Preschool learning and entertainment app Hopster is on the forefront of the trend of creating original content. Hopster recently completed the growth funding round led by Sony Pictures Television Network and is the highest-grossing preschool kids’ app in 24 countries. The app houses a line-up of series including Reading Rainbow with LeVar Burton, DHX Media’s Monster Math Squad, and Sesame Street. Now Hopster is developing, creating and commissioning original shows, which they own and have exclusive rights to. Screen time should be a win-win for kids and parents. The company’s mission is to help kids learn through the stories they love.
Here’s our chat with Nick Walters, the CEO & Founder of Hopster. Before starting Hopster, he ran a number of different things at Viacom International Media Networks, including most recently being General Manager for VIMN’s business in Russia and CIS. While there, he opened up Viacom’s first office in Russia and oversaw the launch of a series of channels, including Nickelodeon-HD and Nick Jr.
Prior to taking his role in Russia, Walters served as Head of Strategy for MTV Emerging Markets. He’s a recovering strategy consultant and was named as Start-Up Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2015 Great British Entrepreneur Awards.
Q: What was the inspiration for Hopster, and what’s your vision for the business?
The inspiration came from personal need. Our daughter was 3 years old back in 2013 and she was just beginning to discover the world of apps and TV. Unfortunately, a lot of what she came across was low quality. Our inspiration was to build something better – a quality destination she’d keep coming back to. And that’s our vision for Hopster: a completely safe, ad-free environment helping kids learn through the stories they love – in a single app.
Q: What is the ideal experience for Hopster users?
One fantastic review we got on the App Store was from a user who had discovered the app for her granddaughter. Her granddaughter was on the autistic spectrum and delayed in her speech. She loved the Hopster environment, so she thought it would be a great place for her granddaughter, and by using the app, the little girl made accelerated process in speech. That’s pretty much an ideal experience for us.
Q: Any exciting partnerships? I like asking about partnerships because good ones can be really fruitful.
We launched in the US back in 2016 and now we’re really focusing on growing there. We just signed a deal with Sesame Street, which is one of the biggest content deals we’ve ever done in the US, and we’ll be announcing some exciting partnerships soon, so we’ll be pushing hard on building out a business there. We’ve also just done our first original video content and are really happy with how it’s gone. We’ll be doing more of that.
Q: What were some difficult moments in launching?
We had a real learning curve early on in Hopster’s life. When we first launched we were one of the first subscription apps in the App Store so we had to find out how the model works, what it takes for people to subscribe and how we could build our user-base. In our first month in the App Store we had about 29 subscribers and only 14 of them came back the next month. So figuring out how to sustainably and profitably build a subscriber base through an app has probably been the most challenging thing for me.
Q: What industry insights should everyone be aware of?
There’s a big change in how kids are watching shows. More and more they’re turning off the TV and heading online, watching on-demand when and where they want to. This is a time of massive change in the content and media industry with some really important and exciting new developments. Users are now taking more control over their content. For example, there’s a growing concern about ad-funded, open source platforms, like YouTube Kids. More and more parents are looking for safe, curated services like Hopster that they feel good about giving to their children.
Q: At your company, what can a new hire expect?
One of the things we do at Hopster is that we try to be really transparent with our team. We have a finance review every quarter, so everyone knows where we’re at and how many subscribers we have. We discuss the KPIs that we think are important for the business and every month we get together to talk about how they are performing and what each one of us could do to improve them. Then I give my team free rein and autonomy to work individually and creatively to achieve these. There’s a shared consciousness where everyone understands where we’re going as a business, so they can all fit their decisions and actions into that framework.