Opinion

Q&A with the co-founder of GeckoLife, Asia’s first social network for pre-teens

GeckoLifeAsia’s first “family-focused” social network designed by two fathers concerned about what their kids were exposed to online officially launched last week. The Singapore-headquartered site, called GeckoLife, claims to be filling a gap in the market for “meaningful” child-friendly, private networking. It already has 5,000 sign-ups.

Brands can get involved by creating their own ‘canvas’, a ‘safe space’ built around special interests such as sport, pets or holidays. But not everyone is convinced.Singapore-based journalist, former PR executive and parent Rob O’Brien, tweeted last week that GeckoLife is “Basically a kids platform for brands to shape a new generation of consumer droids.” To answer the critics and layout his vision for the future, GeckoLife’s Rajeev Gupta, who co-founded the platform with fellow father Ashish Trivedi, had a chat with Mumbrella’s Asia editor Robin Hicks.

Explain where the idea came from.

Rajeev Gupta

Rajeev Gupta

I have four children. A while ago I asked myself, is there a safe platform online for children, where parents can be involved in their digital footprint as it builds over time? I discovered that there was nothing that fitted that description.

Privacy, which is a big issue for other social networks, is the most critical element of our offering. Everything is private unless a parent chooses otherwise. We are concerned by issues like cyberbullying and wanted to find a way to counter that with a platform that enables parents to approve or pre-approve the connections and content that their children are viewing and sharing online. We’re providing a platform that is more calculated than the ‘random walks’ that children take on other social networks, and we hope to produce more responsible digital citizens.

How are content and connections moderated on GeckoLife?

A 'Fit for life' canvas on GeckoLife

A ‘Fit for life’ canvas on GeckoLife

If anyone sets up a space on GeckoLife, they control the audience and can pre-approve the content by managing the settings. We don’t promote chat or messaging, but we promote communication around a subject. As a father, I want less tech in our children’s lives and for it to be more meaningful when we do use it.

I notice there is no display advertising on GeckoLife. So tell us about how brands can get involved.

We are strong believers in banners not being the future for reaching the right audiences online. And we feel that we can provide a platform for brands that is more family orientated in nature, which allows them to target a bit better. We want to allow a sporting company to have a space that’s about sport with an audience that genuine loves and cares about sport.

Take soccer. You could have a canvas discussing a match that’s coming up, and a sports company could have a space within that canvas. We’re building a system that will allow brands to be discovered. Now the platform is about users creating content, but we want users to be able to search for content created by organisations. We’re going to launch a channel called Discovery. A user will be able to search for specialist areas such as healthcare, sport or travel. This is the ‘pull’ versus ‘push’ concept. Banner ads are pushed upon the user, and we’re trying to create a pull mechanism.

What do you say to critics, like Rob O’Brien or the commenter named “Not sure” beneath our story on your launch, who are not convinced by brands being able to communicate with kids in this way?

My answer is very simple. Anything and everything is controlled by parents. Nothing touches your child unless you approve it. If a brand creates a canvas, a parent must approve their child’s involvement first. We’re empowering parents with choice.

What we’re trying to do is not pure advertising. You can get people involved in the marketing or product development process much earlier, say in the design of a football. And you can amplify your brand through quizzes or competitions with a voting system that we are soon to introduce.

It’s early days. But have you had any interest from brands so far?

In the beta phase of the development of GeckoLife, we spoke with about 15 companies to find out what they like and what they didn’t like about the platform. One of the positive things to come out of the discussions was that the site gives brands pre-engagement, engagement and post-engagement with both adults and children.

What do you mean by pre-engagement?

One example is DBS’s involvement with theatre in Singapore. DBS was able to pre-engage by introducing the characters that would feature in the production, and then ask children if were coming along to show.

What about brands selling directly through the canvases on GeckoLife? Will there be an e-commerce capability built into the site for brands?

Well, for any canvas that is travel oriented, we see an immediate opportunity for brands to create a community for the sector. But it won’t exist as a feed or mingled in with other content, it’s an activity. You’ll only see the content that you’re interested in. We are optimistic that by the end of this quarter the [e-commerce] facility will be available.

In the press release sent out about your launch last week, it was clear that GeckoLife wants to raise more funds to support the company’s growth, having raised US$1 million last year. How’s that going?

We raised US$1.3 million. We’ve built team of 20 people, but we need to grow the business. We will do another fundraiser in around 90-100 days. We want to grow in North Asia in particular, and Australia, the US and Europe.

So what are you plans to grow the business this year?

By the end of this year, we want to have 50,000 users globally.

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