Thursday, March 19, 2015

If You build it, They Will Come

Back our kickstarter campaign and help us create a ModMath 2.0 for algebra students and Android users.

Everyone and their mother has an idea for an app. And we all hold out hope that perhaps we'll be the next SnapChat or Uber. I’d like that as much as the next guy. But when my app quietly debuted in the app store last year, funding from Kleiner Perkins was the last thing on my mind.
My husband and I built an app called ModMath out of desperation. Our son, who is dyslexic, was falling behind in math because his handwriting is so terrible, even he couldn’t read it. And because he couldn’t write math problems he couldn’t solve the math problems. His writing disability, known as dysgraphia, commonly co-occurs with dyslexia. And although there’s plenty of speech-to-text programs to help with writing assignments, there’s was nothing to help with math.
We tried lots of interventions, everything from pencil huggers to alternative grip pens, and special paper with raised lines to keep his writing more uniform. Years of occupational therapy went nowhere, as did more controversial interventions like vision therapy. Through it all, I searched for an assistive technology to solve this problem. I queried teachers, learning specialists, and other parents in the LD community. I scoured the Internet for leads, but I found nothing.
Our only option was for Henry to dictate to me how to work through each problem. I wrote down what he said. This was not a workable long-term solution, unless he wanted me to be his college roommate some day. One evening, after Henry had gotten through another homework-related meltdown, I voiced my frustration to my husband. “Why don’t we make something?” he suggested.
 So we did. Our free app uses the touch screen and an on-screen keypad so kids can set up and solve math problems without ever using pencil and paper. Assignments are laid out on virtual graph paper that can be printed or e-mailed to the teacher. It was a stretch for us financially, but giving up was not a viable solution. Plus, we figured there must be thousands of kids out there just like our son Henry that could also use the app. We were right.
And, as the saying goes: If you build it they will come. To date, nearly 27,000 people have downloaded ModMath for free. We receive a steady stream of letters thanking us for creating ModMath.  But an equal number beg for additional features like a keyboard that can support algebra students. Many also express interest in an Android version as the iPad is simply out of reach to them financially.
Since we tapped out our personal resources on the beta version, we decided to take ModMath to the next level by turning it into a full-on nonprofit charity. This allows us to seek grant money from various foundations. We’ve already received a $10,000 commitment from the Christopher’s Way Foundation. Additionally, We launched a Kickstarter campaign and hope to raise at least $20,000.
Our beta version was put together on a shoe-string budget, so it’s a bit glitchy. To do this right, our software consultants say our proposed updates will cost about $25,000. And it will take another $30,000 to make the Android version. Friends and colleagues were incredulous that we’ve decided not to monetize our product.  Anyone who has an iPad can afford an app that costs a couple bucks, was a refrain we heard over and over.  And while I don’t disagree with this logic, our goal is to get ModMath into the hands of as many LD kids as possible. And if we don’t charge, organizations are much more willing to give us free publicity. This increases our opportunity to reach the children and families who need it most.
And, in fact, until we began promoting ModMath, we didn’t fully realize the breadth of the need.  We’ve since learned that dysgraphia not only co-occurs with dyslexia but with a host of other issues, including ADHD, autism and dyspraxia. These parents all felt as lost as we did.   

And while the prospect of being the next app instant millionaires is not without appeal, the heart-felt thank you notes are payment enough. Though we sure would like a few more donations to our Kickstarter campaign! 


  1. Are there any plans for other platforms? Many children with high functioning autism are struggling with dysgraphia as well and this seems like a dream come true, but having it translate to android or PC would be amazing. I think a lot of ASD parents would pay for this app.

  2. Hi Eileen- Yes, we would love to create new platforms. Just trying to raise the money through our ModMath pro sale or be fortunate enough to receive additional great money. Our long term goal was always to bring ModMath to Android Users. However, we've now decided to skip to a web based version so that everyone can benefit. If we get the money, we will absolutely build it!!!

  3. This is genius!! I've had so many issues teaching my son how and why it's so important to write neat enough to re-read your math problems. He writes some letter big, some little, some crooked! I'm going crazy. We're desperate and make him do all of his math on graph paper. It helps some but I love this idea! Especially since everything is high tech now.

    Nathan @ Emyoli

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