Hillel's Tech Corner: Zoog: Making family calls less awkward

Enthrall kids with app that lets you add graphics, sounds to stories

Zoog. (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
 A few weeks back, I received an email through the form on my website from an entrepreneur named Yoav Oren. He wanted some advice about marketing his start-up, Zoog. I responded the way I always respond to such emails. I wrote, “Tell me more.”
Yoav then replied, “I am an old friend of your brother’s, Ari z”l, who I trained with for many years in Tora Dojo (I’m a 3rd degree black belt in the system).”
He had my attention, not only because he knew Ari but because a 3rd degree black belt has surely learned what it means to work hard, focus and get up when falling down. Those are the exact skills an entrepreneur needs.
He continued, “Last year I left my job as chief of staff at SimilarWeb to start my own start-up, Zoog (getzoog.com).”
OK, now I was really listening. Clearly, Yoav is the real deal.
“In short, Zoog adapts children’s books to the medium of creative video communication, enabling grandparents, parents, other remote family members or educators to communicate with the children in their lives across the technology gap. Basically we allow anyone to record themselves reading a children’s book on their mobile device or tablet, and literally putting themselves ‘in’ the book using augmented reality masks and filters.”
At this point, my brain started to race about the incredible potential of this company.
We all spent way too much time on video calls throughout this past year, and while there are of course endless solutions or products out there that offer video calling, how many of them give family members the ability to speak face to face virtually while enjoying a joined activity that is immersive and compelling to all participants? The answer? Not many.
I’m sure we all remember those interactive books where our parents had our name put into the story. Now imagine that same concept but with augmented reality and a truly immersive experience.
The company has raised a pre-seed round of $600,000 from Remagine Ventures, Joy Ventures and the ZEP Fund, three incredible funds! They will be beginning their next round of financing soon with the goal of raising $3-$4 million.
Zoog currently has seven employees and five interns, plus a front-end development team in India who have been working with the team for over six months now. The team is mostly focused on the creative side with 3D animators, illustrators and designers, a developer, a QA engineer, as well as storyboard writer and even a children’s book writer, so Zoog can start creating and owning its own content.
Zoog is currently based out of LABS in Sarona Azrieli, and will be moving to a new office in the near future.
Zoog is developing a new storytelling format designed to help kids and their families communicate across the technology gap. The company’s platform allows anyone to bring a children’s book to life and become part of the story using innovative tools such as built-in augmented reality masks, machine learning, and animation-creation technologies.
ZOOG ENABLES the creation of innovative video books that kids will love to watch and grandparents, parents and even educators will enjoy making. The platform was designed with families in mind, particularly young children and their grandparents.
Zoog aims to bring generations together in a meaningful way, even when they are physically separated.
So I set up a virtual meeting with Yoav to hear more. It didn’t take long for me to realize that not only is Yoav super-talented, but he also comes from talent. His dad, Michael Oren, is a personal friend and also the former ambassador of Israel to the United States.
The Zoog app is available on the App Store (iOS only for now.) for free and anyone can download it, create an interactive story, and share it easily.
One of the many testimonials on Zoog’s website says it all. It’s from a grandmother who says that because of Zoog, time zones disappear and she is able to read her grandkids a story and tuck them in to sleep every night.
I know that my family, several times over the past year, used different platforms to have a group call and play a game together or enjoy some other group activity. Sounds like Zoog would have been perfect for us.
I downloaded the Zoog app and I must say, not only is it designed beautifully, but the fonts are large and clear, the on-boarding is pretty fantastic, and choosing a book with me in it, is pretty unbelievable.
I’ve spoken about this many times but I’ll say it again: The way we interact with our devices is going to fundamentally change over the next few years.
Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung and many other companies are already in the process of building augmented-reality glasses. Whether it’s virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality or something else, I’d imagine that clicking on a mouse or swiping your finger on a large piece of glass will not be the way we interact with our computers for very long. It’ll change, and platforms like Zoog will support that change.
Between surfing the web, watching movies, or reading your kids a book before bedtime, immersive technologies are where we are headed, and it won’t be long.
We all know that the pandemic created more family time, which is good. But what no one talks about is how kids kind of get awkward on the phone when they have to speak with their relatives, especially grandparents. Conversations get awkward really quickly, and turn into “Yes yes, no no, yea okay, bye.” The bond fizzles when conversations get awkward.
With Zoog, relatives are placed into the story, and their voices are reading it. They can add their own personal messages and make the story their own. It’s a genuine storytelling experience over distances. You can imagine busy parents sending stories over business trips, or grandparents from overseas, or military families.
Zoog is still an early-stage company but based on the talented team, the incredible investors, and the need for their solution, I’d imagine it won’t be long until this company achieves critical mass and gains traction for consumers worldwide.