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A homegrown Pixar: Meet Australia’s only animation studio that is led by two women

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Nadine and Kristen

Like a Photon Creative is fast becoming Australia’s very own Pixar with three international animated films slated for international release. .

Kristen and Nadine have battled many obstacles as a startup in this country and a creative one at that, but have since proven they are two women to be reckoned with; smart, creative and fearless which has seen them raise over $5 million in capital in three years.

They employ over 70 Australians based at their HQ in Brisbane.  

The studio also developed and continues to produce the app Kindergo, encouraging 2-7 year olds to read by themselves for enjoyment in a safe, discoverable and encouraging environment, rich in literacy-based experiences. The app has been number one in over 30 countries.

Kindergo in its own right has raised over $2.5 million in capital in the past year. Kristen who is in the current Landing Pad program in San Francisco is working to launch Kindergo in the US as a means to help reduce the education gap for ESL kids.

The premise for creating Like A Photon Creative and Kindergo: “We realised that the entertainment model was broken, so we created a way to be able to sustain the feast and famine production model. We created a digital platform for children that utilised all of our existing content and IP that we’d been retaining while working for the big broadcasters and distributors” said Nadine Bates.

Nadine’s best advice: “Back yourself. The ‘man in the arena’ speech is one of my favourite. It’s the doer of deeds whose opinion counts, not the critic”, and on managing risk “Diversification of our IP and slate, by maintaining relevance in an international market and by constant research.”

Who are the people behind Like A Photon?

Nadine Bates is the Co-CEO of Like A Photon Creative (LAPC), a multi award-winning production company that specialises in stellar children’s content, including Disney series, ‘BALLOON BARNYARD’ and award-winning segments for SESAME STREET USA’s 45-48th Seasons. Prior to LAPC, Nadine was an in house writer for Network Ten and also wrote the kids series ‘Handball Heroes’ for the ABC. Currently Nadine is producing an animated 10 x film franchise called Tales from Sanctuary City for worldwide theatrical release. 

After being on the development and producing teams for internationally acclaimed series ‘Mako Mermaids’, ‘H20: Just Add Water’, ‘The Elephant Princess’ and ‘Vikings: Athelstan’s Journey’, Kristen Souvlis is now the Co-CEO at Like A Photon Creative (LAPC). LAPC is a multi award-winning production company that specialises in producing outstanding children’s content, including a pre-school series for Disney Junior, ‘BALLOON BARNYARD’, award-winning segments for SESAME STREET USA’s 45th and 47th Season and the Tales from Sanctuary City feature film franchise for worldwide cinematic release.

What is the story behind Like A photon?

Anthill got to do an email interview with Kristen and Nadine about their business, as below:

What inspired you to start Like A Photon?

Like A Photon Creative is a creative content company making screen time better for kids.

To do this, Like A Photon has two production sides of the company. We create television and film IP, and make educational apps. Right now, we have contracted a 10 part movie franchise deal, and an in-market literacy app called Kindergo which is in 127 countries worldwide. 

Why both? That’s a big part of why we started. 

While the film and television business was growing, working with the likes of Sesame Street and Disney, we started seeing the results of the rise of the fragmentation of children’s entertainment channels. 

For example, YouTube “Up Next” videos being inappropriate, children playing with “educational” apps with no outcomes, ancillary content from big movies and brands that were truly ancillary – a second thought – and mere bubblegum for the mind to extend a brand. The loss of control of parents to both manage amounts of screen time, and know what their children were watching.  

At the same time, through Nadine’s PhD research, we saw the decline of literacy in children in the Western world. We saw an opportunity at a time where the need for quality English as a second language tool is increasing and there is poor representation and messaging in content for kids, women, girls and anyone in minority.

So we decided to do something about it. 

In July 2017, we launched the MVP of Kindergo, to test our theory that kids and parents would love a quality, fun content vehicle that would help turn around negative reading rates, and give parents a screen time option they could feel good about.  

We were right. We now have 36,000 users across 127 countries. 

By creating direct to consumer platforms children actually WANT to use, while adding in educational outcomes, and by basing it all in play, we created Kindergo, a product that caught the attention of Apple for its innovative use of story, unique reader technology and beautiful, intuitive design. 

Like A Photon Creative is now ready to expand the digital face of the company. 

What problem/gap in the market are you looking to solve/fill?

Quality content for kids, made by people who really care. In the USA, kids spend 3 hours and 46 minutes a day on screens, and only 17 minutes of that can be deemed as educational. That’s like feeding your child on 93% junk food.  We want to clean up the media diets of kids worldwide.

What does Kindergo do?

Our premier product Kindergo is a children’s storytelling app offering high quality, curated books, designed for iPad to encourage discoverable learning through innovative functionality.

Who are your competitors? What sets you apart from them?

The landscape for quality children’s online content is not crowded but the market is growing rapidly. The lead competitor in the market Playkids has 3 million subscribers per month. Amazon recently released their market offering Amazon Rapids. While competitors have proven there is an obvious appetite for this content, they do not offer the quality, functionality nor sheer brand power that Like a Photon Creative’s platform Kindergo can provide.

How is Like A Photon doing so far?

In the last two years, Like A Photon Creative has gained significant traction within both the digital and screen industries. The company has achieved a significant world-wide first: LAPC has secured a slate feature film deal with an embargoed worldwide media giant, and as such, we are currently producing the first three animated family feature films of the Tales from Sanctuary City multiverse, with seven additional films in development and a bi-annual release strategy planned.

With Odin’s Eye Entertainment acting as international sales agents for the franchise, presale figures are extremely healthy and lucrative licensing and merchandise opportunities are currently being fielded.

In order to service LAPC’s sought after creative IP; the company has also built its own animation studio in Queensland where 100% of the feature film slate is being produced. This is yet another Australian first as it is the only female led and owned animation studio in the country. By building this facility, LAPC has created the pipeline and infrastructure to undertake high profile service work and partnerships as well as continue to produce in-house IP.

Within two months of the Kindergo subscription launch in August 2018, it was the number one children’s app in over 30 countries worldwide; had been invited to be part of the Apple Worldwide Development team (flying Kristen and Nadine to Apple Park HQ in Silicon Valley); was named “App of the Day” on the App Store worldwide; was nominated for a global digital award in the children’s space; and was implemented in over 33 schools and preschools throughout Australia, the USA and Korea.

How has it been funded so far?

LAPC has held two major capital raising campaigns and has successfully raised over $5 million dollars through strategic private equity partners that are aligned to the global growth of the company. These funds have been utilised in LAPC’s digital expansion, in a first iteration, allowing the company to develop and launch the flagship literacy platform Kindergo.

What has been your biggest challenge so far in business and how did you overcome it?

Our biggest challenge is also our biggest strength – we’re seen as underdogs; as women, as creative industries professionals and as global players. We’ve been able to do things normal companies haven’t been able to do – we try new things and innovate constantly. This wouldn’t be possible if we were playing by the same traditional rules as everyone else, but we’d be lying if we said that forging our own path in the media industry as women wasn’t challenging as well.

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