Safe and screenfree voice chat for kids that works through toys
What they do: Toymail is building a toy for kids to send and receive voice messages with friends and family. Their toys will deliver messages in your voice or a funny one. And kids can reply right back! Toymail entertains, educates, and keeps children connected to those they love, without putting them behind another screen. Why it’s a big deal: Family messaging is just the start. Toymail is building a platform that empowers developers to create apps for all kinds of connected toys. Think teaching new languages, reading stories, or playing songs. In the best-case scenario, Toymail will be the first device that all kids in America own, becoming the dominant platform that connects them all to the world safely. Amazon invested in Toymail because they need to reach an entire generation - 40M kids who don't own phones.
Founder Clocky and Nanda Home • Worked at Apple • Studied at MIT Media Lab • Sold 1 million units of first product Clocky.
Entrepreneur. Founder. Mother of three. Studied at University of Michigan.
Marla Kent Bogaerts
Worked Toymail AFNE-A master hat changer, dedicated and resourceful, I'm passionate about great customer experience & smoothly running daily operation
VP of Engineering
Why people love us
Because this founding duo have proven they can build a viral company. They bootstrapped their first product, Clocky, to over one million units sold. Now they’ve turned their focus to a completely neglected market - parents who need a better way to stay connected with their kids and keep them entertained. Toymail has already sold 15,000 beta units with zero funding and zero marketing. Amazon has signed on as an investor to help them launch this winter and help Toymail transition from a communication device to the content marketplace for kids.
Amazon is a believer. That’s why they made their first ever toy company investment in Toymail. Young kids need a way to connect - it’s inevitable - and Amazon knows this. The brand that owns this experience will be the portal through which every child accesses their favorite content. When Toymail integrates with Amazon’s Alexa voice software, kids will able to listen to stories, lessons and songs all directly from their Toymail.
A critical mass of customers (kids) is key to winning this under-served market. Toymail has chosen the right wedge to get their devices in the hands of every child. Messaging is perfect because every family member has a reason to love and gift Toymail - mom at work, grandma across the country, or friends down the street can all safely keep in touch with their young loved ones via Toymail’s free app.
Competitors like cell phone providers have failed because clunky phones adapted for children are boring. Toymail’s strategy is unique: combine connectivity with the loveable nature of toys so kids actually engage. The numbers say it works. With Toymail children send 4 messages for each one received and 70% of beta toys are still regularly active.
Toymail has tested the hardware with 15,000 sales. They’ve perfected the product and are lining up partners like Amazon, Apple, Kids Bop, and AT&T who can’t wait to provide content and help distribute the Toymail. Toymail needs their first funding to expand the team and launch successfully this winter.
Some of our investors
34 investors since our founding
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Verizon Communications Inc., provides communications, information, and entertainment products and services.
Co-Founder Gauri Nanda, Apple and MIT Alum, created Clocky, the alarm clock that runs away, which has sold over 1 Million units worldwide. University of Michigan alum and mother of three, Audry Hill worked with Gauri on Ticky, Tocky, and Clocky, and is the creative force behind Toymail. They founded Toymail in December of 2013. Their newest creation, Pop Clocky, launched to Bed Bath and Beyond during the 2013 holiday season and sold over 36k units. Projected sales expected over 1 Million by 2016.
Why we're doing this:
Whether you are a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, you probably spend way more time apart from the kids you love than you'd like. Getting a phone conversations going with a child is nearly impossible. Skype requires adult facilitation and movies/games are a click away. We use a medium for messaging that makes sense for kids: their toys. With only 2.5% of kids under 10 years of age owning smartphones and an $84B worldwide spend on toys, this is a large untapped market.
Most impressive accomplishments:
Gauri Nanda brought Clocky, the alarm clock that runs away to market, with sales of over 1M units, for which she was featured on the cover of Inc. magazine. Gauri bootstrapped Clocky, which was cash flow positive after only two months of sales.
