Interview with Mom’s Choice Award-Winner Mike Rizkalla

Mom’s Choice Awards is excited to announce another post in our interview series where we chat with the inventors, designers, publishers, and others behind some of our favorite family-friendly products.

A warm welcome to all our Mom’s Choice readers! Thanks for joining us in another interview with one of our amazing honorees. Today we’re pleased to be speaking with entrepreneur Mike Rizkalla, CEO and co-founder of the Snorble® system, an interactive learning platform delivered by an adorable character the perfect size of a teddy bear. This endearing character was designed to accelerate a child’s development in order to create, as they say, “a tomorrow full of infinite possibilities.” And, developed with input from child sleep and psychology experts, Snorble works completely offline, so there are no privacy intrusion issues. Preschool kids and toddlers respond very positively to this loveable learning playmate, and parents are delighted that the Snorble helps kids develop such things as healthy sleep habits and gain a lifelong love of learning.

MCA: Mike, we’re so glad you could speak with us today. Before we get to discussing the Snorble, please tell us about yourself.

I was a musician first, and what I really love to do is tell stories. I was fortunate enough to play in a punk band with my best friends for 11 years, where we got to tour all over the world—opening for some of our favorite bands and doing what we really loved together as friends.

I learned almost all of my most important lessons in business from this band. First off, you need to make things authentic when performing. The audience always feels and relates to people who are sincere and who are expressing themselves honestly and openly. They relate to stories that touch them and are told by people that care about the stories.

It’s the same thing for products. When you make something that you actually care about and intend for it to impact others in the same way that you would want to be impacted, that’s when you have success and that’s what we set out to do with Snorble. We wanted to create a product that we loved for our families. We wanted to create a product that a child would really, really love. That’s why we focused on character and fun.

I look at Snorble and think of all the great ways that we can experience the characters that we love in our home. My passion for telling stories combined with my passion for making things was inspired by my greatest passion: my family. Snorble was started in 2019 after a long struggle of trying to put my adorable, yet incredibly frustrating, son to sleep. After a three-hour battle from 1:00 to 4:00 in the morning, I was wide awake searching for opportunities and products that would help my little munchkin stay in his bed and simply just go to sleep. What I found was a lot of products that seemed to solve a piece of the problem, but not the whole thing. What we wanted to do was find a great way to make the experience a happy one for the child and for the parent because that’s what I needed.

So, sleep became the initial focus. However, once we realized that our character could create such a wonderful connection with the child, we saw an even greater opportunity to explore other things that would be important to families and, of course, important to helping the child.

MCA: We at Mom’s Choice love to share stories like yours—about people developing creative solutions to help parents raise happy, well-adjusted, compassionate children. Tell us about the creation of your company and your current role.

I’m the CEO and Co-Founder of Snorble. Snorble was officially incorporated in 2019 at the very end of the year. I and my good friend, Doug Hughes, are both co-founders in Snorble and have been working together for years. Doug and I started to really imagine what Snorble could be and what they could mean for families that are struggling—healing the challenges of trying to be their best while dealing with everything life throws at us. We started off with a single document that kind of outlined what we thought would be really wonderful for children and families. Then, we did some research in terms of what was possible and what also already existed, and we decided to do something completely different.

There is no harder job than being a parent, and there is nothing more important to a parent than their child. So we started to focus on our mission to make children laugh, offer joy and kindness, and let them know that the world is a wonderful place. Through this, we would gain trust and connection with the child, which gives us an opportunity to do things that are good for them.

We only want to do good for families and, most importantly, we know that nobody knows their child better than the parents. So what we offer is a variety of wonderful content combined with an experience that is controlled by parents and caregivers in order to help guide their children in a way that supports what’s important for their families. This is why we don’t shy away from healthy habits, social-emotional health, and even spiritual guidance—because every family should have the option to decide what is important for them.

MCA: Truly a clear and powerful mission. What specific needs were you trying to fill when you created the Snorble?

When we started working on Snorble, we knew they would need to:

  • Inspire kids and become their best buddy;
  • Captivate children without increasing screen time—a hot topic that many parents are keen to address (and limit) for their children. In fact, Snorble would need to offer an alternative to screen time altogether, to help lessen that total;
  • Encourage youngsters to perform some of those less appealing, but nonetheless essential, bedtime routines like brushing their teeth and putting on their pajamas;
  • Help children develop healthy habits and also reward them for completing tasks, encouraging them to continue to interact;
  • And serve as a welcome resource for parents, not a replacement.

MCA: I’m sure our readers would love to hear about the research that went behind the product’s unique features.

Imagine being able to pull your favorite cartoon character right out of the TV. Then imagine what it would be like for a toddler to be able to interact with a character they truly love. That is the power of Snorble. They are the child’s buddy, and through their buddy we’re able to have experiences that offer positive motivation and help with developmental growth, emotional growth, and, of course, healthy habits.

