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by • December 4, 2011 • Best of, Founders, ProductComments (12)2048

A man, a mop, a year, and an app – Joseph Hill on Aeir Talk

I recently spoke to Joseph Hill of Aeir Talk–a beautifully designed speech & language helper app for autistic kids–and wanted to share his story for a couple reasons.

First, it shows an unbelievable amount of hustle — he built up enough market evidence & excitement for a development team to agree to get involved and build it for equity. There was no magic bullet, just working hard talking to users, customers, and doctors.

Second, he has ignored and subsequently overcome basically every danger zone and warning sign I can think of. He took big risks, and when the launch schedule slipped from 3 months to 6 and then 12, he made ends meet by mopping floors and got it shipped.

I’m not sure I can recommend his course of action to others, but I definitely admire it. Check out the story, screenshots, and interview clip below.

The need to create

I think I’ve been scared through this entire process. I like comforts!

Basically, I’ve had the rug pulled out from underneath me in the last 2 years several times, like losing a job and having to start another that was high stress and high pressure.

I said: “If I’m going to have all this pressure, I may as well start my own company.”

I didn’t want to work for someone for 30 years to have them say “no thank you” anymore.

Instead, with no money and no team, he went after the medical devices industry.

Both my sons have autism, so I really wanted to do something that was out there and was different.

A lot of the [speech pathology] solutions out there sucked… [clunky devices] and expensive therapies.

I interviewed lots of parents while I was a financial planner… they didn’t have a lot of money and they wanted better tools for their kids.

Getting it built

One of the big decisions in the product design is to make it highly personal — as a parent or teacher, you’re encouraged to switch out all the images and even audio to portray faces, voices, and objects your child will recognise and be comforted by. You can also completely change the language or add entirely new flashcards with the camera to further make it your child’s own.

I wanted something memorable that kids would come back to and it could connect with a lot of people.

So let them use their parents voice, not a computer voice. Let them use pictures of what’s around them.

Mommy’s no longer a stick figure with a dress on, it’s actually mommy.

And that would connect with a lot of kids with special needs or anyone with a brain injury or children with autism.

And it looks great! Joseph doesn’t have a design background, but he was willing to put in the time.

We spent several weeks just wireframing and drawing it out.

I have no design background, just making my own decisions. My background is in bible theology. I went to school to be basically a history teacher.

But I love art, I love design and how things flow.

I knew what I liked, and when I saw stuff I didn’t like I decided to push this out there.

What can we do to help out?

Just spreading the word.

Autism affects 1 in 100 children, so within a couple degrees of separation, you know a family that’s affected.

If you have a child yourself, check it out. It’s $40, like a dinner out. (Updated: Just realised it’s currently on sale for $10!)

My son is now saying “seahorse”. How many three year olds do you know who know who say seahorse?

Aeir Talk went live a couple days ago, and you can now find them on the web, itunes store, and on twitter.

(PS. this story is currently struggling on hacker news. I’m sure Joseph would love any help spreading the word)

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12 Responses to A man, a mop, a year, and an app – Joseph Hill on Aeir Talk

  1. Loved this story, Rob!

  2. Kelly says:

    Wow!! What a great idea!! We have a son with autism, and I wish something like this would have been available when he was 3.

  3. Frank says:


    The great thing is that you can use this at any age and it (should) have a positive improvement for the children and parents alike… Almost like those funny commercials on late night TV – except that this is a serious condition.


  4. Preston says:

    This is great and all. If children with autism are going to use an app, they should use this one.

    But for parents out there–read up on studies that link screen time to increased rates of autism. Plopping your kid down in front of this app for hours on end could do more harm than good.

    • zeljko dakic says:

      Preston dude, where did you went with that ! :) I guess you are one of those who see glass always half empty.

      Congrats on innovative app, love the idea and how you approached it.

    • Joe Hill says:

      I agree that parents should limit unsupervised screen time. I sit down with my boys and we “do work” on this app. And we just have to go at a pace that is comfortable for them and for us as parents/teachers.

      Thankfully, Aeir Talk time is limited to about 30 min a day, and that is with breaks every 5 minutes. My boys are learning though, and that is what is important. And then the iPad is a reward where they can play Angry birds for having a good speech session. :) It’s good fun.

  5. Speaker of Truth says:

    (Edit: Comment removed by robfitz for being wildly inappropriate)

    • speaker says:

      @Speaker of Truth

      Sometimes several million dollars are more of a valid contribution to society as well as to the ailing economy than a comment like yours.

      Is it not a fact ?

  6. Joe Hill says:

    Thank you guys for your really great comments. I appreciate your congratulations and feedback. If any of you purchase the app, and have ideas on how to make it better, please let me know.

    Again, you guys are great for reading this and being so kind, and Rob, again thanks again for covering this. :)

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