Audry Hill is our resident mom with a background in all things creative and worked together with Gauri on the various lines of Nanda Home Clocky alarm clocks. She has also co-founded Toymail while raising three children.
What’s the problem you’re solving? Why should children have messaging in their toys?
Messaging exists for all of us while children have been left behind because there’s no device for them to use. Children should be able to connect remotely with parents at work, or grandparents across the country, or even a friend down the street. Our mission is to create something as big as email for kids, a way for them to communicate with everyone in their lives remotely.
Messaging is just the start. We are building the first WiFi enabled toys giving kids access to the all the learning and communication benefits of the internet for the first time. Soon, toys will be able to read to kids, guide them through lessons, provide answers to questions, and track their whereabouts with GPS.
Why is messaging the right first step to bring internet to kids?
Kids currently have no means to communicate with loved ones remotely. This is a completely untapped market. Parents want to be able to connect with their children at home while at work or traveling. Before Toymail there was no way to do this.
We’re already offering a number of cool features beyond messaging, like funny voices for kids to use. Additionally, we are closing a number of large content partnerships right now which will enable us to send all sorts of stories, songs, and lessons directly to kids.
How does it work? How do kids choose the recipient of their message?
Essentially all our toys are wifi enabled phones, each with a microphone and speaker. We’ll soon have four buttons on the toys: “forward”, “send”, “play”, and “content”. Parents approve every one of their child’s contacts from the app and the names are stored on the toy for the child to access. Children just scroll through the names to find the contact whom they wish to message.
Can you describe the larger vision of the company?
On one hand, we’re a toy company building the first connected toys and the technology for other toy companies to connect their toys. On the other, we’re a platform for kids and the content they love.
First we have to build our brand and sell toys - get Toymail into the hands of thousands of kids. But the real revenue opportunity is becoming the platform to serve kids content. Our vision is to become the portal through which kids access the outside world. Just like the iPhone became the vehicle for adults to access content, Toymail will be the best way for kids to access the content they love and in turn the best way for brands to reach kids.
Why build your own brand as opposed to just licensing the technology?
Because we can own this entire new market, this is huge opportunity and we’re going to take it. There are companies that make toys and others that build connected devices but none that do both. We’ll be the first brand building the inevitable: connected toys. And because we’re building the entire experience, from toy to app, we’ll be able to provide the best experience for kids and parents alike.
Can you talk about the economics of the business?
Our cost of production has fallen to $21 per toy, by next year those costs will fall even further. Right now we sell them for $80 for something close to a 75% margin.
Our first content subscriptions are going for $0.99 - $4.99 per month.
Can you describe the competitive landscape?
Cell providers sell a few phone-like products meant to connect children with parents. They’re priced like cell phones: $130+ up front plus a monthly subscription of $30 for the data. But more importantly they’re not fun and emotional for kids. Kids just don’t use them.
We don’t charge a monthly fee, our toys are much cheaper than cellphones, and kids love the product. It’s a loveable character they can hold and hug, plus all their loved ones are stored right there in the toy whenever they want to reach out. Toymail becomes a very emotional part of kids daily lives in ways cell phone providers just haven’t figured out because they don’t understand the toy aspect that is so critical.
The one similar competitor is Cloud Pets - a Bluetooth version of Toymail. We think Bluetooth is the wrong approach because you need a phone or laptop nearby to connect the device. Not only that, the product just doesn’t work very well, there are plenty of reviews of malfunction.
Why toys as opposed to a more ‘ever-present’ device like a kids connected watch?
First of all, connected devices of any sort are expensive. Even the most basic data plans cost $30 per month which is prohibitive for many parents.
The real reason we think toys will win is that kids actually love their toys. No child has ever hugged a watch or found real value in a small communication device. We’ve disguised the tech in loveable characters kids can attach themselves to. They’re not going to ask a watch to read them a story, they’re not going to sing to a watch, they’re not going to hug a watch after listening to grandma’s message. Kids befriend Toymail, they’re happy to learn from Toymail, listen to their Toymail, and communicate via Toymail to their family and friends. Toymail is a companion not just a watch.
