You would have thought that the launch of another virtual world – SecretBuilders.com – on 4th December would be viewed with some scepticism by industry publications. Not so. There were several dozen news sites that covered it with some degree of excitement and there were in depth reviews on Red Herring, Industry Standard and Venture Beat.
This site is different from Second Life and Google’s My World in that it is targeted at 7-14 year olds. It also differs from other virtual kid sites because of the educational and cultural information it provides without taking away from the entertainment that the site is supposed to provide.
I guess this has been in the making for a while and has been well thought out. I remember when I was last visiting Silicon Valley that Umair Khan, CEO of SecretBuilders Inc, first mentioned this venture over a cup of coffee. Umair was founder of Clickmarks which morphed into Folio 3. He is presently also CEO of Renaissance 2.0 Media and Venture Partner of The Entrepreneurs’ Fund III. Innovation and startup culture seems to be in his blood very much a part of him.
SecretBuilders is a virtual world that emphasizes on creativity and historical adventure. It exposes children to stories and concepts from the arts and humanities as they interact and play among fictional and historical characters including Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, Galileo and Socrates.
The press statement issued by the company on the occasion of the launch states that children’s web sites such as Club Penguin and Webkinz offer pure entertainment but little nutritional value – like fudge – while educational sites try to sugar-coat skills-building programs but lack real appeal – like chocolate-covered broccoli.
“SecretBuilders is neither fudge nor chocolate-covered broccoli – it is more like Cheerios, both appealing and nutritious,” said SecretBuilders CEO Umair Khan, who is a parent of children ages 8, 10, and 14 and a former high school math teacher. “As a parent, I appreciate that my children can enjoy a visually rich, interactive social community set within an adventure game world that helps build cultural literacy.”
SecretBuilders has raised a total of $2.4 million to date from angel investors. The most recent funding closed after the financial crisis in October, providing a testament to the appeal of its vision and early success with children and parents. Investors include Jeff Webber, former board member of Sybase and Commerce One, serial entrepreneurs Greg Titus and Carlos Cashman, whose company CourseAdvisor was acquired by The Washington Post Company in 2007, Ken Morse, the head of the MIT Entrepreneurship Center and Scott Hassan, co founder of eGroups and member of the Google founding team.
“SecretBuilders’ investors, all of whom have children or grandchildren in the target age range, are dedicated to the mission of emphasizing arts and humanities in the lives of our kids”, said Hassan, who also founded Willow Garage in Menlo Park, Calif. He was attracted to the “doing well by doing good” aspect of SecretBuilders, Mr. Hassan added.
Great stuff Umair. Good luck with the venture. We are all rooting for you and will continue to keep our sights on you. I am sure there are plans in the making for much more to come.
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