Julie Tittler
Julie Tittler
CEO & Mom

My name is Julie. I'm the CEO and Mother of Inspiration of Semafores, Inc. This is the story of Semafores' origin.

About two-and-a-half years ago, I was laid off from my job as a Senior Software engineer during a company reorganization. I had just had my daughter and was happy to have the time with her without having to worry about telecommuting 24 hours per week. I didn't have many spare brain cells to rub together to worry about what came next in my career. The fatigue of a nursing mother knows no bounds particularly when there is another very high energy child in the mix.

Soon, however, my ex-company came knocking on my door to contract on the project they laid me off from. Happy to take them up on it for the money and mental stimulation, I took out my keyboard and dusted it off. This on-again/off-again relationship contracting for them went on for over a year. I also did it because I knew I'd never find another gig as a senior engineer which let me work part time, from home, on my own hours. This was essential for childcare purposes. I also didn't want to feel at the mercy of others, waiting for them to decide they were done with me.

Managing the day-to-day budget of the household, and navigating the inaccurate vagaries of consumer banking gave me an idea to solve a problem I noticed. So, in my copious free time I started designing a mobile system for real-time day-to-day budget coordination for families and small business and non-profits. This was the beginning of Semafores. It gave me a sense of professional purpose again. I was still contracting, but at least I had a plan of my own which I was working on. Perhaps I could turn it into a business and become the master of my own destiny once again.

During this transition from employee, to freelancer, to entrepreneur, my son's ADHD continued to worsen. It was the worst case the school system had seen in 30 years. During a neuropsychological evaluation, he was tested in numerous areas to find out if he had inattentive or hyperactive ADHD. There are numerous criteria in each category, ranked on a scale of one to six. My son tested seven in almost everything, and had signs of other disorders, but nothing definitive.

We began trying various medications to bring his symptoms under control. Most of the stimulants sent him into exceptionally violent and rapid mood swings. Some medications gave him such violent tics he couldn't see. Others worked, but seemed to only work for three to five weeks before ceasing to work altogether. He had become a huge chemistry experiment.

When the medication worked, he excelled at school socially and academically. When it stopped working or we had forgotten to give it to him, it was so bad, he was sent home. Even with the medications, his activity level was way above and beyond that of a normal six-year-old boy, but it was much better.

Eventually, things came to a head. His behavior and activity level spiraled so out of control they had to call an external crisis response team to help control him until we came to get him from school. Numerous doctor visits later lead to him being diagnosed with various other issues which led to yet more medications in his daily cocktail.

Primary caregiver that I am, it's my responsibility to make sure that everyone gets their meds morning, noon, and night. I have to make sure that I and my husband take our medications, and that the dog which came down with skin ailments and Lyme disease gets his. It's a lot to keep track of, particularly when my son's medication is constantly changing as he grows and develops and we try to settle on an effective cocktail.

One school morning, shortly after the school incident, I was making everyone's lunches and cooking breakfast for everyone, while nursing my daughter in the sling. My son was bouncing off the walls, running from one end of the house to the other while singing at the top of his lungs. My daughter was crying, the toast was burning, and the timer was beeping to tell me the tea had finished steeping. I took out the toast, grabbed my son's meds and gave them to him, put my daughter back on the breast, and finished making tea. My husband came down the stairs late for work, tying his tie while stuffing burnt toast in his mouth. My son came up, gave him a hug, screamed in his face, and started to run off again. My husband grabbed my son's medicine and gave it to him before he could disappear into the depths of the house. Now, if you have been paying attention, you will have noticed that my son was given his handful of morning meds twice.

Later that morning, the school called me to tell me that my son had passed out in school. He was now awake, but very lethargic. They wanted to send him to the hospital. I called his PCP. She said that he shouldn't need to go to the hospital; his blood pressure was just too low from the meds. After a good nap he should be right as rain. If he didn't perk up in a couple of hours he really would need a stint in the hospital. Fortunately, he perked up...just. He was logy for hours. It was a near thing.

My son and daughter share a bedroom. I sat on my daughter's bed while he slept off the overdose of medication, feeling guilty as hell, nursing and rocking my daughter. This could NOT happen again! I was in tears. Then, all of a sudden, it hit me like a bolt of lightning. The real time coordination system I had been designing in my free time for personal budget coordination could be used to coordinate this hell which had become my family caregiving scenario. All it needed was a different front-end!

I knew that alarms on my iPhone weren't enough. They had gone off reminding me of my son's meds before and, in the chaos of my household, were promptly ignored. What about those rare times when I got to leave the kids with my husband and go out and sing with my chorus? Reminding me to give medication when I'm not the one there doesn't help anyone. There needed to be a human in the loop. What about people my age who were not only taking care of children but were also taking care of their independent older relatives?

I said to myself, "There has to be an app for that". I researched and researched. To my dismay and my opportunity, there was nothing which did all the things I needed for caregiving. I decided to make one myself. I knew this would solve my problem. I knew in my core that it would help a lot of people. So, I pivoted what I was designing to the mHealth space and never looked back.