Apps are making an impact on all our lives, with applications spanning a spectrum from business right through to leisure applications. One of the more interesting apps to be developed in Ireland is the Grace App, which has been developed to assist the development of independent communication in autistic children. Here’s a recent interview that I conducted with the founder of the Grace App, Lisa Domican.
What is your product?
The Grace App itself is an App for replacing Picture Exchange Communication on the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch which allows the user to control their own picture vocabulary and develop their own independent communication. I’ve also developed the business to provide workshops and presentations and I have plans for a training app for anyone who wants to help their child communicate.
Why did you found the company?
Grace App was inspired by my severely autistic daughter Grace and her unique ability to get what she wanted using pictures. She has learned to talk independently as a result of using Grace App consistently and after 11 years I got to hear my daughter call me “Mummy.”
I started the company “Grace App Communication” when I realised there was a need for a simple and accessible training system to teach your autistic child to get what they want without resorting to inappropriate and anti-social behaviour.
The process of getting a diagnosis, getting access to services and learning to be your child’s own teacher can take years and I want to enable parents and carers especially, to start helping their child from the moment they suspect there might be an issue; any time of the day or night, anywhere in the world.
Tell me a bit about the company?
We were founded in 2010, and are located in Greystones, County Wicklow. Grace App Communication was created and founded by me, Lisa Domican. The App was co-developed and completely coded by Steven Troughton Smith.
How did you finance the product development?
We started with some practical support from O2 Telefonica with the donation of the devices to create the proto-type, and some great business mentoring. However, like many digital start-ups, Steve and I have worked on this voluntarily for several years and we are only now starting to see a return. We have no borrowings and so we were in profit from the first App sold.
How do you market and sell the Grace App?
Apple lists the app world wide for a 30% share of the selling price. Steve and I share the rest. I market it entirely through social media.
Do you have the app available on Android yet or will it ever be?
Android is not a huge priority as the Apple interface allows for syncronisation and sharing of the App between devices to suit the user. A parent might buy an iPad but then graduate to bringing an iPod Touch out of the house or vice versa. The same App with the same individualised pictures will be available to the child at all times. 50% of our sales have been to customers exclusively using iPad so I am keeping an eye on the Tablet releases using Windows and Android but so far there hasn’t been a contender.
Who are the workshops that you do aimed at?
After creating the Grace App and presenting it for 12 months, I realised that there was a HUGE need for training in prompted communication that was not being provided – so my workshops have a value of their own. 2 hours of presenting and training with at least 30 minutes of Q&A takes hours to prepare. And after 10 years of study and practice in Autism – I am actually pretty good at it.
Training and Workshops are an ancillary to developing the core App business. As far as generating sales; I am taking part in some conferences internationally as a speaker and panelist from which I hope to generate a great deal of publicity, potential leads and contacts and sales.
How much does the app cost?
€30 for one download that can be installed on up to 5 devices.
Do you do a trial version or freemium version?
No trial version, no freemium. Grace App is intended to be controlled and owned by the user – so I have an ethical issue with a free version that bombards you with pop-ups asking for an upgrade purchase. I have a great website created by Redfly which has loads of videos demonstrating how the App works. I’ve written a comprehensive manual that is available free which explains how it works and I offer personal customer service via my Twitter, Facebook and email contact form.
Grace App is priced to encourage consideration and research. It is not about instant gratification but a planned and personally tailored approach to giving the user the ability to communicate their needs independently.
Is the “Grace App” going to be your main income eventually?
I would like to be able to devote all of my time to developing and growing Grace App and as every minute I spend away from children has to be worthwhile. So yes, I would like to be able to support my family and my daughter’s future with the company.
Do you have an exit strategy ?
No way – I am doing what I love. If we ever agree to sell the company, it will be to someone with the means to keep developing our vision and it will be conditional on employing me as a consultant to ensure we keep the product development focused on the needs of the user.
You’ve received a number of awards for the App, can you tell me what they were?
First up we won an Irish Web Award in October 2010. Then I got a United Nations World Summit Award for m-Learning and Education. I recently got a “Women Mean Business” Award for “The Big Idea” and I am a finalist in the Social Entrepreneurs Social Impact programme.
Thank you Lisa for a wonderful and inspiring story. Have any of you used the Grace App or another app for your special needs child?