July 13, 2024
child playing Pok Pok

Pok Pok, a kids’ app maker focused on building play-based learning experiences for the preschool set, has made a name for itself in the iOS developer community after winning both an App Store award for cultural impact and an Apple Design Award. But now the company is ready to expand its reach by bringing its app and new STEM-based activities to families with both iOS and Android devices, thanks to its latest funding.

The app, Pok Pok Playroom, today offers 17 play experiences that are more akin to “digital toys” than games, as they allow kids to explore with creative play. There are “toys” that respond to touches, drawing tools, those for interacting with shapes, dress-up toys, dinosaur toys and much more.

Originally incubated inside Snowman, the studio behind award-winning iOS games like Alto’s Adventure, Alto’s Odyssey, Skate City and others, the idea for Pok Pok emerged from the company’s culture of tinkering.

Snowman employees Mathijs Demaeght and Esther Huybreghts, now Pok Pok VP of design and chief creative officer, respectively, were looking for an app to entertain their young son James when he was a toddler. However, the co-founders didn’t find many options they liked. They wanted something playful, but not too technical and not gamified. After prototyping a product, they showed it to Snowman co-founder and creative director Ryan Cash, who saw the potential. Ryan’s sister, Melissa Cash, whose background was in developing products for babies and toddlers at Disney, joined the team and is now CEO of the Pok Pok spinout.

In the years since its May 2021 debut, Pok Pok has added new learning experiences to its app, raised a $3 million seed round and reached six figures in terms of monthly recurring revenue. Over the past year, the business has grown by 5x and the subscriber base by 9x, though the startup isn’t yet ready to share hard numbers. The app itself has over a million downloads.

Image Credits: Pok Pok

The startup’s growth caught investors’ attention, leading to a $6 million Series A. The round was led by Adjacent’s Nico Wittenborn, who has also backed other subscription businesses like Oura, Calm, Clue and Blinkist. Also participating in the round were Konvoy Ventures, Metalab Ventures, Banana Capital and other angel investors, including Instacart’s Brandon Leonardo.

Though pleased to have raised an oversubscribed round, the team realized they didn’t have any women on their cap table, which made them uneasy, given that the women-led company builds products for families.

“That just didn’t sit right,” said CEO Melissa Cash. “So we decided to make some allocation changes. We set aside some cash from the round. We did a first close because we didn’t want to hold up everything, but we took cash out and did a second close, which actually took us longer to raise than the first close because it was very tough to find female investors who participate at Series A and beyond.”

The team found that a lot of the women-led VCs tended to be pre-seed or seed or those who were involved in funds, but weren’t the decision-makers and check writers.

“That nuance was pretty important to us. And then we would find a lot of wonderful angel investors, but they didn’t have the capital or the wealth, frankly, to be able to invest in a Series A because, obviously, there’s a minimum check size. So it was a really eye-opening experience,” she said. “We thought if there’s any company that can get female backing, it’s Pok Pok.”

The second close of the round took them longer than the first due to these challenges and includes investors like Michelle Kennedy from Peanut.

Another one of the new investors ended up being Pok Pok’s fractional CFO, Julie McGill, who’s also an LP in several bigger venture funds. Like Pok Pok’s team, she was frustrated by the trouble the company was having to find women to add to the cap table. McGill ended up starting a brand-new fund, Julie Change Fund, just to invest in Pok Pok. The fund will now focus on bringing in wealthy individual women investing at the Series A stage and beyond.

“Pok Pok is the catalyst for starting a fund I have been thinking about for years; this fund is my commitment to breaking barriers women face in accessing, driving and accumulating capital,” McGill said in a statement. “We are thrilled to partner with Pok Pok, a company that excels at driving capital efficient growth, led by two amazing women.”

With the additional funds, Pok Pok is going to expand its offerings to include more STEM-based activities, in response to parents’ requests for more traditional learning experiences in the app alongside the more playful ones. The new activities will still be targeted to the preschool crowd, though Pok Pok is aware that even younger and older users continue to use its app and designs accordingly.

The company will also be able to address demand for Android later this fall. Many families have Android tablets for their kids because of the more accessible price points, Cash said.

“We want to make sure Pok Pok can be accessible to everybody. And we’ve had this waitlist growing for quite some time, so we have thousands of users … just waiting for it,” she said.

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