BY ANUSHA ASHWIN One hundred million views and a quarter million downloads is what a Hyderabad-based startup has achieved in less than four months since its launch. Film-maker and serial entrepreneur Prakash Dantuluri founded Bulbul Apps with a vision to bring regional content at global quality on smartphones and tablets for children below 8 years. Recently, Bulbul application was picked by Red Herring as one among the top 100 winners in Asia.
It all began when Dantuluri perceived that, although, the media consumption was shifting to personal devices, most of the children-focused content available on smartphones and tablets was dominated by international franchises and brands. He felt that there was very little quality content of Indian origin. With a vision to bring regional content at global quality for kids on smartphones and tablets, with the help of worldwide artist community, Dantuluri founded BulbulApps. He conceptualized beautifully-crafted scenes and characters to build a non-linear form of storytelling that encourages early reading skills among young children.
“As an artist myself and then a film maker, I realized that while media consumption was shifting to personal devices, most of the content available on smartphones and tablets was still vintage,” says Dantuluri. He felt that globally, there is a huge demand for quality and native content on digital devices in all app stores. He realized that the technology barrier for producing interactive content on smartphones was equally challenging and was not storyteller-friendly. Coupled with these challenges, distributing content on smartphones through apps and the scope for monetization or revenue generation was zero. As a technologist and film-maker, he realized that if people could collaborate from different countries to do coding and create software, they could also collaborate to make a beautiful interactive story for kids. The need for this quality content led him to create Bulbul Apps.
To begin with the team created a portal called www.bulbulstudio.com for storytellers to collaborate and create an interactive story. Then the team designed a technology in the studio that allows the artist to publish this story as an app, with zero coding. The team worked on creating a scalable production model. The result was Bulbul Studio and Bulbul’s Rapid App Development Process (RADP). Further, they created a library app called Bulbul Apps for people to easily access these stories on any device anywhere in the world across all app stores.
Currently, Bulbul has collaborated with more than 120 storytellers, animators, illustrators from 30 countries, and has 45 books that are currently live on Bulbul Apps library. Dantuluri’s mission is to create the world’s largest apps library for children below 8 years and help as many storytellers around the world to publish their work in Bulbulstudio.com.
Mechanics of Bulbul App
“We at BulBul Apps wanted to look around our world, with the kid lens on and discover stories for children. We wanted to tell those stories in an interactive way on smartphones and iPads, with characters that children can identify with,” elaborates Dantuluri.
Dantuluri devised this homegrown smartphone and tablet app for children below 8 years as a free-to-use app without ads and in-app purchases. It’s a simple library app with 55 books in it. It can be downloaded from Google play, Apple and Windows Stores. It is light on the user’s device memory and has a child-friendly certification. Users could choose any book by scrolling through the library or selecting from a list. Once a book is downloaded, the user can open the book just by tapping on it. Each book has about 15 to 18 pages depending on the story. Each page has one big beautiful illustration, one sentence of text, voice over and lots of interactive animations. The content is specific to each region, city and nation. The animation and interactivity in Bulbul App is designed to support children’s literacy development, rather than being just a distraction. Dantuluri created Bulbul App with an objective to develop this app not just for reading, but to connect with the story’s characters and understand it.
“We like to bring distinctive user experience by creating best-in-class content that brings value both to the parents and their 0-8 year children. The interesting characteristic of our production is we are driven and inspired by the vision of our storytellers. We create storyboard, we write, we edit, we illustrate, we animate, we create the audio (voice, original music and sound effects) and we code Bulbul Apps library in a manner that brings joy not only to our storytellers but also to millions of our app users both now and new,” says Dantuluri.
Fast track growth
According to Danruluri, his technology was in waiting for storytellers around the world. In just one year Bulbul Apps garnered more than a quarter million cumulative downloads from the app stores. It has crossed more than a million views on YouTube and has more than 50,000 followers on its Facebook page — most of them being mothers in the age group of 25-35 years from India, Pakistan and other neighboring countries. Over 120 artists with multiple talents have signed up to use the app’s platform to not only create 55 story books in Google play, Apple and Windows App Stores but also give these artist an avenue to publish their work in the digital media with ease and simplicity.
Bulbul Apps’ prominent success was marked when Red Herring shortlisted the app as one among the top 100 winners in Asia. Dantuluri believes that one possible reason for this success is the judges’ belief in the platform and the benefits it will extend to millions of storytellers, artists and illustrators to collaborate on a single platform to write, draw or create an illustration with visual and sound effects.
Bulbul App has even gained popularity in countries like Pakistan. Dantuluri expressed that this success could be attributed to the fact that good storytelling has no boundaries. “Just like cinema if the script and the story line are strong it would not matter which geography the viewer or audiences belong,” justifies Dantuluri.
“Localization of content and crafting popular as well as engaging interactive stories for children was always our founding philosophy and we believe it will continue to be our winning tactic to gain consumers’ love for Bulbul Apps library worldwide. The integration of our studio Bulbulstudio.com canvas and the publishing opportunity that we offer to storytellers is un-paralleled so far which gives us a strong competitive edge. When the app was launched, it was ranked as number one on iPad and iPhone in India and we continue to remain the most sought after even now. One of our stories Princess and the Pea went on to become number 1 e-book in 14 countries. Today, we have 55 stories in our Bulbul App library. Our team of Story Tellers, Illustrators, Animators, Voice Artists, and Musicians has also grown in size… we are 120 and growing consistently,” Dantuluri says.
The Road Ahead
This year the company will focus on more user acquisition and retention. The company will begin to run few experiments on to improve their monetization strategy as they have discovered tremendous pent-up demand for content of this kind. Currently, there are no mechanisms for the parents to pay money. Bulbul hopes that the payment integration will happen soon and the team will soon be able to create a new robust stream of revenues.
“Our research and development team is also working on new features that can be incorporated into the app to further excite the consumers to spend money on our apps that can bring strong app-consumer benefit,” says Dantuluri.
The company started with popular and widely heard folk tales in English. It will move on to create local apps in Hindi and Telugu. In the next six to 12 months Bulbul plans to roll out apps in 12 other languages. As the company matures, the team will focus their energies to design and develop native content for kids. “The mission is to deliver local content to children at Apple class quality with the help of worldwide artist community,” says Dantuluri.
He believes that every country offers potential for growth. The intention is to regionalize the content and make it more native-friendly. The initial target is to develop content in 11 Indian languages and then to create content in different international languages.
The company started with a team of four and now the head count is 14. The aim, for the company, is to get 25 to 30 employees on-board by next year with collaboration as an effective model.
“We raised $250,000 from angels as an initial round. We are currently looking at raising another round of $400,000 from angels. Currently we are not exploring VC funding, however, we may explore another round of angel funding,” says Dantuluri with reference to the financial projections of the company.
Dantuluri’s team is actively promoting Bulbul Apps through websites, Facebook, Twitter and other social media engagement. Most importantly, they have actively embraced new technology that will expand people-to-people communication in the off-digital world.
“We expect our revenue generation to become robust as the payment mechanism to buy apps has also become far more secure and trouble-free for consumers. We interact, engage and conduct promotions at educational institutions; gated communities besides organizing community-based entertaining promotions that involve parents and their children that revolve around digital learning apps. We are driving our revenues through subscription. To retain our subscription and retention levels we plan to add a number of enticing features for subscribed users. Some of them would be offline videos, a new book every week, learning activities, puzzles and games. These features will be part of our new offerings as we go forward,” says Dantuluri.