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Leela Kids opens up the world of podcasts to children


Leela Kids is a very straightforward app that nonetheless might prevent some parents from going insane. It curates podcasts by subject matter for age ranges from three to 15 years old and packages them in a kid-friendly interface. Leela Kids gives caretakers peace of mind that whatever their charges are listening to is age-appropriate and reasonably edifying. In fact, it recently hit the top spot in the Taiwanese App Store’s kids category after parents started downloading it as an English-learning tool.

Now also available for Android, Leela Kids was developed by Santa Clara, California-based Leela Labs, which launched last year to find better ways to find and listen to podcasts. Its main app, Leela, now hosts about four million episodes from across 30,000 podcasts, while Leela Kids currently hosts about 5,000 episodes from roughly 80 podcasts.

Leela Labs founder and CEO Sandeep Jain said he became interested in podcasts after someone suggested an episode of A16Z while he was researching online marketplaces.

“What struck me most was that despite living in the technology hub of the world, my information consumption resources had been limited to Google Search and certain print publications only,” Jain said in an email. “I had no idea that podcasts offered such amazing and relevant content and that I could consume this content while driving, at home, etc.”

Jain surveyed a group of tech-savvy friends and found that only two people out of 20 listened to podcasts.

“I quickly found out why—technology to access them is horribly broken,” he said.

Discovering podcasts is a cumbersome process that involves figuring out the right keywords to search, subscribing to shows and then scrolling through a menu to find individual episodes to download. While Apple is trying to make podcast discovery easier, the current method is annoying enough to put off casual listeners and nearly impossible for younger kids to navigate.

After realizing that even the grown-up version of Leela’s podcast player was hard for his four-year-old son to use, Jain decided to create a kids version. Leela Kids uses both tech and human curation to figure out which shows are best suited to specific ages, since that information usually isn’t included in a podcast’s RSS feed.

Parents might be incredulous that listening to audio content is enough to keep their kids engrossed when the wonders of Netflix, YouTube and Snapchat are just a click away on the same device. Jain says toddlers love listening to stories on the app, however, and that he has even managed to reduce his son’s screen time by playing podcasts during car trips and dinner. The startup plans to make Leela Kids compatible with smart speakers so older toddlers can operate the app themselves.

Parents of older kids, meanwhile, have told Jain that their offspring enjoy Leela Kids because it gives them a new way to discover content besides what they already read or watch.

“Parents and even kids are liking the ‘visual detox’ effect of Leela Kids,” he said.

The Leela team did not anticipate that Leela Kids app would be used as a language learning tool until a Taiwanese news site recommended it. After it took off in Taiwan, parents and teachers in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Indonesia, South Korea, Japan and China also began downloading Leela Kids to help kids practice English. As a result, Leela’s editorial team plans to add English teaching content in the future, including podcast episodes about grammar basics and more conversational content.

Other plans include adding episodes about parenting topics, working with parenting publications to integrate their calendars into Leela Kids so parents can get notifications about nearby events and making curated playlists with educators.

“Our vision is to make Leela Kids the defacto knowledge and entertainment resource for kids and even for parents,” said Jain.

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