During my endless scrolling of Twitter during the breakout of Coronavirus COVID-19, I stumbled across Paul Graham’s tweet calling all programmers to look at this social distancing exercise as a startup idea. History has shown us that mass market disruption creates room in the market for new companies that may have a new and novel approach.
I’m making @togethercalls – an app that allows children and grandparents to play games and read stories over video chat. I think it can be very useful in this times of isolation to keep families connected. If you can help spread the word that would be awesome 🙏 pic.twitter.com/CY04pIscdC
— Enrique (@echamussy) March 14, 2020
Entering a period of social distancing across the country one response stood out to me personally. Enrique Rodriguez’s Together Video App, a video app where you can do activities together. Since Enrique has made his app free during this period, I decided to give it a try. My four-year-old son, Quincy, has been using it to play games with his grandparents.
It has worked great. Playing the games and listening to the stories has him engaged. As a result, I feel like his real personality has shone through and his grandparents have been able to still spend quality time with him.
At York IE, when we get amped about something we don’t just stay quiet. I decided to call Enrique at his home in Barcelona and learn more about him, his career, and his app. Like many of us, he started our call by saying his children could burst into the room at any moment.
Enrique was raised in Mexico. His mom is French and his dad is Mexican. At 21, he moved to the US for an internship. He started in Michigan but moved to Palo Alto, California after college to avoid the harsh winters. He started working in a research lab at Volkswagen. But eventually he got the startup bug. He started his career as an entrepreneur at a Y Combinator startup. Shortly though the iPhone became hot and he started developing apps. A few of those apps, specifically his Photo Transfer App, became very popular. Thus, he launched his app making business in 2010, just as the US economy was emerging from a financial crisis. He has been doing that ever since. About 18 months ago, he started Together App.
“It began as a personal project,” Enrique said. “I wanted my daughters to be able to read stories and play games with their grandparents who live far away. When my children do FaceTime, I am constantly chasing them around, asking them questions. But with the games and stories my kids stay engaged.”
With the spread of COVID-19 and the social distances, there is an even greater need for human connection while remaining in self-isolation.
“There is a whole new need for communication,” Enrique said. “Especially with grandparents who are the most vulnerable from this virus.”
Previously, Enrique was having trouble getting people to discover the app. That is no longer the case. The last few days have led to an explosion of users, which is leading to more feedback and more improvements to the app.
“It’s been a huge learning experience,” Enrique said. “I’ve gotten feedback from a lot of users. One thing I’ve realized is people like to share the moments that they’re having in the app. So I am working on a new feature that would capture those moments via screenshot, which will be shared with the grandparents after the visit ends.”
Enrique said now may be the time to double down on the app and give it a true chance to be successful and impact how people communicate. Do that he said he may be interested in taking on a new team member. But he said his number one priority in a team member is a shared values system.
“I am looking for someone who values family,” Enrique said. “People live far away from their families but we now live in a connected world. Technology can be that bridge. That is our mission and my team would need to understand that too.”
In a moment in human history with so much uncertainty, it was reassuring to hear how committed Enrique was to his mission. At a moment like this, the best way to get through it is definitely together.