Two Seattle entrepreneurs want to re-imagine the way parents read physical books to their children.
Originally conceived at a Startup Weekend event last year, Campfire is a companion app for reading printÂ books. It uses IBM Watsonâ€™s speech recognition to track your place in a given story, and triggers different audio depending on what part of the book youâ€™re reading.
But the â€œmagicâ€ of Campfire happens when users connect to the app to IoT devices like smart bulbs, bluetooth speakers, fans, the Amazon Echo, and other products that help create a specific mood and atmosphere while reading a physical book.
â€œWhile users can experience a taste of Campfire with just the app, pairing with devices, including smart bulbs, is what makes the experience feel immersive, and by many accounts, magical,â€ Kesterson told GeekWire.
Hereâ€™s a demo with GeekWire co-founder John Cook and his son, James, that gives you an idea ofÂ the Campfire experience:
Kesterson noted that though new technology â€” e-readers, specifically â€” hasÂ hurt the print publishing industry, childrenâ€™s printÂ book sales are actually up, â€œas parents aim to bond with their young ones and keep them growing emotionally and intellectually through stories,â€ he said.
Campfireâ€™s idea is to use technology to help parents preserve the age-old experience of reading physical books with their children, at a time when kids are spending more and more time staring at smartphone and tablet screens.
â€œWe believe that with just the right combination of art and science, we can refresh the story experience, and create magical moments between parents and children around stories for years to come,â€ added Wykes, a design veteran who was formerly a creative directorÂ at TEAGUE.
KestersonÂ noted that evolving voiceÂ recognition platforms and cheaper IoT devices makes him optimistic about where Campfire can go.
â€œExpect this combination to be a very heated space in the coming year,â€ he said. â€œCampfire is excited to be at the forefront of it.â€
The company, whichÂ inked recent partnerships with smart lightbulb-maker LIFX and St. Jude Childrenâ€™s Hospital, is currently focused on adding Campfire featuresÂ to existing childrenâ€™s books. However,Â users can develop their own custom titles with the appâ€™s creator tool and publishing platform. Kesterson said the revenue model will be based on subscriptions, similar to Netflix, where users get access to experiences for a recurring fee.
Campfire is developed by Freakâ€™n Genius, a startup that Kesterson co-founded in 2011. Kesterson, a veteran of the Seattle startup scene who re-located to Las Vegas in 2014 but will return in September, said that Campfire is a new direction for Freakâ€™n Genius, an inaugural member of theÂ 2012 Kinect Accelerator programÂ that previously built a popular animationÂ app calledÂ YAKiT.
There are six employees working on Campfire, and Kesterson said heâ€™s looking for funding. Heâ€™s also looking forward to getting back into the Seattle techÂ community after operatingÂ Freakâ€™n Genius forÂ two years in Las Vegas, where the 31-year-old was a full-time community member with theÂ Downtown Project, an initiative led by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh to revitalize Downtown Las Vegas.
â€œThe opportunity to work on Campfire may never have come about had I not made the transition in the first place,â€ Kesterson explained. â€œOne of the biggest benefits to coming down was getting to further my relationship with the Vegas Tech Fund, who have been very hands-on and instrumental to this new opportunity, and continue to provide their support. They set a great example for how early stage investors can be valuable to a portfolio company, and Seattle investors should take note.â€
Added Kesterson: â€œI am really looking forward to picking up where I left off with the community projects and initiatives I was a part of regarding youth, homelessness, and the broader tech community. There is much work left to be done.â€