Startup Stories

What if we could get children addicted to nature? Meet UK startup Caper, the app that offers guilt-free screen time

Startup Stories

What if we could get children addicted to nature? Meet UK startup Caper, the app that offers guilt-free screen time

In collaboration with founders Ben Geliher, Sara Perkins & Graham Denney

November 9th 2020 / 8 min read

A conversation with Alex Daish, Venture Design Lead at Founders Factory:

Caper, the app which offers guilt-free screen time to families, is the perfect example of a diverse group of thinkers coming together to solve a global problem. We combined our Venture Studio process with a wealth of insight and experience from our partner LEGO Ventures, to uncover a unique opportunity around outdoor play, and we coupled this with an all-star founding team who had the domain experience and know-how to build a revolutionary gaming solution for children.


Highlights

  • From concept to launch in 6 months

  • Using tech for good, to bring parents and children together in nature

  • £300k seed investment round led by LEGO Ventures during lockdown

  • App was showcased at No. 10 Downing Street

  • Features in the likes of The Telegraph (front page), and The Evening Standard

It was spring 2019. Ben Geliher was trying to coax his five-year-old daughter out to the park – an activity she normally loves – but her eyes were glued to the TV screen. Elsa, her favourite character from Disney’s Frozen, was using her magical powers to construct a perfect ice castle. There seemed to be nothing Ben could say to make his daughter budge. But he couldn’t help but think that if Elsa gave his daughter a call and asked her to come to the park, she’d be out the door before she could find her shoes.

Meanwhile, the Venture Studio team here at Founders Factory were leading a new project with LEGO Ventures’ Incubation Studio. The LEGO® Brand’s innovation is world-renowned, so we were excited to work with LEGO Ventures to find opportunities that could live up to their mission to “inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow”. We dove deep into a wealth of invaluable insight that LEGO Ventures had already amassed around play and upcoming trends in technology and culture, and eventually, our team identified several promising focus areas. However, one area felt innately more interesting than the others – and it revolved around the question of how technology could help get children active outdoors.


Within Founders Factory’s Venture Studio, we aim to identify a compelling opportunity, and a reasonable means to get a business started:

Venture Studio Founders Factory

Luckily, Ben’s experience with his daughter had already sparked an idea, and the combination of this, with a deeply understood problem, eventually led to the launch of Caper, a company on a bold mission to use technology to get families out into nature using technology they are already comfortable with.

Here’s why - and how - they launched.

The opportunity

Core to Founders Factory’s Venture Studio process is predicting cultural trends, emerging technologies and sizing potential market opportunities. Combining our own research and analysis with insights from LEGO Ventures, we revealed some stark statistics about a growing problem.

With four in 10 children in the UK now owning a tablet by the age of six, and teenagers spending more than seven hours a day on screens (not including school work), many parents fear that their kids are becoming addicted to tech. Children’s increased consumption of technology is linked with a decrease in physical activity leading the World Health Organisation to declare a “global epidemic of physical inactivity”. This lack of exercise is causing serious public health concerns, the most serious of which are childhood obesity and ADHD.

The advent of COVID-19 has accelerated awareness of the need to get kids active outdoors. During lockdown, children across the UK were stuck indoors, unable to attend school, see their friends or play outside, making parents increasingly concerned about their children’s mental and physical health.

There is an economic cost to our sedentary lifestyles. By reducing physical inactivity in the UK by just 1% a year over a 5-year period, we could save the UK economy just under £1.2bn. Besides, physical activity promotes several health benefits, including improved fitness, bone health, and cognitive development. Spending time in nature improves our mental health, boosts our memory, eliminates mental fatigue, helps to decrease levels of anxiety, and counteracts stress. In other words, nature is good for our children’s bodies and minds – and these benefits continue into adulthood.

The more our Venture Team examined the evidence, the more sure we became of our collective mission: we simply had to find a way to get children to fall in love with nature.

The solution

Identifying a solution to this growing problem was no easy feat, so we pulled together a taskforce of minds to work on this project.

Ben was uniquely positioned to combine his personal quest to get his daughter outside, with inspiration from years spent in the gaming industry, having built the likes of Mind Candy’s Moshi Monsters. Joining him was Graham Denney, a creative genius with experience of designing games for Nintendo and Sony. Rounding off this impressive trio is Sara Perkins, a digital marketer and brand lead, working for the likes of Mothercare, HarperCollins, Mills & Boon, Disney, and Pearson.

The question on all our minds was, How might we combine the $164.6 billion games industry with a global physical and mental health challenge? Gaming, afterall, presents one of the biggest barriers to getting kids outside and spending time with their families. App-based games are primarily consumed alone, and are designed to keep users hooked to the screen. This made us think: What if we could use some of the mechanics of gaming to get kids “addicted to nature”, instead of being addicted to their screens?

