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In business: Woodside entrepreneurs create talking toy for kids

 

By Kate Daly | Special to the Almanac

So you grow up in the land of startups and major in mechanical engineering in college. You're in your 20s and tired of working for someone else. What do two childhood friends do next? Move back in with your parents in Woodside to save money and launch your own startup.

That's a stripped-down version of Jack Miller and Brenden McMorrow's story as they nervously watch to see if their Kickstarter campaign will bring in enough pledges to fund Jabber, the talking toy they describe as "the first smart toy designed to be tossed, kicked, smashed and hit" as you play games with it.

They have until Nov. 7 to reach their fundraising goal of $45,000 and at press time still had a way to go. Their plan is to raise enough money to start the manufacturing process and ship product to Kickstarter supporters by spring, and then sell the toy to the public for $39.95 in the 2016 holiday season.

Both entrepreneurs graduated from UC Santa Barbara. Mr. Miller, 28, worked in green tech for four years before earning his master's in engineering at UC Berkeley. Mr. McMorrow, 24, did product design work for a company in Palo Alto before forming SKWRL Design (Stuff Kids Will Really Love) with Mr. Miller.

Being engineers, they began with several ideas, "prototyping them, and then deciding they were pretty terrible," Mr. Miller says with a laugh.

In May they decided to develop a hybrid, combining the interactive playfulness of Furby with the competitive games of Bop It.

Their biggest challenge was learning how to code. They largely taught themselves by watching Youtube videos.

They came up with more than 50 games and landed on the simpler ones aimed at ages 5 and up: egg toss, sky ball, dance party, noise grenade, freeze tag and crazy tag.

On the design side they came up with a small soccer ball-sized foam shape with feet. "We went through all the Disney and Pixar movies to get a popular face structure," Mr. Miller says.

The end result is panda-like with features "heavily borrowed from Titan," his family's malamute, Mr. McMorrow adds.

They then 3D modeled the toy and shared it with their friends, families and a test group of kids to get feedback.

The toy is embedded with a microprocessor that detects movement and emits programmed sounds through a speaker. They hired someone to become the voice of Jabber and then their childhood friend, Garrett Georgakas, added to the mix on his synthesizer.

The men enlisted Mr. McMorrow's brother, Ryan, to help with manufacturing in China, where he lives. Mr. Miller's brother, Ted, is the photographer for their Kickstarter page and website, Jabbersworld.com.

A lot of the hands-on creation has taken place in the McMorrows' garage. Otherwise the men use Mr. McMorrow's dad's rent-free office space on Woodside Road. There their walls are covered with Jabber drawings and about 50 Post-its of new product ideas.

Right now they are talking to three people about possibly licensing Jabber, and if something comes through, it could free them to do what they really want to do create more of their own products.

Meanwhile, the entrepreneurs are doing some product design consulting on the side to make ends meet.

Kickstarter campaigns last a month. According to the company, close to half of them reach their goal. Kickstarter takes 5 percent if the fundraising is successful, and nothing if it's not. There's an option to sign up for additional rounds.

Mr. Miller and Mr. McMorrow hope they can get by with just one round and have Jabber ready to showcase to buyers at the New York Toy Fair in February.

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