How We Started an App
for Strong and Healthy Couples
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, there! My name is Ariel, I’m the Co-founder of Asya.ai. We are a small team of AI data scientists working on a hard problem — to decrease the number of broken families. The way we do it is by helping couples become emotionally intelligent and understand each other better with meaningful conversations.
If you are in a meaningful relationship, or more importantly a young parent. You are welcome to try Asya app. The app is very simple. It gives more than 6000 topics through guided conversations and emotion detection AI. It’s similar to guided meditations from apps like Calm or Headspace which gives topics to think about while being mindful. But Asya is focused on talking rather than thinking. Our promise is simple — use Asya and get closer to each other while also becoming a better partner.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
I started to work on Asya with my older brother Evalds Urtans who is a Ph.D. in AI. For the past 7 years, I have worked in a design agency and recently finished my studies in Creative Advertising.
The story with Asya for us, as brothers, is rather simple. We grew up in a broken family where 4 boys were raised by a single mother. Now, as grown-ups with our own families we realised that today’s digital products actually draw people away from each other.
The 2019 UN Happiness report showed just how bad it is. People spend way more time on their phones rather than having face-to-face conversations. After working with relationship therapists, we realised that one of the top problems for couples who seek therapy is the lack of specific conversations that in time are uncomfortable to talk about. For instance; money, sex, values.
Even more important is the rather new therapy called EFT (Emotional focus therapy) that actually shows that for couples to succeed emotional connection is the key driver. In our case, Asya artificial intelligence detects emotions from the conversation and helps couples to create better awareness of their emotions. This helps tremendously to improve the ability to read and understand each other’s emotions.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
There have been many challenges. In terms of funding, I have noticed that many VC’s and even VC’s that say they are for “Tech for good” actually are not looking for tech for good, but rather for tech that makes money fast. The good news is that through all of this we found quite a few investors who are behind us both financially and otherwise.
The other challenge to my mind is the state of the market. As for any startup, there is a search for market fit. The thing that no one tells or talks about is that in many cases the reality is less about what the market needs, but what culture behaviours the product taps in and how much friction it is to use the product.
For instance, Tinder is easy because you don’t need to go up to someone’s face in the pub to talk to, you get rid of the friction to understand who you are engaging with. Social media gives you a sense of importance by seeing likes without doing much work for it. You feel good without any reality of human interactions. This doesn’t mean that these products are somehow bad, rathar, that the general culture of instant gratification and pleasure can produce more demand for products like these.
In the academy award-winning film “Her” this is highlighted even better. AI is the relationship. The perfect relationship that satisfies emotional needs, gets rid of any human flaws. A world where you buy relationships rather create and keep them.
In this way, Asya is the opposite of that. We encourage people to talk to each other face-to-face, to create human experience. To create real bonds and experience all emotions.
This challenge of finding people who are ready to work on their relationships is hard though. We’ve seen many who get excited about what we do until they actually need to talk to their partner, oh dear. But we see our core market fit with young families. Both fathers and mothers are actively leading their relationship by using weekly talks and other guided conversations.
The young family fit also closely relates to the research done by therapists that show that couples see more than 50% dip in relationship quality after having their first child.
Asya is there to help to understand each other’s needs and to encourage couples to find time for each other, for themselves and to keep the greater vision of healthy relationships that gives the much-needed order in life.
Who is your target market?
Our core users are women, about 75%. But we also have many highly engaged men. This gap also mirrors the western culture where women are thought to be the persona who takes care of the relationship and emotional needs within this relationship. However, research in emotional intelligence shows that the top men and women who are leaders at their work are also highly emotionally intelligent at home.
Most users are in mature relationships that are 5+ years old and have young children. We do have users both in the dating period and some in later stages, but the core bulk of users are people who have matured to have a relationship that needs to be worked on.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
Our core marketing so far was through organic reach (events, PR), but recently we started to improve our ASO and also tried a few paid ad campaigns. One of our best ways to market Asya is via sponsorship for couples/families to post a story about their relationship journey. We’ve seen many couples who are very excited about this as there aren’t too many brands out there that can give people very interesting content for their social media followers.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
For us, the product UX/Design had played a major role in retention. We recently added a section in the app “Weekly limited time talks”. In essence, each week we give one free talk about important issues or topics that will expire within 1 week. Many users start to develop a habit to come back and see what is the new weekly talk and try it over the weekend.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
Our team works from our offices or where they find it comfortable. As half our team does some sort of post-grad e.c. studies, many will work from their university labs or libraries.
The main unique aspect of our team culture must be the fact that we do weekly review meetings at the end of Friday called PPPP, sometimes just 3P’s. It means (Progress, Problem, Plan, Pizza). It’s a special meeting for us because when everyone else goes home, we stay in the office to really keep each other accountable and supported.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
We use Toggl time tracking software, Evernote for notes and Dropbox for planning. We used to use Basecamp and Asana, but at this stage have found that Whatsapp direct messaging is quite often faster when every day matters.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
It’s important to talk to customers. Before that, It’s important to have a product that works well. This really comes from Seth Godin. He recently published a book called “This Is Marketing” where he talks about MVM (Minimal viable market). The thing that he also mentions is that you can’t ship something that’s not working well.
When we started we didn’t have enough funding to wait for 2 years to polish what we have, so we shipped a buggy app. I think we probably burned 99% of those users. If we could do it differently, we would need to raise more money. If you can’t raise more money and need to ship what you have, say sorry to your users and give them a hoodie.
Also, ignore investors who invite you for pitches if they are 25-35 years olds, unless, they are founders themselves and are angel investors. Most VCs have “Gatekeepers” whose only purpose is to waste your time. On the flip side, some of the toughest calls with mature investors have been of great value even if they didn’t invest. Rule of thumb: if the VC investor has never been a founder himself, say no to meeting and focus on your business.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
For me it’s courage. Without it you can’t be an entrepreneur. It is something you learn and practice. You live by it if you are an entrepreneur. If you start to practice courage you will start to notice that you become stronger. The more you hide, ignore, choose the easy way the less courage you practice and less emotional strength you have.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Accounting. Can anyone relate to this?
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
Seth Godin and Zig Ziglar. They both have created amazing books and content. For me, they represent courage, hope and the spirit of entrepreneurship. To go more on heavier literature it’s worth mentioning Nassim Taleb and Daniel Kahneman. Their books are a great source for reflection and deep thinking about many of the automatic things we do and how economics play a major role in design and human behaviour.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
We see that Asya app will have at least 500’000 users with monthly revenues topping $250k. On top of that we will have started to diversify our product portfolio to use our AI engine in multiple products & market segments.