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Superspy or supermum?

Norwegian mother-of-three Silje Vallestad created an app that lets parents keep an eye on their children's mobile-phone use. And Will Smith's wife likes it so much she's invested in it

Superspy or supermum?

Text by Pierre De Villiers

Photos Noah Berger

 

What's the big idea? 
Bipper, a company started by mum-turned-mobile-phone-wizard Silje Vallestad, designs and builds apps that turn smartphones into safety devices.

Thanks to their latest product, MobileKids, parents can monitor - and limit - what their kids get up to on their phones. It also allows them to add and remove features remotely and even has GPS-based safety services. Bipper's other app, bSafe, is a safety alarm that sends out a cry for help to a network of guardians, at the same time as automatically recording video so they can see what's happening.

So what made Vallestad want to padlock phones? 
Personal experience. "Back in 2006 when my daughter started school I realised six year olds had phones," says Vallestad. "As a parent you like the safety and the easy communication the mobile provides, but you still want to be able to define limits and to follow what they are doing."

What spooked her about kids and phones?
A lot. "It was shocking to me," she says. "You had mobile bullying with pictures being taken in the shower and shared with friends at school, contact with strangers and all these things I had never thought about."

It's a good thing Vallestad had a technical background before starting her business...
That's the thing - she didn't. She was a concerned mum with a great plan, but no real map of how to get there. Then she heard about business-plan competition Venture Cup. "I thought entering would help me put things into words and work out a strategy," she recalls. "I joined Venture Cup in 2007 and won." 

Why is Bipper's product better than what's already out there? Because it is made with motherly love. "The big difference is that MobileKids has been defined by me and other parents and not by techies," Vallestad says. "Other services out there only tend to have one of the components, not the whole block."

That's great for parents, but how do the kids feel about being spied on? 
It's not really spying as the little munchkins are in on the whole thing. "We believe it should be open and based on trust. Your kid should know what information you receive as a parent," says Vallestad."Other companies allow you to download monitoring apps, but that's spyware that lies on the phone and gives you information without your child knowing, which is something we are against." With MobileKids, parents know who their kids are in contact with and they know what apps are being downloaded, but they can't read the text messages.

What about the other app, bSafe? How effective is that? 
It's so effective, movie star kids use it. Jada Pinkett Smith is investing in Bipper and joining the company after daughter Willow started using bSafe.

How successful has Bipper been as a company? 
bSafe has over 200,000 users in Norway and the company is making significant inroads in India. So far about US$5million (NOK 28.5million) has been invested in Bipper. And with Pinkett Smith on board, the company should grow quickly in America; Vallestad is currently busy setting up a new office in Silicon Valley, California. "We have been using Norway as our playground but now it's about getting a bigger market. My ambition has always been that Bipper should be the global leader of safety in mobile phones."

And Vallestad herself? 
She's now in San Francisco, after moving there last year. "If you want to build a global company within tech, Silicon Valley is the place to be," she says. "It has been a big adjustment for my family. My three kids didn't speak English when we came. It took about three months to settle in but my kids have been a big part of the success of Bipper. It was my desire to keep them safe that led to me starting the company, after all." 
www.bipper.com

Got a big idea?

After 12 months, we'll award a prize to the best Big Idea of the year. If you've got any ideas, let us know - email editor Toby Skinner at toby.skinner@ink-global.com


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