Fresh from a €1m Series A, HoloToyz is taking the lead from Tim Cook and going all in on AR for the next generation of children’s toys.
The founders of HoloToyz know they are trying where others have failed.
“AR [augmented reality] has previously been tried in the toy industry, but the timing was not right for a number of reasons and the user experience was poor,” said CEO Kate Scott.
“Fortunately for us, we were able to learn from those who have tried this in the past and we are bringing a much higher standard of quality and user experience to market at the right time.”
That time, for founders Scott, Declan Fahy and Paul Cosgrave, was 2020 – an interesting time for anyone to start a business.
Luckily, the HoloToyz team were able to use the transformation of business brought on by the pandemic to their advantage. The pivot to digital meetings lowered the bar for emerging start-ups to access the world stage.
“[It] helped us to meet people across the globe without the associated travel costs and ‘dead’ time,” said Scott. “It has also made it easier to secure meetings with the larger companies that might not have had the time or slots at busy trade shows.”
The Nuremberg International Toy Fair, or Spielwarenmesse, for example, is the world’s largest toy fair hosting trade visitors, journalists and selected guests at a multi-day event.
Scott, Fahy and Cosgrave litmus-tested HoloToyz at the event in early 2020 and were so pleased with the results they decided to pack in their day jobs and focus 100pc on the new start-up. But by the time the 2021 event came around, the world of events had changed and HoloToyz had to present its product virtually.
“Nickelodeon contacted us after seeing our live presentation on Spielwarenmesse’s Instagram account,” recalled Scott. The pandemic was not going to stop this start-up in its tracks.
HoloToyz partnered with Nickelodeon and is preparing to launch a range of tattoos, stickers and books for the popular Paw Patrol series in the coming months.
The company has also started discussions with Sega to create a Sonic the Hedgehog range this summer, in time to ride the wave of popularity the ’90s gaming character is experiencing via a cinematic reboot.
‘We founded HoloToyz with our parent hats on’
– KATE SCOTT
HoloToyz’s physical products pair with a “kid-safe app” to bring 2D characters and creatures to life in 3D augmented reality.
“By finding the right balance between digital and physical play, we are introducing exciting new technologies to young children in a safe environment, without forgetting the centrality of the user experience,” said Scott.
The goal, she added, is to “create and own an AR category” that is internationally known. “We believe we have what it takes to become the number-one loved and trusted fun-tech toy that bridges the gap between physical and digital play.”
Balancing physical and digital play while ensuring a healthy relationship with technology is top of mind for the HoloToyz team.
“We founded HoloToyz with our parent hats on and we have seen first-hand how much fun our children have playing with the AR filters on Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, etc. However, these are not safe platforms for children as they are only a swipe away from content that is simply inappropriate for their age,” explained Scott.
“A quick scan of the app stores will show you just how many apps are available for children aged three and up. However, this is offering a digital-only experience and most applications either charge you to download, include in-app purchases or bombard your child with in-app advertising.”
Targeted advertising for children is something that will be stopped in the EU in the near future, if the European Commission has anything to do with it, but there are still many issues to address when it comes to children and technology.
It’s of particular concern when it comes to Generation Alpha, the demographic coming up after Gen Z, in a tech-saturated world we have yet to succeed in regulating effectively.
“We are targeting millennial parents and Generation Alpha,” Scott explained. “Millennial parents have grown up in an age of digital revolution and are the first to experience social media and emerging technologies. As parents, they are not afraid to share and enjoy digital experiences with their children and they recognise this is the world their children will grow up in.
“They are also the first generation that has come to expect a more intimate relationship with brands and so expect a higher level of honesty, transparency and quality from brands, particularly those they are purchasing for their children.”
Scott also noted how these new parents value toys that tap into STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and that Generation Alpha stands to gain from this exposure at a young age.
“It is estimated that by the time they are eight years old, they will surpass their parents in technology skills. They will never know a world without the internet of things, smart technology and virtual reality,” she said.
‘We are targeting millennial parents and Generation Alpha’
– KATE SCOTT
Scott and co are not alone in pitching augmented reality as the next big thing. Apple CEO Tim Cook has said that AR will “pervade our entire lives”. This is helped by the fact that today’s smart devices are often already equipped with the sensors needed to create AR experiences. HoloToyz’s success hinges on connecting to these devices.
“HoloToyz is operating in the connected toy market. The product spectrum of this market is segmented into smartphone-connected devices, app-connected drones, console-connected toys and tablet-connected toys,” said Scott.
“In 2021, the size of the global toy market was $93bn. The global connected toy market size is expected to grow from $7.6bn in 2020 to $18.9bn by 2027.”
It’s a huge opportunity for the small but growing team based in Tara, Co Meath.
“Our team are veterans of the tech and gaming industry for over 40 years and help us to ensure the quality of animations and technology used in creating HoloToyz is unparalleled,” said Scott.
She herself has a background in communications and marketing, including roles at Independent News & Media (now part of Mediahuis) and Rothco, part of Accenture Interactive.
Sales director Fahy was also at INM and this is his second company with Cosgrave, with whom he co-founded Bash Products. Bash saw success in bringing its version of the famous red Solo cup to Ireland and has since branched out to a wider range of partyware.
HoloToyz, meanwhile, has added a global sales manager, product developer, “industry-specific” financial consultant and business adviser to the its team, and partnered with a creative team that specialises in the toy sector. The company’s tech partners are also shareholders in the business.
The first HoloToyz products hit the market in December 2020 and they are currently available in more than 14 countries.
2022 continues to hit high notes for HoloToyz, starting with a silver award in the editor’s choice category at the London Toy Fair. This was followed by an appearance at Enterprise Ireland’s Start-up Showcase. HoloToyz has been identified by Enterprise Ireland as a high-potential start-up and has just completed a €1m Series A round from the State agency and other investors.
“Our focus for the coming months is to launch our licensed products to market and work on growing our footprint globally,” said Scott.
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