Toy Mail creator Gauri Nanda recognizes that kids like technology and want to use it, but many are too young for expensive phones and tablets. Her Toy Mail “talkies” are plush toys surrounding electronics that allow kids to send voice messages to any smart phone with the Toy Mail app. Kids get to communicate with their parents (and vice versa) without mom and dad worrying about the child trashing a $700 phone. The whole system works wherever there's WIFI.
Call it a walkie talkie for the internet age. Besides talking through the app, kids can talk “toy to toy,” provided parents approve the contact. After raising over $80,000 on Kickstarter back in 2013, Nanda brought the first version of the toy to market. The next generation, the toys she pitches to the Sharks, have a lot of improvements over the originals. Besides talking toy to toy, they store messages, send to multiple contacts, and let you play back the last ten messages.
The “talkies” will set you back 60 bucks – far cheaper than a tablet or smart phone. My guess is Nanda wants to get into big box retailers and she needs help with making those contacts. There are probably issues with scaling up manufacturing, too. We'll see if a Shark wants to invest or just mail it in.
My Take on Toy Mail
My kids had Furbies when they were little. The things drove me nuts. They'd randomly babble on in that stupid voice. I was tempted more than once to drop kick the things. My kids, and myself, had walkie talkies, too. I always enjoyed that as a toy – most kids do. If you look at Toy Mail as just a modern walkie-talkie, it's a toy that kids could enjoy for many years.
The dark side of Toy Mail is it could be seen as intrusive. In December, 2016, several electronic talking toys got busted by the FTC. Toys like Hello Barbie, My Friend Cayla, the i-Que Intelligent Robot and others were alleged to have the capability of eavesdropping on families. After a lot of bad press and investigations by the FTC and other agencies, the toymakers were on the defensive. Parents just got creeped out.
If the Toy Mail toys have a spy feature, I am SO OUT. I don't think they do though – they act like a kiddie version of a smart phone. While I won't be getting any for my kids, I think a lot of parents and grandparents will.
Do Sharks Like Talkies?
This is a clever use of technology. Nanda has proof of concept and she appears to have strong sales. If the Sharks see it as a one product business, they may not bid. If Nanda has future plans, she'll get more interest.
Back in season four, a company called Cuddletunes pitched in the Tank. Instead of messaging, it used an MP3 player to let grown-ups record messages to send to their kids. Barbara thought the idea was creepy and none of the Sharks invested. If Nanda can't differentiate from that product, she may have trouble in the Tank.
That said, this is a more interactive toy than Cuddletunes, so she could have a shot. I'm not sure on this one. I think it could go either way.