Novo123 Ooly the Sleepy Owl

A little over five years ago, on a cold Sunday morning in the middle of a gloomy French-Canadian winter, my son, who was 3 years old at the time, decided that 4:30 AM was a totally logical time to wake me up and start the day. Sound familiar?

For some reason, that time was worse than any other. I was very tired; my baby girl was a year old and had not yet begun sleeping through the night. In addition, we’d had an especially hectic bedtime the night before. You know, the kind of evening when a kid acts as if he would prefer to give up his life rather than go to bed? Yeah, that kind of evening. Only this time, all THREE of our kids were in that mood.

I’m sure you can relate. I was so worn out. Now, awake at 4:30 AM, I was running out of patience and breathing deeply to keep my cool. Questions were spinning in my head: “Doesn’t he realise it’s way too early to wake up? Why is it always mommy he asks for? He’s got his ok-to-wake clock. What is it that he doesn’t understand?”

So, I lost it.

I left aside my usual calm but firm parenting approach, and I yelled at him. And, of course, he cried. I had to do damage control for the whole day to recoup from my sudden, uncontrolled outburst of anger. I felt bad the entire day.

The next morning, once the dust had settled, I asked myself: “Why is it so hard to get some sleep?” I mean, I know parents take for granted the fact that they may not be able to get as much sleep as before they had children, but does it really have to be that way?

As far as I was concerned, my husband and I were doing everything right. We had read countless books and articles on the topic of sleep routine. I knew we had the theory right, but it seemed what was missing was a way to put it in practice. We had the classic motivation chart up on the fridge and a few sleep-training clocks to help us. So, where was the problem exactly? As I looked closer at the tools I was using to help my children get better sleep, I had an epiphany.

I realised that none of the clocks and other sleep tools we were using bothered to create a bond with the child. I realised that none were adaptable to MY reality and MY children’s needs. I realised that I was the one who had to adapt to the tool, not the other way around!

I couldn’t resist asking myself, “Okay, we have electric cars, and people can watch live TV on their iPhone in the subway, so why exactly am I stuck with these clunky, mass manufactured, simplistic pieces of plastic to help me with one of the most precious things in my life – my children’s sleep and overall health and my own sleep?”

Then, my head started buzzing with more questions. Is there a way to simplify the way children read time? If I were to create a tool that is intuitive for parents to use AND easy for kids to understand, what would it look like? What would have to be done to create a solution that bonds with the child instead of gathering dust on the night table?

And that is when my husband, Martin, who is an experienced electronics engineer, chimed in.

The Novo123 founding team.

Together, we started dreaming of a solution that would be more intuitive for both parents and children, providing a true way for families to get more sleep. We were convinced that if we could build it, it would help thousands of parents around the world.

Our quest for Novo123 and Ooly the sleepy owl had begun!

Little did we know that we would end up spending the following year reading studies from NASA and Harvard Medical School and talking to children sleep experts from around the world…

I had quite a few “highs” during the first months of brainstorming functionalities for Ooly. For instance, when we realised we could simplify how children read time by using colors rather than numbers, and when we realised that having Ooly configured via an iPhone or Android device opened the door to so many possibilities, like making last-minute changes without the child noticing (and getting that extra 30 minutes of sleep on Sunday mornings 😉

At first, we were convinced that Ooly would be available at every store within a year, but boy were we wrong. The first time we discussed our idea with a child sleep expert, she asked upfront, “You are not going to put any blue light in there, are you?” This is how we discovered the hugely negative impact of blue light on sleep. Not only that, but reading through NASA and Harvard Medical School studies, we learned that the best light for sleep was actually red!

Red light has the least power to shift circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin.

In the end, it took us a year just to narrow down the product design and features. Once those were settled, it was time for us to start developing our prototype and bring the first Ooly to the world. Hard questions arose during the prototyping process. Where could we find a battery that would be eco-friendly AND last at least 7 days without having to charge? How could we make Ooly without any buttons so that kids couldn’t mess up the settings? How could we make it as safe and as kid-friendly as possible?

Ooly the Sleepy Owl

From a personal point of view, Ooly started occupying more and more of my thoughts, time, and energy. Having a full-time job and a full-time family life with two toddlers and a preschooler, I had to squeeze Ooly time in the evening between the last goodnight kisses to the kids and the next day lunch preparation. I also began cutting back on sleep. Ooly was developing, but at the expense of myself and my family. I started feeling more and more tired and being increasingly more impatient with my children. I felt guilty…

And then, in December 2015, a colleague came to me with feedback from the user of our very first prototype unit. It read like this: “My kids love it! This morning, my son showed up in our room all happy saying “Hey, Ooly is pink, we can get up!” He’s their buddy!” It’s hard for me to explain how I felt reading this. It gave me an amazing boost of energy and helped the whole team push forward to a successful launch on Indiegogo the following year. The Novo123 community has been growing ever since.

Looking back on the last five years, what stands out the most is that, despite the challenges we encountered, I never doubted Ooly. During that time, my kids grew up, their sleep habits changed (sometimes for the better, sometimes not!), they developed new ways to test my tolerance for sleep deprivation, but I never doubted that we were on the right track. I knew that if Ooly could help improve my own kids’ sleep, then it could do the same for thousands of parents around the world.