September 2009 was the first time Oceanhouse Media was featured on this website. Back then their primary focus was motivational apps, following the motto “Creativity with a Purpose.” Then just a few months later I received word of a little app called “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and just like that Oceanhouse was releasing beloved Dr.Seuss classics into the App Store. I say “just like that” but of course there’s more to how it all worked out! I’ve watched from the sidelines as Oceanhouse Media has taken off and is now responsible for bringing so many beloved children’s titles to life with this new medium. I recently had a chance to ask Michel and Karen Kripalani, the founders of Oceanhouse Media, some questions about their company’s journey.
**Tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Michel: Karen and I launched Oceanhouse Media in January 2009. We found that our combined skills and interests helped a great deal in the creation of our app development company. I come from a software and visual arts background, whereas Karen comes from marketing and entertainment. I’ve run two software companies before and I seem to have entrepreneur blood running through my veins. I love building and working with small, motivated, passionate teams.
Karen: Michel and I met in January 2006 and were married in August of that same year. In addition to working together, we’re also raising a family in San Diego with two happy little beta testers of our own! As parents, we’re able to see how our book apps are enjoyed by young children everyday. I love focusing my talents and energy on both Oceanhouse Media and my family. The two go so well together. As Director of Marketing, I oversee the day-to-day marketing and public relations for our company. I’m also in charge of casting and directing the voice over sessions for all of our omBooks (Oceanhouse Media digital books).
**What were you doing before you began developing iPhone apps? What was the reason you made the jump into development? How did you get started?
Michel: I have a visual arts degree from UC San Diego and have spent over 20 years in the software industry. My first business right out of college was MOOV design, where I developed and programmed the world’s first interactive CD-ROM magazine, Verbum Magazine. Two years later, I started Presto Studios and created high-end video games for 11 years. We developed such hit titles as The Journeyman Project series and Myst III: Exile. From there, I was Director of Business Development at Autodesk for four and a half years in their entertainment division. This position allowed me to travel worldwide. I acted as a liaison to Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo and other game development studios. During the global economic crisis of 2008/2009, I was laid off from Autodesk. It was a bit of a shock, but I was ready to have my own business again, this time back in software development. I had been playing around with the iPhone since it was introduced in 2007. When Apple announced that app developers could sell their own apps in 2008, I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do.
Karen: My background is in business, acting and photography. I have a marketing degree from Fordham University in New York City. Prior to getting married and starting Oceanhouse Media, I spent several successful years in Los Angeles as an actor, writer, spokesperson and photographer. I’ve traveled the world working with National Geographic, USA Network, Fox Sports and Canon Cameras. I am a people-person so I love building relationships and overseeing the PR for Oceanhouse Media. And being involved in the voice work for all of our apps not only fits perfectly with what I’m trained to do, it’s also a lot of fun bringing some of my favorite childhood books to life for my children to now enjoy in digital format.
Michel: Oceanhouse Media’s first app, Bowls, originated from an idea that Karen had to create Tibetan singing bowls as a way to inspire a relaxation. We were looking for an app that would take advantage of the iPhone touch screen. Swirling your finger on the rim of the bowls to get them to resonate just sounded fun. The app still sells very well for us. We like to call this “our little app that could.”
**Can you tell us about the “evolution” of Oceanhouse Media? How did you get from the titles you were originally working with to having access to Dr. Seuss’s library?
Michel: Building on the early success of Bowls, we approached Hay House Publishers, creators of best-selling self-empowerment titles, and signed them on as our first licensor. From there, we added more licensing partners, with things really taking off when we secured the rights to turn the 44 classic Dr. Seuss titles into digital book apps through our agreement with Dr. Seuss Enterprises. As a UCSD alum and local businessman, I had been asked to sit on the board of the UCSD Libraries back in the 1990s. The main library on campus is the Geisel Library, named after Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss). I asked for, and was able to get, an introduction to Dr. Seuss Enterprises through a connection with the head librarian. For Christmas 2009, Dr. Seuss Enterprises allowed us to develop a number of apps based on How the Grinch Stole Christmas! We were able to illustrate what we could do and subsequently were given the opportunity to expand the deal to include all 44 Dr. Seuss books. As of today, we’ve developed omBooks for just about half of the collection. Our goal is to have all 44 omBooks available by the end of 2012.
Oceanhouse Media has developed more than 170 apps overall. In January of 2011, we announced that we crossed the one million mark in paid app downloads on the App Store. I enjoy working on licensing agreements that bring many of the most beloved children’s titles to the app market.
Karen: As we were starting Oceanhouse Media, Michel and I felt it was important to try to make a significant contribution to the planet. It would have been easy for us to focus on gaming apps with Michel’s previous experience, but as new parents we really saw the need and the value of producing quality digital book apps that help kids learn to read. On a trip through our local bookstore we thought “what better author to model our apps on than Dr. Seuss, the best at making reading fun for kids?”
**Oceanhouse seems to have exploded over the past year, how do you keep up?
Karen: We have a dedicated team of both in-house staff and contractors. Our team includes incredible programmers, graphic designers, technical artists, professional voice actors, music composers and sound designers. Not to mention, Michel is brilliant at wearing multiple hats. Plus, many of our staff have young kids, so we like to use them as our beta testers and they always have great input! I have to also give a shout out for our awesome nanny who helps me juggle kids and work!
