Hi Gokula Krishnan and Paresh Khetani, thank you for doing this interview. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Gokula: I come from over 20 years of a long corporate background, working for companies such as Motorola and Ericsson. I have worked abroad for many years and returned to Malaysia in 2012. In my last role I ran the P&L for a large MNC media division across Asia. I am also a father of two kids, and they inspired me to try and start out on my own and setup on my own company – Vircle. How did they do that – by giving me a problem that I knew had to be fixed
Paresh: I also come from a long corporate background – over 25 years in fact. My focus has always been around innovation and introducing and growing new concepts in the market. When Gokula told me about this idea of helping parents nurture children – I thought it was inspirational and wanted to help him get it up and running.
Tell us about Vircle and what inspired you to create the app?
Gokula: As I mentioned above it was inspired by my kids – my youngest, actually. You see, my eldest follows all the rules. While my youngest does her own thing. I came to find out that the money we gave her for food was being used to buy stickers at the school bookshop. In our home, my wife makes sure that the kids eat a balanced and nutritious diet. Eating healthily and having good food habits is a big deal in our household. So, when we found out what was going on – we were not impressed. It was then that I started thinking – how can technology solve this problem. We could nurture good food behaviour at home, but it was lost because we had no control and visibility of what our kids purchased and ate at school. I came up with the idea of using the cashless school as a vehicle to help parents and teachers work together to nurture good food habits. A solution which enabled parents to have visibility and control of what their kids eat every day, when they are not with them – but at school.
What children can learn from Vircle and why do you think a payment app for parents is a better way of teaching young children about money?
Paresh: The core of Vircle is the ability for parents to have control and visibility of what their kids purchase at school. So, it is a payment app with a difference. Parents don’t just give money to their kids but rather approval to use money.
There are 3 main types of approval – set meals, item selection and cash allowances. For younger children, parents simply select set meals or select the items for their kids. Vircle also comes equipped with traffic light foods – this means that parents can see how healthy the choices are and select accordingly. By selecting healthy options for children while they are young, parents are training their kids’ taste buds to like and be more accustomed to healthy food.
As kids get older, parents want them to take on more responsibility, understand the value of money and start to learn how to use it. By providing kids cash allowances, parents are doing more than just giving money to them in the hope that they spend it wisely. They are providing the opportunity to purchase items, while retaining the ability to monitor the choices and selections they are making when it comes to food. Parents are also able to set targets and goals for kids, such as the percentage of items purchased that should be green, yellow and red. Parents can also set targets for kids, in terms of how much money they should be saving from their cash allowances.
The basic Vircle offering enables parents to use the cashless system as a vehicle to train the taste buds of younger kids, and basic purchase responsibility to older kids while the advanced version also provides parents and schools with nutritional insights and gamification, that will gamify good food habits – making it fun and rewarding.
What else can the Vircle app do?
Gokula: In addition to helping parents teach their kids good purchase and eating habits, Vircle also has the ability to help parents teach their kids good financial habits and help develop good character.
On the financial literacy front, kids who receive cash allowances can save these allowances and use them to learn and practice financial skills such as saving, investing, and giving. Note, parents do not give money directly to their kids but rather, cash allowances. So, when their kids save, they are saving allowances, and not real money. It is up to the parent how to convert these cash allowances into real money and decide how to reward the child for meeting goals that they set, using Vircle’s gamification engine.
For character development, Vircle has created the concept of behavioural missions which parents and teachers use to teach kids specific skills – both at home and at school. When the child performs a set of tasks at home and school for a particular mission, they are rewarded – again using Vircle’s gamification engine.
So Vircle does more than just help parents teach kids about money, it teaches them some solid life skills that will help them throughout their lives.
Paresh: A key point to note is that there are solutions on the market that are designed to help parents with their kids, but they are hardly used. Parents don’t download them, let alone use them.
With Vircle, the parents whose kids go to a Vircle-partnered school use the app for payments as the basic feature. Once they have the app and are using it for payments – they can then use the nurturing capabilities as well.
How are schools able to adapt this solution right now? How have you made it accessible to all schools?
Paresh: Vircle is available and adaptable to almost all school scenarios and is free for schools to use. At this moment in time, we are seeing a great demand from schools who had originally opted to use Google Docs as the mechanism for parents to select school meals. Many schools are finding that this method introduces unwanted additional work for teachers. At the same time school canteen operators are losing money because parents are ordering online, only for their kids not paying money to the teacher the next day. The end result, leads to upto a staggering 20% of food wastage.
How will parents know right from wrong? Are there educational resources for them to understand what good nutrition is?
Gokula: Parents can visit the Vircle site and look through our blogs, where we are continually adding new content and information on child nurturing. We are working with child experts, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, educationalists, and nutritionists to develop more content to assist parents. In addition, as part of our partnership with schools, we also have experts visiting these schools to teach kids about a range of topics from food nutrition to the importance of saving and investing.