Meet the Co-Founder of Caribu, The App That Lets Your Kid Read and Color with Friends + Family
Alright parents, are you ready for an absolute game-changer of an app? I can honestly say that Caribu has made such a huge impact on our lives during lockdown, and I know it will continue to be an essential piece of the kid puzzle long after we're out of quarantine. Caribu is an app that lets your kiddo read, color, and play games over a video call with friends and family, near and far. It's like FaceTime, Kindle, and MS Paint (remember?!) had a baby, and that baby can virtually babysit your kids.
Anjelika Temple here, Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Brit + Co, and ride-or-die user of Caribu. Our family is scattered all over the country, and the world, and FaceTime with the grandparents was already a pretty regular occurrence in our household. The thing is, it can be hard to actually engage over FaceTime, and for your 3-year-old to know what to talk about. Enter Caribu — choose a book to read together, a coloring page to color together, and have a virtual playdate no matter where you are. For us, we use it almost-daily and it's usually a 20-30 minute session with one of Anokhi's grandmas reading to her while I put her baby sister Indira down for a nap, do the dishes, reply to work emails — you get the point. I was obsessing about Caribu over text with my mom buds and turns out one of them went to grad school with Caribu's Co-Founder Maxeme Tuchman!
So without further ado, read on for the inspiration behind Caribu, how they see the app continuing to evolve, and more about Max's journey as an entrepreneur, educator, and firm believer in the American dream.
Anjelika Temple: Oh man, Caribu has been SUCH a lifesaver for me. And I love how small the world is — it's great to connect with you! First off, for readers who aren't die-hard Caribu users like me, explain to us what Caribu is.
Maxeme Tuchman: You know how claps brought Tinkerbell back to life? Well, hearing parents tell me how Caribu has been a lifesaver for them and their kids is the equivalent for me. It gives me an extra 5 hours in my day, so thank you. :) Caribu brings families together through virtual playdates. We let kids read, draw, and do an activity with a trusted adult in a video-call. Instead of a boring video-call kids can instead be engaged, playful, and do something fun with someone who can't be there physically.
AT: What inspired you and your co-founder to create Caribu?
MT: The Caribu app was originally inspired by a picture of a soldier trying to read a book to his daughter on his shoulder through a webcam. You've probably done this while traveling. It honestly looks like the most painful experience for everyone involved. The parent can't see the child, the child can't see the text, and no one's really engaging. There's self-driving cars on the road and this is the best technology we have to read a bedtime story to your child!? Given the inspiration for our company and how grateful we are for their service, we partnered with Blue Star Families, the largest nonprofit focused on US military families, to donate free Caribu subscriptions to all currently serving service members.
AT: Was there a spark moment when you knew you were onto something big? Tell us more about that.
MT: Oh definitely. In the beginning, our Caribu users in 160+ countries mirrored the millions of family members like grandparents, traveling or divorced parents, and our U.S. Military who are separated by distance and wanted to use smartphones and tablets to stay connected. But in early 2019 we surveyed our power users to see what percentage of our customers would be devastated if Caribu ceased to exist. The goal is to get at least 40% of your users to say they would be very disappointed if Caribu went away tomorrow. We were surprised, but not surprised, when the results showed that 46% of our grandparents would be devastated if Caribu ceased to exist. It was very clear that we were on to something! So, enter Glamma. A Glamma, or glamorous grandma, is 50-70 years old, active, professional, and tech-savvy. She stays in touch with family on an iPad and wants to spoil her grandchildren silly! She's trying to build a relationship with them long-distance but FaceTime isn't cross-platform and Skype and WhatsApp calls are, again… not a great experience with young kids. Caribu is Glamma catnip. :)
AT: As you've taken on a flurry of new users in recent weeks, has your mission or north star changed at all?
MT: Not for one moment. Our mission has always been to give kids under 7 immediate and easy access to high-quality content and an interactive educational experience with a trusted adult no matter how far apart they are. The only thing that has changed is how our user base has grown to include more kids who want to have those educational and fun experiences with kids their age and we've seen older kids, between 8-12, who also want to do something fun with family that they now can't see. We've added new categories like Art Walks and Cooking to have high-quality content for the older kids now too.
AT: How do you hope Caribu will help people?
MT: Do you have tissues?? We've been getting some of the most amazing notes from families about how Caribu has been helping them in ways I never could have imagined. One family has the dad living in a garage because he's a doctor so they read a bedtime story each night technically in the same house but apart, a couple of people in hospital beds who can't see their grand(kids) use Caribu to still have interesting conversations and keep the child's attention, and we've had foster parents write in that their foster daughter has been using the app to create meaningful connections with her mom and grandparents during this time since they can't have physical visits. It keeps both her and her brothers attention and has built better communication between them and their family members. Oh did I mention the countless notes we get about parents just being able to take a shower while their child is engaged on Caribu with Glamma? The #1 priority for families right now is to stay safe. The #2 priority is to stay sane, and I'm really honored that Caribu has really been instrumental in that second priority.
