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Judy Foreman: Entrepreneur Graham Farrar a Tech Geek — and Kid — At Heart

With iStory Time, Santa Barbara native continues to turn the digital page on children’s enhanced storybooks

Handlebar Coffee Roasters in downtown Santa Barbara is a great place to interview Graham Farrar. Unlike me, the Santa Barbara native has enough energy that he really doesn’t need the late-afternoon caffeine jolt.

The barista knew just what he liked and I was game to try it, too. His drink of choice is a Flat White, a coffee drink developed in Australia and made by pouring micro-foam over a double shot of espresso. Being a neighborhood regular, the baristas were making the concoction even before we stepped up to order.

Farrar attended Foothill Elementary, Santa Barbara Middle School, Santa Barbara High School and Santa Barbara City College before finishing his education at the University of Colorado Boulder.

He is part of Santa Barbara’s generation of digital entrepreneurs credited with establishing the area as “Silicon Beach.” He was one of the originals at software.com and, later, at Sonos — in between sailing around the world.

“Santa Barbara is a town built on connections,” he told me. “It’s a really fun mix of people who end up here and, with its size, everyone is one or two degrees away from everyone else.

“Part of me thinks there are really only 20 people in Santa Barbara, and the rest is all smoke and mirrors.”

Reflecting on Santa Barbara’s embrace of digital innovation, Farrar’s pride is evident.

“It used to be labeled the land of the ‘newlywed and nearly dead,’ because there was nothing that a thirty-something could do to support living in town,” he said. “In college, the talk was always how are you going to stay in SB?

“Now, thanks to companies like Sonos, CupcakeDigital (his own company, originally called zuuka!), software.com (now Openwave Systems), RightScale, FastSpring, Aurrion, Impulse — to name some of our companies — there are lots of opportunity, at least in the tech sector, for people.”

Having worked in several tech companies, Farrar’s latest venture is iStory Time, which makes entertainment apps for kids. He and his partner, Woody Sears, met at Boulder and created the first storybook app on Apple’s App Store about seven years ago.

Children’s app pioneers Woody Sears and Graham Farrar have come a long way from their student days at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Children’s app pioneers Woody Sears and Graham Farrar have come a long way from their student days at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Bigger companies took notice and DreamWorks, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Fox, among others, now offer more than 200 titles as individually downloadable apps, including plenty of stories like How to Train Your Dragon, The Smurfs, Transformers and Kung Fu Panda.

Some are simple stories that read aloud to kids, others incorporate gaming aspects, and some feature full-on animation. Many big companies want to make stuffed animals, Farrar said, “which provides a great niche for our company.”

Now a leading developer of award-winning children’s enhanced storybooks, interactive play and gaming apps, the iStory Time library is one of the largest independent children’s’ app developers. It has a combined app library of more than 250 titles, a download database of 10.6 million and is leading the charge on narrated books for iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows tablets. Guilt-free entertainment for kids is available anywhere, anytime.

In March, New York City-based Cupcake Digital Inc. acquired zukka! from Farrar and Sears.

“The synergies that are created by bringing Cupcake and zuuka! together are ideal,” according to Brad Powers, Cupcake Digital’s chairman and CEO. “Both companies have been focused on creating top-ranked, innovative apps featuring well-known entertainment characters that kids and parents love.

“The acquisition expands our entertainment licensing portfolio and leverages Cupcake’s propriety technology platform, enabling us to launch new interactive apps and storybooks that give children, parents and caregivers even more choices.”

Graham Farrar is a regular at Handlebar Coffee Roasters in downtown Santa Barbara, where his favorite Flat White drink often is waiting for him when he walks in the door. (Judy Foreman / Noozhawk photo via iPhone)
Graham Farrar is a regular at Handlebar Coffee Roasters in downtown Santa Barbara, where his favorite Flat White drink often is waiting for him when he walks in the door. (Judy Foreman / Noozhawk photo via iPhone)

Farrar works out of a super-dope new office on Garden Street and Canon Perdido downtown, a space replete with astroturf carpet, indoor bike parking and children’s play areas that serve as ideal places for focus groups.

A husband and father of two children, Farrar takes flying lessons in his spare time. He is part of the Santa Barbara chapter of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO), was a board member of Heal The Ocean for the past 10 years, and is a board member of the Santa Barbara Bowl Foundation.

Farrar chairs the Santa Barbara Bowl Foundation’s education outreach committee that each year gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to support performing arts for local youth. Funded by the Mosher Foundation, the program sets aside 20 tickets a show for local foster youth and for musically involved children to be able to attend a concert like the recent Hall & Oates performance for just $5.

“I have a lot of experience doing things I have no experience doing,” Farrar told me, sipping the last drop of his drink at Handlebar while acknowledging he’s “a tech geek at heart.”

“I sometimes work at 2 a.m., but it’s not on a boring spreadsheet,” he said. “Bringing a Smurf to life for kids is more fun than ever.”

Farrar and Sears’ company is on the cutting edge of a world-changing endeavor and what Farrar calls the “increasingly fast page-to-pixels trend in publishing.” With the prolonged recession appearing to ease somewhat, he’s hiring app developers, Internet designers, animation pros and more.

‘The market is really just getting started,” Farrar said.

— Judy Foreman is a Noozhawk columnist and longtime local writer and lifestyles observer. She can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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