As a father of three kids under the age of 8, Derek Pando knows a thing or two about the challenge of distracting kids without overusing harmful screen time.
“There’s times where you just gotta get stuff done—you’ve got to make dinner, you’ve got to help another child and you need them engaged,” Pando said. “The easiest thing to do is give them an iPad or turn on the TV. But there’s a lot of well-researched studies that show that there’s some negative side effects to screen time, especially in large quantities.”
As the pandemic kept many parents and kids cooped up at home alone, Pando looked for an alternative to screen time that could keep kids just as engaged. He thinks he’s found that with his Holly Springs-based startup, Beeloo, which uses AI to help make printables for kids that range from coloring sheets to puzzles to mazes.
Before the pandemic, Pando was working at a then-little known startup—Zoom—a wave he rode as international head of marketing until June 2021, when he began grad school at Harvard’s Kennedy School.
Throughout his work at top startups (he spent three years at LinkedIn before his four years at Zoom) and then his school journey, Pando had gotten used to a few questions from his kids: “Dad, can you print out a coloring page?” and “Dad, can you print out a maze?”
As grad school reminded Pando of his entrepreneurial bug—he studied the intersection of a lightbulb went off. Namely, that those coloring sheets worked as a viable alternative to screen time for his kids. Why?
“I came to the conclusion that it was because printing something off for a kid kind of replicates to some degree what’s addictive about screen time,” Pando said, “which is that you have endless options, it’s immediate and it’s on-demand. I just couldn’t get that out of my head.”
Would this work for other kids too? The entrepreneurial bug bite swelled—What’s preventing parents from doing this more often? What does the market look like? Could this idea be a business?
After falling down rabbit holes of academic research about the dangers of excess screen time, Pando interviewed 35 parents to find solid evidence that the market could use a screentime alternative like Beeloo.
“More than half of the parents said, ‘I would rather have less screen time in my home,’” Pando said. “That was something that I heard loud and clear, and really resonated. They want more low-cost, on-demand, engaging ways to have their kids do things besides screens. That gave us a lot of encouragement that we were onto something. We were tapping into something that’s a real pain for parents.”
By the time Pando graduated from the Kennedy School masters program in the summer of 2022, he had already begun to make his idea into a reality. Soon, he and his team enlisted a then-little-known tool to speed up the production of quality worksheets: ChatGPT.
“We started playing with it, we’re all kind of geeky and from the tech industry,” Pando said. “We were just blown away at what it could do. We’ve started using the APIs from Open AI and other AI software tools to tailor them to our needs to help us build crossword puzzles, to create imagery that goes into our crafts. For us to compete with screens, we need to have endless options and themes and possibilities. AI is enabling us to do that at such a fast pace.”
ChatGPT allows Beeloo to churn out worksheets like no other. In the span of months, Beeloo’s team have created 8,500 worksheets with 27 themes, 10 different kinds of games and a variety of skill levels for different ages.
Pando is well aware of the irony of using technology to fight the overuse of technology, but make no mistake, the ethics of this are not lost on him. Skeptics can check out Beeloo’s AI transparency page for more information on their AI policies.
“We can feel good about how we’re leveraging this technology to help our mission, which we feel strongly about,” Pando said.
As Beeloo seeks to get its content in front of more eyes, right now, all of its worksheets are free to download and print. One day, the company hopes to follow a “Freemium” model and offer paid packages for parents who are willing to pay extra for the convenience of curated and more perzonalized content.
For Pando, Beeloo is about more than just money—it’s about making an impact for kids, and for the busy parents who want nothing more than to see them thrive. Even as its viewer base continues to double month by month to reach thousands more parents and kids, that is why Beeloo will always have free options.
“Just being a parent is challenging,” Pando said. “But if you look at other things, like if you’re a single parent, if you have an intense job, or both parents have intense jobs—there’s so many things that can make the life of a parent more challenging. This is what drives us and what motivates us when we wake up every morning. We want fast, on-demand, easy things that are good for parents and that kids are going to enjoy.”