How have sales gone so far? And engagement?
While we’re still in beta, we’ve already shipped 15,000 units since our soft launch 1 year ago. The engagement rates on our first toys is incredible, 70% are still connected and regularly active. For every toy we sell we get four app downloads. Kids are also sending 4 messages out for everyone they receive – which is huge, they’re incredibly engaged.
We’ve tempered our sales channels until we received enough feedback on our beta version. Next year we’ll go to mass market with a perfected Toymail and a major launch.
How will you increase usage and in turn Toymail’s importance for communication and learning?
We’re going to add a bunch of really exciting features to encourage usage. For example, when a child picks up their toy, it’ll turn on. It’ll also alert the parent or whoever is connected to the child that the child is engaging with the toy. We’re also adding content like short stories, audible emojis, and other sorts of fun messages that parents can send their kids with a click of a button.
A reward system is also in development. We’ll reward kids with prizes like songs, audio snippets, or words of affirmation from their toy. Kids are incentivized to communicate more and parents love it because they hear from their kids more often.
How do you plan to scale distribution and marketing when you launch?
Toy distribution is still old school – TV commercials and brick and mortar stores. We’re unique because our target audience isn’t just the children which means we can advertise and distribute Toymail in many more ways than our competitors.
Toymail is as valuable to the parents and other family as it is to the kids. Which means we can advertise directly to the purchaser using a variety of low-cost channels like Facebook and Google that traditional toy-sellers just can’t use because 7 year-olds aren’t online.
The fact that we use technology and have an app gives us a distinct advantage over other toy companies and the cell phone providers selling phones for kids. None of these competitors can send potential buyers directly to an app download to learn more about the product and order.
We’re Amazon’s first and only investment in a toy company. They’ll be a huge distribution platform for us. Apple retail stores are another immediate distribution channel, and a perfect fit for our target market. Inbound partnership interest has also picked up as more of our toys are out in the world. Cable providers want to include Toymail as part of their monthly service package because it means one more connected device.
Toymail is ideal for both parents and kids, which means we can market to both parties. It’s also the first internet access for the youngest generation and many different companies want to partner for access to this new young customer.
Why did Amazon invest?
We are Amazon’s first and only investment in a toy company. They chose us as one of ten companies for their Alexa fund. They want to integrate their Alexa voice recognition services right into our toys. Kids will be able to request content like stories, audio books, and songs from their Toymail--and Amazon wants to provide all this content. It’s a win-win for us: a huge distribution channel, an invaluable advising staff, and all the content we could ever hope for.
What other partnerships do you have planned?
We are speaking with Rosetta Stone and Kidz Bop. Kidz Bop is a large distributor of children’s music. They are always looking for new channels to get their content out, and this would be the first time that they do this with a physical toy. Pretty much every kid under the age of ten loves Kidz Bop.
How big is the market?
The total addressable market is $19 billion. Toymail is not just a toy, it’s the first mobile communication device that kids actually want to use. So our market is calculated by measuring demand for toys, consumer electronics, and mobile carriers.
In beta how much did it cost to acquire each customer?
We didn’t spend any money on marketing for our first 15,000 units – it was all viral. We ran a small Kickstarter campaign (2,000 units in two weeks), drummed up some press and then relied on word-of-mouth to get us enough sales to learn how we need to improve Toymail for our real launch this winter.
Tell us about the team and what makes you uniquely qualified for this?
My cofounder Audrey and I started Clocky prior to Toymail. Clocky is an alarm clock that runs away so you have to get out of bed to turn off the alarm. We sold over a million units worldwide.
We have a lead engineer on the team who has several years of experience in backend and mobile space development. We have an iOS apps engineer that will be starting soon. We have more help in customer support and marketing. A big part of this raise is about staffing up. Hiring a couple more engineers, hiring for marketing and sales.
