(Photo courtesy of Jonhs Hopkins)
The founders of Strajillion have worked in military intelligence, software and have plenty of experience building businesses. For their latest venture, Scott Winn and Karl MacMillan drew on another skill set: parenting.
Along with the technology and business background’s, their ongoing experience raising kids informed their thinking as they set out to build an app that’s designed to help parents keep their kids behavior on the social web in check.
When they began work on the app in January 2014, “We thought we were going to build something that was much more about control and blocking,” said Winn, who is Strajillion’s CEO. “What ended up happening was we realized it’s much more about collaboration and encouraging kids to exhibit behaviors that are positive.”
"We don't want to tell people how to parent, we want to give them tools to be a better parent."
Instead of blocking content, Strajillion’s app, Rakkoon, is designed to push kids’ social media activity to the cloud, and zero in on indicators in social media content that highlight things that parents don’t want their kids interacting with. The startup’s engineers have combed tens of thousands of social media posts to train its machine learning software to recognize stuff that includes content with material like drugs and alcohol, sexting, foul language, bullying and more.
When an indicator phrase is detected, both the parent and child get an alert. That’s designed to get them to have a conversation about the issue, which they can do through a chat feature in the app, or in person.
Parents aren’t looking at every message, which gives kids a sense of privacy. But parents can still have peace of mind that, “If you do something that we should have a conversation about, I’m going to know,” said Winn.
The parent of an 8-year-old and a 10-year-old acknowledged that if the trust between the parent and child has been exhausted, then more drastic measures than what the app currently offers may be necessary. But from a baseline perspective, he said the company has talked to child psychologists who believe that a relationship that involves an honest understanding between kids and parents will lead to better results.
“We don’t want to tell people how to parent, we want to give them tools to be a better parent,” Winn said.
After more than a year of work, the four-member team is ready to test out the app in a limited release with local families this summer. In a sign of where kids are going these days, the app is initially set up to monitor Instagram and Snapchat.
The team is currently a member of Johns Hopkins’ FastForward accelerator, working out of the program’s East Baltimore location near the university’s medical campus. Financially, they got a recent lift as one of the first companies to receive money from TEDCO’s Cybersecurity Investment Fund.
Initially, the app will be released for free. Winn projects the company will begin charging for access in early 2016.
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