(Appeared in the Fairfield Citizen news w/o 12/6)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.
Fairfield, CT – It was a labor of love that had its share of challenges, but the space-themed website the mother/daughter team concepted and developed was well worth the effort.
Interviewed recently at Fairfield Public Library, Fairfield resident Ann Kennis, 52, and daughter Alex, 13, talked about how their Cosmic Cubs Club was inspired, the road to develop it and some of the website’s features.
Though Ann was chiefly a model in her early years that had done fashion, catalog, cosmetic and hair work for leading agencies Ford, Kay and Elite, she was also a creative type with an interest in children’s toys. In her 30s, she introduced a line of plush toys called Space Bears. These were teddy bears that came from different planets, which she introduced through her small business Space World, working out of her New York City apartment. An initial production run of 1,200 quickly moved and she had thousands more produced in China for distribution to planetariums and specialty stores.
Two years ago, Ann began thinking of bringing back the Space Bears. Daughter Alex was a fan of websites Toon Town and Webkinz. The two thought of creating a website that featured the interactive fun of those sites and new, better Space Bears. The Cosmic Cubs Club was born.
Unlike their ancestors, the Cosmic Cubs are bears that travel to planets, and each has a favorite. The leader of the pack is Ertle, who loves Earth. Others include Sammy from Saturn, Marvel from Mars and Merky from Mercury. Luna, who likes the Moon, is one little girls seem to like best and is white with a pink costume.
“We mocked up some of the bears I had when I was little and used them for inspiration,” said Alex about how the bears got their look. “The lady at our local drycleaners made the initial costumes, so we could visualize them.”
Rather than create plush toys as before, Ann decided to pursue a website. “That’s what the kids want these days,” she said, though added that a plush toy introduction is ultimately planned as a limited edition run.
Why the space theme? “It’s endless, timeless… you can keep exploring,” Alex commented. “It also allowed us to bring back Space Bears,” said Ann.
The site’s target is boys and girls 4 to 12, but with a focus on girls ages 5 to 10. Features include the ability to customize your own cub, learn all about the Solar System, engage in space trivia, decorate your own spaceship, create stories and play cool games.
“We created potential ideas for what could be games, but mom came up with the ultimate ideas,” said Alex.
“Girls like to collect and decorate, like in Webkinz. We developed a lot of accessories,” said Ann.
Two key collaborations, though, really helped the pair get liftoff. The first was with Paul and Cindy Wentzell, website gurus that helped them design the site. Working from prototypes, the Wentzells created illustrations of the Cosmic Cubs and did all the information sheets, space quizzes and other text elements.
Realizing a game developer would be needed, in early 2009, Ann scoured the world’s talent but ended up with a Torrington, CT based group, Left Brain Games, to help. At that time, Ann had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and had lost all her hair from chemotherapy treatments. She went to the initial meeting wearing a wig.
“My husband Jeffrey couldn’t believe it,” said Ann, about her willpower. “I just felt I had to do it. I was really self-conscious about the wig and tugging on it, and then just told them what I’d just been through. They were like ‘Whoa.’”
Even through therapy, Ann went up for meetings once a week to work on all the elements and by Sept./Oct. 2010, had a good working model of the site. She was actually surprised it took the amount of time it did to develop but attributes that to the legal aspects, privacy policies and other compliance issues that are required.
The final part of the puzzle was how the site would be funded. Looking at other site models, Ann decided to make it subscription-based, with time terms of one month, six months or a year.
The website officially launched Nov. 23 and Ann and Alex’s hopes for success are high. They also hope to get schools involved and have had initial interest.
“The site, particularly the story-making aspect, is unique and educational and I think that’s our point of differentiation,” concluded Ann.
To visit the site online, go to www.cosmiccubclub.com