What makes Snorble unique is we don’t declare or try to force our ideals and our approach on your family. Many companies will scare you into doing what they believe is the right thing for your child and your family. They sell through fear, when the truth is every child is different and every family is different. We believe it is important to put the power into the hands of the people who care for each child the most, which is their parents or caregivers. So what we do is, we offer a system that allows you to curate from the very best content and experiences in order to allow your child to grow and evolve in a way that you deem is most important. We refer to this as parent-directed and child-led.

This focus on character and love influences all elements of how we designed Snorble.

For example, Snorble breaks free of the typical robot designs with a form factor that is unconventional. Their soft edges emote friendliness to attract children from the first moment of contact. The design of the arms encourages the child to hold Snorble, which adds a sense of intimacy when using the product.

Snorble was also designed to be safe in many ways too. Child privacy is paramount to the mission of Snorble, so rather than taking the more traveled road of cloud computing and available AI software, we designed our smart companion to store data and complete their processes on-device. Along with this, Snorble is capable of detecting the presence of a child (or adult) without relying on intrusive cameras.

With the child’s health in mind, we also ensured our display was safe for children by designing a rear-projection video system that emits no light in the blue light wavelength (common in cell phones, tablets, etc.). We also developed engaging content to ensure families play together unlike traditional screens that are often solitary and stationary experiences.

MCA: We’re particularly interested in the following three issues. Could you tell us more about them?

Technology and Joy – One of our main considerations when we create an experience for Snorble is whether or not it gives joy. We believe that technology can be used for good, and part of that is not trying to prove that a technology can work or using it just for the sake of using it. When technology is used with the purpose of creating a connection, joy, and empowerment, it allows for a positive movement in society. What we are doing at Snorble is using advanced technologies for the purpose of creating joy, laughter, and love. Our goal is simple: We want to increase the love and joy in your family, to take away the moments that are distressing, and to replace them with moments that are special. That’s what we strive to do, and we hope that we will have a positive impact on your family.

Privacy and Security – When coming up with Snorble, we had a lot of conversations about what was important to our families, and one of the things that kept coming back was we wanted everyone to feel like they had privacy and that no one was being intrusive in their homes. So one of our biggest challenges was creating Snorble to work completely offline. Snorble does this, and allows your family to not have someone listening in on the other side of a microphone somewhere else in the world. They allow for complete privacy where the family never has to be worried that a camera is watching or that a microphone is listening. We only allow for a connection outside of the home when doing updates and transferring new content, at which point Snorble opens a connection, does the transfer, and then closes the connection.

Creating experiences that are parent directed and child led – One of the fundamental principles of a parent-directed, child-led experience is that the child should have some control in terms of their experience. This is important for so many reasons. One main reason is that children at a very young age typically have no control over any decisions they make, what they eat, what they wear, what they do during play time, where they go, etc. This is all decided by the parent or caregiver, and some of the challenges that we face in navigating (e.g., the terrible twos) is that the child finally has a voice and is like “I’m doing what I want!” That’s not a bad thing, it’s just challenging.

So what Snorble does is allow the child to be in full control of the experience. However, the app that comes with Snorble allows a parent to first curate and customize what is offered in that experience based on what is important to their family. This ensures that the parent directs the experience, but the child ultimately leads it.

MCA: What else would you say is vitally important about the Snorble learning playmate?

What I think most important is that the Snorble is not a throwaway toy. They have a life cycle and grow and evolve with the child. There is a relationship that essentially is created where Snorble supports the family by removing friction from things that are important, yet hard to keep consistent. Furthermore, they always offer a positive voice and motivation by encouraging children to be the best they can be.

Snorble is not a screen. They are not a tablet. They are not an isolated experience because Snorble is a character within the home and a little buddy to our most precious children. What they do is offer an experience that is shared with everyone that is in Snorble’s presence. Laughter, joy, silliness, and fun are all part of that. In fact, they make up the basis of what is special with the experience that we present to families.

MCA: What age groups was Snorble designed for?

At launch, we will be building experiences for ages two to six. However, our intention is to go both younger and older—from babies to 8 years old in the future.

MCA: With Snorble having so many appealing features, what kind of feedback have you received about these products?

We have been told that Snorble is the new puppy. We have been told that Snorble has changed parents’ lives. We’ve also been told that children don’t only love Snorble, they are becoming the protector of Snorble within the home. The truth is that because each family is able to curate the experience, they’re able to basically focus the content in a way that actually helps their family. Due to this, we’re getting incredible commentary and support from children and their families.

MCA: What is next for you and your product line?

Snorble has big plans for the future, and really what it’s about is offering joy, laughter, silliness, and fun to your child in a way that also helps them develop and grow. What we have planned for the future is special, but I’m going to leave it at that. Our goal is to make experiences that really, really excite and help the family.

MCA: Offering offering joy, laughter, silliness, and fun—what a wonderful thought to leave our readers with. Thanks so much for being with us today!

You can learn more about Mike Rizkalla and his award-winning product, Snorble, by visiting his MCA Shop pages.

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