This new kids' app uses science to calm tantrums, inspire nice play and raised $11 million before it launched from Biz Stone, Ev Williams Josh Kushner, Will Smith, Lego and others

This new kids' app uses science to calm tantrums, inspire nice play and raised $11 million before it launched from Biz Stone, Ev Williams Josh Kushner, Will Smith, Lego and others
OK Play Founders from right to left JJ Aguhob, Chris Ovtiz, Dr. Colleen Russo Johnson, Ken Chung, Travis ChenOK Play
  • Imagine an app that will turn your kid's tantrum into laughter, gets siblings to stop quarreling and play together, and encourages parents and kids to play together in the real world.
  • Imagine an app that embodies the ethos of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."
  • That's the goal of OK Play that launched Thursday with a team of former execs from Headspace, TikTok, Snap and a respected screen-time child development researcher (all but one of whom are parents).
  • The team tells Business Insider how they used science to build kindness, empathy and deal with negative emotions like anger, and how they landed $11 million of investment from a laundry list of big names in its first 16 months, before the app even launched.

Imagine an app that will calm your kid's tantrum and get them laughing, gets siblings to stop quarreling and play together, and encourages parents and kids to play together in the real world, creating music on a rainy day, running around the yard on a nice one.

Imagine an app that embodies the ethos of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."

That's the mission of a new app launched Thursday called OK Play, founded by former execs from TikTok, Headspace, Snap and Viddy.
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Some months after Chris Ovitz sold his last startup, Workpop, to Cornerstone in 2018 for an undisclosed sum (it had raised $16 million), he was sitting on his couch watching a documentary about Fred Rogers, the title character of the classic children's' program, "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," and feeling incredibly inspired.

Mr. Rogers had taken TV, a medium condemned for turning children into screen-staring zombies, and "took its power to reach millions of families and talk to them about emotions, especially the tough ones." Ovitz told Business Insider.

He wanted to do the same thing for the modern-day screen, smartphones and tablets, "to use the device to connect, to help people bond, to express, to problem solve, to teach kids important skills, and most of all, to use it to facilitate play with your children," Ovitz said.
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"At the time, my kid was three. I wanted to build something for him," he said.

Ovitz was a cofounder of Viddy, the once buzzy social video sharing platform that raised $30 million in 2012 and sold to Fullscreen in 2014 but shut down soon after thanks to competition from Facebook. Inspired by what would become OK Play, Ovitz called his Viddy cofounder, JJ Aguhob. Aguhob had gone on to do product development roles at TikTok's Bytedance and Headspace and agreed to become a cofounder CEO.
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They tapped their network of Silicon Valley angels and when Twitter cofounder Biz Stone heard the idea and was in. Ovitz had met him decades earlier and Stone had invested in Viddy and Workpop.

From $800,000 to $11 million in 16 months

By March, 2019, the cofounders had raised a quick $800,000 pre-seed round from a number of angels including Stone. They added more cofounders including former Snap execs Ken Chung and Travis Chen and respected child development researcher Dr. Colleen Russo Johnson, codirector of the Ryerson Children's Media Lab, one of the authorities on kids, screen time and content, and a parent in her own right. She turned around and built a team of PhDs to help as advisers.

This new kids' app uses science to calm tantrums, inspire nice play and raised $11 million before it launched from Biz Stone, Ev Williams Josh Kushner, Will Smith, Lego and others
OK Play
With a team to show, the founders reached out to Lego and Collab + Sesame (of Sesame Street fame) to raise a seed round, active investors in the digital-play space who would, more than anyone, understand their mission. Longtime Valley VC, and their backer of Viddy, Brian O'Malley, now at Forerunner agreed, to lead the round and a host of other famous names pitched in like Will Smith's fund, Dreamers VC, Josh Kushner, and cofounder of Headspace Rich Pierson. By the end of 2019, they had raised $3.5 million in seed money and then the pandemic hit and, as parents navigated homeschooling and lockdown, the idea took on a new urgency.
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With a prototype to show, the team closed another $6.5 million Series A from investors like Ev William's Obvious Ventures ($11 million total raised in 16 months), Forerunner, Greycroft, Abstract, Progression Fund.

An app to get parents to play with kids in the real world

OK Play is different from the usual educational apps in that it focuses on real world play of parents with kids together. It also encourages kindness and empathy and deals with negative emotions like anger using behavioral science.

"A lot of apps don't invite the parents into the experience," says Johnson. "When we think about apps, it's handing the device off the child and they go off by themselves. And that's certainly a use case. I'm a parent myself. I know how exhausting parenting is, especially this year."
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But with OK Play, when Johnson's preschooler gets tantrum-level angry, Johnson plays "angry parade" which lets her child express her anger through dancing and movement. Then they move onto "the angry song" which lets her record a track of "angry sounds" which turns "hilarious," she says. They can also use the app to do a calming breathing exercise where blowing into the end grows a balloon.
This new kids' app uses science to calm tantrums, inspire nice play and raised $11 million before it launched from Biz Stone, Ev Williams Josh Kushner, Will Smith, Lego and others
OK PlayOK Play
It uses augmented reality and characters for scavenger hunts around the yard. There's a teamwork drawing app. And Aguhob says it will get new games and features as often as daily, all with the goal of teaching "empathy and compassion," he says.

Johnson adds: "We dreamed up this vision for what we want to bring to families. We are trying to nudge the world to a kinder place."

OK Play costs $9.99 per month or $59.99 a year.
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