What are the biggest challenges you’ll need to tackle to successfully raise your next round?
We’ve figured out the form factor to get in front of as many young kids as possible with a device kids and parents both love to use. This is the first time anyone is connecting this age demographic and once we’re distributed to as many of these kids as possible there are a variety of other ways to monetize the business. E.g. pushing content, licensing the toys, different types of toys using our technology, etc.
So our biggest challenge is hitting this critical mass of kids so we become the platform for anyone to reach this demographic. The right marketing tactics and retail strategy are crucial. We plan to use our experience with Clocky, surround ourselves with an excellent team and better advisors and get the word out as much as possible. The market obviously wants this, we’ve proven that with such high beta demand and zero marketing spend. Now we just need to tell everyone what we’re building.
Why are you raising money now?
I bootstrapped my first company and we’ve bootstrapped Toymail up till now. But this is a much more complicated business than one alarm clock – we’re building a brand and now that we’ve built a first iteration of the product it’s time to raise some money and really grow. We want to hire a stellar team and have a budget to market with when we launch this winter.
This market is a race. We may be the first to realize young kids need a connection to the internet but we won’t be the last. We have a big head start and now we need to pour some fuel on the fire and really widen our lead.
Toymail is conducting a Regulation D offering via Wefunder Advisors LLC. CRD Number: #167803.
You simply record a voice message using the Toymail app from your smartphone, hit send, and our Mailmen™ toys will speak them back in a funny voice (or your voice if you prefer). Kids can reply to you right from their toys.
Whether you are away on business, in line at the grocery store, or living in another part of the world, you can now stay connected to kids through play. With the Toymail app, you will connect to kids you know with Toymail toys, record a message for them, and send it right from your phone to their toys.
The Toymail app is designed for use with the WIFI enabled Mailmen™, our new breed of smart toys that connect wirelessly with your home WIFI network to receive messages anytime, from anywhere in the world.
The Toymail app enables the Mailmen to carry on a two-way conversation. Children can reply to their toymail directly from the Mailmen toys and the Toymail app will store it so that it can be played back from a smartphone.
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Toymail Founded by Apple and MIT alums who developed several connected hardware products, Toymail creates fun, IoT-enabled toys that facilitate two-way messaging between adults (e.g. mom, grandpa) and children.
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Alexa Voice Services would allow anyone to actually take Alexa and build it into their own hardware product, meaning Alexa is now officially unbundled from Echo. So that means you could build a bedside alarm clock/iPhone charging station that can also listen for and interpret Alexa voice commands, or create a vending machine that understands and is able to serve products according to customer requests. This is a bold move and a clear indication that Amazon wants to own voice-powered computing everywhere.
Some launch partners for this service include Scout, which is going to build the assistant into its home security solution, as well as Toymail, which is putting it inside its connected kids’ toys.
The $100 million in available funds should also help kickstart the ecosystem, in addition to the freely available developer tools. This is an arms race kicking off, make no mistake, and Amazon wants to get out to an early lead.
Toymail is creating a new category of connected toys that enable parents and children to communicate without the need for the child to be using a smartphone or tablet device. Parents can talk to a child through a toy called the Mailman that has a speaker, a microphone, and an Internet connection. They simply use the Toymail mobile app to leave voice messages that are delivered to their child on the Mailman. Now, with the Alexa Skills Kit, Toymail is enabling a grandparent to say, “Alexa, send a Toymail for Ben…I love you and remind your mom I’m bringing dinner over at 5 pm tonight. I can’t wait to see you guys.” In addition, Toymail is using the Alexa Voice Service to add Alexa capabilities to the Mailman—just press a button on the Mailman to say “Alexa, read a story” for the family to enjoy a bedtime audiobook together via the toy’s speakers.
