How SA’s Nooksy connects far-away family members with children through storytime

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South African startup Nooksy connects far-away family members with children through storytime, and has also built the world’s first “impact” literature children’s library.

Launched in 2018, Nooksy has developed a mobile app that facilitates video calls between children and, say, far-away grandparents, and allows them to select a book to read in an online reading room.

It describes its library as an “impact” one, in that its books tackle important subjects, and aid in raising the next generation of conscious citizens of the world.

“We’ve also created a web-app that lets the far-away family member join the reading room without having to install the app. Meaning that they can join the call with just one tap,” said Yon Kahlon, the startup’s founder. 

The idea for Nooksy came about when Kahlon and Franz Struwig, the founder of iKubu, a South African startup ultimately acquired by Garmin, found themselves with some spare time between projects. 

“We decided to use this time and really “play”. We built a new product every week, with the only condition being that it had to solve a real problem that one of us had,” Kahlon told Disrupt Africa.

“One such project was a PageTurner, which ultimately became Nooksy. We wanted to build a way for the grandparents to read to the kids remotely, so the idea was to have a device that you put in any children’s book, and have a way to turn the page from anywhere in the world using IoT. We tried different mechanisms, but in the end we couldn’t find a way that would work for all kinds of books.”

So the pair decided to try and tackle the problem from a different angle, and this time built a little house out of cardboard for the child to sit in. 

“Inside was a 22-inch screen and a big illuminated “push me now” button. When the child crawled into this little house and  pushed the button it would call the grandparents. We built an app that would host the video call and load books on screen so they could read together,” said Kahlon.

“At the end of this period, we realised that there was a real opportunity here. Both Franz and I could see that the available options for building a connection with kids over distance did not work, and it was time we harnessed innovative technological solutions to solve that.”

Since then the idea has evolved drastically, but the core mission has remained. 

“We want to create an environment for positive and meaningful connections between kids and family members that helps raise children that are conscious and mindful. That rules out simply playing online games together, and rather focuses on an activity that has been shown by multiple studies to be critical for children’s intellectual and emotional development – reading aloud,” Kahlon said.

“There is endless research showing the importance of reading aloud. Since time is limited with the faraway family member, we’ve carefully selected books that tackle important topics like kindness, living your values, and much more. This really creates a learning environment when chatting with kids, and involves faraway family members in the child’s developmental journey.”

Self-funded, Nooksy has nonetheless seen strong uptake. 

“This year we’ve launched a marketing campaign to drive users to the app, which has given us great traction. We get about 1,500 new users per month,”Kahlon said.

The majority of these users are in South Africa, though the plan is to expand to new markets and add books in multiple languages. The startup operates on a subscription model, and shares revenue with authors and publishers on the platform.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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