherville, for example, have been attempting to provide social sharing environments for the under-12 crowd since 2010. But the team behind PixyKids, a new startup still in development, thinks there’s still plenty of room to make a significant impact in kid-focused social networking, and has secured $3 million in funding from ATA Ventures and other angel investors to help it achieve that goal.
The Menlo Park-based team includes ex-Googler Michael Adair as COO and former Disney executive Kristen Alexander as VP of Marketing. PixyKids is headed by Rajul Kadakia, an entrepreneur with a background in product design and business operations and development, who told BetaKit in an interview that the site will bring something the space is lacking – a space to share kid-created content not only with friends, but with family, too.
“There’s a need for kids to actually share their content, because they actually do create a lot of content,” Kadakia said. “What makes us unique is that we’re at the intersection of where Facebook meets Disney, Facebook being personalized user-generated content, with video and text chat, and also being an interactive app platform. From Disney, we take high quality interaction […] and sticky play patterns.”
Kadakia told BetaKit that where other sites just take the Facebook model and try to apply it to kids, PixyKids aims to incorporate more creative aspects, allowing its users to not just share content but use it to form the basis of games. For example, kids can make animations from submitted photos, or turn them into puzzles they can play socially with others.
Another way PixyKids is different is that it encourages parents and kids to sign up together. In order to help safeguard kids, the network provides registered parents with control over their kids’ access to content and connections – parents approve friend requests, not children, and parents also have to authenticate their identities using credit cards to prove they’re related to the kids using the service. “Parents know, just like in the real world, who their kids are interacting with online,” Kadakia says of the safeguards in place. “Dangerous elements can’t come in because the parents are approving connections. We’re also using moderation, including machine standards and human moderators, and there’s also a self-flagging mechanism so kids can help safeguard their own communities.”
Adair addressed PixyKids’ monetization strategy, which he said will allow parents to pay for value-added services in one of two ways. “We’re going with the strategies that are tried and true in the industry, which basically exist as subscriptions and as virtual goods,” Adair specified. “And then there’s also a gamification element… Kids upload a photo, or they post a comment or add a friend and those points can be used to buy virtual goods and other items.” Kadakia added that the company has also discussed the possibility of offering real-world rewards to further encourage on-site interaction down the road. It’s a possibility that could eventually help PixyKids add brand partners as another potential revenue stream.
PixyKids’ plan to essentially make the social network an app platform, by offering different games and activities through the site, could help it avoid one of the natural pitfalls of kid-focused startups: a limited life in terms of audience appeal. Targeting 6 to 12 year olds means that not only do you have to provide something that keeps kids constantly entertained, but also there’s a need to adapt to that audience as they undergo relatively dramatic changes. Kadakia pointed out that the built-in games and apps will allow the network to target different age groups and maturity levels with different content; she also says PixyKids’ can actually help kids migrate to more grown-up networks like Facebook once they reach the top end of the site’s target demographic.
In the end, Kadakia says that PixyKids will be about helping kids tell their own story through creative expression, in a way that lets parents and relatives be involved in that story-making process. It remains to be seen how well that approach will blend with gamification elements and revenue models that have previously succeeded for actual kid-focused games like Moshi Monsters, but PixyKids will have a chance to test its model when it launches in beta, which Kadakia expects to happen by the end of Q2 this year.