During Covid-19, people report feeling tired, depressed, and having low motivation to complete tasks and goals. As quarantine wears on, feelings of empowerment, esteem, and self-perceived self-efficacy are at record lows. In short, people don't feel like themselves. Many feel alone as they face difficult day-to-day challenges.

A global pandemic exacerbates an already existing challenge: studies show people are, as a general rule, ineffective at setting and achieving their goals. Meanwhile, when people do achieve their goals, they feel an increased sense of self-worth and self-efficacy, which leads them to a self-reinforcing virtuous cycle of a more positive mental state and higher achievement.

Although the idea for "Better" crystallized only recently, it originated in the experiences several of us had living together. We used to write weekly goals on a common whiteboard and put money in a dollar jar when we failed to meet our goals. The money from failed goals would go to charity. Alas, contributions were self-discretionary and we often forgot. We all wanted a better system.

As we researched the challenge and interviewed professors who specialize in goal-setting research, we learned that goal-setting and goal-achievement can be segmented into distinct components.

  1. Ineffective goal setting. 98% of young professionals set goals, but only 15% strongly agree that they set effective goals for themselves regularly (Survey we conducted of 150 individuals aged 21-35). Research literature shows that ambitious, specific, and measurable goals with a deadline yield better outcomes (Metastudy of 65 studies by Mento, Steel, and Locke).

  2. No Accountability. We frequently forget our goals, don’t measure success, and are seldom held accountable, let alone write-down our goals. The #1 reason for goal failure is lack of accountability and skin in the game. There is no social or other consequence of not meeting our goals.

The result of #1 and #2 is goal failure. The vast majority of people don’t achieve their goals. 80% fail their New Year’s goals by February, for example. 73% of surveyed young professionals agree “I could more effectively use goals to improve myself or achieve more.”

What it does

Better uses friendly accountability to make goals social and structured, bring people together, motivate them, and foster feelings of empowerment amidst times of stress and social isolation.

Better encourages individuals to "better themselves" and "better their friends" by setting positive, measurable personal goals - whether in personal finance, personal health, fitness, professional, academic, family /relationships, behavioral. social relationships, other personal habits, environmental impact, or other.

After an individual sets a goal, they challenge a friend or friends to either match that same goal, or set their own goal. They then decide on what's at stake. It could be a donation to charity, a product (like a book), a favor, or a small dollar amount ($5).

Here's how the app works.

  1. Write an actionable goal.
  2. Set an end date for the goal.
  3. Choose what's at stake, such as a product, a written-in prize, a donation to charity, or a small dollar amount.
  4. Choose someone either on the app or in your contact book to challenge.
  5. You may optionally assign your friend a goal or leave this blank for them to write one themselves.
  6. Submit the goal!

On the home page, user view and monitor their outstanding bets, including those in progress, pending (sent), and requested (received). They can see whether their friend has completed their goal and how many days you have left to complete yours.

New Bets. Press on the plus sign at the bottom middle of the home page to challenge someone to a new bet.

Bet feed. See other peoples’ bets they’ve chosen to make public.

Profile. See your profile, edit settings, and see outcomes.

We know that people are more likely to achieve their goals when they are written, specific, measurable, and when the goal setter is accountable to someone else. We also know that when people achieve their goals they are more motivated and feel more capable, and have a more positive self-image.

We learned, through experiments and surveys, that 90% of 35 friends challenged to self-improvement bets accepted them and followed through, and that 50% of young professionals in a survey of 150 individuals would make similar bets with friends and family.

One of our largest influences is the company Stickk, started by a Nobel Laureate economist to help individuals to stick to their New Year's resolutions. We similarly believe in embracing the principles of behavioral economics to help individuals achieve their full potential. Competitive analysis shows that the niche of social + productivity has yet to be tackled successfully. Although there are a few apps focused exclusively on fitness or charitable donations, there are none that allow mutual accountability with friends and family and flexibility of goals and what is at stake.

