At the Mama Bear Family Technology conference, a series of practical talks from entrepreneurs tackling the family market yields solid advice.
The overriding theme: this market is big. Huge, even. Two trillion dollars, says Dave McClure, organizer of the conference. $250 billion, says Jody Sherman, of the family products site Ecomom. Either way, big.
Addressing this market is complex, speakers said. The consumers of the products aren't always the buyers. Parents buy for kids. But it's the grandparents who have most of the money. And teachers make a big difference as well. You need to sell to all of them at once.
It is worth it to solve the challenge of servicing multiple types of users at once, says Raj Kapoor of Mayfield Capital. Big money from a old-school, traditional source -- consumer advertising -- is soon to flood the startups addressing the family. Kapoor says the CPG (consumer packaged goods) advertisers are just coming online, and "they want this content."
Kapoor eyes mobile as the best delivery platform, and not just because "moms are mobile," but because on mobile apps, it's harder to switch between commerce and content sites. One the Web, no matter how much you like reading about a product on a popular site, when it's time to buy it you're very likely to shoot over to Amazon, which is just a click away. On a mobile device, switching between sites or apps, and then re-entering information to do a transaction, is frustrating; apps can do both content and commerce successfully.
Reaching the kids
Several entrepreneurs at the conference were showing iPad apps to engage with young children. Most were educational. Some lessons from their efforts to win the support of kids and parents: "Passbacks" kill a product. When a kid has to give a device to a parent to get it to work, the parent begins to hate it. Most of the time, they want to give an iPad with a kid's app running to a kid and not have it come back in two minutes.
Also, you don't need to spend a lot of money on graphics. Kids can engage with simple, blocky shapes and crude graphics. However, engaging and amusing audio content does make a big difference.
Finally, in whatever app you're building for kids, don't over-praise. You do need to give kids rewards, but not after every challenge.
Levar Burton, formerly of "Reading Rainbow" and before that "Star Trek: The Next Generation," gave a motivational talk urging developers to focus on teaching "the value of working together." He also said that "We need to do a better job of teaching a child what media literacy is."
Burton is working on his own startup, which he says will be "a children's brand that is built on a foundation of entertainment that is also enriching."