Wednesday 19 September 2018

Device allows parents to keep track of their children's internet activity

Local Heroes: John Molloy learned a lesson from his own children when setting up iKydz, writes Gabrielle Monaghan

John Molloy, founder and CEO of iKydz, says: ‘The reality is that, in this day and age, children will use their phones or laptops, so internet control is a must-have, in my view’. Photo: Steve Humphreys
John Molloy, founder and CEO of iKydz, says: ‘The reality is that, in this day and age, children will use their phones or laptops, so internet control is a must-have, in my view’. Photo: Steve Humphreys

In 2014, ex-IT consultant John Molloy was holed up for weeks at a time at the Slieve Russell hotel in the Co Cavan town of Ballyconnell, where he had been contracted to work on the takeover of a business once owned by one-time billionaire Sean Quinn.

Molloy would regularly field calls from his wife asking for his help in getting their children, then aged between eight and 14, off the internet so they could focus on their studies, sleep and home life. With time on his hands in the evenings, the IT industry veteran became fixated on solving a challenge faced by parents around the world: how to ensure their offspring can use the internet safely without exposure to online bullying, pornography, addiction to online games and grooming by predators.

Molloy set about creating a device that could be plugged into his home router so that he could remotely log in and block IP addresses for periods of time. He spent the next year building prototypes that would ultimately lead to a product called iKydz, an internet control platform that could befuddle even the tech-savviest teenager.

With feedback from other parents, Molloy realised there was a much wider market for his invention. To determine the extent of this demand, he started a Kickstarter campaign at the end of 2015 to finance the development of the product and tap into potential markets. Molloy, who also set up a company called Zyalin Group to operate the business, crowd-funded $40,000 (€34,257) in just seven weeks.

"I wanted to know whether the world was going to buy it, so I did a Kickstarter campaign in the States," he says. "To my horror and amazement, they did buy it. I said 'Oh my god, I'd better get this thing to work'.

"I built at least eight prototypes and friends of mine were using them. The hardest bit was getting someone in China to make them, a manufacturer who knows what you want to achieve without over-promising and under-delivering. We came out with the product in 2016, but it really took seven months to iron everything out.

"Kickstarter gave me access to markets from Singapore and Japan to Australia, the UK, and the USA, and I got engagements with distributors in different counties."

While some high-profile tech titans prohibit their children from using technology like the iPad, such as the late Steve Jobs, Molloy argues it is impractical for most parents to prevent children from accessing the internet entirely.

"I love the internet but you can't be on it all the time," he says. "I've never successfully won an argument with a child over it because all you get is silence from them. The reality is that, in this day and age, children will use their phones or laptops, so internet control is a must-have, in my view."

IKydz creates a second, secure wi-fi network in the home that parents can control via an app on their own device. The app allows parents to apply filters and blocks to their children's internet-connected devices, like phones, tablets, smart TVs and gaming consoles, from anywhere in the world. Parents can restrict time spent online, such as at night or during mealtimes, block social networks, and view online history even when that history has been deleted.

Zyalin says parents don't need high levels of computer literacy to install, configure and manage the internet gatekeeper and that the plug-and-play service can be set up within 10 minutes.

More than 45,000 families in 28 countries have applied the system to some 390,000 devices - with households each having an average of 7.2 internet-connected devices, says Molloy, who is also chief executive of Zyalin.

IKdyz, which is sold online and through retailers, is available in two products: IKdyz Home costs €99, while iKdyz Pro, which can be applied to faster internet speeds, is priced at €139.

"I only created the iKydz box to prove a concept," says Molloy. "The box is an incidental component, because you have to sell something. But really it's a cloud-based service."

Indeed, some 70pc of the company's revenue comes from telecommunications operators and it white-labels the iKdyz service in countries around the world. When Zyalin launched the service in Nigeria at the end of August with mobile operator MTN Nigeria, which has 55 million subscribers, iKydz was branded locally as mPulse.

Around the same time, iKydz was launched at Carphone Warehouse and at the start of September, it was introduced to Currys PC World.

"This way, you can buy a broadband service, and they bundle it with iKydz as part of the broadband offering," Molloy says. "We produce a service based on an operator, one that can't be removed by the child. We are launching that to four operators in the UK and Ireland soon."

In March, the Dublin-based company also unveiled the first iKydz smartphone, designed specifically for use by children and teens, at the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona.

Molloy's own childhood began in the Co Louth village of Ravensdale, near the Northern Irish border. After spending just one week at college, a rugby accident put paid to his third-level education.

"I pushed my shoulder blades through my spine and it took me eight months to recover," he recalls.

In the early 1980s, when he had fully recuperated, Molloy got his first job in the IT industry with a Dublin-based company, where he taught himself how to use computers. He became a serial entrepreneur who specialised in designing and managing software and hardware infrastructure. In 1988, he set up Exselan Computer Systems in Dublin, a company that modernised IT for public services like Citizen Information Centres.

It also developed a trading facility for the New York Cotton Exchange in Ireland and the country's first intranet, at Beaumont Hospital.

In 2000, Molloy created the E-blana Enterprise Group to develop and commercialise an EU-sponsored research project called Eurovet that could identify livestock and track their movements.

In 2005, after implementing Eurovet in eight countries, E-blana merged with a US company to create a new entity called Viatrace to push global expansion of the product.

Molloy spent a year with Viatrace before leaving in 2006. In 2009, he established John Molloy Consulting.

While getting Zyalin off the ground, he worked for between 15 and 17 hours a day, seven days a week for more than two years. "I was making the units and selling them myself," he says. "Now I've got some people who work for me."

The nine-strong Zyalin team is based in Park West, the Dublin business and technology park. Molloy self-financed the company and received support from Enterprise Ireland. But he has since brought on board investors such as Paul Van den Bergh, the founder of Verde Environmental Group, and Eddie Kilbane from DataPlex Ireland.

"Currently the biggest demand for us is in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, as well as Turkey, African countries like Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, and there are big opportunities in some parts of Asia.

"We would like to provide global infrastructure for online safety."

  • zyalin.com; ikydz.com

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