As parents know, "tweens" are hard to please. Children ages 7 to 12 want to explore the world and have fun doing it. But what might be fun to tweens, like surfing the Internet unsupervised, does not square with responsible parents' desires to safeguard them and help them learn in a constructive way.To deliver products that satisfy both tweens and parents is the goal of Gazillion Inc. subsidiary SmartyCard. As the brainchild of co-founder Robert Hutter, SmartyCard provides virtual incentives for tweens to learn online in interactive, child-friendly environments. Youngsters play educational games and take quizzes at SmartyCard.com to earn points for the purchase of virtual- and real-world goods and services.
The mechanism that allows tweens to "learn and earn" is SmartyCard's virtual card. With the card, parents purchase online the points that their kids then accumulate through the games and lessons.
Once players gather enough points, they can purchase music downloads from the Apple Inc. iTunes Store or DVDs and toys from Amazon.com. Or they can go the virtual route and spend their points in virtual worlds like Stardoll, Mindspark Interactive Network Inc.'s Zwinky Cuties or Disney Corp.'s Club Penguin. Tweens can choose from "hundreds of awards," said Chris Carvalho, General Manager at SmartyCard.
SmartyCard just implemented a subscription format that gives parents 5,000 points for $6.95 per month. According to Carvalho, 85 percent of the Web site's users apply their points to the purchase of virtual world items that enhance their avatars and virtual experiences. "So that's really marrying up well with our subscription offering," he said.
San Mateo, Calif.-based SmartyCard launched in March 2009 at DEMO, a conference that showcases new technology, where it won the People's Choice Award for innovation and execution. Since then, it has grown its user base to almost 200,000.
Carvalho remarked, "Parents have come back and said, 'Look, this is such a no brainer proposition. This is fantastic. I can't believe nobody else has ever thought of this because this totally gets to the pressing points I have at home.'"
A father himself, Carvalho understands the time and effort it takes to search the Web for both entertaining and educational Web sites for youngsters. That's where Carvalho believes SmartyCard stands alone. "With other sites, the child gets bored fairly rapidly because there's no motivation really to continue to work," he said. "Here there's a strong motivation because, however they work, they earn points in the way that they want."
Through SmartyCard, tweens also increase their financial IQs, he added. "I think just by doing SmartyCard, you're teaching them because they are building up points, and then they have to make decisions," he said. "'Do I want to buy this or do I want to save up for a phone?' They are making those financial decisions within the game."
SmartyCard has a staff of 20 and personnel dedicated to customer support. They respond to e-mails within 24 hours and also communicate with customers via the social networking medium Twitter. The target market for SmartyCard is families that are Web savvy and utilize social networking. Aaron Burcell, Vice President of Marketing at SmartyCard, said the tween markets for education, online entertainment and games are each multibillion dollar markets. He added that grandparents spend over $50 billion a year on their grandchildren in these markets. "If you look at sheer spending, the figures are too ridiculous to repeat," Burcell said. "At a customer level, there are over 20 million kids in the tween age ranges, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics."
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