Dublin start up creates app designed to foster love of books among children

Dublin firm Zulleon could well be about to change the way kids foster a love for books.

Dublin start-up Zulleon has created an interactive story app which allows young children to become the authors of their own personalised books.

Expecting good sales at Christmas, company co-founder and joint CEO Noel Donegan said the OOKS app allows for more personalisation than was previously possible in a book.

“Children can create avatars based on their unique personality, create art work and make choices and decisions that shape the story — there are currently 65m variations of OOK avatars,” according to Mr Donegan.

He said that the app and the books (which are delivered for £16.99) is just a starting point for the company which plans to develop OOKS as global brand.

“We have licenced the IP to a company which is selling OOKS apparel and merchandise online and have also signed a licensing agreement with a company producing OOKS electronic toys and with another producing board games, card games and puzzles.”

Toy inventors, who have developed games for license to toy companies for many years, Mr Donegan and his wife Luz decided in 2014 to create a play

experience which would connect the digital and the real worlds.

“We saw the switch to digital games and the concern shown by parents about the amount of time children spent playing digital game. We wanted to create a play experience which would engage children but have educational content at its core,” said Mr Donegan, stressing that fostering a love of reading is central to the concept.

The idea secured them acceptance on a six-month NDRC accelerator programme which allowed them to work on developing the product idea and exploring the mechanics of building the app and delivering a book.

Because of the high level of personalisation involved, Mr Donegan says this was a challenge.

In 2015 the company secured Angel investment and contracted a UK digital toy company to develop the first version of the interactive storytelling app.

Taking on its first two employees Zulleon began developing the art work, the characters and the animation needed for the app.

Initially they called their product BookyWookies but later changed it to OOKS, books without the b.

At the end of 2017 , the company released the OOKS app with one story adventure called What’s that rumbling, which has eight variations.

“There were 80,000 play sessions in the first few weeks after we launched and since then in excess of 200,000 OOK avatars have been created,” said Mr Donegan, adding that the app has since had users in 133 countries, although the largest number of them have been in the UK, the US and Ireland.

In 2017, Zulleon secured Enterprise Ireland High Potential Start-Up funding and by this year had raised a total of €2m. This has allowed it to employ

animators, illustrators and developers and grow the team to seven.

Working on new content for the product, Zulleon plans to release a more comprehensive OOKS play experience next July. Mr Donegan expects this to coincide with other developments of licensed products.

“We are at contract stage with a company producing a tablet for children,” he said, adding that this tablet is set to be launched in April and could give the OOK app 200,000 new users within a short space of time.

By the end of 2019, he expects to be well-advanced in developing the OOKS brand, through the launch of a whole range of licensed products and also by expanding the number of users of the OOKS app.

Planning further fundraising in the new year, he said Zulleon is now recruiting an additional three employees and plans to grow the staff size to 16 by the end of 2019.

The long-term aim is for the brand expansion to include an OOKS TV series and movie and for the storytelling app to have hundreds of thousands of users.


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