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Slope Interview Series: James Ruben, Hellosaurus

James Ruben is the Founder and CEO of Hellosaurus. He and his team are reinventing children’s programming for touchscreen audiences, with an initial focus on kids between the ages of 2 and 8.

In this interview with James, we explore how Hellosaurus fosters partnerships with creators, tackles specific marketing challenges, and more!

We’ve had the pleasure of working directly on Hellosaurus's marketing strategy, and we’re excited to watch them continue to grow!

For people that don’t know you, talk briefly about your background. How/why did you start Hellosaurus?

I started Hellosaurus in December 2019; before that I worked as Head of Product at HQ Trivia and as a Product Manager at Google.

While I worked at HQ Trivia, I landed on two major product insights that inspired Hellosaurus.

First, I learned that to build a compelling video experience you need content that meaningfully benefits from interaction.

This idea really lends itself to game shows, and, I realized, makes tons of sense for kids media—shows that ask kids to sing, dance, move, find things, etc.

The second insight I had was that you need a creator pool that’s ready, willing, and able to make interactive content. HQ Trivia had essentially become both a production and a software company—the problem with that model is that those types of business don’t operate, finance, or scale the same way.

Given a bunch of regulatory changes and subsequent YouTube policy updates, popular kids content creators are looking for a new place (i.e. not YouTube) to put out content. They’ve realized that YouTube isn’t the best platform for kids because it’s not always “safe”— often because the YouTube algorithm tends to drive the weirdest (not necessarily the best) content to the top—and parents often don’t trust it.

Hellosaurus is screentime, reimagined: a safe, quality space for kids to interact with their favorite characters.

What are some unique marketing channels you’ve been testing at Hellosaurus?

Right now we’re really leveraging our creators to help boost our marketing.

The brands we work with—Kidz Bop, Mother Goose Club, World by Charlie, and others—are well-known, reputable, and often have tens of millions of YouTube subscribers.

Because our brand is really an amalgamation of these top-tier creators, we’re using their network to market Hellosaurus.

For instance, we’ve created different initiatives that incentivize creators to reach out to their audience, bring their audience on board, etc. which is basically an affiliate marketing strategy.

We’ve also used distribution deals as another marketing channel. For example, we’ll partner with a company so that they include a Hellosaurus subscription as an employee benefit. Or maybe we’ll get a private day-care to add Hellosaurus as an additional benefit to their customers.

In terms of marketing Hellosaurus to creators, we typically rely on a direct sales model—we just reach out to creators directly. Safety and quality are the two main criteria we use to evaluate creators before we let them onto Hellosaurus.

What’s been your biggest marketing challenge with Hellosaurus? How have you been able to overcome it?

Regulations in the kid’s media world are always evolving—and are not uniformly applied.

In other words, Apple, Facebook, TikTok, and other platforms all have unique rules about how you can treat products meant for kids. Generally, these rules are made with good intentions, but they also tend to operate under the incorrect assumption that technology is inherently bad for kids.

So that makes our work, in a way, more challenging; we have to deal with the rules and regulations around advertising and marketing Hellosaurus.

We’ve also had to remain conscious that our marketing is, in a sense, a product of its own. We make tools for the creators, they make videos for kids, and we have to create a marketing strategy that’s aimed at parents. They’re the ones that make the decision whether their kid can try Hellosaurus or not.

So for us, user acquisition (getting parents to buy in) and user retention (getting kids to enjoy the programs) are two different things.

Working with influencers and content creators is a big part of marketing Hellosaurus to kids. How do you think about who you partner with and why?

Hellosaurus is for 2-8 year olds—that’s a big age range. What’s fun and educational for two-year-olds looks very different from what’s fun and educational for eight-year-olds. That means we’re always working to ensure the platform has enough quality, differentiated content for each age group.

We also balance education and entertainment. All content is, in some sense, “educational” for kids, but we’re focused on supporting content that explicitly aims to be educational. Achieving that balance between education and entertainment is super important—and it starts with our creators. We put lots of effort into finding and securing creators who are experts at balancing both qualities.

Lastly, we aim for content that’s both narrative-driven and instructional. It’s easy for kids to follow a storyline, but we also make sure that the content itself is instructional. Dora the Explorer is a great example here. There’s a narrative, but Dora also addresses the kids, asks them questions, and engages them. It’s not just a story. Facilitating this virtual back-and-forth is a great way to combine narrative with instruction.

As we keep all these ideas in mind, it’s been great to work with all our partner creators because it allows us to not have to arbitrate content—we know that all our creators will make amazing content that always hits the mark.

What are you most excited about for Hellosaurus as we move into 2021?

As we head into 2021 I’m most excited about onboarding more creators and allowing them to use our platform in a “self-service” fashion.

Right now we’re in the process of improving our platform so that, once we approve creators, they’ll be able to use their tools to make content on their own. We’re excited to facilitate this creator marketplace and make it easy for parents to access quality content for their kids.