Girl Tech and the Multimillion-Dollar Journal - Krazy Ken’s Tech Talk

Girl Tech and the Multimillion-Dollar Journal - Krazy Ken’s Tech Talk

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- Girl Tech went from nothing to selling for $230 million in 2006, and they made a lot of cool gadgets, most notably the Password Journal. So let's see how the success was created and what happened after the big payday. (upbeat music) Hey everyone, how are you all doing? If you're new here, welcome. My name is Krazy Ken, and I am not a girl. I just thought I may have to look like one so the Password Journal would recognize me, but I was wrong.

Despite Girl Tech having the word girl in it. Boys like the products too. I should know, I had one of them when I was a kid.

And before we learned about all these cool gadgets and marvel at Girl Tech success, we need to rewind a bit and see how it all started. (dreamy music) In 1957 at the youthful age of zero, Janese Swanson was born and she was raised by her mother in San Diego. During high school, Janese worked part-time at Sears. She was the top salesperson in the TV and sound system department. In fact, she was the youngest and only saleswoman at the store after college in 1988, Broderbund hired Janese as a product manager and game producer, and she worked on the playroom, the Tree House, and Carmen Sandiego games.

But some things in life are more important than computer programs. And when the long hours grew longer, Janese admitted she was burned out and those long hours at the office grow more painful, when you're a single mother with a young daughter at home. Jackie was her name and her mother, missed her very much. If Janese couldn't spend time with her in person, perhaps she could create the next best solution. Janese hoped to build a communications device she could install in Jackie's daycare cubby.

That way Janese could hear her daughter and Jackie could talk with her mom. I'm guessing there would be some technical and ethical roadblocks with this idea. So I was curious how she pulled it off.

So I figured why not contact her and ask. Janese made a prototype lunchbox with built-in slots to hold notes and drawings and an audio recording chip, similar to what you'd find in greeting cards. Another solution she tried was, she had Jackie record messages on her answering machine at home. So when Janese was at the office and she wanted to hear her voice, she could call the home answering machine and listen. And while fiddling with these audio recording ideas, Janese had an aha moment.

In 1992, Janese founded Kid One for Fun, a startup which focused on making children's electronics. Her company made recording technology, which she licensed to, Yes Entertainment for the Yak Bak, and to Tiger Electronics for the Talkboy FX. - Can I have a sip of your drink? - No. - Yes. - No.

- [Narrator] Yak Bak gives you the last word. - While Janese worked on these cool gadgets, she noticed a trend. In the mid nineties, it was a challenge to get young girls into science and technology topics. At the time, research showed girls were typically left out of technology or inventing, and this wasn't the first time in her life, Janese faced unfair roadblocks because she was a girl. In 1969 when she was a kid, she applied for a newspaper delivery boy job, but she was rejected because she wasn't a boy.

While working towards several degrees, including a PhD in organization and leadership, Janese wrote a doctorate thesis about gender issues in product design. During her research inside and outside of the thesis, the discoveries were beginning to irk Janese, for a lack of a better word, but the straw that broke the camel's back, was how her daughter reacted to commercials on TV. Jackie saw her mother's products in the TV commercials, and boys were always holding the devices.

"Why did they make that product for boys?" She asked her mom. Janese said, "I think it's time to stop all this." So on November 9th, 1995, Janese formed a new company, Kid Active LLC, and under its umbrella, the Girl Tech brand. In a press release, Janese said, our goal is to help girls reach their full potential by introducing them to technology Early.

With this motivation in mind, Janese and the team pressed on and launched the website Club Girl Tech. And just look at it. It's... beautiful.

And don't forget to ask your parents for help while installing Netscape 2.0. In a way, this website was the first product of the Girl Tech brand. The site functioned as a catalog linking to kid friendly content online, and it included some printable activities too. - [Janese] Our internet site,,

brings girls from over 28 countries, and it's about 200,000 girls a day that come and talk to each other. - Club Girl Tech was just in hor d'oeuvre, if you will, and the team was gearing up to release their first ever physical product. A book, not just any book. It's "Tech Girls Internet Adventures", released in February, 1997. It's a full color book, which teaches girls about the nineties internet, and it included a CD-ROM with a homepage builder for Mac and PC.

