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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