We caught up with Mike Rizkalla, cofounder and CEO of Snorble (Skillman), a tech company focused on child development, at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas earlier this month. Snorble was one of a handful of featured companies to have a suite to themselves several floors above the Venetian Resort’s two levels of conference trade-show booths. Numerous other startups were showcased at the adjacent exhibition space called “Eureka Park.”
Thousands of companies from all over the world descended on Vegas to show off their tech-related businesses to a global audience estimated at 115,000 in-person attendees.
This was approximately triple the crowd in 2022, when many international visitors were restricted from attending due to the pandemic. By contrast, the 2019 CES attracted a pre-Covid crowd of more than 180,000, making it one of the largest trade shows in the world.
CES is a fire hose of FOMO (“fear of missing out”), featuring panels on several hundred topics, demonstrations, trade-show booths and suites, networking parties, etc.
It’s so large, in fact, that in addition to the entire Las Vegas Convention Center, a portion of CES is also hosted by several hotels, including the aforementioned Venetian.
Below is a post-CES interview NJ Tech Weekly contributor Rob Rinderman (founder SMC Consulting) conducted with Rizkalla after meeting him in person and seeing a demonstration of Snorble in action. The answers are mostly verbatim, with minor edits for clarity and brevity.
What’s the elevator pitch for Snorble?
Snorble is a smart companion for children designed to promote learning, educational advancement, and social-emotional development, and to help build healthy habits that last a lifetime. As children engage with Snorble, they are also engaging with the world around them. Instead of simply building a STEM/STEAM toy, we’ve built an interactive and magical experience that is based on proprietary natural language processing and expert research to deliver a comprehensive path to playing with potential.
What makes you unique from other games/tech geared for younger kids?
Perhaps the feature that stands out the most is a great selling point, and is different from other robots or children’s companions, is that Snorble can operate offline. The use of edge computing means that Snorble doesn’t require a constant internet connection, which is an important differentiator, particularly when you consider child safety and privacy. Not only that, but it also means Snorble is portable and can be taken from the home to the car and perhaps to a friend’s or grandparent’s house while continuing to engage with the child along the way.
What problem are you solving for caregivers/kids
Initially, Snorble was focused on sleep and born out of me Googling ways to help my son sleep through the night, and finding literally millions of results, but no real solutions. However, Snorble has evolved to be so much more than just a magical bedtime experience, and we will continue to expand the features available through updates.
By interacting through play, Snorble can educate children and help parents and caregivers encourage healthy habits, not only around bedtime, as initially imagined, but throughout a child’s development. Thanks to our ability to update features, including yoga and meditation in a future update, Snorble will be able to grow with the child, unlike so many other products for kids.
Discuss your background leading up to your cofounding the company, and how that may have influenced Snorble.
I have an electrical engineering background, but most of my career has been in motion graphics and UX design for digital products and television. During that time, I had the good fortune to be surrounded by these incredible people in my career, and I’ve also been a part of incredible companies that have changed the way that we’ve used technology around the world.
While doing this, I started to look at the global landscape of what was happening in technology, looking at what was happening in all the technical labs, all around the world. And I started to see all these technologies converging, and they were all converging in a way that showed a new opportunity. That opportunity was to define the human interaction experience for robotics. So, I set out on a journey seven years ago to build out a robotics lab, and Snorble is the most recent development of that journey.
New Jersey Tech Weekly covers New Jersey-based companies. Are there any specific benefits you derive from being based in the Garden State?
Aside from living in a picturesque location that is ideal for my family, from a geographical point of view, there are advantages to being in New Jersey. I travel, often at the last minute, so the proximity to airports is important, and we have both staff and partners in New York, with whom I can meet regularly.
What’s your employee headcount?
Our team is spread out across the world. Within the USA, we have team members from New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island to Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Outside of the USA, our animation team and several other staff are based in Canada, and we have other staff and partners who are in Europe. Currently, our headcount is around 40.
Where do you manufacture?
The main factory that produces Snorble is in China, but we have vendors and partners in the United States, Spain and Ukraine.
What are the biggest challenges for you as a small business owner and entrepreneur?
We’ve been very fortunate that everyone involved with Snorble has been totally committed to our goals, and they have expertise in multiple areas. So, the common issues many small businesses face in terms of being able to successfully navigate different areas of the business when it comes to staffing resources have not been a concern for us. Granted, we did face some complications associated with the pandemic and the knock-on effect, such as the shipping crisis, which pushed back our original timeline, but that certainly isn’t unique to our business.