This book introduces us to Tech Girl, which became the face of the Girl Tech brand. Okay, my whole life, I thought this was an illustration of a, you know, human girl, but apparently she's not human. She was brought here by a computer and born from technology, so I guess that makes her a cyborg? The lore is getting deep. Around the same time as the book launch, Girl Tech unveiled a new line of electronic gadgets. And since Janese wasn't a fan of the cliche, pink and fluffy girly colors, her designs featured orange, lime green, purple, and cyan with several wavy designs.

- At Toys R Us, or almost any store, go down the girls aisle, you'll find Barbies, Barbies, and more Barbies and all you'd would be, you'd be surrounded by pink. - [Ken] The first products in this line were the Snoop Stopper Keepsake Box, Me Mail Message Center, Zap and Lock Journal and the Swap it Locket. But there were some complications. That's right. I'm talking about the dreaded D word. The D stands for distribution, and it can be a real pain in the butt.

Janese had a great vision, but that doesn't mean everyone agreed with her. So getting a toy distributor on board was tough. Can you make it pink? Can you make it for boys? Janese was just bombarded with these questions over and over, and it seemed like she was just spinning her wheels stuck, but there was hope. If you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere. At the 1998 New York Toy Fair, Janese met Pat Feely, who at the time was the president of Radica Games, a company that made electronic handheld and tabletop games like blackjack and bass fishing.

Pat was interested in these girl oriented electronic toys, so he bought them. Wait, he bought the toys? No, he bought the whole company. Holy sh-. On April 23rd, 1998, Radica Games announced it will buy Girl Tech for $6 million.

2.4 mil was cash, and the rest was Radica stonks. Sorry, stocks. Gen Z humor is destroying my brain. Girl Tech was officially a division of Radica games. Janese was now vice president of this division, and Girl Tech was focusing only on this new electronics line, which debuted its first four products in spring 1999, including the most successful product in the brand's history. Two of the products were Friend Frame and Beam It.

Friend Frame was a talking picture frame, which you could plug Infinity Stones into apparently? And Beam It was a flashlight type device where you could write a message on a built in transparent window and project it on a wall. But the more exciting products had to do with voice technology and secret codes, which were topics Janese was enthusiastic about through her life. Which brings us to Door Pass. Like in those fancy spy movies, you can now secure your door with a voice Password and only your unique voice would unlock it. When someone opens the door, the motion sensor kicks in and Door Pass will ask for the password. If it doesn't match, it sets off an alarm.

I cannot get this thing fully working. I can set a password just fine, but every time I open the door, it doesn't- - [Door Pass] Your password, please. - Well, okay, now it does it. I don't think it's a problem with the product itself. I think it's just the age. It was sitting in a box for 24 years, and the inside isn't necessarily a masterpiece of engineering.

There's a lot of tape in there. According to Janese, the Door Pass was inspired by her daughter drawing a skull and crossbones and a do not enter sign on her door. It's cool to see products being inspired by your daughter Janese, but is she getting royalties? But the most famous product in this line was the Password Journal. This was Girl Tech's pièce de résistance. I'm not French, sorry. I tried.

It was so good. It sold for 20 years. - I never get any privacy. Girls rule.

- [Password Journal] Welcome back. - [Narrator] Password Journal from Girl Tech. - This product was originally called the Zap N' Lock Journal, but that journal needed a remote to unlock the product. With this, you just use your voice, you always have it with you.

The journal sold for $20 and came with a small spiral notebook and a secret compartment. There's also two security settings, which changes the voice accuracy tolerance. Security options were expanded when Girl Tech released a revised version of the Journal. with a blue squiggle and silver hinge instead of green and purple. And this introduced three access modes, private mode, which only unlocks with your past phrase and unique voice. Friend mode, which lets in anyone who knows the past phrase, regardless of their voice.

