The 5 Minutes with a Founder Series is a collection of short inspiring interviews
with small teams solving big problems.
One day, I was poking around one of my slack communities when I came across a post by Maddalena Zampitelli sharing about an app she and 3 friends created for deaf-blind people. The app called Anne (a name inspired by Helen Keller's assistant) recognizes when someone stops speaking, so it stops listening and begins translating into Morse code automatically. The app uses gestures and a proprietary haptic pattern so that the phone practically vibrates while someone is speaking, similarly to what we feel in our chest. It also allows you to easily tap in morse and translate to words.
I had to learn more about this incredible tool, so I asked Maddalena to join my interview series and share this work with us!
Brandi Holder: Maddalena, thank you so much for taking some time to share your work today! Please tell us more about the inspiration behind the app.
Maddalena Zampitelli: Sure! The inspiration for Anne came from hearing the challenges of one of the most inspiring people I've ever met, Matilde Lauria, a Paralympic judo champion living in Italy. She is deaf-blind and always needs a translator and someone to travel with her. Because deaf-blind people usually have different ways of communicating in different countries, communicating while traveling is not easy. For instance, in Italy, it's communicating with the finger using Malossi. While in other countries, they communicate with tactile LIS or some other way.
We felt that people needed a more international way of communicating, so there's not always this need for an interpreter and a translator. However, this is not just about travel. It's even something as simple as going to the pharmacy or the supermarket.
That is why we created an app that doesn't need to be seen or heard. Our app can be felt. It is powered by haptics and gestures and can be navigated entirely without looking. Thanks to international Morse code, we can give deaf-blind people the opportunity of communicating with others effectively.
BH: Opening communication is vital work!
MZ: Some of our users tell us of the freedom they get with the app. Imagine that you have to go to the supermarket, ask for apples, and then have your phone and another device just to communicate. That can be a mess, right?
Our goal is to help everyday life for the deaf-blind as well as the circumstances, as I spoke about earlier, giving people independence when they travel. Developing a product like this one has been super welcomed by the whole community.
BH: That's really interesting. One of my next questions would have been what problem you are solving for an industry or consumer, but it sounds like what you're doing is giving people freedom and independence.
MZ: Yes, if I were to list the problems we are solving, I would start with replacing the external Braille keyboard. Second, a paid translator is replaced as sometimes people with a disability can't afford that service full-time. Third is the problem of communicating freely with whoever is speaking. And the fourth would be the independence of going out for an emergency (or not) alone.
We were inspired by a personal acquaintance, Matilde, whom I spoke of earlier. She is from my city Naples, Italy—the worst city for accessibility. Matilde is almost 60 and a judo champion. She became deaf eight years ago after already being blind. Matilde is inspiring; when you meet her, you reconsider a lot of what you complain about. This person has achieved so much with her difficulties, and we wish to make her life (and the lives of others like her) a little easier.
Matilde Lauria, photo provided by Maddalena Zampitelli
BH: It's exciting to meet people like you building these things to solve problems. Tell us a little more about what you love about what you do.
MZ: I've done a lot of different projects, but I think I decided to invest my time into something meaningful for me and others. When you ask yourself, how can you give back to the community and the world? I think that's something that drives me very much. And I believe I can speak for the whole team about this. Also, I think I found the perfect team, so to say, the three golden eggs.
BH: That's so wonderful. That's hard to do.
MZ: Yeah, everybody's committed in a very heartwarming way. Many people only see profits as their primary goal, but they see the product itself and the mission behind it.
Regarding what I love about my job as the designer, it's been the iteration process with the team. We've moved from buttons on a screen to gesture mode. However, when you close your eyes and try to open any app from your phone, it won't be easy to know where each app is. So the team came up with this amazing idea: just double tap on the back of the iPhone, and you can open the app from wherever you are and instantly communicate.
BH: That's amazing, Maddalena! It sounds like you have a great team, and you all have thoughtfully worked to create a great user experience through user feedback and multiple iterations. What else contributed to your success that you wish you had learned earlier?
MZ: It's difficult because I would say everything! Yeah, it is a love of learning by doing. And by making mistakes.
Something that I would have liked to learn in advance is networking, the power of connections, and the power of writing people, telling them that you made something for them—and sharing more of our story. I think that's fundamental, and sometimes we shied away from it as a team. Or we didn't make it happen earlier.
BH: That's why I love what I do. I get to share these amazing stories!
If you want to learn more about Anne and the team behind the app, go here.
They are also live on Product Hunt and recently achieved App of the Day status out of 2.5 million apps on the App Store!
I’m a B2G brand message strategist and writer pulling together a series of interviews with CEOs and founders tackling the biggest challenges in our communities. If you would like to share your story, please contact me. I love making connections! Build it Bolder with Brandi Holder