How Perm’s Child Monitoring App Became Popular With Parents Around the World
On the third floor of the Technopark in Perm, soft chairs are scattered on the floor in a long, spacious corridor. We sit down in them for a conversation with Vadikh Giniatulin, the founder of the mobile service “Where are my children”, a 32-year-old entrepreneur. Together with his team, he developed an app for parents to track their children’s location and know what they are doing online, to make silent phone calls, and even to listen to what is going on around their child’s device.
Read more about phone tracker apps in our article.
The Perm service is now available in more than 280 countries and 32 languages. About 800 thousand people use it every month. Where are my children” technical support service advises users seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
The entrepreneur told TEXT how they managed to make the widespread function of tracking devices by geolocation their advantage, why they are engaged in education of the relationship between parents and children and how they manage to understand exactly what the user wants to get from the service.
Two important lessons from the past
Before developing the “Where are my children” app, my colleagues and I worked with Maptrix for about two years on a geolocation project: we did it in our personal time, in parallel with our main job at an IT company. The program had a lot of users, but we didn’t manage to make the business grow and we could earn on it.
We learned a lot of lessons from this project. The first one was that you can’t do different things well at the same time. You have to give all of your time to one project, you have to focus on it together. If you have an idea, you have to test it in the right way, make sure by some criteria that you believe in it and that people need it. And then you have to decide where you’re going next.
The second important conclusion: if you live in Russia and do business here, your project must already make money at the start. All investors in our country look at a specific financial indicator. It’s not like in the USA, where you have an idea that will shoot out in 10 years and they invest a million dollars in you.
In America, where the market is overheated, they do not look at the economics of the project, but at how many users it has, how happy your client is, how much time he spends on your service, how the idea corresponds to technological trends, and so on. If you have all of this and have a more or less adequate team, they invest in you, and you may not earn anything for many years. We have no such thing. So in Russia you have to be realistic right away and understand how you make money on the product, and be at least at the level of payback.
Why is it better to work on a topic that you are not personally involved with?
How was the idea for the “Where are my kids” app born? I can’t tell you a story about how I ran into a problem myself and wanted to solve it. I think it’s more of a disadvantage if you have an emotional background to some problem, because it gets in the way of interacting with users and you’re making a product for yourself, not for them.
Since I don’t have kids myself, I need to communicate with those who do and listen to them. At the same time being an independent person and filtering out some of people’s personal hang-ups.
The story of where my kids came from was more of a technology thing. We were working on the topic of geolocation, and we realized that doing it well was not as easy as it seemed to many people who were releasing similar apps. We were looking for where to apply the skills we already had and how to economically rework Maptrix for other needs. A geolocation app for child safety turned out to be a good fit.
In 2015, when we conceived the new service, smartphones were just beginning to appear on children’s phones – most often, parents gave their child a push-button phone back then. And there were practically no gadget watches yet.
Most of the geolocation software then was based on the telecom operators’ solutions, which determined the location through LBS (the nearest GSM tower of the mobile operator), but only to an accuracy of plus or minus a kilometer. This is useful if you’re monitoring your partner or an adult friend, but when it’s a child, accuracy to a hundred meters is important. That’s why we decided to create an app that would solve this problem.
We immediately looked at the future, understanding that the number of smartphones and gadgets among children would grow. At the very first stage, we did everything rather slowly – the refinement process took about a year and a half. All three cofounders of the service made the app with their own hands, outside of working hours.
Why do you need such an application if you already have “Find iPhone”?
When we were talking to other companies at the startup, they asked, “Why are you making an app like this? Because there’s Find iPhone and other apps like that. You’re 25 people, you’ve been writing the same app every day for a year. What are you even doing there?”
And our app didn’t even change visually after the revisions were made. We approached the product responsibly and seriously from the very beginning. And now the growth dynamics and all the figures are obvious to investors.
In order to understand how to develop the app, we conducted problematic interviews. For example, we asked users why they installed the app but didn’t sign up, or why they didn’t use a particular function.
The most useful question was asking users to remember the last negative situation when they were worried about their child. This was how we found out what problems the app had and how they could be solved.
For example, parents were worried when they couldn’t reach their child because he or she had silent mode. We realized that showing what call mode the child had on the phone was useful, so we did that. Then we thought: if the child forgot the phone on silent mode, we should make a feature that would allow the parent to beep the device even in that case.
A year ago we put the interview story on hold because we focused on economic metrics and product quality to make sure the existing features worked perfectly, and most importantly, the basic feature, geolocation. Today, a child’s location in the Where Are My Children app can be determined to within 50 meters.
How We Address Ethical Concerns
We understand that the data our program collects about children is very “sensitive. We do not personalize this data in any way. So when clients contact us by email, write their cell phone number and ask us to solve some problem, I answer most of them that they need to write the request inside the application, because in the system the person is not a phone number for us, but just a unique identifier. Most of the data is not stored at all, and some is stored in encrypted form.
“Where Are My Children” has a listening function: a parent can listen to what’s going on around the child’s device if necessary. But the iPhone app does not have such a feature. In the wake of high public concern about user privacy, Apple doesn’t want to take any chances.
The important thing is that we only do things within the law. Our Kids Chat with Parents app is not hidden, if it’s installed on the device, you can see it. When the audio broadcast is used, a special information banner appears at the top of the phone. When we install the app, we ask for access and list exactly what the user can agree to or forbid the transmission of what data.
For six months now, we’ve been seriously working on additional content around our service. The first part has to do with how parents build relationships with their children, bring them up, and communicate common values. The second – with recommendations for parents on what to do when something happens to a child, how to avoid bullying, not to let the child get lost, etc.
We chose these topics because there really is a problem of ethics when using apps like ours, but it is connected with the fact that some people don’t know how to communicate with their children. According to the law in Russia, parents can install an app on their child’s phone or gadget until he or she is 18, if he or she is younger – without even telling him or her about it. But we always recommend that parents communicate with their children and explain why they need such an app.
Why it’s hardest to be a mid-sized company
In the history of our app there are no failures or any serious difficulties that had to be overcome hard. But there are moments that give us a certain amount of excitement. Because we work with markets (AppStore and GooglePlay) that are overseas, there are things that we as a business have little or no influence over.
We’re no longer a small project that gets little attention and no hard requirements. “Where are my children” is a medium-sized company, the requirements as we are for a large one, but we do not yet have the influence and communication like the “giants” of the field.
For example, in Germany, where listening from phones is prohibited, we were asked to disable this function in the app, because we are visible in the local market. At the level of a government committee, it was decided that we had to remove it. And we did, because we respect and comply with the laws of the countries in which we operate. But there’s a 99% chance that small companies are still operating on the German market providing this service despite the law. They’re just not as visible as we are.
We continue to develop our service and see several areas of potential. There are cases when our app is installed not only by parents to their children, but also vice versa – adult children to their elderly parents, so as not to worry about them and not to call them once again with the question “Where are you? The development of this direction of the service is one of our promising tasks, especially in European countries, where they are more used to taking care of parents, and where the older generation interacts with gadgets more actively. In addition, we are thinking about introducing animal trackers, again primarily in Europe, where there is more active monitoring of pets than here.
Read more about phone tracker apps in our article.