Mommy and Me

Tellme Networks' products are so simple, even the CEO's mother gets them. In fact, she has to.

Mike McCue is a confirmed mama's boy, rarely making a new-product decision without phoning home first. Smart kid.

McCue, 39, is CEO of Tellme Networks, which offers a phone-based information portal for everything from sports scores to weather to traffic. McCue knows his way around an operating system--but he also knows that to win wide acceptance, you must convince nongeeks that your product is drop-dead simple. That's where Mike's mom, Lucy Allan, 66, comes in: Before it's green-lighted, every new Tellme product must pass a strict three-part Mom Test.

Mike: When I started Tellme, I wanted to create something so simple and compelling that if I described it, Mom would: 1) understand it; 2) want to use it; and 3) be able to use it. Mobile phones were becoming a major trend, and even my mom had one. So every time I called her, I would discuss my idea, and it would evolve. Once I felt the concept was clear enough that I could articulate it to Mom, then I knew I could explain it to [venture capitalist] John Doerr.

Lucy: Mike went around the country saying he wanted something simple enough for me to use. On the one hand, I was flattered. On the other, I thought, Gee, does it have to be that simple?

Mike: Last year, I was thinking about voice-over-IP products like Skype. They didn't go over so well with her. That definitely cooled my thinking.

Lucy: But I love the sports scores. My husband's a big fan. When we'd go out at night, we'd have to wait and wait to get the scores from ESPN before we turned in. Now I just pick up the phone and say, "Sports," "Atlanta Braves." Then I tell Jim, "They won, we can go to bed now."

Mike: Now that she has started introducing herself to people as a beta tester for Tellme, I've had to put a filter on her feedback a little bit. We've tried to open up to other, uninitiated moms.

READER RIFF

Recently, my brother and I had the task of finding our dad a replacement phone. It has been near impossible; some cell-phone store employees have even laughed in our faces. But there is a whole population of boomers and their parents who have problems using these miniaturized wonders. --Bob McConnell

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