TechCrunch first profiled Puzzle Piece, a startup that makes affordable tablets and apps geared toward children with autism, back in May. Though educational apps are helpful for teaching autistic kids social skills and helping them with their schoolwork, many families could not afford a tablet. Puzzle Piece wants to make tech accessible to all families, with a 9-inch Android tablet that costs $29 and a $19-per-month subscription plan that gives children access to a library over 80 apps.
Founder Steve Espinosa, formerly lead program manager of Google SMB revenue, left the company in July to focus on Puzzle Piece full time. Since then, Puzzle Piece has completely revamped its tablets. They are now 9-inches as opposed to the previous 7-inches and run over two times more quickly. The new tablets also have better resolution (not HD, but close, Espinosa says), a faster dual core processor, twice as much RAM, and are pre-installed with Puzzle Piece’s complete library of apps so they are ready to use as soon as kids unbox them.
In addition, Puzzle Piece acquired OneVoice, an app that turns tablets into communication devices for children who have problems interacting verbally with other people.
“People were buying it in iTunes for $200. We acquired the app because 25 percent of children with autism are non verbal and have a hard time communicating with their families,” says Espinosa. “After acquiring the app we completely revamped the technology and relaunched the app and included it in the Puzzle Piece subscription for no additional cost.”
Puzzle Piece has also changed its subscription plan to a Netflix-like model. Customers now get access to all of Puzzle Piece’s over 80 apps for autistic kids from the beginning of their membership, with at least 10 new added per month. Previously, subscribers received 10 apps per month for each month that they were an active member.
Most apps features first person stories that help children with autism learn to deal with social behavior issues. Once a story is completed, games are unlocked as a reward. Puzzle Piece’s apps never have any up sells or ads, says Espinosa.
In terms of growth, Espinosa says that Puzzle Piece will ship its 10,000th tablet this holiday season and that even though customers can cancel their app subscription at any time, the startup has enjoyed a 95 percent monthly retention rate. The startup has raised $300,000, but is cash flow positive.
In the near future, Puzzle Piece plans to expand to its app library and team up with other autism advocates, including actress Holly Robinson Peete’s HollyRod Foundation, which offers consultations and other resources to families of autistic children.
“Currently 20 percent of our customer base pays directly with medical disability benefits provided by the government for their children,” says Espinosa. “This speaks volumes to the work we have put in to make this technology affordable to all families. We plan on tackling other learning disabilities in the near future, with ADHD being next in line.”