Marco Gervasi is a lawyer now based in Shanghai. He advises VC funds, incubators, and accelerators overseas on their China entry strategies. He’s a part of a Shanghai tech voluntary organization called Techyizu.
When observing children playing with iPads, Pickatale CEO Sigbjørn Dugal thought of how to educate his kids using modern tools. He was finding the publishing industry very old, not creating engaging content fast enough. Then the idea struck him. The result was Pickatale’s multilingual iPad storybook app providing more than 100 multilingual books. (Update: The article’s headline has been changed).
The app aims to teach children new languages and expand their native tongue vocabulary while listening to their favorite stories. Through a monthly subscription, children can download ‘all you can eat’ stories. “We have already been named the Netflix or the Spotify of children books”, says its COO, Josh Chaim. After the app’s initial success, the company is now focusing on partnerships with educational institutions and, believe it or not, with airlines.
Pickatale’s stories are one of two kinds: original ones, or public domain tales – including plenty of fairy-tales – rewritten with a modern twist for consumption on an iPad. “Bright illustrations that talk when tapped are sure to excite curious little fingers and minds,” says Pickatale’s slogan.
Beneath the pavement, the beach
What is interesting about this startup is its international spirit and model. The company is a Norwegian registered startup operating out of Beijing. Dugal is an Indian-Norwegian serial entrepreneur based in Beijing, and he’s also the MD of a London-listed private equity fund. Pickatale’s stories are the product of a collaboration between experienced authors, illustrators, narrators, and translators around the world. Texts, sounds, and images are compiled by proprietary software producing a final digital story.
Thanks to its business model, this startup could be based anywhere in the world. However, Sig, as the Pickatale crew call their CEO, chose Beijing for two main reasons. China has become one of the most interesting markets, and it is attracting talent from all over the world. Pickatale’s staff comes from Norway, Canada, Denmark, Holland, Israel, Brazil, and China.
While Thomas Friedman says that the world is flat in his book of that name, Deloitte’s John Hagel writes in his book The Power of Pull that the world is spiked. Either way, there are now megacities where it’s possible to meet exciting people from all over the world going after exciting ideas. China is definitely one of those places.
The second reason for Sig is cost effectiveness. From a production stand point, China is still cheaper than Silicon Valley. It is a low-cost base to compile stories and source good people. “You get things done quickly in China,” says Chaim.
However, due to the high level of pollution in China’s capital and beyond, Beijing has become a difficult place to live. Thanks to Pickatale’s modular structure, Josh has now decided to move key personnel to Thailand’s Koh Samui, and transform Pickatale into a truly cosmopolitan startup.
The company plans to launch Chinese language stories and apply Pickatale’s style to existing Chinese folk stories for kids; but for now the app is in English and Norwegian only. Chaim says, “It is our goal to create an ecosystem with stories, games, spelling-related content, augmented reality concepts, and other exciting content and features for young minds.”
It is no longer a fairy-tale that startups can be based in Beijing while operating from a beach in Thailand.
The Pickatale iPad app is here in the App Store.
(Editing by Steven Millward)