This brother and sister duo have a growing startup that uses simple text messages to get you off your phone and off on real-life adventures
- The Nudge is a text messaging service that sends messages to its community of subscribers, trying to get people off their phones and off on adventures in the San Francisco Bay Area.
- The company was co-founded by the brother and sister team of John and Sarah Peterson.
- The company raised $US540,000 in “pre-seed” round in July and will be expanding to Seattle in the coming months, after some early success in San Francisco.
- When asked about starting a company as siblings, John told us: “It’s kind of intense sometimes, to be honest.”
Sarah Peterson was working for Apple in Munich, Germany when she found out that her older brother John was starting his own company.
That company, called Livday, created daily itineraries for people exploring new cities. The plans told users not only where to hike and which museums to explore, but also where to get a coffee beforehand, and where to grab a post-adventure meal.
Sarah was obsessed. She created over 50 Livday plans while living overseas, trying to convince John to expand his operations to Munich.
Instead, the siblings decided to team up for a grander plan, and Sarah moved back to San Francisco. She quit her job at Apple and, together with her brother, rebranded the company as The Nudge, with John as CEO and Sarah as chief marketing officer.
In a recent interview with the family duo, John told me that most people are pretty bad with their free time and often rely on that one “planner friend” to create an exciting, weekend itinerary.
“The Nudge is that planner friend in your pocket,” he explains.
Available only in San Francisco for now, The Nudge sends text messages, usually close to the weekend, to its users, giving them ideas of fun things to do in and out of the city.
Some of the most successful “nudges,” Sarah tells me, were a hike to the Tourist Club (a beer garden atop the San Francisco Bay Area’s Mt. Tamalpais, only open to guests on certain days of the year) and a run with the Electric Flight Club (an “exclusive fitness and social club” with a chapter in the Bay Area).
The idea, the duo says, is to help encourage people to stop checking their phone and start having real-life experiences.
Get up and go
The Nudge’s primary goal is to get people to get off their rear ends and go have adventures, but John tells me that’s not an easy task.
“There’s a reason why technology has not really figured this space out yet for people because it’s just hard,” he explains. “People are lazy. Psychology is complicated. You’re trying to compete with something that is very similar to an actual cocaine addiction and checking of Instagram.”
To help them with this undertaking, the Peterson’s raised a $US540,000 “pre-seed” round in July with NextView Ventures as its lead investor. To date, The Nudge says it has over 10,000 subscribers in San Francisco.
The Nudge is free to download for now, but the team is considering making it a subscription service, so as to avoid having to rely on advertising. The company has also tested paid products that “nudge” its users in other parts of their lives – like fitness.
One recent pilot program, called The Fit 30 Nudge was launched nationally and texted people daily workout routines. To keep users accountable, the team created a “sweaty selfie-tracker” that prompted users to take a selfie after each workout. Around 2,000 people participated in the Fit 30 Nudge, which cost $US19 to sign up.
The Nudge app’s user base is 70% female and Sarah – the company’s CMO – tells me that 1 in 10 millennial women in San Francisco is subscribed to the Nudge.
The team believes that the personal touch of SMS texting has been a key to their success thus far. They experimented with other mediums – like newsletters, calendar integrations, and Slack bots – but found those to be much less effective when it came to helping people find their initiative.
Those receiving SMS messages had a different perception of the interaction as well.”The text people would be like, ‘Oh, you’re one of my friends who texts me what to do in my free time,’” John explains. “Texting is a sacred thing.”
How to make a Nudge
For the 34-year-old former consultant, The Nudge has been four long years in the making.
Like many Silicon Valley startups of legend, John worked out of his garage. This time, though, the garage was also his roommate’s woodworking studio. He spent months covered in dust and wearing a construction mask to help him breathe.
Today, the future is looking brighter for The Nudge. The team has grown to five employees and will be expanding to Seattle in the next few months – its first market outside of the Bay Area.
As for a brother-sister duo leading the way, John and Sarah say it’s been mostly positive thus far.
“You don’t waste any time,” John says. “But it’s kind intense sometimes, to be honest. We’re siblings. We have a lifetime of experience together, so things can get intense. But it’s good. It’s productive.”
“You do need to unlearn some habits with the person,” Sarah explains. “You might have a more fiery opinion on something, and I think that can be good and bad. We moved really quickly in the beginning because we didn’t have to spend time building respect or trust with each other. We could just have a healthy debate and move on.”
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