Today’s interview is with Marc Zimmerman, the brains trust behind the popular app for children and young adults with social learning challenges, The Social Express. Be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter to be kept up to date on any new content they have in store!
Thank you for participating our interview. Please tell us a little about yourself.
I’m Marc Zimmerman, CEO-Founder of The Language Express and creator of The Social Express (™). We develop interactive, movie-quality animated learning programs to help children with social emotional deficits improve their social skills and their lives.
How did the idea for your app come about?
My wife and I have identical twin boys who were diagnosed 10 years ago with Autism. Helping them to overcome social skill deficits has been our top goal. Especially after they began in mainstream classes during kindergarten. Then, my first inspiration for The Social Express™ came when a therapist introduced her laptop during a session. The twins were very interested in the technology but the old-school program didn’t hold their attention long enough for them to learn anything. That was my ‘aha’ moment to develop a social skills learning program that would be as engaging as a Hollywood movie.
And how long was the process from the original idea to the release of the app?
It took us about 2 and one-half years to develop the concept, recruit a team of content developers, software developers, and graphics and animation experts and complete the project.
Did you hire a developer or do it yourself?
The Social Express is an interactive program, which consists of 16 lessons and 30 interactive learning scenes. The program is based on best practices and programs that feature cognitive behavioral techniques and visual strategies. The content director was Mary Anne MacLellan, M.A., CCC-SLP
The lessons presented in the software adhere to California State Board of Education Content Standards and the Common Core Standards.
The program uses video modeling, original characters, and Hollywood-movie quality animation. We definitely needed experts with different types of skills. On the production side, we recruited, managed and collaborated with a team of over 20 people. I have long been a composer and session musician, so I assumed all responsibility creating the soundtrack for the program. I chose to write music in a Jazz style, which I call “kid jazz” and modeled each original composition from my memories of the Charlie Brown cartoon. I used to play the peanuts theme as a child and everyone loves that song!
What has been the hardest obstacle you have had to overcome in the development process?
Making sure there was enough money in the bank to pay all the incredible people involved. My wife and I used our life savings to make sure this got finished and in the hands of the people who need it most.
Have you had much support during the development process (from family, peers, Apple Inc.)?
My friends and family were so supportive during the entire process. I am so fortunate to have people around me that believe in our vision for helping children with social skill deficits to improve their lives.
What are your plans for the future? Will you be developing any more apps?
We are currently working hard on new content for The Social Express. Stay tuned for exciting announcements at the end of the year.
What sort of feedback has your app been receiving so far?
We’ve had amazing feedback from parents, therapists, bloggers and educators. It’s so heartening to hear stories of how children diagnosed on the autism spectrum have benefitted from working with the Social Express! We hear wonderful examples of how kids will reference a character or a make a positive behavior choice based on scenes from The Social Express.
A mom from Minnesota wrote me and said her daughter made her first friend due to what she learned from our program! A teacher from a school in California tells us she and other teachers have observed students outside of class discussing concepts and using critical thinking skills when facing similar situations as the characters in The Social Express.
And finally, what advice would you give to anyone considering creating their own app?
Create the most exciting idea possible for an app to solve the problem you’ve chosen. Don’t compromise on your vision. Cast a wide net when recruiting partners, technical developers and others to help you bring your idea to life. With advances in online collaboration tools, you can work with people from anywhere in the world. Good luck!