CINCINNATI -- If you’re a parent stressing over how to teach your children a foreign language, you’ll understand the appeal of Zid Zid.
It’s an online service that teaches children languages by having them do creative activities.
How does it work?
It’s a learning-through-creative play concept. Children are given both online and offline activities to do, along with foreign language vocabulary words to learn.
The beauty of the approach is that you don’t have to know the language in order to teach a child, said Moulay Essakalli, who created the business with his wife, Julie Klear.
Where’d the idea come from?
Essakalli called it a happy accident. One day in 2012, Klear was teaching an art workshop to some children when she started using words from different languages. The children loved it and wanted more.
Soon, parents were asking her to teach their children English through the workshops (Klear and Essakalli lived in Morocco at the time). They decided to build a business around using technology to bring this kind of learning to the wider world.
How did they come to Cincinnati?
After 15 years of living in Morocco, where Essakalli was born, Klear, a Toledo native, began to miss her family. Their children, too, wanted to finish their education in the United States.
Through a friend, they heard of The Brandery, the Over-the-Rhine nonprofit business accelerator, and were accepted into its latest class of entrepreneurs.
“We needed a partnership to strengthen our marketing muscles and distribution potential,” Essakalli said.
The Brandery paired them with a mentor, Marvin Abrinica, CEO and founder of ThrivEra, who said Klear and Essakalli are the perfect couple to build Zid Zid.
Essakalli has the “warmth and refinement of a gentleman, combined with the savvy street smarts of a Moroccan shop owner, impatiently wanting to get things done."
Klear’s design sense breathes life into their product, he said. “It’s evident her thoughtful and playful design speaks volumes. It’s no wonder she’s a Fulbright scholar."
How will the business make money?
Initially, through subscriptions from users. Eventually, that could also lead to merchandising of books and toys used in connection with the website, Essakalli said.
He has experience in that space, having grown a Moroccan company he also called Zid Zid into an international children’s brand of toys, clothing and accessories. His success with the Moroccan Zid Zid led to an invitation to President Obama’s 2010 summit on global entrepreneurship.
He sold the business when he and Klear decided to move to the United States.
What’s the market for this?
The total market for language-learning for preschoolers in the United States is about $1.8 billion, with Zid Zid's target market about $360 million, Essakalli said.
"There are no major players in the space," he said. “It’s a very untapped market."
Globally, the market is of course much larger. There are 200 million children in China who need to learn English, for example, and South Korea is spending $1.2 billion a year, or 1 percent of its GDP, on English learning, Essakalli said.
While they were still in Morocco, Klear and Essakalli launched a beta site, www.zidzid.com, that gave them enough encouragement and data to continue.
Since arriving in Cincinnati, they’ve conducted focus groups and done surveys that will help refine a better version of the website, which they hope to launch in a few weeks.
After that, they plan to start signing up subscribers, scale up the business and hit the United States market hard, focusing on Cincinnati initially.
“We’re getting good feedback," Essakalli said. “When we talk to parents about it, their eyes get bright."