These are our values:

We believe... We believe human potential is boundless We are so much more capable than we think With the right tools and nudges, we can each become our best selves The world is full of problems waiting to be solved

We intend to create a positive community of self-betterment Peer accountability and friendly competition are powerful motivators Written goals and skin in the game promote accountability Concurrent goal striving will bring people closer together

We will be ethical, curious, and analytical We commit strongly to the principle of do no harm We are relentlessly curious to find the things worth doing We embrace a data-driven and experimental approach to product design

How we built it

We built it using Python and Django for the backend, and Javascript + React Native for the frontend framework.

Challenges we ran into

We ran into challenges both in coding and on the concept side.

As we built the app, we learned that React Native is quite different from web development with React.js. Although syntax and semantics remain relatively similar, the component libraries were not very dynamic. Although we would have loved to use UI kits to speed up our development, we had to shift to building our own to retain uniqueness and to fit our design needs.

Also, although React Native is cross platform with 70% shared code between Android and iOS, we did not have time to convert the remaining 30% into Android Native, so we decided to develop solely for iOS (which led to some of our developers being unable to work on the project due to the lack of an iOS device for testing). Finally, we had to engage our creative thinking in order to work around the limitations of styling and linking of React Native components in order to provide a simple but purposeful front-end.

On the business/concept side, after discussions with lawyers, we realized that Content Moderation would be a challenge. Bets will need to be approved to ensure no immoral or potentially dangerous bets are placed.  The app will not allow wagering on chance outcomes such as who would win an athletic contest – all bets have to be within the user’s control, rather than luck-based (so, technically not “betting”).

We learned from the survey that competitiveness rises and mutual support falls as betting amount rises. So we decided to cap bets, both for individual bets and for cumulative amount of dollars at stake.

Dispute resolution. We realized that two parties will not always agree on the outcome of a pair of goals, so we will only transact bets if both parties agree on the outcome. When there is a dispute between two users in good standing, scuttle the bet. If an individual has repeated incidents, remove them from the platform.

Truthfulness of failing to reach a goal. We were concerned that individuals would not always own up when they had failed to meet a goal, but our experience now with approximately 50 bets shows that about 40% were failed, indicating an honesty and a willingness to open up about the setbacks that happen when we set goals and don't reach them. We think this sort of openness, especially when responded to with encouragement from friends, can be healthy - much better than hiding struggles.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

We ran an experiment with 51 friends by challenging them without any context to a goals competition. We think the results exemplify the spirit of friendly collaboration and self-improvement on a small scale that we hope to replicate on a much larger scale.

“Hey, I’m trying this experiment where betting with friends boosts accountability. I have some tough goals I need to complete this weekend, so I’d like to bet you $10 I can complete my goal against $10 that you can complete one of yours by Sunday night. If one of us doesn’t meet our respective goal, we pay the other person. Would you be interested?”

91% agreed to the bet, proposed a goal, and followed through (90%). Bet participants checked in on each other and offered words of encouragement. Many set stretch productivity and fitness goals. One requested proceeds go to charity. ~60% completed their goals successfully, all were interested in repeating the contest with new goals, and a few even challenged their friends.

What we learned

We learned that setting goals with friends is ultimately more collaborative than competitive, and that it improves feelings of accountability and self-worth. We saw in surveys that a very high share (84%) of young professionals are comfortable sharing goals with friends, 98% set goals, and 53% place bets.

We learned that we need to be very careful with unintended consequences of goals, and work carefully on content moderation with the guidance of experienced lawyers to ensure we do no harm, and only do good.

What's next for Better

  1. Beta test MVP and conduct A/B experiments on goal behavior with small group with non-monetary bets, refine prototype, formalize advisors
  2. Run A/B tests on goal behavior of various potential features: group feature, messenger, rewards for goals, determine key data for users in tracking self-improvement, content moderation approach, google sentiment API, any corporate partnerships.
  3. Full launch on campuses, recruit professors and high-profile corporate sponsors if needed.
  4. Scale app and address financing for AWS services, storage, load balancing, workflow environment, and other scaling costs.
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