Here’s an exclusive look at the pitch deck that Kinjo, a startup that helps encourage kids to play educational games on Roblox, used to raise $6.5 million in seed funding
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- Austin-based Kinjo is an app that ranks the educational value of games within Roblox.
- With Kinjo, kids can earn virtual currency called Robux by playing higher-ranked learning games.
- The team raised $6.5 million in seed funding from VCs like LiveOak Venture Partners and Silverton.
Charles Thornburgh couldn’t keep his kids off of Roblox.
The serial edtech founder had stepped back from his CEO role at the Austin, Texas-based edtech giant Civitas Learning in 2019, and had been spending more time with his two young sons while he decided what to do next. He watched his sons play online games for hours at a time, and heard from his friends that their kids were doing the same..
Thornburgh tried to figure out what made the games so addictive, pouring over hours of research and commentary, when he stumbled upon the main factor: a gaming concept called “grinding.”
Within Roblox, in order to upgrade a character or landscape, a player needs “Robux,” or the game’s virtual currency, Thornburgh explained. To earn these Robux, kids can spend real-world money, or they can play simple games to “grind” for Robux rewards. “In all of these environments, kids are grinding on something relatively mindless for hours to avoid spending pennies or nickels,” he said.
But as he watched his boys play on Roblox, he realized that several of the games within the platform were more than just mindless entertainment. Many of these games involved math, spatial reasoning and other real-world skills, such as running a pizza parlor, constructing new virtual houses with fractions and measurements, or selling tickets to run a virtual theme park.
At that moment, a lightbulb went off for Thornburgh. “What if we could find a way to support learning in the platforms where kids are already spending time in, rather than convincing them to stop spending time on Roblox and start spending more time on their math textbook?” he said.
That “a-ha” moment was the origin of Thornburgh’s latest startup, Kinjo, that just closed a $6.5 million seed round led by LiveOak Venture Partners. Silverton Partners, Jim Breyer’s Breyer Capital and Roble Ventures also participated in the round.
Launched in 2021, Kinjo is an app that connects to Roblox’s catalog of games, or “experiences,” and rates the games on a scale of one to five flames to indicate their educational value – the more flames a game has, the more educational it is.
The rating system was determined by a team of education and gaming experts, Thornburgh explained, who find games that already exist on the platform and determine the amount of the in-game rewards. The higher flame ranking a game receives, the more points a kid earns in the Kinjo app. These points can then be exchanged for Robux. “What we found is for a relatively small amount of reward—a few Robux—kids will make different decisions when they have their own choice,” he said.
Kinjo currently has around 20,000 players, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from kids, the team said. “One of the things that’s most exciting that we get from kids is that they will write to us to advocate for a game to have a higher flame rating,” said Laura Malcolm, Kinjo’s cofounder and head of product. “They like the idea that their gaming is helping them learn.” Kids who use Kinjo are three times more likely to spend time on games that are more productive than kids without Kinjo, Malcolm said.
The idea of meeting kids where they were already spending most of their time, rather than trying to convince them to spend time on “less exciting” educational games, sold Kinjo to investor Krishna Srinivasan of LiveOak Venture Partners, who led Kinjo’s seed round and also sits on the startup’s board.
And for parents, Kinjo provides a monthly subscription service that costs $12.50, which shares insights on exactly which mini-games their kids are playing in Roblox, how long they’re playing them, and which cognitive skills the games are enhancing for their kids. Many edtech gaming platforms are already on the market, such as the social-emotional learning game Social Cipher or the STEM learning game Royelles. One of the most popular edtech consumer apps, Duolingo, uses gamification to help users learn new languages. But unlike these companies, Kinjo is not a gaming studio, but rather a third-party app that helps kids and parents to select different learning games within an existing platform.
And while Kinjo is starting with Roblox, the team has plans to expand the rating system into mini games in Fortnite and Minecraft, as well as rating YouTube videos and creators. The team also plans to further upgrade its parental insights model by evaluating popular mini games in terms of which specific skills they are helping kids learn.