The new focus from startup accelerator muru-D, around Australian startups exploring regional opportunities in favour over going straight to Silicon Valley, looks to serve one of its startups well. Funetics, formally Peep Digital at the time of being accepted into the program has its eyes set on the Chinese market, as cofounders Nkosana Mafico and Nicholas Jenkins begin to discover the massive impact their product will have within the region.
Originally Peep Digital was founded by Greg Beaver and our Chairman, Professor David Ross in 2013. It was part of the iLab Germinate Program at the University of Queensland, and it was there that Mafico was recruited to join the team as CEO and co-founder and later down the track as Beaver and Ross took a less hands on approach in the business choosing to be non-executive shareholders (though Professor Ross is a Director on the board) Mafico convinced his mate Jenkins to join the team.
Both Mafico and Jenkins are majority shareholders in the business and are for all intents and purposes viewed as the principal cofounders now in the day to day running of the business.
Prior to Funetics, Jenkins was already a pretty successful entrepreneur, having founded the Australian Series of Beer Pong, which operated in the same spirit as The Australian Poker League and other similar Pub hosted weekly tournaments. Jenkins sold ASBP in May last year in order to join Mafico in a full-time capacity.
At its core, the mission of Funetics is to make it easy for anyone who speaks a language other than english as a first language to learn english. Given that out of all the languages english is perhaps the most non-phonetic language due to its wide range of adaptations and circumstantial phrases that mean multiple things based around certain contexts – it can often be hard to wrap ones head around.
What Funetics have done is develop a proprietary technology that maps every sound in the english language. In simple terms, the technology can be laid over a piece of content and it will break that content down into phonemes (sounds) instead of the traditional route of breaking wording down into syllables. In addition to the that the technology also provides a data play, by way of reporting on tailored learning outcomes for individuals. This information can then be fed back into a third party Learning Management System.
The first target market for the business is China, both Mafico and Jenkins were in Beijing earlier this year at a conference where the pair first demonstrated the capabilities of the product. “China is our primary market, we travelled there earlier this year to attend a conference and meet with key people. We showed people what we were working on and they loved it, one guy, a 27 year old said that he would even use our entry level product, a nursery rhyme application himself” said Mafico.
With 600 million mobile internet users in China alone, and a massive cultural push by parents to get their children into english speaking universities when they graduate, it makes perfect sense as to why Funetics would do well in such a marketplace.
The challenge the company will face though isn’t around whether Chinese consumers will want to use the technology though, where the founders need to tread carefully is in realm of content creation and partnerships. More specifically partnering with organisations that produce content related products at scale will be of the upmost importance.
Right now Funetics have internally developed two games targeted at the children’s education market, Andy’s World and Molly’s Rhymes – both the games have served a significant purpose in demonstrating the capabilities of the underlying Funetics technology which is the core focus of the business. Rather than become a content creation company, at this point in time Mafico says that the strategy to market will be through licensing the technology out to content creators and educational companies. This is a smart move, as there are already a number of large content creators making a push into the Asian market.
Given the fact that this year muru-D intends to tour China instead of the states as part of the current class, it will be interesting to see what further connections the team at Funetics will be able to make on the ground over there. Already a local school in China has been using the companies in-house products and have been blown away with the results. There is a very real possibility that Funetics, if executed right could be a major technology export company in the education space, over the coming years.
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