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Twenty-three

Usman Yaseen Sonik Pocket

Digital piggy bank helps kids get savvy with money…

Usman Yaseen  Sonik Pocket

Digital piggy bank helps kids get savvy with money

His business advisors told Usman Yaseen that it would be a bumpy journey, and they were right. But the 38-year-old from Clydebank believes he is now on the road to success with a best-selling platform for children – a digital piggy bank that teaches kids the value of money and allows them to purchase their own toys online...

The experts always say that you should understand market requirements and listen to customer feedback, and Usman Yaseen’s customers have been at the heart of his business from the very beginning – his nieces and nephews inspired his new app.

“One day, they asked to borrow my credit card,” Yaseen explains, “so they could buy some toys online, and that’s when I got the idea. I wanted them to understand the value of money but also have fun at the same time as actually shopping for real – with their own money rather than mine!”

Yaseen then started researching the market and discovered there was no app on the market at the time which did all the things that he wanted, so decided to build it himself. A lot of major companies, especially toy stores, aimed their end products at children but their websites were designed for use by adults. There were also lots of purely educational platforms, but Usman didn’t rate them in terms of engagement and saw that “there was no toy at the end of the experience – or any fun.”

At this point, Usman set out to develop “the Number One pocket-money fintech app in the world,” and the result is Sonik Pocket – a free mobile app that helps parents teach their children the value of money and purchase items online from participating stores who pay Sonik Pocket commission on sales.

To make the app appealing to parents and children, Yaseen designed it to be fun to use as well as educational, using gamification to help children learn at the same time as buy things. Among the topics covered are the basics of how people earn money, save it and spend it, which is linked to children earning pocket money by doing their homework and helping with housework, then saving up to buy their favourite toys. When they reach the checkout in the internal toy store, the children are then asked to do simple sums, based on how much they are spending, to learn how to budget and develop their maths skills. Parents also get involved by setting simple tasks for their children to earn themselves money, so the children learn about motivation and discipline – and get rewards. As well as providing safe access to toy stores and helping them manage their saving accounts, the app also lets children build their own wish lists and even compete with their friends.

“Our vision is to create the future generation of financially literate children, combining traditional teaching methods with 21st-Century technology,” states the Sonik Pocket website, which also tells the story of a “super-galactic family of robots who have come to Planet Earth to help save your children from the perils of bad maths and the complicated dangers of online shopping,” to make the experience feel like the kind of game children will play.

Yaseen also knows many parents are concerned about their children spending too much of their time on their own playing games without any practical or educational value: “We won’t disrupt the market, but we will appeal to parents who are keen to teach their children the value of money and want them to experience the real world of shopping online in a safe environment.”

Yaseen has already signed up two retailers in Scotland and one leading toy store in England to test-drive the app and wants to prove that his idea will work before approaching larger stores, building a case study – and credibility – for his new app, before rolling it out into Europe.

Before then, Yaseen knows he has to focus on delivering concrete results: “You can’t just be a visionary. You only get one chance to prove you are onto a winner, and you need something tangible first.”

The journey so far

When Yaseen first came up with the idea in 2016, he didn't know how to create an app or understand all the legal requirements – never mind set up a business and talk to potential investors. It was a promising concept but what about monetisation? What about providing it on different platforms such as Android and iPhone?

The Royal Bank of Scotland Accelerator Programme gave Yaseen a huge boost in the early days, providing him with business and technology advice and setting him off on his journey – including simple things such as learning how to make presentations.

When he was accepted into the RSE Unlocking Ambition Fellowship programme in 2018, his business education gathered further momentum, focusing on how to build his team and raise investment, as well as commercialisation and networking skills.

“Being part of the RSE programme is a massive coup for me,” says Yaseen. “When I applied, I thought that only academics would succeed, but clearly that isn't the case.”

When Yaseen left Clydebank High School, he had no plans to go to university or college. “Traditional methods of learning don't work for everyone,” Yaseen explains. He then learned the basics of business and customer service by working in a British Telecom call centre, followed by a similar job at T-Mobile (now EE Mobile), working in sales and user support – “learning how to deal with people.” For the next seven years, he worked in a Soft Play centre in Glasgow, and this in turn provided good experience working with children. To supplement his earnings in the early days of Sonik Pocket, Yaseen also worked as a consultant for several technology companies.

Is Yaseen an entrepreneur, an engineer or an inventor? “I can't build a website from scratch, but I’m building a business around a new app,” he explains. “A big part of my job is learning how to join the dots and build my personal network, sharing the vision and building the team.”

At the moment, there are four people in Sonik Pocket including Yaseen (CEO), the CTO Jamie Balish, who co-founded the company three years ago, Paul Blackler (Business Development) and Ross Thompson (Education Development). The next person coming aboard will focus on increasing the company's social media presence.

Seeking investment

Yaseen is now preparing for his first round of investment, looking to raise £250,000 this year. He has also considered crowdfunding as an alternative. Meanwhile, the development process continues, engaging with parents and gathering feedback from children to validate what he is doing and improve the product design.

“We want to teach kids about finance the fun way, but we don’t want to make money seem like a burden, or even make it feel like education when they're using the app,” says Yaseen. “We already have a good idea what users want, so now we only need the credibility that comes from success.”

So far, Sonik Pocket has been well received in Scotland, winning two awards from Scottish EDGE, Opportunity Knocks and an Entrepreneurial Spark award (now The Royal Bank of Scotland Accelerator Programme).

Other companies with similar “digital piggy bank” products have already entered the market, including goHenry, with its pre-paid, pocket money card and app designed for children, which reportedly has 80,000 users and attracted more than £6 million from investors via Crowdcube, including many customers. In Yaseen’s view, his main competitors are not as strong in terms of education, focusing more on providing a platform for spending your money, or teaching kids without being able to buy things. Other platforms also tend to earn their money via customer subscriptions – for example, goHenry charges £2.99 per month per child. In contrast, Sonik Pocket will continue to earn its commission from sales and provide the app free to subscribers.

“We have had exploratory talks with a few major industry players,” says Yaseen, “but first we want to focus on developing the app and our partnership with the three toy stores, gathering feedback from users and proving the value of what we are doing.”

Sonik Pocket has also been gathering data in surveys, which reveal that parents don’t know how to talk to their children about money matters in general – data which could prove extremely valuable in future projects.

According to Yaseen, several banks have expressed interest in Sonik Pocket, but he would prefer to remain independent. “I want to be in control of my own destiny,” he says. “It may be a bumpy journey, but it’s worth it. This is a project very close to my heart and I want to send out the right message to parents and children – including my nieces and nephews.”

Visit: Sonik Pocket

 

 

 

"Usman Yaseen Sonik Pocket". Science Scotland (Issue Twenty-three)
Printed from http://www.sciencescotland.org/feature.php?id=351 on 27/05/19 08:01:47 AM

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