Business Rx: uKnow.com wants to know how to sign up more of you

September 25, 2011
The entrepreneur

Steve Woda and his family know all too well how much the Internet and social networks have changed the world — not always in good ways. The always-on digital culture exposes children to threats parents didn’t have to think about even a decade ago. Woda is trying to help parents navigate their kids’ social and mobile world with his new venture, uKnow.com.

Woda was an Internet entrepreneur, working on his first venture, buySAFE, when a family tragedy spurred him to start Arlington-based uKnow.com in June 2009. Woda’s 14-year-old nephew was stalked by an Internet predator (now behind bars), prompting him and brother Tim to launch a service that can help parents keep track of the digital connections their children are making.

The pitch

Woda

“UKnow.com’s uKnowKids service is a parenting tool, really a parental intelligence system — kind of like business intelligence for the CEO of the household. We help parents keep their kids safe from online bullies and bad guys. We focus on social media and mobile technology and give parents the information they need about their kids’ online activities to take action if necessary.

“Kids receive an average of 100 text messages a day, and 80 percent say they sleep with their phone so they don’t miss a text.

“The uKnow.com portal allows parents to log in to a dashboard where they can see their child’s digital activities — everything from texts to Facebook posts. The child knows it’s there because he or she provides the appropriate passwords. The idea is to engage with the child. We datamine for changes in behavior or new information. Parents may not want, or have the time, to read every text, but they may want to know if their child’s interactions with a specific contact spike or decline suddenly or if there are risky activities occurring, such as sending a large amount of photos to a new contact. UKnow.com sends an e-mail alert, which they can use to intervene as necessary.

“The feedback to our service has been fantastic, but we need to be focused with the capital we have. We have limited resources — we’ve been bootstrapping to this point. But from a business model standpoint, we need to increase our distribution and deepen our partnership portfolio. Figuring out what the customer acquisition formula looks like is crucial at this stage.”

The feedback

Elana Fine, director of venture investments, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship

“Sounds like your marketing efforts thus far have been aimed at selling to parents when the real hurdle is acceptance among kids. Kids need to feel as strongly about being protected as their parents do about protecting them or they will look for ways to trick the system, which will reduce the lifetime value of your customer. However, if kids feel that their peers are all signing up and there is a ‘cool’ factor, they are less likely to seek workarounds. Imagine how quickly a parent would sign up if their child requested that they use uKnow.com because all of their friends are signed up. Peer pressure can work in both directions.

“You should test some creative techniques for attracting kids to your system. For example, gamification of parts of the uKnow.com platform might encourage kids to compete for a shield/badge for protecting their own friends by referring them to sign up. The same social media channels uKnow.com is monitoring are also your most valuable marketing tools and distribution channels. If kids circulate uKnow.com within their networks, they will do your work for you. By awarding prizes to schools or teams with the most sign ups, you can build a vast user base of your free product and then upsell the premium package to parents once there is mutual buy-in from the kids. As you scale, you should look for channel partners that kids relate to and will enforce the message of protection — Under Armour, NBA/NFL, Nintendo (simulation games). Sports Authority or Dick’s might give discounts for ‘uKnow.com Teams’ or video game franchises like GameStop may give discounts for earning shields.”

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