To help with this, Amazon has built the investment fund which ensures that certain services and products will be working with the Echo. The fund has already made investments in The Orange Chef, a company making connected kitchen prep devices; Scout Alarm, a DIY connected security system; Garageio, which makes a connected garage door opener; Toymail, a company building connected toys; Dragon Innovation, which helps companies build consumer devices and will promote the Alexa services to its customers; MARA, a virtual running coach; and Mojio, a company making a device that plugs into a car’s diagnostics port.
The move is a part of a greater effort to ramp up Alexa's skills and bring her capabilities to other products. Developers can use another another new tool called Alexa Voice Service (AVS) to make Internet-connect products work with Alexa. This means a Wi-Fi alarm clock could let an Amazon Echo user ask, "What is the weather today" or "What's on my calendar today?"
Hardware makers including the smart Scout Alarm, Wi-Fi connected toy company Toymail and Wink are among the first companies with products that integrate with Alexa, Amazon said.
Considering the positive early buzz around the product, the strategy to ramp up Alexa's capabilities is smart. The Echo is also the obvious choice to become Amazon's smart home-automation hub, and introducing its voice abilities to other products and services could make it more appealing to own and use.
Gauri Nanda is co-founder of Toymail, a Carroll Gardens company that makes toys with a built-in messaging system so parents can communicate with kids without a computer or phone. She previously lived in Boston, where she launched her first company, Clocky. The Boston start-up community is closely tied to that city’s universities, but in Brooklyn “there aren’t institutions or giant corporations that dominate,” says Nanda. “The culture is really in its nascent stages, so there is an opportunity to be a part of that, and the tech community is small and very supportive, and doesn’t feel competitive.”
The only downside to Toymail — an ingenious little system that lets you send voice messages to your kids that are received and played by an adorable anthropomorphizing mailbox — is that it's so cute it might make everyone using it puke.
Tip Pee Toe Folding Toddler Step Stool: Created by Erin Chancler, the Tip Pee Toe is the perfect solution for public toilets and sinks, travel, and potty training.
The ezpz Happy Mat: Created by Lindsey Laurain, this placemat and plate in one suctions to the table, capturing kids' messes and eliminating tipped bowls or plates.
Toymail Mailmen: Created by Audry Hill and Gauri Nanda, Toymail is the only kid-friendly WIFI toy messenger. Use the free Toymail app anywhere in the world to message your children via Mailmen toys & your child can reply back.
Carseat Sidekick: Created by Stacy and Adam Teague, The Carseat Sidekick attaches to any infant car seat and holds the straps out of the way while parents place baby in or take baby out of the car seat.
Toymail, a voicemail box disguised as a toy animal, lets parents and children exchange messages without making live calls. Perfect for the perpetually traveling parent who doesn't want to give their young child a cellphone. Simply connect the toy mailbox, which comes in six different animal shapes to the Wi-Fi network. Download the app and presto: Now you can call the mailbox through the app and leave a message. The mailbox will snort or wheeze to let kids know they have a message, and they can reply.
Many toddlers may be too young to use smartphones and laptops, but they still like to stay in contact with family members. Toymail, a start-up with operations in Michigan and Brooklyn, gives them an opportunity to stay connected with Mailmen, a line of whimsical smart toys that work like Wi-Fi walkie-talkies. Voice messages are sent through the Toymail app, which is available for iOS and Android devices. When a Mailman receives a message, it snorts and growls and plays the message in a funny voice. Children can reply with the press of a button. Busy parents can subscribe to a daily greeting, which includes jokes and fun facts, delivered every morning.
Ok, I confess: This one is partly for your kids and partly for you, the parents. The Toymail Mailmen ($59) are super cute, super durable characters your kids can play with all day long, but they have a secret. These quirky toys are actually Wi-Fi walkie talkies that you can use to check in with your youngsters wherever in the house — or world — they might be. The adult can use an app on their smartphone, and kids get the message through the toy right away. It's a pretty sweet way to keep in touch and the kids can even reply right from the toy itself.