Over the past few years, several companies have attempted to harness tech to create interactive entertainment experiences that get kids outside, launching products such as Pokémon Go, Geocaching, Biba!’s augmented playgrounds, and Minecraft Earth. However, no play brand or toy has truly used the potential of nature to extend and enhance play.

The solution, we discovered, was to design an app that would use tech for good, helping children to get off-screen and outside with their families through play. And that solution became Caper.

"In our collaboration with Founders Factory and the team behind Caper we believe that we have identified a great opportunity to provide children with meaningful experiences enabling them to learn through play – not only by inspiring children and families to play outdoors and in new places, but also for them to engage socially and learn about their environment.”

– Michael Stahl, Head of Incubation Studio at LEGO Ventures

From idea to ‘Minimal Viable Product’

Early ideas involved personalised video missions for children, with episodic storytelling, puzzle-solving, and treasure hunts, all of which worked together to provide the elements of mastery, autonomy and relatedness which children naturally crave.

The ideas evolved into the first prototype of Caper which prompted parents to trigger a short interactive adventure in which a character, Captain Redtail, video-called the family through the app with an urgent request to rescue him in the local park. The founders tested the prototype on Ben’s daughter and her cousins.

The trial had a big impact. Not only did the kids love the experience, they were desperate to know what happened to Captain Redtail next. It was a really simple idea, but it worked.

The founders then tested the prototype on a broader group of ten families. Enthusiastic emails from the parents then came pouring in. The feedback mirrored the earlier test with kids asking, “Why isn’t Captain Redtail calling me anymore?” When asked why she liked the experience so much, one child replied that it was because she got to spend more time with her dad. The founders’ vision was coming to life right before their eyes: children were having fun outdoors, and families were spending time together in nature.

Ben recalls that this early feedback validated his and Graham’s core approach to the design of Caper which intentionally has a 20:80 split between screen and real-world play. “The app enhances the world of play by creating urgency around the need to get outside and explore new spaces” Ben says. “If you watch a family playing a caper, they might look just like any family playing in a park – but we’ve added a layer of magic and a fun narrative that keeps everyone engaged in each other and the world around them.”

Where are they now

When Caper soft launched in March 2020, the three founders expected to stay in the background, tinkering away at the app and business plan, but things escalated when the UK went into national lockdown. Out of necessity, people started re-discovering their local parks, stay-cationing during the school holidays, and looking for activities to entertain their children. And Caper offered them a way to do just that.

The team moved quickly, and made Caper available for free over lockdown. An entire series of eight Captain Redtail episodes were written, produced and released, and over 4,000 families downloaded Caper between April and June with virtually no marketing spend. The Caper team were also able to raise a seed round - in addition to Founders Factory’s initial £100k injection, the business raised a further £300K, half of which came from LEGO Ventures. This funding enabled the team to officially launch Caper in the summer 2020.

In just a few months, Caper made the front page of the Telegraph and additional press including an article in the Evening Standard. The team were invited to No. 10 Downing Street as a part of London Tech Week, where the Prime Minister tried a special mini-“caper”. The team then released a special Halloween Caper for the Half Term holidays, which was picked up by the Apple editorial team who featured Caper on the App Store as one of their Halloween picks.


“LEGO Ventures are proud to have invested in Caper, and will continue to support them in driving a new paradigm in the intersection between digital and physical play.”

– Michael Stahl, Head of Incubation Studio at LEGO Ventures

What's next for Caper?

Since the beta tests of Caper earlier this year, the company has gone through a massive growth-spurt with over 6K families downloading the app, all whilst operating as a slick three-person team with support from Founders Factory and LEGO Ventures.

Alongside his duties as CEO, Ben dabbles in everything from voice acting to programming and sound design. Sara creates Caper’s theme music while leading the business’ marketing and partnership efforts. Graham is described by Ben and Sara as a fifty-person production team wrapped into one: he does the writing, animating, and modeling and voices several of the characters. The Caper team hopes to grow their production capacity soon, or they’ll have to clone Graham fifty times over.

Ben emphasizes the importance of walking before they can run, but one thing is for sure: the app is only a small part of a much bigger picture and we can’t wait to see what they do next.

You can try Caper on iOS or Android for free at www.caper.co/get-caper

Ben, Graham and Sara launched their business through our Venture Studio, in collaboration with our partner LEGO Ventures. Our studio is a fast-track for talented entrepreneurs to launch a business from scratch. We leverage data, distribution and IP from our partners, as well as an expert operations team, to turn ideas into venture-backable businesses.

If you have an idea that will make a global impact using technology, apply to join our Venture Studio.

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