With six children and eight grandchildren spread across the country, Charlie and Maria Girsch were looking for a way to better communicate with their family. Long distance phone calls were pricey, and Skype wasn't engaging enough. So the crafty grandparents developed their own solution: an iPad app.
Called FamZoom, the app encourages real-time family interaction in kid-friendly online hangout spaces where you can talk, play games, doodle, read, shop or have a video chat all at the same time, together. Whatever happens on one device displays instantly on the other.
"It's completely simultaneous," Maria told Mashable. "When grandma moves a puzzle piece on her iPad, it moves on Johnny's iPad."
Not only do the Girschs want to help families that are separated or living abroad, but they also want to help sick and hospitalized kids. To that end, they teamed up with the Ronald McDonald House charity to raise funds on Indiegogo. They plan to use that money to buy iPads and donate them to local Ronald McDonald Houses in Denver and Tampa. If that goes well, they'll look to donate nation wide.
The app is currently awaiting App Store approval, which the Girschs are confident they'll get because the app is compliant with COPPA, the children's online privacy protection law taking effect Sept. 1. The family will also release Android and HTML5 editions.
It's taken a year of hard work and bootstrapping $300,000 to get to this point. The process has both impressed their grandkids and shocked them not too many seniors know about design and schematics.
"They think we're crazy," said Charlie. "We're not supposed to have this kind of knowledge."
The pair had an appropriately crazy journey to their first app. Back in the late 1960s, they lived in Chicago and worked in the clergy. Charlie was a priest, Maria a nun. They met at a community action meeting and that's when everything changed.
"I remember thinking, 'Ooh what a waste,'" Maria recalled. They ended up spending more time together, and fell in love. A year later, they left the church, and moved to St. Paul, Minn.
"I don't think either one of us looked back," said Charlie.
They married and reinvented themselves in the Twin Cities. It wasn't easy. Charlie left a social justice ministry, Maria a teaching position. Harder still, was leaving their families. But their luck changed when Charlie met the creator of the Nerf Ball and Twister, Reyn Guyer, who ended up hiring the couple.
"We spent the next 35 years inventing," Charlie said. The Girschs started a family and became award-winning toy designers, licensing more than 200 products to companies including Mattel, Playskool, Fisher-Price and Milton Bradley. In 1996, they started a consultancy called Creativity Central, working with clients like General Mills, Target and Kraft Foods.
Having grandkids changed their life all over again, they said. Little ones spread all over the country prompted them to develop FamZoom.
"To us it's a legacy piece to be able to put this kind of thing in front of families who are separated," Charlie said.
Image: Charlie and Maria Girsch