But what if your 5-year-old’s toy doesn’t just say “I’ve got a tough assignment for you” (as my GI Joe did), but speaks your own words—yes, you, dear parent—even when you’re gone for a week on a business trip to China.
That’s the idea behind Toymail, billed as a “WiFi walkie talkie.” Initially funded on Kickstarter, the website for creative projects, Toymail now consists of several animals, known as Mailmen, in the shape of mailboxes and costing $60 each.
A parent uses an smartphone app to record a voice message, and that voice message is then transmitted to the toy via Toymail’s built-in WiFi. The toy mailbox makes an animal noise—a snort, say, or a whinny—to alert a child that there’s a new message.
USA Today Lifestyle Tech Editor Jennifer Jolly says that one of the biggest trends for tech gifts for kids are gadgets that mimic what their parents already have. For example, the LeapBand for kids, which is similar to the FitBits for adults.The LeapBand is a fitness activity tracker, which keeps a record of the child's movement. Jennifer likes this gift because it pulls your child into the digital world in a safe way. It also gets them up and exercising! It's recommended for children ages 4-7, and sells for $29.99. Another fun gift this year is Toymail, a mailbox toy which connects to your smartphone, and plays a message through the mailbox, recorded by whoever is using the app. Pushing a button and hearing a message from your loved one brings the physicality of their voice into the child's home, and is a nice way to connect without actually being on the phone.
The sweetest looking voicemail for the wee one in your life. By downloading the app, parents or long-distance family members can send messages to the child’s animal inbox. It even works in reverse. The Toymail changes the tone of the messages into a high-pitched, cute voice.
Cisco hosted a crowdsourced community for its IoT Innovation Grand Challenge and received more than 800 entries from 71 countries for a chance to win $250,000 in prizes. Six finalists were invited to participate in a live judging event at the IoT World Forum this week in Chicago and the following three teams were selected as winners, with first place going to Relayr, second place going to Waygum.io; and third place going to Toymail:
1st place – $150,000
Relayr (Berlin, Germany) is providing simple and inexpensive tools that will accelerate developers' ability to take advantage of IoT and start programming for the physical world around us.
2nd place – $75,000
Waygum.io (Dublin, California) is connecting mobile devices to machinery and enabling developers to create mobile-enabled industrial applications.
3rd place – $25,000
Toymail (Gross Points, Michigan) is changing how the world plays by bringing IoT to toys and fostering communication between children and their families.
The product allows parents to record a voice message using an app, hit send, and the Toymail toys will speak the message back to their children. Kids can then reply directly using the toy.
Toymail, a toy-based email/voicemail system, will be a game changer for the world of tech toys, according to quirky online retailer Firebox.
The product allows parents to record a voice message using an app, hit send, and the Toymail toys will speak the message back to their children. Kids can then reply directly using the toy.
“Toymail is incredibly innovative,” said Ben Redhead, head of buying at Firebox. “Appcessory toys are common place now, but utilising this technology for the purpose of communication and bringing families together is its unique selling point.
We love scouring crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe for new, cool product ideas that entrepreneurs are trying to get off the ground. Many of the projects aren't worth your cash (sometimes they even turn out to be fake!), but there are also many we root for. This month, a project called Toymail piqued our interest.
Toymail (which ended a successful Kickstarter campaign in December), is a toy for children (ages 3+) that connects with your smartphone and lets you send voice messages to your child. Then they can respond with a message back! It retails for $59, and looks like a mailbox disguised as a cute animal — like this guy, Snort the Pig.
Toymail works with your home Wi-Fi network, so there's no need for a data plan. The free app connects your smartphone directly to the toy, and lets you send about 300 free messages (50 mb of data) per month (it's $0.99 per 50 extra messages if you go over). You record a message in the app, choose if you want your kid to hear your voice or the animal's (each one has a quirky personality), and send. The toy makes a sound alerting your child that she has a message, and she can play and respond to it with just a press of a button. You can chat with your kid all day — even when you're caught in traffic on the way home for dinner.
