How a tiny AI alien could help you learn more about your kids
People often say their kids are their biggest critics, so what scarier way to enter the world of entrepreneurism than creating a product for your own son and daughter?
That’s the challenge part-dad-part-inventor Bogdan Coman took on when he co-founded Woogie with fellow entrepreneur Oana Korda.
Woogie – a voice-activated alien robot that entertains and helps kids learn by engaging with them in a way they not only understand but enjoy – uses a cloud-based AI platform to make sense of its child owner’s questions and provide personalised answers.
An app on Mum or Dad’s phone connects with Woogie and enables parents to control the content it shares.
Most importantly, however, Woogie learns from the interactions it has with a child and shares that information with the app, meaning parents can learn things about their kids, connect with their interests and improve their relationship.
I caught up with both the founders to find out how Woogie came about, the story so far and where this product is headed in future.
Check out the video below to learn more about Woogie…
A personal mission
Bogdan came up with the idea for Woogie after having to spend time away from his children.
“I was travelling a lot and felt disconnected from them,” he said. “It was hard to know what my kids were interested in, especially as many of their interests exist largely on a screen.”
Driven by a desire to be closer to his kids and help them learn about the world (if not physically, then digitally) and inspired by his daughter’s made-up alien stories, Woogie was his answer.
But as with all great entrepreneurial ideas, this one grew into something bigger than originally intended.
While Woogie was initially designed to help kids learn and enable parents to be involved in that process from afar, it soon became apparent that Bogdan’s robot alien could also help parents learn a lot about their little ones – something Bogdan feels passionately about.
The story so far
Once the concept for Woogie started to get a clearer shape, Bogdan brought in co-founder Oana to help turn his big idea into a tangible product and build the team around it.
In October 2015, Woogie was officially born. By the start of 2016 they had a working prototype.
Next came producing 30 beta units and the slightly terrifying task of sending those prototypes out to the small but unrelenting critics I mentioned earlier. But the entrepreneurs needn’t have worried – to date Woogie has travelled to no fewer than seven countries, and so far the feedback has been brilliant.
But beyond helping them make the necessary physical tweaks to their product, Woogie’s team managed to test technical assumptions and collect enough amount of data that started to shape the way Woogie behaves.
They handed the information to their creative writers, even bringing a comedian on board to help design the interactions and responses.
“You have to make kids laugh or smile,” Oana explained. “If it’s purely educational they won’t use it.”
Armed with their tweaked and tested product, the brand later came to London to join the Startupbootcamp accelerator programme.
Through that they were put in contact with more British parents and kids to help aid and finesse their product design.
“Our main goal at Startupbootcamp was getting our product to market and working out how to position it,” Oana said. “Should it be a toy? An educational product? How will parents and kids perceive it?”
Ultimately they decided Woogie should sit not on the shelves of a toy shop but rather among other smart products like Amazon Alexa or Google Home. A useful device for parents, and a fun one for kids, ultimately bringing more purpose in their playtime.
But it was only by going through Startupbootcamp and having access to the mentors within it that the Woogie founders were able to reach that point in their journey.
“We wouldn’t be where we are without it,” Bogdan said.
What does the future hold?
“Separating the technical platform from the actual Woogie product is something that we’re very interested in. The extended version of what we aim with the technical platform behind Woogie is a human-machine interface based on voice, presence context, user profile/needs, gesture and body language interpretation.” Explained Oana.
“Building Woogie was from the very beginning a challenge of creating something meaningful for the most complex users – children. So we are using Woogie as a use case to build the fundaments of a stronger and more B2B oriented platform,” Oana said “Another challenge is to build trust around the technology and usage of data.”
To end our conversation, I asked the founders to tell me about their proudest moment since starting the company.
“For me it was seeing the product physically working for the first time,” Oana said. “And also seeing the reaction of the kids.”
For Bogdan, who began this journey with the aim of better connecting with his kids, the defining moment was unsurprisingly personal:
“I spoke to my daughter recently and she said, “Daddy, I’m very proud of you.” I could tell you about achievements related to business, but this is much more important to me.”