Kudos&Co Grand Opening

Norwegian entertainment company Kudos&Co founder Ole Vidar Hestaas speaks at the grand opening of his company’s new Bozeman office on Thursday, Sept. 7, in the Cannery District.

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The team behind a new social media app for children has opened an office in Bozeman.

Kudos&Co., a Silicon Valley-based tech company, announced this week that it launched a moderation, customer support and artificial intelligence development center in Bozeman’s Cannery District.

The office will house an eight-person moderation team to start, with the potential for a “couple hundred” additional employees over the next year, said Kudos CEO and founder Ole Vidar Hestaas.

Released earlier this summer, Kudos’ Instagram-like interface allows users to share, react and comment on photos. Parents are required to activate their children’s accounts and are notified whenever they post.

The free app’s aim is to give young kids (typically from 7 to 13) a safe entry point into the online world, its founder said.

Hestaas, a longtime entrepreneur and head of several startups, said the idea for Kudos — what he described as a combination of Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook — came from his 6-year-old son.

“I wanted to create a place for kids to go online and not feel afraid,” Hestaas said.

Backed by $5.7 million in seed funding and former executives from Disney, Google and Pixar, Hestaas formed the company in 2014 and spent the following years working with various groups, from parents and kids to the American Red Cross and police units, before soft launching the app in June.

While some parents may be hesitant to give their children more technology to plug into, Hestaas said that most of the families he spoke to were keen to give kids a positive, age-appropriate outlet.

“If you give them the tools to learn by doing, that is what we want to do,” he said. “We’re creating a place where everyone can connect.”

All the options for reacting to posts are positive and unlike similar apps there is no private chat function, Hestaas said. All comments and interactions are monitored by the company’s team of moderators.

Because of their importance to the program’s overall safety, it was important for the company to add new moderators ahead of its anticipated growth, Hestaas said. The app currently has roughly 300,000 active users.

As far as the location of the new center, Hestaas said he had heard good things about entrepreneurial activity in the Gallatin Valley from fellow CEOs and startup heads.

City officials and the Northern Rocky Mountain Economic Development District were also key in helping the company settle in Bozeman, he added.

“You see and you feel that the city is very positive and happy and is going somewhere,” Hestaas said. “This was the perfect place to build the organization.”

The company, which has additional offices in Oslo, Norway, is working with Montana State University to improve the AI components of its software, which it hopes to incorporate through features like filters and augmented reality.

“Kids like to tell stories, so let’s give them a tool where they can do that,” Hestaas said.

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Kendall can be reached at lkendall@dailychronicle.com. Kendall is on Twitter at @lewdak

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