Want to FaceTime Santa? There’s an app for that. A new video chat app called “Hello Santa” offers you and your child a one-on-one with the jolly ol’ elf himself, and for once, it’s not a pre-recorded video. For those who are sick of standing in half-hour or longer lines only to have their kid freeze up, balk or cry when it’s finally their turn to sit on Santa’s knee, Hello Santa can be a great alternative. There’s no time limit on the call itself, allowing mom and/or dad a chance to aid in conversation, instead of shouting at their kid from next to the elf manning Santa’s photography station.
This live visit from Santa does not come cheap, however, as some early, frustrated App Store reviews point out. “$14.99 a call not worth it,” writes someone who signed their review “Don’t waste your time…”
I think that’s a little unfair.
Because the app also offers you a keepsake video of your child’s call to Santa, you have to think of it as being something that’s more along the lines with those yearly photos of your child with Santa that you order at the time of an in-person visit at the mall. With those price points in mind, a $15 call makes a little more sense.
But that’s not a price everyone will be able to afford, especially during the holidays where priority number one are the gifts to buy, and, after all, an in-person visit with Santa is still free if you forgo the professional snapshots.
The Hello Santa app is the first product from a company called “Make Believe Labs,” which was started by a team that’s worked together for years at Deesea, a consulting firm they founded which has done work for Universal Music, Public Storage, Booz Digital and others. The full team includes enterprise tech consultant Dorian Collier (CEO), Founders Institute grad Jordan Lyall (COO), Sri Lankan entrepreneur Sam Dassanayake (CTO), former CMO and Chief Evangelist from Viddy Evan White (CMO), and MySpace alum (and X Games judge!) Robert McKinley as Creative Director.
Oh, and of course, Ed Taylor, a Santa who has appeared in television, parades and magazines since 2004, and who has played Santa for Microsoft and Mattel in the past. (And yes, his beard is real. He looks legit.)
As Collier explains, the idea for the app came naturally: his kid kind of suggested it, in fact. “Jordan and I both have kids in the Santa believer age,” he says. “My son is used to using FaceTime with family, and a few months ago he asked ‘Daddy, can I call Santa?’ After not finding a good company offering this service at scale we decided to jump in with both feet,” he says.
I can also confirm that Hello Santa is one of the better “call Santa” apps on the App Store, as many offer only static images, pre-recorded clips, or just have really fake-looking Santa’s on staff. Before “Hello Santa,” I had been using “Video Calls with Santa,” which gets the job done for just $1.99. But there are only so many times you can call the “naughty line” before your kid will begin to wonder why Santa always says the same thing.
Using the Hello Santa app was fairly simple. If Santa’s around, you can call him immediately, but you’re more likely going to have to schedule your call for a particular date and time. Here, you can fill in some information about your child to “prep” Santa for their visit, including name, age range, and any other special notes you want to include. When Santa calls, he will greet your child by their name, which adds to “magical-ness” of the experience. And if you don’t have an iPhone or iPad, you can make the “Hello Santa” call from your Mac or PC instead.
Be aware that “Hello Santa” was not without its glitches at first, which is harder to digest at a $15 price point. The app crashed on me once during the call scheduling process (not the live call) and one of two test calls failed to include the video. For what it’s worth, this is a product that’s barely two weeks old and problems are to be expected. And in the case of the missing video, the company provided users with a second call and video for free, which is really the best they could do. As someone used to testing early stage apps, the glitches aren’t surprising – but the mainstream market the company is pitching will not be so tolerant, so the team needs to get their, um….servers…together fast.
I should note, however, that the second time around, everything worked as expected.
Collier says they’ve sold hundreds of calls already since their launch in late November.
And as the name “Make Believe Labs” implies, the company has a vision that extends beyond the Christmas holiday season.
“The plan is for Make Believe Labs to use the platform – scheduling, calling, recording, etc. – with other characters, as well as license the platform to companies that want to create one-on-one connections between their characters and their audiences,” says Collier.
The L.A.-based team raised a small (under $200K, ongoing) seed round in convertible notes to get through its first season and prove the business model.