Interview with Joe Hill (Aeir Talk)
Aeir Talk enables children to practice language skills using flash card like pictures.
I interviewed Joe Hill, Aeir Talk founder to find out more. This interview is the eighty third in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Joe for the interview!
For those who have never heard of it, how would you describe Aeir Talk in under 50 words?
Aeir Talk is a custom flash card system that allows parents to add their voices to pictures they take. Flash cards are in two rows “Nouns” and “Verbs” and kids can create sentences with new words and hear their parents voice which accelerates the learning of language.
Your story is a pretty heartwarming one. Tell us what made you decide to start working on Aeir Talk.
Thank You! I have two boys who have been diagnosed with Autism. My first child, Deacon was first diagnosed about 2 years ago, and I began to look for apps that would help him learn to communicate. What I found was many speech pathology apps or special education apps were extremely expensive (some as high as $300) and the machines that were dedicated to speech pathology alone cost between $5K and $10K.
So I said “That all sucks, and I can do better.” So I came up with Aeir Talk. I dropped my job as a financial planner, took two jobs scrubbing floors at a warehouse in the morning, and at night I would carry luggage at a hotel. In between I would go and talk to whoever would listen about my idea and I eventually struck an equity deal with my partners/developers at We Are Titans here in Norfolk, VA.
Who else was involved in the development of the app?
We Are Titans were involved. They (Brennan Dunn, Principle and Zack Miller Project Manager) served (and still serve) as my mentors, developers, business partners and cheerleaders.
I met them through a networking event, and at the time it looked like I was receiving funding through another source (it eventually fell through) and I wanted them to develop it. We just clicked, and I was very green in starting my own tech company. They took me under their wing and taught me a lot.
How did you come up with the name?
I’m a history buff, and I really love Norse Mythology and its mysteries. “Eir” is the Norse Goddess of Medicine, so I figured that throwing an “A” in the front of it couldn’t hurt too much. So we just pronounce it “Air.”
What was technically the most challenging part of developing Aeir Talk?
We really wanted it in landscape mode for the iPad, but that proved challenging. We will probably incorporate that in a later version as it allows the user to see more of the cards at once. I kind of like it in the “Picture” mode that it is in now as I have gotten more used to it.
I originally wanted the user to be able to drag the pictures to the bottom of the screen to form sentences themselves. But that proved challenging as well. The way we came out was the cards travelled by themselves when they were touched. It actually works better that way though. The user can push the cards multiple times in a quicker succession. My kids love this. They can hear the same word over and over, and it actually help them learn the words more quickly.
Any plans for iPhone and Android?
Definitely on the iPhone. Its just the trick of getting our interface to work well on the smaller screen. We’re working on that.
We aren’t ruling Android out for the moment, but we haven’t started development on anything for that yet. The Autism/Special Needs community loves Android, I get questions about it quite a bit because the equipment is less compared to the iPad. But with all of the screen sizes and resolutions and versions, it gets tough to justify the cost when you are just starting out. Like I said, we haven’t ruled it out, but it won’t be for some time.
How long did it take to put together Aeir Talk?
We started development around March of 2011, and we launched on the iTunes store on November 30, 2011. I scrubbed a lot of floors between those two times. :)
What would you say is the best feature of the app?
The voice recording feature. It is so much fun to see a childs face light up because their parents voice is coming out of the iPad. It makes them more curious to touch more cards just to see what comes out next. It really bridges gaps for children with special needs as well. A lot of apps have a computerized voice, but when their parent’s or teacher’s voice is heard by them, they typically stop what they are doing and concentrate a bit more. My lead programmer, Andrew, tested Aeir Talk on his son (who is not special needs) and his son selected “Mommy.” When he heard his dad say “Mommy” on the iPad, he stopped and said, “Mom! Daddy said Mommy! Daddy said Mommy! It blew him away that he could hear his dad. I get a kick out of that.
BestAppsforKids.org states Aeir Talk ‘is truly a gift!’ What kind of feedback from users have you had?
I get a lot of “Thank You” emails and comments, especially on our Facebook and Twitter (@vintagejoehill and @aeir_talk) pages. It means a lot. One lady that I met after speaking about my app just gave me a big hug and thanked me for it.
