Play Shifu is revolutionizing the world of tomorrow. Made of creative innovators and hard-working individuals, they are changing how kids learn and play in the future.

Dinesh(L) and Vivek (R)
Dinesh(L) and Vivek (R)

Dinesh Advani and Vivek Goyal are longtime friends from their days in IIT Kharagpur. They went on to working together at P&G before taking different paths. Dinesh served as the VP at Delhivery and Vivek pursued his MBA from Stanford and then worked with eBay as a Sr. Product Manager.

They met again in 2016 and co-founded PlayShifu. As parents, they realized that it is almost impossible to keep kids away from technology nowadays, and that both learning and fun go hand-in-hand during childrens’ early years of development. They wanted to merge tactile & digital play patterns to engage, entertain and educate children like no other medium does. Being tech enthusiasts, they explored different options and found Augmented Reality ideal for the platform they intended to build. Dinesh overlooks sales and operations, and Vivek take care of the product and marketing. We are publishing an interview with Mr. Vivek:

Q.: What is the problem you are trying to solve?
As parents, we ventured out to get the best of the best toys for our kids. But, there were multiple problems:
• Learning toys & games were not engaging enough to hold a child’s attention. Also, they didn’t have a lasting impact.
• Tactile-only toys didn’t have a rich variable experience when it came to content.
• And digital-only experiences were rich in content but cannot build motor skills.
• Most importantly, these toys and games were not addressing the need to build core foundational skills for early childhood development (2-10 years of age).

That was how PlayShifu was born. Using Augmented Reality, we merge the best of both worlds, tactile and digital. This brings experiences that challenge and help kids in cognitive and intellectual play while tracking and enhancing their motor skills. Our products include Shifu Orboot – AR-based Interactive Globe, Plugo Count – STEM Math Gaming Kit, Plugo Link – STEM Construction Kit, Shifu Minglings – Mix & Match Toy Set and Shifu AR-Flashcards series. All our toys use common smart devices, Android and iOS, available at home.

How This Bengaluru-based Startup is Disrupting the Global Toy Market With Augmented Reality

Q.: Can you share with us any insights that led you to believe that this is a big enough problem?
Kids have moved on from watching TV to spending time online on mobile phones and tablets. This trend is evident from the steady decline in the avg. daily media consumption on TV against the sharp rise in the internet content production and consumption. For instance, a survey by Childwise, a leading research agency specializing in children and young adults research, reported that childrens’ avg. daily media consumption on TV went down to 2.1 hours while they are spending more than 4 hours on the internet daily in UK. We came across similar data for all the major countries, the US, Europe and Australia.

While the content on the internet is entertaining for the most part, it not always enriching and child-safe. This is a big problem that needs a dependable solution. We are trying to build a platform (the dependable solution) with lots of rich and valuable content for kids to engage with.

Q.: Tell us about the Product / Solution. Explain how you went about the Product-Market Fit Process.
Our aim with Shifu is to make toys and games that are fun in the foreground and provide a rich educational experience in the background. We quickly identified our end-consumers (kids aged 2-10) as explained above and our customers (working parents with kids 2-10 years of age). We launched our ideas first on Kickstarter to find the early tech adopters. Both of our Kickstarter campaigns were a huge hit. Parents & educators from more than 60 countries backed our campaign basis the concept we presented. We won their hearts with the final product we delivered. After which, we launched our toys in the market. We constantly improve our products using the feedback from the users and our in-game analytics, and frequently release updates with new games and content.

Q.: What is your USP?
PlayShifu is one of the few startups in the consumer tech space making toys and games that are educational, fun and long-term engaging. Kids, parents and teachers all love Shifu. We make this possible by sticking our two strengths:

  • We offer rich, variable, on-demand content while using Augmented Reality to render short and focused contextual snippets to better illustrate concepts that resonate cognitive intelligence, critical thinking, and spatial reasoning.
  • The physical interactions of tactile play help in enhancing motor skills in kids. Hands-on activities also have added benefit of creating a lasting impression and help kids retain concepts longer.
Shifu Plugo - STEM gaming system
Shifu Plugo – STEM gaming system

Q.: What were your assumptions when you entered the market, learning that you have?
Our ideal customer is a working parent with kids between 2-10 years of age who understands the importance of leveraging the potential of technology to make learning safe and fun. We have over 200,000 users signed up on PlayShifu across all products.

Q.: What has been your biggest failure as an entrepreneur and what did you learn from it?
In an Entrepreneurial journey, 0 to 1 is the stage where you conceptualize ideas based on user need and try to see if it solves the problem. 1 to 100 is the stage of scaling the business. I have got three different opportunities to move from 0 to 1 in the last six years, and I could only move beyond ‘1’ successfully only with PlayShifu.

