“Users determine our roadmap”: Interview with Tiimo’s co-founder Helene Lassen Nørlem

Tiimo founders

If you’re interested in the future of edtech, disability tech, social enterprises or mental health care, then you might like Tiimo.

Tiimo is an app bringing structure and support to people with autism and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), so they can thrive in their daily life. The award-winning app can be downloaded to a smartphone or smart watch, and guides users through their schedule via visuals, notifications and vibration. So far the Danish app has thousands of users and closed an oversubscribed equity crowdfunding round on Seedrs 3 months ago.

We caught up with one of Tiimo’s co-founders Helene Lassen Nørlem to talk about creating an app based on scientific research and patient experience, analysing open-ended customer testing, creating University research partnerships, balancing impact objectives with monetary ones and raising equity crowdfunding. 

Hello Helen, thank you for joining us! I’m a big fan of impact enterprises so am looking forward to diving into how Tiimo works. To start us off, how did you first get the idea and what inspired you to go for it?

The idea for Tiimo actually started when my co-founder Melissa and I were writing our master’s thesis at the IT University in Copenhagen. At that time in Denmark the government had just enacted a new school reform that meant that many children who would previously have been in a school or class with additional support were being ‘integrated’ into classrooms without additional support. The reform included a lot of talk about inclusion, but disability advocates were very critical of it, as it was unclear as to how the children would be able to thrive after the reform was implemented.

Melissa and I wondered if there was a way that technology could support them in this context. We focused our research on children with ADHD and took a very ethnographic approach to try and best understand the needs of children with ADHD and their families. We followed the daily lives of five families to try and better understand their everyday life, both from a child perspective and a parent perspective. The insights we got from that research were the foundation for Tiimo as a concept.

Shortly after we graduated we both got other jobs, but the idea to actually make Tiimo a reality was still in our thoughts. And then when some of the families who had been part of our research asked when they could download the app, we felt very sure that we had to try to make it a reality.

We read that Tiimo was created in collaboration with 50+ families and experts. Could you tell us more about how you gathered all this information and feedback and turned it into Tiimo?

Well as mentioned, we started out really trying to understand what everyday life for children with ADHD is like. Some of the methods we used were cultural probes, where we, for example, gave the children an iPad and had them blog and do small videos about their days. To follow up and get a deeper understanding we did semi- structured interviews. Then we analysed the data and found patterns across the families and used that in combination with knowledge from specialists in the field to form a design workshop. It was through this design workshop that the first concept was created.

In general we aim to have a very user-centered design approach and really do our best to always involve our users in the design and development process. So in the first phase of the product development we collaborated with these 50 families and experts to make sure the product met their needs. This was done in a combination of workshops and interviews. As the product evolved this process included more observations of user testing to understand the interaction with the product and UI specific needs. We also take customer feedback extremely seriously, it is basically users that determine the bones of our product roadmap, and we have a group of test users that we are in ongoing dialogue with. We also have an extremely hands-on customer service approach, so many people who end up calling or writing about a bug (yes, we have them sometimes) end up giving incredible insight and feedback, which is taken into account in future design decisions.

Now Tiimo is up and running you have a research collaboration with Aalborg University in Denmark on the effects of using Tiimo as a support-tool for children. How does this work, and how do you apply their feedback?

We have worked with the same researcher from AAU several times. She has both been involved in some preliminary workshops and also done qualitative research about the effect of Tiimo in families after the product was developed. After any research, she presents her findings to us so we can use that in our development. She has actually recently published a paper on the initial research of a new feature that we are working on regarding self-assessment of mood that will be a big part of the future product. 

Do you have any advice for medtech, healthtech or wellbeing startups on how to create, manage and maintain research partnerships when creating or adapting a product?

Yes, I think the first would be: do your research and do it well. A good health/medtech startup needs to be aligned with up-to-date language and understandings within the scientific community. If it’s not, it will not be interesting for a research partnership. But if it is, then just reach out to people! Explain the problems your product tries to solve, questions you still have, and how diligent you’ve been in research (both in the broader scientific community and with users) and I think you’ll succeed. Often researchers build small apps to try and carry out projects, so it makes much more sense for them to collaborate with a product that’s already developed than do it alone.

As a social impact startup, how do you balance the societal impact objectives you have with monetary ones? Do you have any advice for similar budding startups?

This is a very good question. I think a lot of people in this space wish that they could just make their product free for their users, but the reality is often that if you want to continue to develop a good product and be able to both maintain it and make it better it is a necessity to also have revenue.