But this is a weak setting, because there's only 16 permutations, one of four planets, then one of four colors. But then there's dual mode, which combines the 16 permutations, along with an additional passphrase, which you can share with your friends. And if you forget your password, you can insert the included reset key to override the lock. So let's try it out. I set a password earlier, which you'll never guess what it is. And let's find out. Press the button.

- [Password Journal] Your Password, please. - Conversion technology - [Password Journal] One intruder. Welcome back. - Somebody intruded. Somebody was intruding on my personal diary. Whoa, wait a minute.

I found the Krabby Patty Secret formula. Let's see what it says. Ingredients, number one, "As an AI language model, I cannot be-" oh, son of a- So how does the Password Journal recognize your voice? It uses voice activation technology from sensory.

Other toys use this technology too. After the audio enters the microphone and is converted into digital data, the voice activation software breaks it down into phonemes. Phonemes are speech sounds, very small units of sound, which distinguish one word from another. Examples of these sounds are /k/, /oo/ and /j/.

English has 44 phonemes. When you record a voice Password in the Journal, the software to use Girl tech's own words, makes a kind of picture of the particular way it's said and stores it in memory. When the user attempts to unlock the Journal and they say the Password, the software will only grant access when the picture of the new audio matches the picture in memory. This technology would go on to power other Girl Tech products, and we'll get into that soon.

But it wasn't just the tech that worked its way into other Girl Tech products. The Password brand name was so powerful by itself. It worked its way into other products too. For example, the Door Pass was renamed to Password Door Pass and booklets and Packaging started advertising Password branded products instead of other Girl Tech gadgets. Needless to say, Girl Tech had a hit on their hands, and their products weren't resonating just with girls, but with boys too.

So if you have a successful brand name, what's the next logical step? Double down on it. But Girl Tech isn't the only company in the password business. Yeah, writing stuff in this Journal is pretty cool, but when it comes to your user accounts and more serious private data, writing your passwords in here is probably not the most convenient option. Thankfully, there's NordPass, our gracious sponsor for today's episode. We don't like to think about it, but cybersecurity threats and data breaches do happen. Your passwords and pass keys protect your online data, so you must ensure their securely stored and they're also conveniently accessible only to you.

And NordPass is the solution. You can get it today at And that comes with a 30 day money back guarantee. With NordPass, you don't need to memorize any of your passwords, you don't even need to type them in.

Once they're in NordPass securely, they sync to all your devices. And when you need to log into something, it just auto-fills. No one can see the encrypted credentials except for you, not even the NordPass team.

NordPass will also generate strong passwords and warn you if there was a data leak with your user accounts. NordPass offers dozens of features to simplify your online life and make it more secure. And with a few clicks, you can have it all. Visit to get NordPass' best offer. It's risk free with a 30 day money back guarantee.

So you have nothing to worry about. And when you claim that offer with this link, you're also supporting the computer clan. So thank you very much. All right, let's keep this Password train moving. Before Girl Tech launched more Password branded products, they released Keep Safe Box and Bug 'Em, in November, 1999. In 2000, they launched Laser Chat and the Electronic Palm Reader.

The Bug 'Em stood out to me, because it reminded me of those audio recording concepts that Janese was tinkering with back when her daughter was in daycare. But the toy itself doesn't make a lot of sense because it's supposed to be a spy, eavesdropping listening device, but it chirps every 15 seconds. It just gives away its position. What's the point of a listening device if it gives away its position? Maybe it's just to be legal. I don't know. But hey, at least it's cleverly disguised as a ladybug.

Yeah, how inconspicuous? I would never notice this on my nightstand. Then they launched Password Notes, which was a portable voice activated lockbox with a slot for notes. And then Password Phone, which was actually a real working phone. You plug it into a phone cord and use a voice Password to unlock a personalized friend list up to 10 numbers and you can say a friend's name to call them. And then Janese left the company.

I couldn't find a reason why. So again, I went directly to the source and I asked her. One year after Radica acquired Girl Tech, Janese's original team was laid off by Radica Management, and she was heartbroken. So in the year 2000, she left. Now, I don't have a 100% confirmed reason as to why Radica decided to do these layoffs. Who knows what goes on in corporate minds sometimes, but according to Janese, she said it likely had something to do with the stock dipping, which it truly did for at least the next two years, aside from a small bump in late 1998.