While the journey is still long and more mistakes/failures are bound to happen, I would consider my first two attempts as my biggest failures; though I would like to add that they were instrumental in enabling me to do what I am doing right now. They were stepping stones.

Q.: How are you pricing the Product? Explain your thought process.
Our products are phygital (physical + digital). We sell the physical toys and have made the companion apps, that work with the toys, available freely. Understanding the mobile usage pattern in India, we did not bank on in-app purchases. App updates are free. We also take data safety very seriously and our apps don’t need internet connectivity to play (only required for one-time installation and setup).

Q.: How did you get your first customer?
Our first customers were from our Orboot’s Kickstarter campaign. It helped us get customers from over 60 countries across the globe. Soon after Orboot, we launched Shifu Minglings which was a hit with parents in India. We launched Shifu Plugo on Kickstarter last year and the response was overwhelming.

Q.: Please tell us about the investors (if any)
We have been funded by IDG Ventures and IDFC Parampara Fund.

Q.: Is there any interesting success story? If yes, please write about it?
Our journey since 2016 has been amazing. We hit many milestones from launching our first product (Orboot) to getting recognised by the honorable Mom’s Choice Awards, The National Parenting Center, and Tillywig Toy Awards.

We have been part of the biggest toy fairs around the world, namely New York toy fair, Hong Kong toy fair and Nuremberg toy fair. We are also the first Indian product company to spread wings on Kickstarter, a New York-based crowdfunding platform. And we gained 1633 backers from over 60 countries. Our latest and one of the biggest achievements is expanding our retail and online channels to more than 10 countries in a span of 8 months. PlayShifu is now in the markets of the US, Canada, UK, Poland, Germany, Japan, the Middle East, and Australia.

Q.: What is the big picture of your startup? Is this product/service leading to something bigger? If so, how?
The world today is competitive, technology-driven, fast-paced, and progressive. It takes a lot to adapt to it. And for ours kids to have a comfortable life ahead, it is vital to build strong foundations in the formative years of development. With technological advancements knowing no leaps and bounds, it is possible for us to give them the tools to find their calling from as early as childhood.

Our big picture is fairly simple. We want to facilitate kids, parents and teachers with tools and resources that better assist in learning and prepare them for the future. Through our suite of AR products, we are:

  1. Building unique Phygital play systems that engage kids for long periods of time because of the
    unique AR interaction.
  2. Having core foundational learning at the heart of each game.
  3. Maintaining Tactile and Digital play balance, leading to all round development.
  4. Creating deep adaptive game levels that grow as kid grows.
  5. Making sure no electronics are involved, and that our experiences work with smart devices kids
    already have. Thus being affordable and long life.

Q.: Since inception, give us a sense of the value of business done by your venture?
Ans: We’ve managed to become a multi-million-dollar company in 2 years of our international expansion, clocking an annual 8x growth, with 70% of the revenue coming from outside India. Our investors say such growth trajectory is seen among some of the highly successful startups across the world. We’ve built a community of more than 200,000 users and counting.

Q.: What is the insight that you have about this market, which no one else has? Uniqueness about your Startup.
The combination of our toy design, gameplay and content are our strength. It translates to high repeat-play rate, retention rate and time spent on the app+toy experience. Our engagement metrics are off the roof, higher than the best kids apps on the App Store and Play Store.

Q.: List all the names of the core Team Members, along with their Designated Roles.
Our core belief here is that we want to keep a small core team size, but each of them have substantial responsibility and a direct impact on the business and products.

Q.: Who do You Perceive as Your Competition? How do you differentiate yourself with them?
On the AR front, there aren’t any direct competitors in India. But, Magic Crate, Smartivity and Flintobox are some startups in the toys category.

Q.: What would be your goal to accomplish in the next six months?
In the next six months, we will be penetrating deeper into our primary target markets (US, Europe, Japan, Australia) through retail, online and classroom presence. We also have new games in the pipeline with focus on helping kids in building every foundational skill that is required in the age group of 2-10 years.

Q.: What message do you want to convey to fellow entrepreneurs?
If you have a spark within, then don’t let it die. But remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Don’t give up, for, it is going to take time to realize your dreams. You can achieve your goals if you empathise with the people and attach yourself to the problems you are solving, structure your ideas, prioritize them, and stick to the plan. You can’t get to stage 10 without finishing stage 1 to 9. Also, keep in mind that you can’t do it all alone. Build a team that resonates with your

Thanks Dinesh. Best wishes!