Meet Katie Benedetto Jones, the wonderful web developer with a passion for inner growth, who built The Life Organizer app. In 2009, Katie left the comfortable path of a research mathematician (wait, that does not sound comfortable to a math-phobe like me!) to start Yellow Rubber Ball, a web and app development consultancy that focuses on ‘projects for good.’ In 2012, she started Critter.Co and the rest is life organizer history!
Even though Katie and I worked together to create the app, much of the process remains a mystery to me. I got curious – how did she do it? Listen in while I find out about that, and much more.
Why did you start building Critter.Co?
It’s been much more of a convergence than any one decision! From ‘why’ to ‘what’ to ‘how,’ it feels like putting together pieces of a big puzzle, with plenty of struggle and flashes of insight when a new piece comes together. In 2009, I had a funny moment telling my Ph.D. advisor that I was leaving my prestigious track to build a whimsical trading game that I called ‘Googlybears.’
[How many of us have had moments like that on our life path? Katie, way to go for being brave enough to follow the call!]
I dropped that project pretty quickly, and at the time, thought it was a failure. But then a puzzle piece fell into place recently: the game is a component of Critter.Co, but in a much more meaningful way. Yay!
Critter is both what I want for myself and what I am passionate about building for the world. I saw how web + mobile apps like MyFitnessPal were creating a huge community and huge positive change in helping people be healthier – and I wanted something similar for emotional growth. I wanted to leverage technology to serve people through their own wisdom, while giving people the fun and lighthearted feel of playing a game.
What’s the creative process of building an app?
My process is less structured than you might think! Some developers have a more step-by-step approach – especially in a company where there are specialists building each component – but since I do everything from design to development, I dive right in, dancing from coding to layout to design. I like to get the app to the point where I can visualize it quickly and then go back and flesh out each component until it comes into focus. Like a painting.
Apps are such a helpful part of our lives, but at the same time, most of us have a love/hate relationship with technology. Any thoughts on how we can balance our use of technology?
I feel that way, too! I love technology as the medium for my art, although too much time around it and my body rebels. It’s important to remember that technology can be an addiction and too much of it can be like junk food to our bodies and souls. I create the habit of not responding to one more email this evening, not clicking to learn one more random, tantalizing factoid when what I really need is to log off. It’s tough – it can be so hard to pry myself off the screen and get outside!
That’s the great thing about The Life Organizer. While the app is a fantastic way to get that content on-the-go, to organize your answers and keep yourself accountable, nothing will ever replace that solid, physical feeling of curling up on the beach with a solid book in hand, sunshine on my face, and seagulls around me, nothing beeping at me or wanting anything from me. The physical book is so comforting – something beautiful you can hold, and it’s all your time, all about you. I like that.
Besides logging off more often, my other strategy is bringing more nature to me while I’m working. Personally, I’m dreaming of a treehouse with wifi.
[I love that idea!]
What’s the best story you have of someone being supported in his or her desires through your work?
One of my first big projects was a social network for people in recovery. We built it to provide an opportunity for people who couldn’t come in to mental health facilities for an in-person program. It was a pilot experiment, and I wasn’t sure if people would use it or not – but they did! They loved it and were helped by it, and it was totally cool to see how a very real, solid community formed online that helped these folks with their goal of recovery. That was a big influence for building Critter.Co.
What was your favorite part of building The Life Organizer app?
Working with Jen! It’s been a huge, huge honor to work with you. It’s been so totally cool to get to turn The Life Organizer – content and community so far beyond my wisdom and expertise – into an app! And, through supporting the app, to meet the wonderful people in The Life Organizer community. Thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of that!
[You bet! Thanks for making something I wanted and doing it so well.]
What’s your dream for Critter.Co?
My big dream is that Critter.Co will one day deliver emotional support through a terrifically fun, addictive, lighthearted game that makes people feel good. That a game can deliver emotional tools to people who otherwise might not be reached. I’m dreaming of leveraging technology to build more emotional strength, powered by their own wisdom. That’s the creativity I have to offer, and I’m excited to deliver that!
Right now, I’m enabling growth authors, teachers, and coaches to deliver interactive growth content to their own communities – like we did with The Life Organizer. I am very excited to make both visions happen!
Well, I still don’t understand how coding works (don’t worry Katie, I never will), but what I can say is that Katie is a gal with a vision and I’m grateful to have worked with her before she gets huge.
Thanks for talking to me, Katie, and thanks to the thousands of women using the app. Oh yes, it’s freeeeeee!