Transition is tough for kids. From changing schools or welcoming a new sibling to dealing with divorce or the death of a pet, navigating life's twists and turns can be challenging. But one start-up is making it easier—through engaging stories and the art of personalization.
Twigtale, based in Marina del Rey, California, offers stories scripted by developmental experts on more than 30 topics. The appeal? Each can be customized with personal photos to help children better understand sensitive issues in an age-friendly format.
The concept—targeted for kids ages 2 to 6—was born in a coffee shop by two childhood friends, Carrie Southworth and Nishad Chande, talking about the issues Chande's son had in starting a new school. Chande made a photo book for his son, which took him hours to make. But his son was mesmerized.
"He wanted to read it over and over again," Southworth said, recounting Chande's experience. "So Nishad came to me and said, 'I think there's something here.'"
The duo applied to the Disney Accelerator program and were selected as one of 10 companies out of 1,000 applications. Twigtale has now grown to five employees. The partnership has been rich for Twigtale, which will start incorporating established Disney Junior characters, like Sophia the First and Doc McStuffins, into future books.
"These characters are children's friends, so it will be another way for the kids to engage," Southworth said.
The media giant invested $150,000 into the start-up, which has since drawn investments from Wendi Murdoch and Ivanka Trump, both moms who understand the challenges of explaining new life experiences to children. Techstars is also an investor.
"My daughter was like a moth to the flame with Disney characters," Trump said. "In this space, to have a collaboration and partnership with Disney is about as good as it gets from a content perspective."
Part of the company's success lies in crafting the right language—all books are written by subject matter experts—which is why they brought on Los Angeles pediatrician, child developmentalist and best-selling author Dr. Harvey Karp as Twigtale's new editor in chief. Karp said that explaining changes to kids and preparing them for the changes life brings is one of the most important jobs a parent has.
"Think of life like going into the cage with the lion," Karp said. "Eventually, we all have to do that, but first you want your child to go to the petting zoo so they can gain some confidence. And that's what stories do, and what Twigtale is so efficient at doing—by making these stories personalized so the child can identify with it."
The tactic is working, Southworth said, as many of Twigtale's sales have come from word of mouth among moms in Los Angeles. Although the company is still in its early stages and has yet to do a real marketing push, Southworth said 25 percent of customers who buy one book come back for a second order.
The books cost $20 to make, and digital books are free for the first order, then $4.99 after that. The Marina del Rey, California-based company is a 2014 graduate of Disney's first-ever class of its accelerator program.
"We help kids and parents tell their stories," Southworth said. "And no one can tell a better story than Disney."