At Tiimo, we’re a small team of people who genuinely want to make the world a better, more inclusive place. So of course we wish Tiimo was free. We want everyone who could use Tiimo to be able to use it forever. The overarching goal of our work is to create more inclusive communities, so it’s frustrating to put up an economic barrier to the product, no matter what it is. But the reality is that eight of us (and probably a few more in the coming months) work on Tiimo – the technical aspects, product improvement, customer support, and getting the word out there – full-time. So we need to make enough money to pay our salaries, because if not, Tiimo will stop existing at some point.

We are currently doing a lot of testing of our pricing and revenue model in general to learn more about what works for our user group. I don’t know if I have any advice in particular regarding this, since I believe this balance is different from company to company, but being transparent to your users about prices and why you have to charge money is a good idea. That’s something we are really trying to do at the moment. 

We saw you are a fan of visual information over written reminders. How do you think this could be applied further for the workplace and startup growth? Do you use this in your team?

We are huge fans of visuals, but mostly because we know that’s what works best for our user group. Our focus on visuals is a key aspect of what makes Tiimo so unique as a product. In terms of communication within the team, overall I think we’re good at remembering that people have different ways of working, so we try to be accommodating and attentive to that. That being said, I really experience that being very transparent (and using visuals can be a very good way to do this – on whiteboards around the office and in presentations, for example) is very important to make sure everyone in the team is aligned and working towards the same goal.

Tiimo raised funding in 2018 and 2020. What made you decide then was the right time, and do you have any tips for startups on the same path?

Early on we chose to have investors on board that would help grow the company – and this was definitely the right path for Tiimo. We have raised several funding rounds to get where we are at today, and I believe that having experienced investors onboard who also understand the mission you are on and the impact you’re trying to create can be worth much more than the money they invest. So my advice would be to make sure you’re aligned about the mission with the investors you bring onboard. The right investors will also help you with their experience and know-how (so that they almost become part of the team) and support your overall mission.

How has the current pandemic affected your team and have you had to pivot/adapt in any way?

I actually think we are in a very lucky situation since we had just closed a funding round before the pandemic, which means we have had money to continue the development as planned. Also the nature of our company and the way we normally work made it possible to continue our work remotely. I’m very proud of our entire team and the way that they all just stayed focused and delivered as planned even though the work situation suddenly changed.

I’m also really proud about how supportive we were of one another through the changes. A lot of us on the team have young kids, and it was of course a challenge to manage work responsibilities while daycares and schools were closed. I think we all adapted very well and were extremely understanding of one another and also very ready to help. The lockdown period presented other challenges for those of our teammates who live alone. I think we were also good at checking-in about how people were doing mental-health wise, not just in terms of productivity and work matters. I’m proud to lead such a human-centered team and I think the benefits of a compassionate approach to business really showed their value through the pandemic.

There was also actually quite a lot of interest generated around Tiimo because most people’s schooling moved online, so many families were looking for ways to structure the day. Actually it seemed like everyone was trying to figure out how to create healthy routines at home without external accountability. So we’ve really tried to get the word out during this period that our visual web calendar is totally free. We’ve also heard from users of both the calendar and the app that Tiimo has been especially valuable in terms of reducing stress through the quarantine – this is of course wonderful to hear.

Finally, what cool plans do you have coming up for 2020 and beyond?

I’m so excited about 2020. We have tons of cool developments in the works! In the next couple of months we will launch quite a few new features that will improve the overall experience of the apps. Some of these include a new recurrence system and pre-made templates for common daily activities, features that will make setting up a schedule much easier and faster, and then we are starting to develop the self-assessment feature I mentioned earlier. The self-assessment tool will be personalized to ask questions throughout the day regarding the user’s mood, feelings and symptoms, which can then provide insights to support decision making for the user. The self-assessment tool will also be helpful for the support-network of users – for parents, advocates, therapists, and doctors – who will have more insight on what might be supportive for the user. This feature will be launched in 2020.

We have also established a lot of new partnerships with key figures in the neurodiversity community. It’s extremely important for us that we work to support the neurodiverse community in every way possible, so building these partnerships is vital. Some of the creators, activists, and journalists we will be working with are Laura Zdan, Samantha Stein, Lydia Wilkins, among others. We’re also building a campaign (hopefully a viral one!) that encourages and inspires everyone to take concrete steps to building spaces that are more inclusive for neurodiverse people. But I can’t give away too much yet! You’ll have to keep your eye out for it.