Enrique Rodriguez has been developing apps since the very earliest days of the industry. His latest effort is Together, an app to connect long-distance grandparents with their grandkids. “I was inspired by my own family,” says Enrique. “Both sets of grandparents live far away from us, and I wanted my daughters to be able to spend meaningful time with them.”
In recent years, demand for apps like Together has only grown. We sat down with Enrique to talk about life in a fast-paced industry, the joys and challenges of raising kids with technology and coming together despite distance.
Tell us about your app, Together. What inspired you to make an app for long-distance grandparents?
It first came up when my daughters were around two and four. We would try to do video chats with their grandparents, but kids that age—they can’t just sit down and talk. They want to play, they want to hear stories. So that’s what gave me the idea to bring games and stories into a video chat platform.
Together empower grandparents. We are living in such isolated times, and that particularly affects grandparents. Families used to live in the same house and grandparents were much more involved. Now sometimes, they don’t even live in the same country. So Together is a way to bring kids and grandparents back together, to help them bond. I think it’s huge for both generations.
You’ve been developing apps for a long time. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry?
A long time! Since the iPhone first came out. In those days it was the gold rush of apps, really. It was a special moment. A whole new economy had just been created. There were so many opportunities. You could build an app and just kind of put it out there immediately, and you would get downloads. It was fertile ground for innovation.
Nowadays it’s a much harder market. You can develop an app, put it out there, and just hear crickets. You really have to sell it. But, on the other hand, the development side of things is much easier now. There are so many tools and frameworks and previous platforms to draw from, which we didn’t have in the beginning. It’s a very different dynamic.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen since launching Together?
Obviously, the pandemic was a big change for us. We started in 2018 and really had to work to get the word out. It required a lot of marketing power. Suddenly, with the pandemic, there was so much more demand for video chatting services. It became a necessity for so many families.
We’ve just seen so much growth and improvement in technology over the last few years. So many more people are joining the tech space. Older generations are becoming more open to it. There’s been a radical acceleration of technology adoption.
What are the major differences you see in building technology for children vs a more general audience?
Together is actually the first app I developed for kids. The biggest challenge I’ve noticed so far is how fast kids grow! My kids are now five and seven and they’re not really interested in the games I developed when they were two and four. Kids change so quickly, and their abilities and interests change too. So your app needs to be targeted for a specific age group, or it needs to adapt and grow with them.
What are some of the biggest parenting challenges in the digital age?
It’s a great question! With my daughters, I used to have so much more control over their technological lives. With my seven-year-old, it’s getting to the point where there’s some conflict. She wants to have the iPad, she knows how to do everything, she knows all the codes. She’s very quick to figure things out.
Parents right now have a gigantic challenge. On the one hand, you don’t want to prevent your kids from using technology in a way that can benefit them. There’s so much they can learn from it.
When they have the right tools and the right apps, it can empower them and help them be more creative. But at the same time, technology can take over. It affects kids much differently than it does adults. I think the challenge is to find ways for them to use technology in a productive way. I feel like that’s where Together has such a strong proposition. It lets kids socialize, take turns and collaborate. They’re spending time with family. It’s productive screen time.
What can parents do to help their kids thrive online?
Kids need to have some autonomy online. It’s good for them to be curious and explore. It’s a bit like going to the playground—you can’t hold their hand the whole time, but you also don’t want them climbing up five meters up and jumping off. It’s about striking that balance.
It’s important for parents to do their research. Find apps they know they can trust, talk to other parents, ask what they recommend. For my kids, we have a device that’s just for them, and it has apps I trust installed on it. So I’m comfortable giving them space to use it on their own, and I know they’re using it in a way that’s benefitting them.
I try to also have open conversations with my kids about going online. I try to be honest and say, “not everything you find online is going to be for you, not everything is safe.
What are some of the positive ways that kids are using technology today?
There are so many things kids can do online. More and more kids are interested in learning to code, and there are some great apps out there to help them learn that.
It’s such a great resource for learning languages too. My kids speak Spanish and German at home, but I’ve set some of their apps to be in English, so when they’re just playing their favorite game or whatever, they’re learning as well.
They also love watching how-to videos. Over the pandemic, my daughter got really interested in origami. We watched so many videos learning how to make elephants, giraffes, all sorts of things with paper. That was really nice. She even wanted to make her own video to show some of the stuff she’d learned. I wasn’t comfortable with her having her own YouTube channel, but we did send her video to the family group chat. That was really cool because she has cousins all over the world and they could watch her video and do the same origami as her. It helped her connect with them.
Technology is a great tool for kids to discover their interests. I wonder what kinds of things I would have gotten into if we’d had the same tools when I was a kid!
What’s next for Together?
We have a few things coming up that are very exciting. We’re going to be including a lot more books on the platform in new and innovative ways. I’m most excited about the tools we’re creating to help kids learn and play while they are video chatting. It’s a new way for kids and grandparents to play and interact that was not possible before, and I believe our users are going to love it.