Mommy's Little Helpers: Creating A Digital Search Bar For Your Home

Sometimes those "safe" places where you keep your most important possessions are so safe that even you can't find them when you need them.

We have all been there: frantically looking for your passport, only to discover the precious little booklet is nowhere to be found. You’re certain it’s somewhere in the house—but where, exactly?

A new mobile app concept in the works is attempting to solve this problem with a sort of digital search bar for your home. The founders of MyCubbys hope to make people’s lives easier by helping them find what they’re looking for in their own houses.

The idea behind the app is simple: You can add items and their location to the app, and then share those items and locations with anyone in your household.

Graduate students Lauren Mosenthal, Amelia Towle, and Julie Miller are developing the mobile app as part of their postgraduate program at the University of Colorado at Boulder. They want to cure people who suffer from what they call "lock box syndrome"—putting something in a safe place, and then forgetting where that safe place is.

Mosenthal, 27, is the CEO. She's spending her summer vacation developing and coding the entire app. Miller, 31, is responsible for business development, while Towle, 24, the lead designer, is taking care of user experience.

The team plans to continue working on the project after they graduate, and hope to turn MyCubbys into a full-fledged business.

Mosenthal came up with the project idea, inspired by a real-life problem. Last year she moved to Boulder to complete her postgraduate program. However, many of her belongings stayed in New York, where her mother lives. For the last few years, boxes were lying around in her mother's basement, gathering dust.

"I have no clue what is in there. Sometimes she would come to visit me and I would be like: Mom, I thought of this, could you bring it to me? But no one knows where it is," Mosenthal says.

After interviewing more than 250 households, the MyCubbys team realized that mothers are their target market. "The more and more mothers we talked to, the more we realized they weren’t able to find things in their home or were the only person who knew where things were in their home," Mosenthal notes. One mother told them: "If something would ever happen to me, no one would ever know where the passports or the birth certificates are."

Here are some of the lessons the team learned during their semester-long work on MyCubbys:

Look To Successful Analog Ideas To Find Your Digital Product

Early on, the MyCubbys team noticed that The Container Store didn’t have a true virtual counterpart—so Mosenthal decided to build the MyCubbys app as though it were a digital layer on top of The Container Store's products. "They’re the real owners of that market...but they don’t have a really interactive web presence, they don’t have a mobile app," Miller says.

Just as The Container Store helps people physically organize their homes by providing boxes and containers, MyCubbys hopes to help people organize their homes by providing a searchable directory of the items in those boxes and containers—and cupboards and closets. The big idea behind the concept is that the next time you're looking for your passport, you won't have to do a search around the house. Instead, MyCubbys will point you straight to its location.

Design Your App With Your Target User's Problems In Mind

"You need to verify your market and their needs. You don’t want to build a product for no one," says Mosenthal. "Make sure you find a need state before you build something." When the team saw how eyes of the mothers they talked to lit up, they knew they had found their "need state."

As the team studied how mothers interact, they were certain that they were designing nothing else but a mobile app. "Throughout our research we started calling the smartphone 'mommy’s little helper,'" Miller says. "They [mothers] have a baby in one hand and their phone in the other all day long. It's part of their lives and we wanted to make it as accessible to them, when they needed it, as possible."

Figure Out What Your Customers Really Need, Not What They Think They Want

A lot of the women told the MyCubbys team they wanted the app to have a sassy attitude and compliment them—for example, a pop-up bubble that says: "Hey, you did a really good job, you deserve a margarita!"

But when the team analyzed these inputs during focus groups, they found that since mothers are super busy the pop-up is actually pretty annoying and added clutter to the MyCubbys interface.

And as Towle recalls, "Some mothers even told us that not telling my kids 20 times a day where something is, is enough of a reward."


As a part of the Mobilizing series, we will be hosting Twitter chats (next one to be held next Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 7:30 p.m. EST), networking in our Facebook group, and continuing the conversation at live salon events in New York City. Join in the conversation! And, if you know a woman who is mobilizing we would like to hear from you. Tell us about her here.

[Image: Flickr user Timlewisnm]

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1 Comments

  • Madhu

    If I note down, I will remember better anyways. The real challenge is to keep the list refreshed. 

    If you are so meticulous to write down everything you would anyway remember .... People like me need an automatic way to update the list.