But Girl Tech wasn't just gonna give up. They were still operating as a division under Radica. So they pressed on and released new products, such as the Password Journal 2 and this . . . Master Control, light. Oh yeah, the Password Control Center.

They changed the name to Password Room Control instead. Whatever. Either one works. I had one of these as a kid. I thought it was the coolest fricking thing. Nowadays, it's kind of like Home Kit and Siri combined together, but in a kid's toy in the year 2002. And the cool thing is, as you saw, when you ask it to turn off the lights, it actually does, unlike Siri. But hey, Janese, your strategy worked.

The brand was named Girl Tech, but I, a boy, still bought one of your products. Each room control unit could handle two appliances, and you can activate them with voice or with the buttons, the manual and the box say, this thing is rated for 300 watts, so don't go and plug a microwave oven into it. I had to learn that the hard way. Just kidding. I'm not that stupid . . . anymore. Girl Tech, you have made some wonderful products over the years, but unfortunately not all of you can advance to the year 2003.

So which product is on the chopping block? (suspenseful music) Sorry, Bug 'Em. You've been chopped. Because you really didn't make any sense. In fact, many Girl Tech products were discontinued in 2002, including Laser Chat, Friend Frame and the Door Pass. But it's okay because more gadgets were on the way in 2003, such as Dare Ya, Roombuzz, and the third version of the Password Journal with custom covers.

Over the next three years, Girl Tech released a plethora of new products. But the one I really want to try out is Digi Makeover from 2006. This is an interactive touch pad and digital camera that plugs into your TV, and it allows the user to take a picture of themselves and customize their appearance with hair and clothing. And thanks to the power of conversion technology, I can hook this up into my MacBook Pro here, and use it as a TV. Okay, so here is the main interface it boots into.

This looks like a photo booth. Oh, oh, wow, I look great. Oh, I am now on a beach in Hawaii. Okay, so we have to put my face in here.

Oh, there's a camera button on the device here. It's like a bumper. Okay, I can add hair. I guess I didn't need to buy that wig after all. Which one of these looks more like a Karen haircut? Okay, let's give ourselves some eyes.

Okay, I have no idea what I just did, so I'm gonna undo that. Oh no, I just deleted my hair. (laughs) I don't know what I did.

Like, I kind of look like a surfer boy. Now I got the long hair. I got a necklace going on. Yeah, I can like tread some waves. That is me. That is my new look. I'm gonna save myself into a floppy disc here. So now here we are in mid 2006, the Girl Tech brand is successful and the products are spreading around.

In fact, in 2005, Radica's revenues crossed $160 million. So this company was getting big and juicy, ripe for the picking. - [Woman] Yummy.

- And yes, there was a big company that wanted to reach up and pick this juicy Radica fruit right from the tree. Want to guess who it was? I'll give you a hint. Their names starts with a letter. That's right, Mattel.

This company probably needs very little introduction because if you know what a Barbie is, you know who Mattel is. Wait a minute. - Go down the girls aisle, you'll find Barbies, Barbies and more Barbies and all you would be, you'd be surrounded by pink. - Oh, the thing you poked fun at now owns you.

Life is just a bunch of cycles, isn't it? But I guess Janese was already gone from the company anyway, so hey, it doesn't matter. In 2006, Mattel was one of the biggest toy companies in the world, and they still are today. And they acquired Radica along with the Girl Tech brand for not $100 million, not 200 million, but for $230 million. Yes, that amount wasn't solely for Girl Tech. Radica had other products, but Girl Tech was a big part of it.

And Mattel's strategy was to incorporate Radica's Tech know-how to better participate in the fast growing electronic toys arena. The acquisition closed on October 3rd, 2006, and Radica shareholders received $11 and 55 cents in cash for each share of Radica common stock. That would've been quite the big payday for me, except I had zero shares, because I was busy being in school, learning about the mitochondria being the powerhouse of a cell, instead of learning how to invest on Wall Street. Through the next three years, Mattel released more Girl Tech products, including a fifth version of the super successful Password Journal. And in 2008, the Digi Makeover was replaced by Stylin Studio.

