A Start-up Conceived to Make Screen Time Educational and Fun for Children

PlayShifu is a tech startup with headquarters in Bangalore

Dinesh Advani and Vivek Goyal co-founded this venture in 2016. Since its inception, the goal has been to engage, entertain & educate kids with their unique phygital toys.

How does your startup work?
PlayShifu is a leading STEM toy company working to revolutionize the world of tomorrow by providing educational play experiences for kids of toys.
Vivek Goyal and Dinesh Advani, the co-founders, are both parents and understood the bitter-sweet role of technology in their children’s life. Hence, they founded PlayShifu to make screen time meaningful with innovative, never- heard-before phygital (physical+digital) concepts using Augmented Reality.

With a variety of immersive, educational toys for ages 2-12 years, kids build foundational STEM skills including motor skills, critical thinking, engineering and geography to name a few.

In just three years, PlayShifu has become a multi-million-dollar company clocking an 8x YoY growth. The brand’s flagship products, Shifu Orboot and Shifu Plugo series, have won the hearts of parents, educators, and kids all over the world. This massive growth is a result of a strategic expansion globally.
PlayShifu is now available in 15 countries including India, US, Canada, UK, Japan, Ukraine, Russia, Australia, and UAE, with a strong user base of 250,000 children and counting.

Shifu Orboot is the first-ever AR-based interactive globe. It is a great learning tool for homeschoolers, classrooms, and parents to teach kids about the world beyond geography. Through the globe and companion app, kids can travel and explore all seven continents through visual storytelling, music and voice interactions as well as in-app quizzes and challenges.

Orboot is powered by the Orboot app that is available in 8 languages and has 400 wonders and more than 1,000 fun facts to explore across six categories: wildlife, cultures, cuisines, monuments, inventions and maps. Kids can learn geography, environmental science, social science, general knowledge, and cultural sensitivity through Orboot. It offers something to learn for every age from 4 to 10 years.

Shifu Plugo is an AR-powered video game series that boosts math, engineering, language, music, and many more cognitive skills. Shifu Plugo combines the charm of classic physical consoles with new-age digital interactions– one gamepad, six interchangeable gaming kits, and one companion app.

It helps kids conquer STEM skills with super-fun characters, captivating storylines, and enriching tactile play. Each gaming kit offers age-adaptive educational games for 4-10-year-olds.
How did you come up with the idea?

PlayShifu was conceived to make screen time educational and fun for children. Vivek Goyal and Dinesh Advani have been longtime friends. As parents and tech-enthusiasts, they understood that learning & development in the early stages of childhood is centered around play and entertainment. They explored and zeroed in on Augmented Reality as a promising technology to build engaging and educational experiences for children.

The foray into AR and toy-making started with hours spent in R&D, followed by building innovative concepts using homegrown technology stacks.  The  goal was clear—transform ‘screen time’ into a meaningful experience and simultaneously help children in developing 15 key foundational skills.

What are the key features of your startup?

With a very lean team, and in just three years, we grew our expertise in:
• creating highly engaging technology enabled STEM toys for kids
• building a highly cost-effectively and reliable supply chain
• scaling business to more than 15 countries, both retail and online

How are you different from existing ones?

PlayShifu is one of the few startups in the consumer tech space that makes toys and games that are educational, fun, and engage long-term and cover a wide variety of topics for kids in the age group 4-12. Kids, parents, and teachers all love PlayShifu. What sets us apart from our competitors is:

The thorough blend of Physical and Digital worlds:
Unlike most AR games that rely on scanning flat images like flashcards and puzzles, we provide a unique AR experience which is quite different
from all of these. We use real-world 3-dimensional objects such as a globe, magnetic links, letter tiles, a piano, etc. and enhance their experience with digital gameplay.
The breadth of topics across our games:
We cover various topics within our games. Plugo includes maths, physics, music, and language development besides problem-solving, critical thinking, comprehension, spatial and logical reasoning, etc. Orboot is a treasure of information covering geography, general knowledge, environmental and social science.

Depth of content, enabled by AR:
When we build a game around one topic, all of the elementary needs are covered (read gamified) for a wholesome learning experience. From counting for kindergarteners to fractions for grade 5, from animal kingdom for a 4-year-old to inventions for a 10-year-old, from fine motor skills development at the age of 4 to mastering critical thinking at the age of 11 - each PlayShifu experience revolves around one key foundational skills and covers it extensively.

Variability in content within the same concept:
Our aim is to  make learning fun and we weave  it in engaging storylines and friendly characters. We always create 4 to 5 games for every concept to ensure that practising the same thing in different audio, visual or tactile context will drive home the concept and child will surely grasp it.

How much funding has your startup raised till now? If not, then what are your future plans of funding?

With our recent Series A funding round led by Chiratae (formerly IDG Ventures India), Inventus Capital, and Bharat Innovation Fund (BIF), we have raised $ 8.5 million in total.

What is the market size and market opportunity?

Global toy industry is a $90 billion industry, being disrupted by technology enabled toys (robotics, AR, voice). Global K-12 education market is $3 trillion, in which play based learning is fast encroaching the K-5 segment with the advent of iPads and Chromebooks. We cater to both of these and are growing at a massive pace.

Tablets and smartphones are part of every household nowadays, and in higher income groups children have a tablet of their own. However, screen time is a major concern among parents as most apps fail to add substantial value. Here, we step in. We provide concrete solutions to screen time woes with educational experiences that combine tactile and digital play.

Coming to the education sector, especially primary schools, are in desperate need of new methods and technology to engage kids. They need comprehensive solutions that help kids understand, practice, and retain concepts. Anything that comes at a relatively low cost is a big win for the schools. As AR/VR hardware and experiences hit sub-$300 price point in the next 5 years, we anticipate a wave of mass adoption.

What are the traction details?

Our user base has crossed 300,000 kids worldwide, with app downloads of the same capacity. Our experiences boast of a retention rate of 46% for 30-days, which is 5 times higher than the best of the best apps out there. We have reached 2 times more Indian homes in 2019 than in 2018. It is not just the metropolitans that have adopted tech toys, tier 2 and 3 cities saw a 60% increase as well.

Any interesting quote about your venture?

We are what we play. Toys and games have an influence on our personalities. Playtime at home contributes majorly in early childhood development and converting this playtime into learning time builds solid foundation of future generation

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