AT: Before founding Caribu, what was your career path like? Have topics relating to kids + connection + education always been important to you?
MT: I'm a Jewban (Cuban-Jew), who is the daughter of immigrants, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors and the first in my family to graduate from college. My family is the American Dream and I feel an incredible burden to pay it forward to them and to this country that has given us so much. Growing up, my family always said that when they fled from country to country, their education is the only thing they could take with them. No pressure. I live to make my family proud and to have a positive impact in the world so I've always been working on something education focused since to me that was the great equalizer. Before co-founding Caribu I was a public school teacher, Executive Director of Teach For America, and worked for the Gates Foundation, Mayor Bloomberg, and as a White House Fellow on education-related initiatives.
AT: And on that note, would love to learn a little more about you. Where did you grow up? Where do you live now? Root us in what roots you.
MT: I was born in the beautiful city of Miami, FL surrounded by a ton of diversity—socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, and religious—and I was able to learn from everyone and every experience. While growing up, I saw how people who immigrated to Miami worked their way up to the top and into the C-suite. Miami inspired me to be whoever I wanted to be because I saw other people that looked like me doing it. I'm '305 ride or die' like Pitbull. I'm really proud to be from here.
AT: Given everything going on with digital curriculums and homeschooling in the midst of a pandemic, what *positive* things do you think may come of all this time spent at home and on screen?
MT: In 10-15 years, when kids today are thinking back on their time during the pandemic I hope that they remember all the positive aspects of being home with family. The fact that parents were always home, that they made memories building bedsheet forts, that their parents got more creative with how to spend time together, that they created new family rituals, had celebrities read aloud to them, made a concerted effort to get outdoors, played the longest game of tic-tac-toe against grandma on Caribu, built time capsules, and became creative chefs with whatever food was in the fridge.
AT: At my house, Caribu and Cosmic Kids Yoga are definitely family favorites. What are some other apps + series we should check out?
AT: What are your top 5 favorite books to read on Caribu? Top 5 favorite coloring/activities?
MT: The books are like my former students, I love them all! But my top 5 would have to be:
Abbey & Axel's Guide to Adventure: It was written by Howie Mandel's daughter and she was one of the first authors to believe in what we were doing at Caribu. Also, getting to see Howie read a book about his grandchildren, to his grandchildren, on Caribu was magical. And no germs if it's a virtual playdate!
My Mommy is a Nurse/My Mommy is a Teacher: I just can't think of greater heroes right now. Written by a teacher and pediatrician, these two women could not have captured the impact of these two roles better, especially during COVID19.
The Rhino Who Swallowed A Storm: It's co-authored by LeVar Burton and it's a wonderful story about finding the light in the midst of dark times. 🦏🌪 So appropriate, right?
Dog Bird Makes A New Friend: This upcoming series is by the emmy-award winning creators of Lost in Oz and it's about a bird that knows she's a dog. She wants to learn about her friends so the book is chock full of questions and it makes for a really engaging read with kids.
Why Dogs Sniff Bums: Do I really have to explain why I love this one??
MT: My Top 5 Activities:
Oh So Good Oatmeal- Inspired by Jen Garner's #PretendCookingShow
Dots & Boxes
An Entrepreneur's Words To Remember Word Search
International Space Station Code Breaking Activity
Surprise Egg #8
AT: In just the month I've been using it, I've already seen changes to the app on an almost daily basis. What upcoming features do we have to look forward to?
MT: We've seen usage grow 10x so we felt responsible to keep the app updated, fresh and engaging for kids! We also publish new books to the app weekly and just added a Read Aloud Video section where kids can watch celebrities and authors read books to them in a much better read aloud experience. It looks like a Caribu Call so you can see the book and the reader at the same time. We already have LeVar Burton reading his book in honor of #MonthOfTheMilitaryChild and another big name celebrity starting a series of Read Alouds with a popular series of books this week! We're also working on a web app so our grandparents can use Caribu on a laptop which has probably been the #1 request we hear from them.
AT: Anything else you want to share?
MT: We're grateful to our partner AT&T who stepped in and helped us make Caribu free and unlimited for all families until May 24.
What are you waiting for? Download Caribu now and start scheduling virtual playdates for your little ones! For more stories of inspiring entrepreneurs and creative badasses, head to the Creative Crushin' archive.