Mom wants to stay in touch when she’s away from home, even if her kids are too little for emails and texts. Toymail’s adorable mailbox ($59) makes it easy for your kids to send you voice messages that you receive in an app, and you can send them back to the device from the app as well. It’s easy to use for even the tiniest of messengers, with only two buttons to push to play and record. Now that’s the best kind of voicemail.
One of these products, available exclusively through MoMA Design Store, is the Present Clock. Designer and filmmaker Scott Thrift created it as a response to the rapid pace of modern life, where hours, days, months and seasons fly by too quickly to mark. His Present Clock takes a full year to make one circuit. Because it moves so slowly, going through color fields inspired by the season, the clock suggests a staying of time - and encourages reflection and repose. Also a part of the collection, the Toymail Mailmen are a new breed of smart toys, allowing children to stay connected to family and friends far away through voice messages. Gauri Nanda and Audry Hill wanted to develop technology for children that was meaningful and fun, but without screens. Using a simple app on a smart phone, adults can record and leave messages for kids that can be played in their own voices or through the mailman's silly voice, connecting them without computers or tablets.
Get all of the little ones on your list a gift that stands out. Toys that will encourage your child to use their imagination, develop their motor development, and be nothing but absolute fun! Whether it be for a boy, girl, or something a little more gender neutral, we have compiled a toy guide for every child!
If you're in the mood for an above-average strange and positive learning tool for kids this season, creators Gauri Nanda and Audry Hill have a project you might want to take a peek at: ToyMail. Using handheld toys called "mailmen", this project allows the user to record a message in an iPhone app and subsequently have that message transmitted to their child. The child hears the message, giggles, and has only to press a single button to send a message back.
If the simplest ideas are the most ingenious, Nanda and Hill have hit the mark in just about as brilliant a way possible while still sticking inside the mobile universe we're all firmly planted in today. The duo took to Kickstarter last month to make this project a reality with the support of hundreds of supporters, coming out with a cool $23,000 more than they'd set their initial goal. Now comes manufacturing and distribution.
Toymail has created a kind of intergenerational Twitter that connects adults and kiddos through talking toys.
Toymail consists of two components—a roster of five quirky plastic animals that connect to the web via Wi-Fi and an iPhone app that allows adults to record voicemail messages. The messages are passed through audio processing filters on Toymail's servers so it sounds like the child's companion animal is delivering the message.
Designer Gauri Nanda skipped standby animals like dogs and cats in favor of a twee menagerie that would make Wes Anderson proud.
The product designer Gauri Nanda, 34, is best known for waking up adults, and now she is giving children their first phones. In 2006, fresh out of M.I.T. graduate school, she introduced Clocky, a wheeled alarm clock that noisily runs away if no one turns it off. More than 600,000 Clockys and their spherical cousins, Tockys, have been sold through her company, Nanda Home. Her latest idea, Toymail, is a line of plastic miniature mailboxes with animal faces. They play messages sent from phones, and children can send recorded replies by pressing simple arrow buttons. Ms. Nanda spoke at her all-white Brooklyn apartment about how she and her co-developer, Audry Hill, finalized the creatures (expected to sell for $55, plus a minimal charge per message) and how young testers for Toymail Co. are reacting. (This interview has been condensed and edited.)
Really young kids aren’t ready for their own cell phones yet, but we love the idea of being able to communicate remotely with our elementary age kids while they’re with a babysitter or just send them a funny message while they’re playing in their rooms. Which is why the Toymail Mailmen is about the coolest alternative to something like the dryer Voxer app. And the Mailmen looks way more fun.
