Playrific Prepares for Education App Bubble, With $4.7M in Tow

Get ready for some major consolidation in mobile apps for kids and education. So says one of the sector’s keen observers, tech entrepreneur Beth Marcus.

Marcus is the CEO and co-founder of Playrific, a Boston-area software startup that works with brands and organizations to publish apps and content for kids. It’s not clear yet whether the company will be an acquirer, an acquiree, or just another startup continuing to grow on its own in the world of educational apps.

What is clear is that Playrific is finally talking about its investment history. The 12-person company was founded in 2010 and has raised a total of $4.7 million in angel capital. The company closed a $3 million Series A round at the end of 2014, and has added $500,000 more in bridge financing this year. Its investors include Golden Seeds and individuals including Jean Hammond, Frank Ferguson, and members of Northeast Angels, Walnut Venture Associates, Maine Angels, and Launchpad Venture Group.

Beth Marcus

Beth Marcus

Marcus says she’s been reluctant to raise a venture round, in part because of a bad experience with VC at a previous company. But it sounds like raising a Series B round for Playrific could be a possibility with the right investor. It also sounds like the timing is right to go big (or at least bigger).

Depending on whom you ask, there are between 40,000 and 50,000 apps targeted at kids, with an educational component. To Marcus, that’s not sustainable. “We’re just at the beginning of an app bubble, and it’s particularly prominent in the kid space,” she says. “There’s all this educational content out there, and a lot of it is pretty boring and ugly.”

One result of all that is an increasing number of roll-ups. A recent example: Fingerprint, a San Francisco company that makes software for learning and entertainment, bought mobile edtech firms Cognitive Kid and Scribble Press in January, for undisclosed sums.

So, if you want to develop educational apps, what’s the best way to succeed in the current marketplace? “Where to make money is where parents think it’s educational and valuable, and the kids still like it,” Marcus says.

Not surprisingly, she thinks Playrific has hit its stride, as it works with companies from GeoToys to SeaWorld to develop the kinds of apps that kids like. The startup has signed up about 50 partners in total and is delivering about two new apps per week to the marketplace, Marcus says—many of them for small and mid-sized brands. (So Playrific may be contributing to the glut of apps, though the company probably doesn’t see it that way.)

A potentially major differentiator for Playrific is its approach of mixing video content with books, games, and other types of media in its apps. “It’s the next iteration of how kids will consume what used to be TV,” Marcus says. “The world hasn’t come to that conclusion yet, but I have.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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