Kidlandia President and CEO Brian Backus shows off some of the company's "kreechurs" that can be purchased online. / Photo by David Duran
Brian Backus, president and CEO of Kidlandia, had a very peculiar childhood. Growing up, his aunt lived next door to Theodor Seuss Geisel, A.K.A. Dr. Seuss. He was fortunate to have spent Sunday evenings with the popular children's author on a regular basis. This served as a huge inspiration throughout his life and with his business. Backus, who went on to become a biologist and studied evolutionary theory, attended film school. The mixture of science and arts was something that always appealed to him. As a child, having lived in northern Nigeria, he was always obsessed with maps and would draw what he referred to as "little monsters."
His next stop was as children's digital media producer for Disney Interactive. His move to San Francisco in 1999 sparked him to explore his creativity and take art classes. That led him to create fantasy maps for children. The maps were completely personalized for each child and became the inspiration for Kidlandia.
"This was the child's family tree, represented as home decor," Backus says. "The maps served as a fantasy kingdom where it flips the hierarchy and the child is actually the 'king' or 'queen' of their kingdom, but in a completely safe environment because they are surrounded by loved ones." Backus, 47, is single and raising twin 7 year old boys. And he found other parents were excited that they now had a context to bring a child in to the world of family history and demand soared. After his friends in Silicon Valley convinced him to develop his ideas into a software format, Backus's idea really took shape, and he launched Kidlandia in 2009.
"We built a platform around it and began to sell personalized goods, and we always knew when kids got a hold of our software; they would just play, and play and play," he explains.
Backus has developed his business so that it can sell personalized products online through places like Wal-Mart and Walgreens. Kidlandia also works with licensees such as Disney, Nickeldeon, and Pottery Barn.
The website is now virtually a digital theme park full of educational games and others that are pure fun. A child can go on the site and personalize his or her own world. With parental permission, a child can interact with online friends and their created worlds.
Currently Kidlandia is made up of 12 full-time San Francisco-based employees--five engineers, three to four artists/animators, and product- and business-related personnel. To get it off the ground, Backus raised capital first from "angels," then from three venture firms, two locally and one in Los Angeles.
"From business development to funding to having a social network of like-minded people that provide support, StartOut has been a great support," Backus says, noting he met his first angel investor at a StartOut event. And he admits that Silicon Valley is an "old boy's" network.
"It's not homophobic, but we don't all play golf together," he explains. "Having a group that is like you and like-minded is helpful. It's important for our community to have a professional network."
He also had some advice for would-be entrepreneurs. "It's very simple," Backus says. "Go to a StartOut event. There are people who just started companies, people who are starting their third or fourth company, people who have had very successful companies and are there because they want to support other people."
Start-ups are all about obstacles, according to Backus. "The trick to surviving a start-up is realizing that you are going to have great triumphs and great setbacks," he says. "To paraphrase, the secret to success is to fail quickly, often, and without a loss of enthusiasm."
This column is the first of a monthly series highlighting a successful business within the LGBT community that has had some involvement with the StartOut organization. StartOut strives to educate, inspire and support entrepreneurs. It fosters LGBT leadership in the business community through various methods including social programming opportunities, providing role models, connecting mentors, and promoting equality.