Developed by two smart Brooklyn women, these little guys are colorful Wi-Fi enabled plastic toys that can receive (and send back) messages to any approved contact, anywhere. So while you’re stuck at work too late, you can use Snort to tell the kids to brush their teeth. Or while your sister is traveling around Paris, she can send a sweet bonjour to her nieces and nephews at bedtime, and they can say it back.
The design is inspired by city mailboxes–look closely–and I love that they look so hip and modern.
So when Gauri Nanda and Audry Hill designed a 21st-century-appropriate kids toy, they stuck to an important maxim: "We didn't want to create another toy that puts a kid in front of a screen," Nanda says. Instead, they built Toymail, a cartoonish line of animal-mailbox hybrids that function like a messaging service for kids. The Mailmen sync to an app via Wi-Fi, where parents (or grandparents, or aunts and uncles, and so on) may send voice messages to the little ones. When a message is received, the Mailmen will oink or grunt to alert its owner, who can chat back through a built-in microphone.
Toymail cleverly rethinks not just a mobile communication device, but the toy category as well. Talking toys (think Woody and Buzz from Toy Story) have a finite number of expressions. The Toymail gang can actually scale, because the dialogue will become more sophisticated as the kid matures. "We realized that there was no better way to create evolving content than by letting the users do it," Nanda tells Co.Design. "Each of the Mailmen is its own character, a composite of all of the important people in a kid's life."
Inventors Gauri Nanda (the brain behind the Clocky rolling alarm clock) and Audry Hill would like to introduce you to the Mailmen, a line of colorful, four-inch-tall, Wi-Fi-enabled toys that allow you to send messages to your munchkins in real time via an app on your phone. Back the project now, and Toymail promises to ship the innovative toys in time for Christmas.
Kids can choose from five animal-inspired characters who snort, whinny, or growl when a message comes in. Parents can decide whether the characters “talk” in their voices or through a filter. One press of the play button and your “I love you” gets relayed (and kids can reply) — creating an instant connection from your office to the playground.
We predict littles will adore their new dolls who sound like Mom (or Grandpa or Aunt Suzie). And you’ll love the smart use of technology — no screen required.
Available for preorder on kickstarter.com, $50-$200 pledge. For more information, go to toymailco.com.
Here’s another twist on messaging aiming to make digital comms more fun. Toymail is a Wi-Fi connected toy that lets parents talk remotely to their kids via a smartphone app — with their message spoken in the toy’s tone of voice. Why can’t they just give their kids a cheap phone and call them up? Of course they can, but a phone probably isn’t going to be as cute looking or fun sounding as Toymail’s ‘Mailmen’ toys.
Toymail is not the first cutesy connected object that can remotely convey messages. The now defunct Nabaztag rabbit springs to mind. Toymail’s Mailmen also have some spiritual overlap with The Little Printer — although where that gizmo churns out tiny little rolls of paper inked with messages, the Mailmen’s missives are pure audio.
We’ve already seen investors pour millions into talking teddy bears, now Gauri Nanda, the creator of the Clocky rolling alarm clock, is introducing a talking toy technology of her own: Toymail.
Think of it as voicemail for kids that emit from cute little connected toys, which Nanda calls “Mailmen.” Through the Toymail app, you can send a voice message to any child you know with a Mailman, and they can reply simply by talking into the toy. The Toymail app also lets you apply fun voice filters, which will make the voice notes even more appealing to younger children.
Gauri Nanda, the designer, entrepreneur and MIT Media Lab Alum who unleashed Clocky, the alarm clock on wheels, is about to roll out a revolutionary concept in the world of toys called “Toymail.”
“Toymail is like voicemail or email but way more fun because your messages are sent to toys to speak back,” says Nanda. “First our team created the Mailmen, the toys that deliver your Toymail. Then we developed an app where you connect to kids you know, record them a message, and send it right from your phone to their toys.”
Children can reply to their Toymail directly from the Mailmen and the Toymail app will store it so that it can be played back from a smartphone. So, this is not just any talking toy, but one that can handle a two-‐way conversation.
November 1, 2013
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