Photo Credit: courtesy, Yoav Oren
Yoav Oren and Matan Guttman, co-founders of ZOOG

Trying to figure out what to do with your kids, as the possibility of an eventual lockdown draws ever closer? Having a hard time engaging the kids you love, long-distance? Dreading the prospect of a quarantine with your little ones at home?

“There’s an app for that,” said Yoav Oren, 38, co-founder and CEO of “Zoog” together with Matan Guttman and a team of five.

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Oren spoke with JewishPress.com about the new app he developed together with Guttman and a team of five others.

A business guy with a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) “focused in China Business” from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and a Bachelors (also in business) was earned at New York City’s Columbia University, Oren said the new Zoog app is intended for families and friends who need a structure for their chats with children.

“Video-chat is the ‘new age’ form of communication, but it doesn’t always work for everyone,” he said. It was his years in China that gave him the global marketing perspective he used when he created “an app for the pandemic era.”

While living in China – a separate story for some other time – he became fluent in Chinese along with having studied martial arts in a small village in Hunan province, having grown up studying Dojo karate, he said. (Oren is a third-degree black belt in Dojo karate and also lived in Shanghai.) He returned home to Israel and went to work like everyone else, but then COVID-19 came along with its periodic quarantines and lockdowns.

“We were desperate to get our kids to communicate with our long-distance relatives during this past year’s lockdowns, but it became impossible. Kids don’t do small talk,” Oren observed.

“Our relatives wanted to talk with the kids, but the kids just faded out after a short time, and our relatives were struggling to find something to talk about. We felt we had to solve this problem – it was personal,” he said.

That’s where the idea for the Zoog app came in.

By offering a unique book reading experience, this app brings the generations closer to each other,” Oren said.

The app allows adults to tap into their creative energies and also encourages kids to read.

“We created a new format of storytelling, allowing grandparents (or any other distanced family member) to take any children’s book and bring it to life using modern technology and advanced animation.

“The issue was what to do during a call, so we started off by trying it out in aa closed pilot of 50 families in the US,” Oren said.

“Grandparents love reading books, but experience brought out a lot of the hurdles, like when the internet blips out and the kids just opt out and walk away.

“So, we pre-installed books on the app and inserted the “you” into the book, added masks that change with the context, plus after-effects and animation with special audio effects in the soundtrack of the story.

“Afterwards you can share it – and the child doesn’t have to install anything. Only the story creator installs the app on their device,” Oren explained. “After this is done, the child can respond.”

The app is completely free, he added.

“It became clear that this is an amazing tool for children: my kid won’t read from a book, but if I give him a PHONE. . .“

He chuckled.

Yep. Anyone with a child today knows the end of that story.

“He can share with his teacher and his friends,” Oren said. “But we’ve had orders for books from the prison (unnamed due to confidentiality issues). They record the parent reading the book and then ship the book and recording to their child.”

And the books are from where? “We’re working on publisher partnerships, and there are a lot of self-publishing authors out there as well,” he said.

Zoog was also given a thumbs-up on the Shark Tank program this month,” he said.

So how does the company make money on the app?

“Right now, it’s free. Eventually, in the future, we will monetize it in the price range of, say, Netflix,” he acknowledged.

“When you look at the market for gifting between grandparents and grandchildren, for a start, more than $175 billion a year is spent by grandparents for their grandchildren, alone,” Oren commented.

“This kind of app works in everyone’s best interest.”

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.
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