Startups

Technically Not Tech: Kendra Gaeta and KidZillions on branding and allowance saving

This financial literacy startup has rebranded.

Kendra Gaeta is facing branding issues with her allowance service for kids but remains bullish on the idea. Here she presents her concept at Ignite Philly 3 on May 3, 2009 in Fishtown's Johnny Brenda's.

(Photo by Christopher Wink)

Updated 3:02 7/20/09 for copyright clarification
It’s KidsZillions now and legal vagaries may force that to change once more, but that doesn’t make Kendra Gaeta any less passionate about the mission.

You may have seen her present at Ignite Philly 3 in Johnny Brenda’s on May 3 (where we declared her to have given the best performance), but the allowance chore management savings site for kids that Gaeta described was then called KidsMoney.
During her presentation, she briefly alluded to the possible name change then and made the move not long after, respectfully forfeiting the brand to a juvenile financial management author with a similar mission.
Her team is now dubbed KidsZillions, but some legal advice has left them feeling compelled to make another jump.
An e-commerce company called GiftZillions owns their similar trademark, and while it doesn’t appear to have anything near the same education mission as KidsZillions, Gaeta is getting more advice that branding may be a problem there, too. (Her company is tweeting at the far less distinctive @KidProject)
“I’ve been told we could have enough of an e-commerce edge that users would see us as a kids versions of GiftZillions,” she says. “It stings a bit, that we [could] have the copyright for a name we really like and yet are told we shouldn’t do anything with it.
“But I know building the project is more important.” So that’s what she’s doing.
While the name debate continues and their Web site’s interactivity features remain in development, the company, which is part of the second class of University City incubator DreamIt Ventures, this week launched the Allowance Project, a video blog that will feature interviews of a broad, diverse cross-section of people explaining their savings and spending habits as children.
Gaeta, 34, grew up in a single-parent household in San Diego, and, while she “wasn’t without privilege,” she had to learn how to save. She says saving has made her a savvier adult. It’s a trait, she says, she’s surprised many people haven’t learned. In 2005, she bought a home near the Art Museum after having saved for that expressed purpose for just 18 months.
“It wasn’t because I had a ton of money,” she says. “It was because I was able to save and was always paying attention to my credit.”
That helped led her to the idea of helping parents teach their kids healthy money management habits.
“What if kids could learn to save for what they really wanted instead of the crap they didn’t need?” Gaeta says. “We want kids to be able to more easily see their saving over time.”
The Allowance Project — see Gaeta’s own submission to the site below — is just one step to that educational goal.
http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=5602637&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=00adef&fullscreen=1

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WHAT THE PROJECT WILL LOOK LIKE

Gaeta’s Web-based service — whatever it will be named — is due to launch this fall under her Task Farm LLC.
Gaeta says the heart of the product — well under construction — is separate but duly linked accounts for kids and their guardians.
The kid account will feature a bookmarking tool that can be used while trolling third-party online retailers, like Amazon. If he peeps something he’s into, he can ask the KidsZillions interface to collect the basics — name, cost, thumbnail and product info — and categorize it in his account. Back at KidsZillions, he can create a wish list, prioritize those items and create a personal budget based on buying items.
“So they can partition their allowances. If you get $10 a week for allowance, you can say six dollars goes to my skateboard fund, and three dollars go to my Legos and one in my savings,” Gaeta says. “Then there is a timeline bar that shows how long it takes to save the money you’ll need for that item… Maybe 18 weeks is too long to get that skateboard.”
The site will walk parents and kids through an allowance contract, making it clear how often it will come, what, if any, chores are required for the sum, if any extra work is available, what can be bought and more. It will be abutted by a calendar function, with deadlines and planned saving and work goals.
“We’re just keeping track of the promise of money, so there’s no actual transfer of money,” she says.
As the child completes items, he can check them off in his account, which will trigger a message to the parent in any desired way, from a text message to an e-mail. Once the parent confirms the chore’s completion, KidsZillions will add the promised cash to the kid’s overall tally.
Their platform, Gaeta promises, will cater to myriad of incentives that parents offer beyond traditional weekly allowances, from long-term grades-based prizes to shorter-term events-specific bonuses.
“Every single family does allowance different,” says Gaeta, who herself has a child-like wonder about her, transitioning from silly to serious during our conversation and never straying far from a giggle.

HOW THEY WILL MAKE MONEY

KidsZillions is investigating two revenue models.
With a significant user-base, they hope to find steady income through affiliate programs when purchases are made from a child’s wish list. They’re also tinkering with a freemium model, in which some basic services on the site would be free, but users would pay for advanced planning applications.
She’s excited about future development, with concepts like individually-limited prepaid debit cards that can be given to kids to teach lessons about handling plastic. She also has hopes of developing something like a PayPal service for kids.
“Kids don’t have to buy only kid things, but they have no way to make online purchases. It’s not facilitated online,” she says. “That’s somewhere else we can develop in the future.”

HOW DREAMIT VENTURES HAS HELPED

DreamIt, the pre-seed investment fund and incubator, launched in early 2008, offering chosen applicants seed funding, collaborative work space, advisers, legal and administrative help and access to funding sources. Gaeta learned of the DreamIt program at the end of last summer. She applied, was accepted in April and began her time there in May.
“When people ask what DreamIt is, I’ll say now that it’s unlimited resources for a very short period of time,” she says. “We have three months and then we’re kicked out of the nest. It’s pretty fierce.”
Gaeta and her team of seven are using the time to develop a “deep platform” site that can catch buzz and take on users quickly after its launch before the year’s end. The free legal and accounting advice are helping Gaeta focus on her mission, she says.
While not a programmer herself, Gaeta says she applied to DreamIt with the inclusion of a coalesced team of seven who have a variety of talents and backgrounds, from Web development to project management and marketing.
“These are all people we know and love,” Gaeta says of her team, who are intimates she’s collected from college through to Philadelphia.

GAETA THE ENTREPRENEUR

The skateboard-culture head is a graduate of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill by way of community college in Portland, Ore. After time in San Francisco and a half decade in New York, handling production work and project management, she made the move to Philadelphia.
Gaeta and boyfriend Laris Kreslins, an equity partner whose Lime Projects is handling marketing and project planning, have not quite yet gotten out from under the rock of an infamous August 2005 New York Times story that profiled, among others, the two then-Brooklyn transplants, who had moved here that year. The Times story, which, somewhat inexplicably to some, says, “Philadelphians occasionally refer to their city – somewhat deprecatingly – as the ‘sixth borough’ of New York,” covered a trend of young professionals who bailed on the 67th ward for the cheaper, greener pastures of Philadelphia.
Kreslins and Gaeta bought a four-bedroom home near the Art Museum and launched Movetophilly.com, a site designed to coax those young people to Philadelphia, one of a growing list of projects and ventures the two and their cohorts have conjured.
“We’re Philly and proud,” she says.
Adding a vibrant online startup to Philadelphia is no doubt an interest of hers, but Gaeta says her objectives are far less geographically restrictive.
“We want to help parents be consistent and kids be consistent,” she says. “We want to reinforce good behavior and let the rewards be very real.”
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Gaeta is a total scenester. In January 2008, she won the first First Person Arts Story Slam competition.
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Every Monday, Technically Not Tech will feature people, projects, and businesses that are involved with Philly’s tech scene, but aren’t necessarily technology focused. See others here.

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