Swapnil Gadgil and Rebecca Bright, the husband-and-wife team behind disability app developer Therapy Box, explain how their union has helped foster creativity, as well as changing customers’ lives
Swapnil Gadgil I’m originally from India, but ended up working in Australia after studying for my MBA there. I first met Rebecca 10 years ago, after spotting her in a Melbourne bar.
Rebecca Bright On our first date, Swapnil was running so late, I thought about leaving. In 2005, less than a year after getting together, we moved to the UK.
Swapnil Gadgil I worked for Carphone Warehouse. In 2009, we were given advance information that iPads were coming. I knew they would change everything.
Rebecca Bright Meanwhile, I worked as an NHS speech therapist. I became frustrated with the equipment used by people with communication difficulties – it was big, expensive and needed to be plugged in. I remember showing one young adult what was available. She picked up her mobile and typed ‘**** off!’, showing me the screen. I realised that if she would rather type into her phone than use these communication aids, something was seriously amiss.
Swapnil Gadgil Rebecca came home and chatted to me. I thought, ‘This isn’t right. How can a communication aid cost £12,000 or even £5,000? They’re just computers…’ We needed to make these aids more affordable and better for peer presence. At the same time, apps were trending, which is how the Therapy Box idea came about.
Rebecca Bright We started the business with £800. As we still had full-time jobs [by now, Rebecca had her own practice], we ran the business from our kitchen table, developing our first app after hours or at weekends. We knew nothing about development – we had to find people to do the coding and design.
Swapnil Gadgil We started in September 2009 and by December, the phone was going so mad, we had to decide whether to go full-time. We said, ‘If we don’t try this now, it won’t ever work’. So in April 2010, I became the first Therapy Box full-timer.
Rebecca Bright In July 2010, we got married. It was a hybrid wedding – a bit of Bollywood drumming, some Australian touches.
Swapnil Gadgil Things took off quickly, but there’s always this early anxiety. Sometimes the phone wouldn’t ring for a week and you’d panic. Of course, you’ve got to be strong and think long-term, but if you haven’t got a purchase order, it’s a constant reminder that money isn’t coming in.
Rebecca Bright In 2011, our self-learning word prediction app Predictable came out. It’s been our biggest seller. Designed for people with motor neurone disease and cerebral palsy, it enables those who have no/little voice to communicate. Users don’t even have to touch the screen – it can be activated by a twitch of a cheek or puffing air. It’s been downloaded 35,000 times.
Swapnil Gadgil Our other apps include ChatAble, which helps people express themselves using photos and symbols. If they want a cup of tea, they simply tap on a picture of a cup to get their message across.
Rebecca Bright Our products soon got positive feedback from speech therapists and educators. They also arrived at a time when the NHS was making cutbacks due to the recession. We were offering solutions for less than £1,000.
Swapnil Gadgil We build upon our backgrounds [Bright in speech therapy, Gadgil in commerce]. Rebecca does the concept and marketing side of things. Meanwhile, I challenge her in a way that ends up delivering a bigger product.
Rebecca Bright Being married definitely helps. You cut to the chase quicker. Obviously, we keep things professional in the office, but you can say things to your husband or wife more directly than you would other colleagues.
Swapnil Gadgil We’re hoping to go beyond £900,000 turnover this year. We’ve got a team of 11 in the UK and our app development arm in India employs 15. Rebecca Bright We’re currently working with Google Glass, including helping people with dyslexia, dementia and cognitive difficulties after a brain injury.
Swapnil Gadgil The app development area of our business has really taken off – we’ve got a few speech/language therapy partners with whom we develop disability education apps.
Rebecca Bright We’re getting constant feedback from users who have said our apps have improved their lives. We spoke to one woman whose husband [pre-app] couldn’t tell her he had an itchy nose. We take these things for granted, but now these couples can have conversations. When you get an email like that, it makes a big difference.