How SA’s Nooksy connects estranged family members with kids through story time

South African start-up Nooksy connects estranged family members with children through storytime, and has also built the world’s first ‘impact’ children’s literary library.

Launched in 2018, Nooksy has developed a mobile application that facilitates video calls between children and, for example, distant grandparents, and allows them to select a book to read from an online reading room.

He describes his library as an “impact” library, in that his books touch on important topics and help raise the next generation of conscious citizens of the world.

“We also created a web application that allows the distant family member to join the reading room without having to install the application. This means they can join the call with just one click,” said Yon Kahlon, the startup’s founder.

The idea for Nooksy was born when Kahlon and Franz Struwig, the founder of iKubu, a South African startup eventually acquired by Garmin, found themselves with time off between projects.

“We decided to use that time and really ‘play’. We were building a new product every week, on the one condition that it solved a real problem that one of us was having,” Kahlon told Disrupt Africa. .

“One of those projects was a PageTurner, which eventually became Nooksy. We wanted to create a way for grandparents to read to kids remotely, so the idea was to have a device that you put in any children’s book and to have a way to turn the page from anywhere in the world using the IoT. We tried different mechanisms, but in the end we couldn’t find a way that would work for all kinds of books.

So the couple decided to try to approach the problem from a different angle, and this time built a small cardboard house for the child to sit in.

“Inside was a 22-inch screen and a big, illuminated ‘push me now’ button. When the child crawled into this little house and pressed the button, he called the grandparents. We created an app that would host the video call and load books onto the screen so they could read together,” Kahlon said.

“At the end of this period, we realized that there was a real opportunity here. Franz and I could see that the options available to connect with the kids remotely weren’t working, and it was time we leveraged some innovative technology solutions to fix this problem.

Since then, the idea has evolved considerably, but the main mission has remained.

“We want to create an environment for positive and meaningful bonds between children and family members that helps raise aware and caring children. It simply excludes playing online games together and instead focuses on an activity that has been shown by multiple studies to be essential for children’s intellectual and emotional development: reading aloud,” Kahlon said.

“There is countless research showing the importance of reading aloud. Because time is limited with the distant family member, we have carefully selected books that address important topics like kindness, living one’s values ​​and so much more.It really creates a learning environment when talking with children and involves distant family members in the developmental journey of the child.

Self-funded, Nooksy has nevertheless had a strong following.

“This year, we launched a marketing campaign to attract users to the app, which gave us great success. We get about 1,500 new users per month,” Kahlon said.

The majority of these users are in South Africa, although the plan is to expand into new markets and add books in multiple languages. The startup operates on a subscription model and shares revenue with authors and publishers on the platform.

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