Generation Start-up: Dubai's Periscope brings the safety of children's apps in focus

The start-up aims to create an ecosystem built around mothers and a suite of apps for modern-day families in the Mena region

Smeetha Ghosh-Jorgensen, Founder and CEO of Periscope Media.

(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

Reporter: Sarmad Khan
Section: bz1710Periscope Gen S
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Profile Periscope Media

Founder: Smeetha Ghosh, one co-founder (anonymous)

Launch year: 2020

Employees: four – plans to add another 10 by July 2021

Financing stage: $250,000 bootstrap funding, approaching VC firms this year

Investors: Co-founders

Smeetha Ghosh-Jorgensen faced a problem that many parents encounter in today’s internet age: how to safely introduce her son to the digital world.

Hoping to solve the problem by joining an online community for parents to seek advice, she was surprised to find a lack of resources on how to address the issue.

While there was a range of apps for children of all ages, she realised that what was missing was a one-stop shop for concerned mothers who wanted their children to experience the best of what the internet had to offer in a safe manner.

Ms Ghosh-Jorgensen, 39, intends to fix that problem through Periscope Media.

The Dubai start-up, which she founded with a friend and runs as chief executive, plans to create an ecosystem that is built around mothers, with a suite of apps for modern-day families in the Mena region.

“I was unhappy with the solutions that are available right now,” Ms Ghosh-Jorgensen says.

“Our road map of products revolves around our foundation, that is, an online community for mothers [for whom] who we intend to co-create all our products for children [of different ages].”

Ms Ghosh-Jorgensen was born in Bengaluru, India, and moved to Dubai as a teenager. She has called the emirate home for more than 25 years. Married to a pilot, she has worked with global consumer brands for more than a decade in the UAE and Europe.

However, becoming an entrepreneur is what she really aspired to be throughout her marketing career.

“I have always had a strong desire to start my own business, and over many years and countless business ideas later, I finally found ‘the one’,” she says.

The idea of Periscope came during a chat between the founders as Ms Ghosh-Jorgensen discussed her concerns about children’s apps.

The two talked about how they would like to create products that their children could spend time on without worrying about safety, quality and value.

Ms Ghosh-Jorgensen and her silent co-founder – a professional who has worked with technology start-ups in Europe and the Middle East and has helped several companies raise funds – decided to join hands and Periscope was formed early this year.

The company intends to develop KidTech and edutainment apps. The first product it plans to unveil is Cashoo, an app that teaches children between the ages of six and 18 about money management.

Being “money smart” is a topic many children do not learn at school, a niche that Periscope intends to fill.

“By creating engaging and fun real-life experiences, kids will be exposed to how money works at an early age and be better prepared for adulthood,” she says.

The app, which is expected to be functional by February 2021, will help to address the issue of financial inclusion, an important concern for regional policymakers, she says.

Apart from Cashoo, Periscope’s other products include an edutainment app and another that focuses on children’s health and wellness.

However, developing an engaging digital platform and supportive community for mothers in the region remains a priority, Ms Ghosh-Jorgensen says.

The range of products that Periscope is developing is mainly around internet safety.

I've always had a strong desire to start my own business and over many years and countless business ideas later, I finally found 'the one'.

“It is very hard for parents to judge whether the content is age-appropriate or if an application is safe for [children] ... or find the time to keep up with [ever-changing] ways apps gather data and [information] about children,” she says.

Currently, internet safety regulations to protect children are being developed at a different pace across the region.

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act in the US and specific sections of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation seek to make apps safe for children and give parents peace of mind.

Periscope’s ultimate goal is to work with authorities in the Middle East to create awareness and develop or adapt guidelines that make the digital world a safer place for children of all ages.

Periscope, which expects to be profitable within two years of starting operations, is based on a subscription model.

The founders have so far invested $250,000 to put the company through its initial stages and plan to approach venture capital companies and high-net-worth investors before the end of this year for additional funding. Ms Ghosh-Jorgensen declined to give the amount Periscope intends to raise.

“Based on the interest we have received so far, we are confident of raising the necessary funds to get the momentum we need to launch our products,” she says.

After launching products in the UAE, the company plans to expand to Saudi Arabia. India is also a market that is “definitely very attractive”, she says.

Two more team members with finance and businesses development expertise are joining the team, says Ms Ghosh-Jorgensen, who quit her job in July.

The company has outsourced the app development process, but plans to hire 10 more people by the end of July next year.

Q&A with Smeetha Ghosh, co-founder and chief executive of Periscope Media

What are the biggest lessons you have learnt so far since launching the venture?

One of the bigger lessons I am still learning is that when your skin is in the game, it is completely different to what you are used to in your corporate life. The sense of ownership is just tremendous in many ways. This is my baby and the decisions I make are responsible for driving the business forward. That realisation alone is exhilarating as well as daunting at the same time. The second lesson that I have learnt is that you simply cannot know everything before you start a business. You just have to dive in at the deep end and learn how to swim along the way and be ready to adapt to changes.

What are some of the things that you wish you could have done differently?

Until now, nothing with regards to Periscope. I wish I had started my own business a bit earlier in my life, though.

What new skills have you learnt since starting the business?

I am learning new things every day and I will continue to do so. For now, a lot of it is focused around product development, customer acquisition and retention strategies, as well as building a new team from the ground up.

Which other start-up do you wish you could have started?

So many. There are some great examples of global as well Middle Eastern companies that have been founded by women. A couple that come to mind are ClassPass and Mumzworld.

Your advice for entrepreneurs struggling to launch their own venture?

I am an optimist by nature, so I would say whatever challenges one is facing, there is always a way out. As entrepreneurs, we just have to be resilient. The biggest thing for me is really listen to and understand the customer and audience. With so many marketing technology tools at our disposal these days, it has become much easier. The more personalised experience your brand can provide, the more likely the customer is going to stick by your side.

Has Covid-19 affected your business in any way?

Covid-19 has definitely hastened the digital evolution in the Mena region. Screen times have more than doubled in most households and online learning and internet safety for children is at the forefront of parents’ minds. Covid-19 has accelerated the growth of a lot of companies operating in this space. If anything, we have to launch our app sooner than later as we have so much to offer.

Profile Periscope Media

Founder: Smeetha Ghosh, one co-founder (anonymous)

Launch year: 2020

Employees: four – plans to add another 10 by July 2021

Financing stage: $250,000 bootstrap funding, approaching VC firms this year

Investors: Co-founders