The Toy Book chatted with Daniel Buelhoff, co-founder and CEO of Storypod, an audio-based, screenless storytelling toy for kids. Storypod launched on Kickstarter last summer, ultimately raising more than $240,000 for the project. The toy officially went on sale this month at storypod.com, and we talked to Buelhoff about the inspiration behind the toy, the Kickstarter process, and more.
The Toy Book: How did the idea for and development of Storypod come about?
Daniel Buelhoff: During a long visit back to my native home of Germany, I rediscovered my childhood audio cassettes and decided to test-play some of them to my 2.5-year-old daughter, Sara. To my surprise, she was pretty excited with them and paid close attention to many of the stories that are now over 30 years old. The more I observed how she engaged with the compelling audio experience and my generation growing up in Germany, I wondered how this form of “edutainment” was forgotten and realized even more how the screens — phones, tablets, and lastly TVs — had taken over. Being a fervent critic of spending too much time in front of screens, I decided to explore audio-centric toys in more detail and got excited with the idea of building something that combines audio storytelling with interactive learning elements in a delightful experience for kids.
TB: How did you decide on Kickstarter as your launch platform, and what were the advantages or disadvantages of launching with a crowdsourcing platform?
DB: As we are building something new and innovative, we thought it would be very beneficial to explore concept-market-fit prior to investing in full-scale development and mass-market production. As the biggest product crowdfunding platform out there, Kickstarter became our go-to-choice. But we knew that Kickstarter campaigns require lots of preparation and attention, thus, we did not take that decision lightly. The biggest risks we analyzed were mainly related to a potential audience mismatch: The core target audience of Kickstarter is 78% male and 25-34 years old, and our initial research suggested that our ideal target group is moms and grandparents. Fortunately, we were able to reach and surpass our goal, ensuring enough financing to bring our product to market. And, last but not least, we ended up being among the five most-funded toy campaigns on Kickstarter ever.
TB: Can you describe the basics of how the Storypod works, as well as its educational, play, and developmental value for kids?
DB: That’s pretty straightforward: We have a multidirectional speaker for kids that connects to the internet for a cloud connection to download stories, music, fairytales, knowledge quizzes, and some fun brain games. These downloads get activated by placing toy figurines (called Crafties), books, and/or flashcards on top of the Storypod using NFC technology. Once downloaded, any content gets stored on Storypod’s 16 GB memory chip, so that no internet connection is required should Storypod be offline — on a long road trip, for example (note: Storypod’s rechargeable battery lasts between 7-10 hours). As parents ourselves and being concerned with the rise of screen time for kids of all ages, we thought from the start that taking kids off-screen with highly entertaining storytelling is a high priority, but we wanted to pair this with educational pieces and interactivity. That’s why we incorporated a trivia feature enabled by four colored buttons on top of the Storypod. Some of our content formats prompt kids to participate in answering riddles and questions related to the audio content. And our latest development of audio-enabled learning cards takes it even one step further and allows for a full learning experience that we can customize to fit into school curriculums.
TB: The Crafties figures that interact with the Storypod have a very unique, knitted design. How did you decide on that material choice?
DB: That was a combination of two aspects: First, seeing how our daughter’s room is basically taken over by a lot of plastic toys, we reminisced about the time when kids rather played with wooden blocks and more natural materials. And second, we thought that yarn figurines just have so much more character and appeal than almost all of the plastic figurines you see from other major brands. Last but not least, we also see an environmental component and would love to develop Storypod further into becoming more environmental-friendly by either using only recycled plastic (where possible), as little as possible, and/or no plastic at all one day.
TB: The Storypod content is available in both English and Spanish. Why was it important, in your opinion, to provide the content in both of these languages?
DB: Our kids grow up trilingual: German, English, and Spanish. And in a global world where more and more families raise their kids bilingual, we thought we should cover the two most spoken languages in the United States. While we are most likely not capable of guaranteeing that all future content will always be available in both languages, we strive to offer this to all of our original content — our Craftie Fox Adventures. Craftie Fox is our hero and original stories’ protagonist and with these original stories, we aim to create excitement and interest for science at an early age and inspire kids to dream and imagine everything is possible.
TB: Your Kickstarter campaign featured concepts for a lot of potential Storypod expansions and accessories, such as playhouses, headphones, and travel pouches. Can you speak a bit more about plans for these accessories?
DB: Yes, we have some first concepts already for a variety of accessories but are not ready to announce these just yet. We’re working hard on being able to release new products and accessories all through this coming year. Please stay tuned.
TB: Also, more generally speaking, how do you hope to see Storypod expand as a brand?
DB: Mid- to long-term, we hope that we can become a household name for audio-centric content and playful learning for kids around the globe.
TB: Where can a consumer purchase Storypod at this time?
DB: Storypod can best be purchased through our website, storypod.com, and also through other online marketplaces like Amazon. We’re also working out retail partnerships that will allow consumers to find us in stores hopefully by end of this year. While direct-to-consumer and e-commerce are our core focus, we’re targeting specialized toy stores and bookstores toward the end of the year as preferred distribution partners for our product.
TB: Is there anything else you would like to add?
DB: I would like to give a special thanks to our Kickstarter and Indiegogo backers and their families for supporting us from the beginning — without them, there was no way we could have built this incredibly complex business in the midst of a global pandemic. Thanks to them, we’ll be able to bring the magic of Storypod to many more families worldwide. Thank you!