Moulay Essakalli, co-founder Zid Zid

Zid Zid is a play-based membership platform for preschoolers to learn languages. The company is a 2016 graduate of The Brandery. We spoke with Moulay Essakalli, co-founder of Zid Zid about what the company does and how it came to be.

Tell us about Zid Zid.

Essakalli: We launched Zid Zid in late summer of 2017, beginning of 2018, after having gone through two accelerator programs. We were part of the 2016 Class of The Brandery. Then shortly thereafter, we joined UpTech accelerator program. That gave us a chance to think through our value proposition and, after UpTech, we were able to test a prototype and develop our first version of the product or minimal viable product (MVP).

Since 2018, armed with the MVP, we’ve made an impact in close to 150 preschools across the country. We were able to strike a partnership with a major (private) preschool chain, which is the fourth largest in the country.

In addition, we have been working with a number of schools within the Cincinnati area, namely the YMCA and a handful of Head Start programs, which has exceeded all expectations in terms of impact and success. We have also been working with the Montessori Lab School at Xavier University, one of our first adopters that continues to be happily using the platform.

How did the concept come about?

Essakalli: We started with the goal to help young children learn languages at the best time of learning — early childhood. The solution we developed is a curriculum that empowers teachers as well as parents who opt to learn the basics of a language. In this case, we started with Spanish.

Learning is guided through storytelling, singing and play-based activities. This reinforces/speaks to the core of best practices in early childhood education — learning through play, multisensory experiences and storytelling, singing and movements.

My wife and I have a background in both education and design, which has allowed us to develop a product that is not only very friendly for both teachers and parents alike but also very engaging for the children.

You mentioned early childhood being the ideal time to learn.

Essakalli: Research suggests that the best time to learn is between the ages of zero to six or, if you push it, to eight. That’s when the brain is very malleable and is growing at a fast rate. Neuroscience research has shown that during the first few years of life, more than 1 million new neural connections form every second! Early childhood is a time of tremendous brain development.

It’s not that you can’t learn a language after that. It just becomes more challenging.

That explains why some of us didn’t do well in college French.

Essakalli: You had other priorities, and the methodology was probably not very engaging either. That’s why we felt like there was a need that wasn’t being met. We are a husband-and-wife founding team. We have been working together for close to 20 years now.

The personal reason why we are doing this is because we are a multicultural couple ourselves. My wife, Julie, has many years of experience teaching art to preschool children. Her mother is a retired teacher. I used to be a French professor, teaching at the University of Texas at Austin and at Boston University. We also raised two kids who grew up being trilingual.

So this whole thing is coming together for us both on professional and personal levels — to come up with a unique solution to have an impact.

How do you measure the effectiveness of what you’re doing?

Essakalli: We measure effectiveness through qualitative feedback from the schools, as well as the parents’ feedback. We are very close to our customer base and reach out to them regularly and throughout the year to make sure they are reaching their goals.

As for quantifiable scientific measurements, we preparing/planning to conduct an impact study.

Have you been in Cincinnati a long time?

Essakalli: Since 2016, so it’s been five years.

Why did you come to Cincinnati?

Essakalli: My wife is originally from Toledo, OH. I’m from Morocco, where we resided for almost 15 years. One reason we came to Ohio was personal, and the second was professional. On a personal level, my wife’s dad had a terminal illness, and there was a pull to get closer to the family. Second, we were thinking about Zid Zid, the start of the idea. So it made sense for us to be in the U.S. as opposed to Morocco.

Why Cincinnati?

Essakalli: The Brandery brought us to Cincinnati.

Do you see advantages for your company being located in Cincinnati now?

Essakalli: Yes. I think that even though Cincinnati is a small city, it has a lot to offer in every domain, whether it’s lifestyle or professionally. We have an interesting professional environment here around the big companies like P&G and Kroger. We also have a dynamic and fruitful environment led by the universities and other young companies.

There are good working values, along with an enormous focus on the importance of education. There is a low cost of living comparatively to the [U.S.] coasts. Together, this creates a very nurturing environment to launch and run an education technology company.