It functioned as similarly, but instead it plugged into a PC, not a TV. Can I just say something here? I know Girl Tech products originally weren't supposed to be too pink, but it looks like we're getting a little pink here again. Now, the moment I have all been waiting for, FAMPS. ♪ F A M P FAMPS ♪ - [Narrator] FAMPS, a totally cool way to give your computer desktop your own personality.

- [Ken] I'll have what she's having. FAMPS stood for feelings, attitudes, moods, personalities. And this was one of the last products released under the Girl Tech name. It was a Toy to life game where you connect a USB ring to your PC.

And when you place a FAMP in the ring, the software changes the interactive games and activities to match the character. I don't know how much Mattel believed in FAMPS, because the product started selling in 2009, but on the boxes they wrote, we reserved the right to terminate FAMPS online service after January, 2011. So you're already hinting at the possibility that you're just gonna straight up discontinue the product. And that's exactly what happened. Mattel discontinued FAMPS in 2010, according to their service website, and they shut down the online features in January, 2011. They did something similar with IM Me.

Their package said we reserve the right to terminate after 2009. They wound up terminating the service in January, 2011. This shutdown renders parts of the FAMPS software completely useless. But even worse, since the CDs didn't have an actual installer on them, they needed an internet connection to download the real installer software. Because of this weird decision, I can't install the software despite having the physical CD from the package.

And according to the Lost Media Wiki, the FAMPS software is, well... lost Media. I was only able to get it working because someone in the comment section of the wiki linked to a Mac version of the installer and it launched. But unfortunately, features are very limited, because you need to register for many of the features to work. But since the service was shut down years ago, that's impossible.

Overall, I think the UI is pretty, but the only button that works is the games button. And you can unlock more games by collecting more FAMPS. I have a starter kit, so the only FAMP I have right now is Drew. And their game is FAMPS Designer, which is an avatar maker.

Man and people say, I have a big round head. After the unfortunate death of the beautiful FAMPS, Girl Tech started winding down. No new products were released except for the Password Journal, which is yet another testament to how successful this product truly was.

- [Diary Voice] Unauthorized user access denied. (electricity zapping) (kid screaming) - [Narrator 2] Get your Turbo Diary from Girl Tech. - [Ken] In 2013, the Girl Tech website was shut down, and it now redirected to Mattel's shop listing for the Password Journal. And by 2014, Mattel had phased out the Girl Tech branding completely. But the Password Journal lived on under a tweaked name, My Password Journal.

A ninth edition was released in 2015, and the 10th and final version was released in 2018. The box still bears the Mattel and Radica logos, but the Girl Tech branding is nowhere to be seen. Despite the Password Journal's longstanding success, it was quietly discontinued in 2020, when it was delisted from Mattel's website. I'm still impressed the Password brand and this product lasted for about 20, 21 years. Not many products and brand names last that long, and this thing was more or less the backbone to Girl Tech success. And Mattel still proudly displays My Password Journal in their brand portfolio, rightfully so.

They should be proud of its success. And so should everyone at Radica and the original Girl Tech team. So what happened with Janese, the woman who started all this? Today, she's pursuing the arts and she worked at art related businesses in the past. She also taught Steam subjects at Del Mar in San Diego for 16 years. So it looks like she's doing pretty all right.

And Jackie, Janese's daughter has all grown up now and she's a civil attorney. If it weren't for her, Girl Tech might not have happened. She was one of Janese's biggest inspirations and still is today. Thank you Janese for making fun products to help girls and boys get into tech.

And thank you for coming along and learning about everything with me. I love sharing these stories with you. And if I may also recommend, feel free to subscribe and stay tuned for my next scam-buster episode, coming out in April.

It's gonna be a lot of fun. Until then, catch the crazy and pass it on. (upbeat music) Let's see what other classified information lies within this Journal.

"We've been trying to reach you about your car's extended warranty." What the shi-!

2024-04-02 06:04

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