Others have said that it makes their lives easier, and that makes me very happy because that is exactly what I was aiming for.
One dad of a child with Autism almost fell backward as I described my app to him. He just said simply “I’ve been wanting something like this for a long time. Thank You” Others give me comments that they wished the iPad was around for their children, who are now grown. A lot of different reactions but all humbling.
You have to understand, for years the Special Needs community has put up with really complicated and expensive tech. What Aeir Talk does is simplify the colossal task of communication between them and their children in a big way. And it makes it fun, and for a price everyone can afford. It’s extremely humbling to hear that it is a “Gift” and I truly want to keep making it better for these folks so that they can have an enjoyable time teaching their children.
Where do you see Aeir Talk in 5 years time?
I want Aeir Talk to be a community app. I want people to be able to purchase it and come to the Aeirtalk.com site and share stories, and new words their kids are saying and pictures they are using as well.
I try to put up random pictures on the Facebook page from time to time so that it will facilitate creativity in the existing user base. I want to teach my son “Lightsaber” so I put a picture of one on the Facebook page for others to see and use. So it’s a start for photo sharing, but it can also grow to a post on there like “My son is working on these words, any thoughts on photo’s?”
I want it to be a place where people can encourage one another. Aeir Talk is an extremely positive app with a positive message. I has no limits, it bridges language barriers, and it went international very quickly. So hopefully Aeirtalk.com can be a place for those individuals who are very burdened with their personal lives to talk, grow, and be encouraged by success stories from the app.
So in 5 years I see it being much bigger, perhaps a pro version with the ability to store multiple clients, and some text to speech incorporated for teachers as well.
Has Aeir Talk got the growth you expected since launch?
Oh yeah! We started getting international buys almost immediately which was really exciting. Aeir Talk is not a special needs app exclusively, but it can be used in that capacity. Well, a lot of special needs apps are only in english, and non-english speaking countries are left out in the cold. Because of the ability to record the users voice however, it quickly bridges language gaps, and many are using it to help their children around the world.
Could things be better? Absolutely. We need reviews and those are tough to come by. And we want to get into more general education as well. So I am looking at avenues like posting videos of kids using the app, medical board certification, funny video promo’s, Blogging, Vlogging, paid advertising and the like to drive traffic. I’m working hard to make that happen, the same as any other Founder I suppose.
Is there anything else like this on the market?
Custom flash cards yes, but to take your voice and put it on a custom flash card to form sentences, not really. You can record your voice on Proloquo 2 ($189.99) and form more complex sentences, but you can’t use your own images, and it is very complicated to use.
Aeir Talk is a take on the PECs learning system (there are some apps for this) where parents would take pictures, laminate them, put velcro on them, and stick them to a felt board in their home to work on words. I get exhausted thinking about all of that work though. Aeir Talk cuts down on a lot of that time and expense as well.
What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?
Breaking into the general education app market and time. Aeir Talk is really a bootstrapped app, built on donated time for equity. I myself am working another job as its founder and would love to be running it full time, but that’s not in the cards at this time I suppose.
Aeir Talk can be used by any family with children. It is an easy way to teach words, objects, names of relatives and pets, and even other languages. Distinguishing yourself in the education app market is tough, but I think that the UI Aeir Talk has at its price point with our story behind it, it has legs.
Writing poignant blog posts every day is tough! But it is a privilege to be part of Aeir Talk. It is a ton of fun to overcome these hurdles because we are helping people everyday to teach speech around the world.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
I’m excited to be part of the app wave that is growing in the education/special education market. A lot of good stuff is being built that is competing with and will eventually overtake established technology that is refusing to iterate and is a pain to use. iPads are becoming more available to families with Special Needs kids, and they in turn are not only learning but have a fun toy to watch shows and movies on. Tech is actually helping people, and it ranges from games to drawing apps. I am excited to see that and I am excited to see where it going to go.
Can you convince the reader to start using Aeir Talk in under 50 words?
If you are looking for a proven app to help your child learn new words in any language, you should get Aeir Talk. Take pictures, type a caption, and speak into it, and hand it to your child. Watch what happens, and your world will change.
Finished reading? Check out Aeir Talk!