Why we didn’t vote for Taamkru to win Echelon

e27’s Echelon is the TechCrunch Disrupt of South East Asia; it’s the region’s largest and arguably most influential tech conference.

Echelon also has its own start-up battlefield, and in cornerplay tradition, we’re giving our high level assessment on the winner: Taamkru, an iPad educational game for kids five and below (iOS only for now).

In the words of the company:

Taamkru helps your preschooler achieve academic success in both an enjoyable and productive way while allowing parents to monitor achievement with personalized progress reports…Taamkru’s kid-tested inventory of nearly one million creative learning exercises has been developed by trusted child development experts and aligned with Ministry of Education standards. Our productive learning app has been carefully designed for preschoolers to use and help them achieve academic success with fun, interactive and premium quality educational content of increasing difficulty.

Taamkru is a worthy winner, but it wasn’t my first choice for the competition.

Here’s what we like

Strong team
Charn and Oil (both co-founders) previously founded a Thai health website and grew it to 7 million unique visitors.  Premy owns four kindergartens they use to dog food the product; he also has the government connections.  Dr. Shompoo has written teaching manuals for over 1000 kindergartens.  They’ve got the entrepreneur leader, the tech guy, the biz dev guy and the product expert.  A complete, balanced leadership team.  For complete bios, see here.

Great presentation
I love the presentation that Charn, the speaker and CEO, gave.  It was smooth, articulate, informative and even funny at times.

Appeal to parents
One of the bits of comedy in the presentation was how Taamkru assesses each kid and compares the kid to others.  This is obviously an appeal to stereotypical Asian “tiger” parents, who push their kids hard from an early age to be the best.  Appealing to parents’ desires feels more predictable than appealing to kids’ sense of fun.

Some traction
Taamkru is #1 in Singapore and Thailand for free education apps and has over 100,000 downloads.  They’ve also got some traction in Laos, Jamaica and Oman, though I can’t imagine absolute numbers are significant.  Charn claimed that Taamkru has a 30% retention rate 30 days after a user downloads the app.  That’s actually just average-good; at feecha we get 32%.

Celebrity name
Is it just me, or does Taam Kru sound like Tom Cruise in Thai? 🙂

Here’s what we don’t like

Entertainment apps are a hit driven business.  Taamkru might be different in that it’s more education than game, but I’m guessing kids see it as more the latter.  Can Taamkru extend the success they’ve achieved?  To other age groups, to more content, to more apps?  That said, if they can turn this into the Candy Crush of edu-games, maybe having only one hit is not such a big issue.

Kids are notoriously fad-driven.  What’s cool and fun one moment isn’t cool and fun the next.  Is this the kind of app a kid likes to play for a few months and then move on to the next thing?  If so, we get back to the question of whether Taamkru can keep delivering fresh new hits; that’s not easy to predict.

International growth
The judges rightly asked about how applicable the app is to other markets and other languages; Charn answered very applicable, given the app is primarily pictorial.  The judges were on the right track but asked the wrong question: it’s not about whether product scales, it’s about whether marketing will.

It’s no accident that Taamkru is only big in Thailand and Singapore.  Thailand is their home country and they’ve done quite a bit of local marketing, holding what’s apparently Thailand’s biggest competition (or pageant?) for kids with 20,000 applicants.  The Thai-focused health website the two co-founders also started has 7 million unique visitors, which they no doubt leveraged.  So they’ve done a good job getting to #1 in Thailand for education, but did so with unique advantages.

I’m not sure how Taamkru became big in Singapore, but its rise was recent.  According to App Annie, Taamkru’s ascent up the charts started only on June 7.  Prior to that, it was always outside the top 500 in the education category.

ay particular attention to the yellow line

Could the app’s growth in Singapore have been driven by interest in Echelon?  Was the immediate jump to the top on that very day a result of paid tactics?

This suggests to me that marketing will be a challenge for Taamkru as they expand overseas.  Even with a great product that should theoretically already fit the US market, Taamkru’s highest achieved rank in the US store is merely #672 for education.  This may not be an organically viral app after all – it may be the kind of app that needs pushing to grow.

That’s not a deal breaker by any means, but then you have to weigh user acquisition cost against user value.  It would be a business of measured growth, not Instagram-like, free-for-all explosive growth.

If this was a seed investment and if I had money, I’d jump in no problem on the basis of the team’s strength.  But if this is for a Series A or more, I’d want to look at their numbers and the market more carefully.

Taamkru is a worthy winner but they weren’t my choice for champion.

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