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The case for toffeetv: Teaching kids how to learn Urdu through animation and fun

Here is the abbreviated pitch for Toffeetv.com and a short note to my friend Salman and his team.

The market

There are 7 million expat Pakistanis outside Pakistan. This number does not include the second or third generation or extended families and is limited to current NICOP and Passport holders. If you include Pakistani origin individuals and families the number jumps to about 35 million individuals outside Pakistan who at some level are interested in staying in touch with their original identity. A large part of this identity is our mutual heritage including language. For kids the earliest introduction to language is through lullabies and nursery rhymes. One big challenge that our expats face is exposing their children to the Urdu language at an early age where the child is already speaking a different primary language such as English. In addition to the expat there are about four million English speaking households in Pakistan where the language spoken at home is not Urdu. Finally within our rural areas as well as urban centers there are many communities where we have a cell phone network but no access to schools.

By creating a portfolio of animated nursery rhymes and stories and making them available not just on the web but also through our smart phone applications we hope to reach out to these distinct groups using a phased approach. Phased because by the time we build up our content library, smart phone would become cheap enough to be affordable for a home or garage school in some of the poorest tehsils in Pakistan. Our hope is that by doing so we can help teach kids our language in a fun and interesting way and also contribute to preserving our heritage and identity.

The opportunity and the business model

While the website includes free content, our smart phone applications would use the common .99 cents per additional story purchased model. By focusing on expat customers to pay for a library of stories on a regular basis we expect to subsidize the same content for rural and low income urban communities. With an initial launch aimed at North America, Europe and Middle East we expect to ramp up product to about 10 new releases every month with an end state of over 500 hundred lullabies, nursery rhymes and stories that young children can use to teach themselves Urdu all across the world. Our revenue share from cell phone sales will range between 30% to 65% of gross receipts depending on the cell phone platform used. The expected growth for this model allows us to reach 5 – 10 million US$ a year in annual revenues within 18 months of the point where we start charging for new stories and content. Promotional packages have also been designed where parents can buy package of 10, 15 and 20 stories at steep discounts. Given our focus on young children and expat professionals and the absence of similar animated content in Urdu and the need for this community to stay in touch with their roots once we do a formal launch with the right marketing we expect to see a very reasonable rate of conversion. A large part of these proceeds can then be utilized to reach out to under privileged children and teach them how to read Urdu as well as English back home here in Pakistan.

Standards

Teaching children a new language and a new concept is both an art and a science. Making it playful and fun is a completely different story. We have looked at a range of similar projects in other languages and one common theme that we use is to work with translating the existing library of nursery rhymes in English so children outside Pakistan are already familiar with the context and the content and only have to identify and work with the right labels. Our attempt is to create content and build a platform that works equally well on the web and on Nokia, iPhone, iPad, Android and the Windows 7 platforms. We have an in-house animation, design and recording studio that tries to reuse our internal library of resources, frames and soundtrack so that the cost of content production is pushed as low as possible and the quality of the content is maintained at a level where the child can still be engaged.

User requirements and features

We study reactions to our content and future planned release in controlled story telling sessions with children and their parents on a regular basis. This helps us identify additional trick and approaches and give us feedback on what type of content works with young children and what doesn’t.

Special note to my friend Salman and his team

I am not the mighty Jawwad Farid, I am just the Jawwad who has failed a number of time starting up businesses and get annoyed when people pushing transparency as an agenda themselves are not transparent.

My only claim to judge this category is that I have been teaching kids since 1989, undergraduate students since 1995 and graduate students since 2003. I have started two e-learning companies (the first in 1999) and train bankers for a living. Since you have already written me off as biased I am not sure if this is going to go down well.

Here is some sincere advice. You know everything there is to know about me, my views, my biases, my relationships and my failures. But I don’t know who you are. From the looks of it appears that you are pushing the case for the company that you work for that has no information at all about its founders and owners on its about us page. There is nothing wrong with being upset with me as a judge since you are going to miss out on that trip to Thailand. But then be fair to your cause and do full disclosure. Come out and tell us who you are and where you work and why do you care so much about the runner up. We will not hold it against you.

I don’t care about the event. This much should be obvious. I care because when you question the judges and their independence, you take away from all the hard work the winners put in over the years in getting where they are today. You take away from the recognition that they have received and the credibility of both the P@SHA Awards as well as the APICTA ICT Awards. And for what; generating cheap traffic through controversy? Yes you have a right to do that and I respect that right but then let’s do that with civility and poise.