Michel: From my CD-ROM and video game development days, I’ve worked with a lot of terrific software developers, programmers, designers, etc. Many of these folks have now joined the Oceanhouse Media team. They’ve been instrumental in creating our proprietary tools that allow us to release two to three titles a week. Many of these people I’ve worked with in my previous businesses and some I’ve known for over 20 years, such as our Director of Development, Greg Uhler.
**What publishers are you working with now?
Michel: Our family of licensors continues to grow. In addition to Dr. Seuss Enterprises, we currently have licensing agreements in place with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Zondervan (a division of HarperCollins), Mercer Mayer, Soundprints, Hay House Publishers, Chronicle Books and Character Arts. In many cases, we work directly with the authors to bring their titles to the app market.
Karen: We decided early on to closely follow our company’s mantra of “Creativity with Purpose,” developing apps that uplift, educate and inspire. We look at every licensing agreement with this intent in mind. I believe this has helped us gain the trust of our partners and maintain our focus on high-quality product development. The Dr. Seuss apps opened the doors for us to develop apps for well-known titles from The Berenstain Bears, Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter and the Five Little Monkeys series among others.
**Who is your favorite author that you’ve gotten to bring to the App Store? The one where you said to yourself – I can’t believe I’m doing this?
Michel: It goes without saying that having the opportunity to bring Dr. Seuss’s classic titles to the app market was a turning point for our company. Not only do we feel a tremendous amount of honor to be given this opportunity, but there’s also a sentimental aspect. I read Dr. Seuss as a child and now read his books with my own kids. We see our apps as a companion to the printed books. I like to believe that if Ted Geisel were alive today he would love to see what we are doing with his stories in the digital medium. Our Dr. Seuss apps are a great example of how technology can be used in a fun and interactive way to encourage kids to read.
Karen: I’d have to agree with Michel and say Dr. Seuss. As a child, I have fond memories of the Seuss stories, with Green Eggs and Ham being my favorite. Each time I’m in the studio for a voice recording of a Dr. Seuss story, I always remember how special these books were to me as a child. And now watching our kids enjoy the apps is a real joy. Regardless of the medium, Dr. Seuss will always have a lasting appeal.
**Anything new on the horizon that you can share?
Michel: The next Dr. Seuss apps to be released will be Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? and Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! in May. We expect to announce another four to six new content partners that will yield many more great apps from a wide range of authors. A few of these new licensing agreements will let us create titles that focus even more on learning and education. We’ve also developed a lot of new features for beginning readers allowing them to boost their reading skills. These new enhancements will provide the youngest of readers with an even more positive user experience.
Karen: We’ll also be introducing new voice talent in the near future, starting with our new series, Elmer the Patchwork Elephant. Each voice actor adds they’re own element to the recording process, so that is incredibly exciting. We’re building additional apps in the Smithsonian Institution series. The success of our first release in this educational collection, It’s Tyrannosaurus Rex!, is very encouraging and we can’t wait to release more.
**Has Karen done any of the voice over work for the stories?
Karen: Yes, I narrate The Berenstain Bears, Tacky the Penguin and the Five Little Monkeys series. I am also the voice on many Dr. Seuss omBooks including Dr. Seuss’s ABC, Fox in Socks, Hop on Pop, Happy Birthday to You! and I Can Read With My Eyes Shut! It’s fun to watch our kids’ expressions while they’re listening to these apps. They enjoy both the Auto Play feature and the Read to Me option, where I can sit next to them and read the story to them.
Michel: Karen has done a great job overseeing the VO needs of the company. Through the work that she and Greg Uhler, our Development Director, are doing, I believe that Oceanhouse Media is delivering some of the highest quality VO audio on the App Store.
** Anything else you’d like to share? Tips for developers who are just starting out?
Michel: First off, this is a really crowded space. When we started the business in January of 2009, there were already 12,000 apps on the App Store. I was very concerned that we had missed the boat. Now, when you look at the App Store, you are faced with something like 400K apps. In this environment, you absolutely have to know how you are going to stand out. It’s critical to know the audience that you’re targeting (i.e. toddlers, early readers, older kids) and the level of interactivity that’s required when compared to the competition. Proper planning will avoid lengthy, and costly, development cycles. It is extremely easy to over design. Likewise, it is easy to under design. The magic is in finding the right balance.
Karen: Listen to user feedback, particularly if you’re creating apps for kids. Parents have a great deal to say from watching their own kids use interactive apps. Their comments and opinions can be useful in updates to your app and for future software developments. Also, don’t underestimate the need to have a strong marketing push to support your app once it hits the market. All in all, it’s an exciting time to be an app developer!
**What is your personal favorite app? The one you use most often?
Michel: Personally, I like news and info apps. I’ve been using FlipBoard quite a bit recently. I’ve grown addicted to RedBox, which I use often to reserve and rent DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. I like BigOven for finding recipes. When I want to go play games, I tend to fall back on Pocket Frogs, Tower Madness or Space Miner.
Karen: Besides our omBooks (Dr. Seuss’s ABC and Hop on Pop being two of my daughter’s favorites), I love using Matching Zoo. I love seeing her wheels turn as she discovers the matching hippo or elephant. Being a photographer, I enjoy Hipstamatic, I have a lot of fun snapping pictures of my kids and turning them into retro works of art right on the spot. Also, the only way I’ve been able to sleep these days with a baby and a toddler is NeuroAthlete. It helps to regulate your sleep patterns and it’s saved my life!
Best-Selling Dr. Seuss Apps: