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Tullman: mRelief: The Beauty of a Powerfully Simple App

Not every solution or app needs to set the entire world on fire or to be built on a platform just slightly less grand than the Taj Mahal. It's not always "smart" to build your app to run on the hottest and newest smart phone and nowhere else. You might get some buzz and some early adopters, but being in the shiny new thing biz isn't the path to building a big business when ready access and broad availability trump haptic feedback, VR capabilities and other gee whiz features. Mass ultimately always matters--there are millions more Fords than Ferraris-- and when the real value and design of your business is to touch and impact as many people as possible, the lower the bar to use and adoption, the better.

I'm not talking about minimum viable products (MVPs) or lean anything. I think the whole lean startup spiel is way overblown. (See Busting the Lean Startup Myth )  In today's rapid-fire economy, you rarely get two bites at the apple and it's very hard to skinny down a complex and resource-heavy app on the fly because the market isn't going to wait for you to get it right. The market moves on-- abandonment curves are many times steeper than adoption curves. So you need to take your best and simplest shot first and then build up from there as your users tell you what else they need and what makes sense to them.

Sometimes the most creative aspect of an idea--and the key to its ultimate success-- isn't how radically different it is from the way we've always done things, but how much it's the same. The slightest tweaks can make all the difference. Riding on existing track and/or piggy-backing on someone else's pipeline is a lot less costly and quicker than trying to build your own. The truth is that the closer you can stay to "business as usual" and the more you can rely on previously learned actions, current channels and the ways that customers, users and consumers are already behaving, the easier it will be to get your new product or service adopted and incorporated into their day-to-day lives.

People only think that they always want the neatest and newest thing on the block until they remember that "new" also means changes, anxiety,  learning curves, resistance, incremental costs, discomfort, etc. Better to make things as quick and easy as possible if you want to get a lot done in a short time and make a real difference.  Start low and grow.

This topic came up recently at a meeting where everyone was bemoaning the funding cutbacks in social services in many cities and the fact that outreach efforts, awareness campaigns and other marketing initiatives were among the first things to be dropped. That translates to fewer and fewer folks even learning about the availability of support programs and other services they might desperately need.

Of course, I said that we had a startup at 1871 ( that was already working with the city of Chicago and state of Illinois on "an app for that,"  one that allows just about anyone to quickly and easily figure out exactly which government and/or community-based programs exist that might have benefits immediately available to them - especially in the current environment. The app was designed by three women founders to  provide information from a multitude of services and agencies in a one-step, one-stop fashion. This meant that a single promotional campaign for the mRelief app (which was supported by all the concerned agencies and city services) could get the word out at a fraction of the cost that each organization or department would have to spend-- assuming they had the money to do so.

Interestingly enough, the attendees' overwhelming response was to say that this all sounded great BUT they pooh-poohed the suggestion, believing that none of the targeted populations would have the kind of fancy phones they'd clearly need to use the mRelief service.  And that's when the discussion got really interesting because anyone and everyone with any phone can use mRelief.  That was the beauty of the original intent and original design. They went as low technologically as you can go (SMS texting) and built a system that works at that level for all comers. The analytics and the back end are where the weight of the system is.  The front end's as light as a feather and just as simple - you answer a few questions and you're good to go.  It's up, it's operating and with any luck at all, it'll be coming to a city near you soon and literally saving lives in the process. The founders have just released a version ( that can be used by other cities to adopt the program. Pretty happy news for the holidays.

And the bottom line-- an old rule of design-- complexity is the enemy.  Make your solution as simple as possible, no simpler, and get started right there.

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