The benefits of being raised bilingual are well known, but while parents primarily aid in bilingual education there is little help from the outside to allow children to activate their non-English brain. With Oznoz, a bilingual child can enjoy hours and hours of television in 10 different languages.
AlleyWatch chatted with cofounder Shabnam Rezaei to discuss the startup and why bilingual TV is becoming necessary worldwide.
Tell us about the product or service.
Oznoz is like Netflix for bilingual kids. Kids can stream or download high quality cartoons like Sesame Street, Super Why and others in Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Persian and many other languages. We have shows like Elmo’s World, 1001 Nights, Chloe’s Closet, Pororo and much more. While our main focus is preschool, our library covers ages 0-14 in 10 languages in animation, live-action, puppetry and even non-dialogue and English shows.
How is it different?
It’s different because no one else is offering content in other languages for kids and we are the first to do it. 30% of US households are bilingual, and we don’t mean just Spanish. Over 50% of children born today have at least 1 minority parent who speaks a second language. 70% of Americans think speaking a second language provides a huge leg up for their kids. And by 2020, OTT (VOD/SVOD) viewership will take over traditional broadcast. No one is serving this market with an easy-to-use, ad-free, safe platform.
What market are you attacking and how big is it?
We are targeting bilingual families, whether they are immigrants, hyphenated Americans, polyglots, or those just teaching their kids a second language, because they see the value in bilingualism. Between Video, eBooks and physical goods for bilinguals, we see this as a 12 billion dollar market opportunity.
What is the business model?
Oznoz Video is a subscription-based service. For $9.99 month the user gets unlimited access to the entire library in any language. Quarterly and Annual subscriptions offer deep discounts. We also have Oznoz Shop, which provides physical books, and DVDs.
What inspired the business?
Immediately following Sept 11th, I was dismayed by all the backlash against Middle Easterners. I wanted to do something to teach the world about Iran so I started an online magazine called PersianMirror to write about Iran’s food, art, film, and traditions. Through that, I was contacted by an aspiring writer/director who wanted to make a short cartoon about a little boy named Babak and his introduction to the Persian New Year, Norooz. The idea to use technology and cartoons to educate people about culture fascinated me. Eventually that cartoon led me to start my second venture Big Bad Boo Studios, where we produce children’s cartoons to teach about culture and language. Traditional broadcasters had a hard time distributing niche content, so we decided a proprietary VOD platform was the answer. We could not only put our own shows on Oznoz such as Babak & Friends, Mixed Nutz and 1001 Nights but we could also cater to those families who were bilingual by providing content that had already been dubbed by major content providers such as Sesame Workshop. As a parent of trilingual kids now, my kids are obviously big customer of Oznoz and it’s nice to have access to all this content so I can keep up their language education at home. My 5-year-old likes to watch Elmo’s World in Persian and Thomas the Tank Engine in German on Oznoz.
What’s it like to be a female founder building a business in NYC? What resources have you found most helpful?
I have never looked at myself as a female founder. I am an entrepreneur interested in providing solutions to major problems and making people’s lives easier. Oznoz is a service that allows parents to access incredible content that they would otherwise have to buy on a DVD in their home country, only to find out when they get here that it does not work. It is a much-needed resource.
Having said that, I fully acknowledge the wide discrepancies in being a female vs. a male entrepreneur and I am doing everything I can to level the playing field. I appreciate that there are funds out there that cater to female founders and there are many networking groups specifically for female founders, which is incredible. I hope I make it so that one day I can give back and support other female entrepreneurs.
What are the milestones that you plan to achieve within six months?
Our short-term goals include raising a seed round of financing, doubling our content library, adding 2 new language channels and doubling our subscriber base.
What is the one piece of startup advice that you never got?
That the children’s industry would be ten times tougher than banking.
If you could be put in touch with anyone in the New York community who would it be and why?
I would want to get in touch with medium sized VOD platforms that are working niche channels so I can learn from them. VOD platforms are the future of viewing and we will experience an explosion of niche content players in the next five years. This is very exciting both for content providers and for customers.
Why did you launch in New York?
Aside from the fact that I love the city? New York has everything and is always pushing the envelope on innovation and advancement. Because the city is so dense, I can throw a rock and hit a handful of families in my immediate neighborhood who speak Persian and German and who are interested in playdates. This makes a great test bed for Oznoz and so it is the ideal place to develop, test and perfect the Oznoz platform. Our customers are here!
What’s your favorite rooftop bar in NYC to unwind?
I love STK’s rooftop in the meatpacking. The drinks are great and the views are amazing.