Former HQ Trivia exec is working on an interactive 'Netflix for kids' with famous YouTube stars, backed by YouTube founder Chad Hurley and Y Combinator

  • Former HQ Trivia Head of Product Josh Ruben is back with Hellosaurus, a streaming app with interactive shows aimed at children, backed by Y-Combinator.
  • Hellosaurus's shows will use touchscreens, microphones and cameras to create interactive educational programs for children.
  • Early content is being created by YouTubers looking for a new home after policy changes made their videos far less lucrative, its founder says.
  • Ruben is entering an extremely saturated market for streaming, but he's betting he can carve out a niche as a platform with safe, high-quality content for children that parents can feel good about.
  • Hellosaurus is backed by YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley, and Ruben said he has locked down additional investors after being featured in Y-Combinator's Demo Day, although he declined to share names.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Parents sometimes hand off their phones and tablets to their small children as pacifying devices. It's a modern trend that Hellosaurus founder James Ruben believes is here to stay.

"Screen time, for better or for worse, will continue to increase," Ruben told Business Insider. "And I think the last six months have seen a massive increase."

So Ruben decided to join the world of educational kids apps and create his own constructive take on this modern phenomenon with Hellosaurus, a  Y-Combinator-backed interactive streaming video service for children.

The platform is backed by ex-YouTube CEO Chad Hurley. Ruben said he had secured additional investors after being featured in Y-Combinator's Demo Day, although he's waiting to name names.

Subscribers will get access to an ad-free lineup of educational shows for their children that cover topics like animals, mindfulness, and music.

Children interact with the shows through "modules" that use device tools like the camera, touch screen, and microphone.

"When a character meets a cow and says 'Hey, let's learn to moo together!' you have to say it," Ruben said. "We turn on the microphone, listen to what the kid is saying — we pattern match — and we give them feedback around how they're doing."

Ruben said his time as head of product at the now-defunct live quiz app HQ Trivia was pivotal in helping him figure out how to learn how to build Hellosaurus. In it's heyday, the interactive HQ Trivia was hailed as the future of entertainment. While the app and company didn't last, Ruben is ready to iterate on the interactive idea.

"It became really clear that shows made for kids— Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer, Blue's Clues— these really important pieces of all of our lives as kids needed and really were begging for the interactions that we were building for game shows," Ruben said.

Ruben said that he drawing on two separate pools of talent to create his content. Some are experienced entertainment professionals. But others are YouTube stars looking for a new outlet after recent policy changes made their videos less profitable. 

For instance, he said he is buying some content from Mother Goose Club, who's nursery rhyme Youtube channel has 7.44 million subscribers, and is also buying content from children's song YouTuber Super Simple Songs, which has 24.4 million subscribers.

Ruben acknowledges he's entering an extremely saturated market dominated by giants like Netflix, Hulu, and others. But he believes he can carve out spot the same way other niche streaming services have: by offering unique content.

"The internet was not built for kids," Ruben said. "It was not built for those under the age of 13."

Ruben said that his platform will be safer than letting children watch videos on YouTube Kids, which has led to children being exposed to inappropriate content before. He believes that the higher quality of content will help parents feel better about occupying their children with videos. And unlike YouTube Kids, Hellosaurus plans to show no ads by relying on its subscription fee.

The app is currently in testing with about "a couple hundred families" using the app, according to Ruben. The plan is to continue inviting more and more users until Hellosaurus is ready to debut to the wider public, a goal Ruben plans to hit in the next few months. Users can request to join the waitlist for testing on the company's website.

Hellosaurus will start out on iPhones and iPads, but will eventually be available on Android devices and as a web app. 

"We're building a combination between the best of passive video and the best of mobile gaming," Ruben said.

Got tips about startups or venture capital? Email Max Jungreis at [email protected], DM him on Twitter @MaxJungreis, or contact him on encrypted messaging app Signal at (907) 947-0299.

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