Think about something from the past 24 hours that made you happy. It’s a simple exercise, but there’s research suggesting that just thinking back to such a moment will make you happier, both now and in the future.
That basic act is the premise behind Happier, a Boston-based startup dedicated to the idea that collecting and sharing our happy moments can meaningfully improve our lives. Earlier this month, the Happier mobile app went live in the Apple app store, offering iPhone users a space to capture the things in life that make them smile, and to share them with family and friends. Yes, we already do that, to some extent, on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. But Happier is betting that users will embrace a social space for happy moments that is both more intimate and more specific. One that’s free of snark and complaints and simply reserved for happiness.
Building a ‘Happiness Company’
There are two things you should know about Happier. First, the vision of a ‘happiness company’ isn’t cheesy; it’s awesome. Second, very few startups are as personal as this one. You’d understand both of these things if you met co-founder Nataly Kogan, a local entrepreneur formerly of Where.com, the location-based media company acquired by eBay in 2011. Happier is her brainchild, inspired in equal parts by her experiences as an entrepreneur and as an immigrant.
A while back Kogan went through a rut, as we all do, and found herself reading the academic literature around happiness in search of ways to optimize her own life. The discovery that focusing on happy moments can make you happier resonated particularly, she told me, based on her experience as a child prior to immigrating to the U.S. As she described on her blog the day Happier launched:
The seed for it was truly planted in the red light district in Vienna, where we lived in the horrid refugee housing on our way to the US in 1989… As a very “mature” 13-year old I thought the right thing was to STRESS and AGONIZE about the horrible state of our uncertain lives – no money, no citizenship, no guarantee we’ll ever get to the US. On our third day there my dad woke up one morning and told us that we were going to the zoo because it was free and to see the Opera house because he has always wanted to do it. I told him he was insane. (We went anyway.)
He wasn’t insane. On even the worst days, you can find something positive and choose to focus on it and do more of it.
So in May of last year, Kogan left Where, along with designer Sarah Wohl. They teamed up with co-founder Colin Plamondon, creator of the audiobook app Spreadsong, and then at the end of last year they were joined by Yoav Shapira, former VP of HubSpot. The company has raised seed funding from Venrock and Resolute.vc.
Open the Happier app for the first time and you’ll be asked, simply, “What makes you happier?” Your answer can be in the form of text, photo, or video. Next, you’re prompted to add that moment to a “collection,” like “family,” “getting stuff done,” “traveling,” or anything else you’d like. The sharing in Happier is designed to be more intimate, on the theory that what might seem like happy moments on Facebook or Instagram are so public that they really function more like humble brags, and discourage the sharing of everyday moments. So your moments are by default shared only with those you’ve connected with on Happier (it uses Facebook to login) rather than being public.
The app is sleek and fast, and the suggested collections are a great way to immediately introduce the necessary context for the app. This isn’t a place to post everything, they remind you, it’s all about what makes you happy. The app focuses users on the idea of three happy moments a day, and already, according to Kogan, some users are becoming obsessive about meeting that goal.
Despite a great app and an impressive team, there’s no denying the tough odds any consumer app faces. Only a few apps ever pull together the combination of luck and appeal to attract a significant user base, and even then it’s far from guaranteed that those users can be monetized. In Happier’s case, it also needs to convince users that it offers something you can’t (or won’t) do on other social media.
Even so, Happier has some advantages. After being featured in the app store, it’s seen a solid early response from users. And when it eventually comes time to monetize, there’s obvious reason why big brands like airlines and hotels might want to partner with an app that encourages the sharing of only positive experiences. (Kogan also mentioned commerce as a potential monetization route, though for now they’re focused squarely on product.)
“Happier is a beautiful app,” NextView’s Rob Go told me by email. “There is a huge market for products and media around self improvement and mental health, and I think the product taps into many of the motivations that drive consumers to engage in that market.”
Boston’s Next Big Consumer Brand?
Kogan isn’t shy about pointing out that Happier isn’t the prototypical Boston startup, and she sees that as an advantage. I’ve heard from other entrepreneurs the theory that Boston’s relative lack of emphasis on consumer startups means easier recruiting for those that are here, and Kogan subscribes to it as well.
Kogan and her team want to build Happier into a global brand focused around – what else – happiness, and in the process they want to do their part for Boston. That means contributing to the startup ecosystem with happy hour events and tapping into Northeastern’s co-op program, but it doesn’t stop there. Kogan and Wohl are exploring ideas for how a city’s happy moments might be converted into public art. Those kind of experiments are likely to come to Boston first.
We all want to be happy, but too often that desire takes the form of ambition, the idea that the future might be better than the present. There’s nothing wrong with looking forward, of course, but changing one’s life can be more difficult than simply learning to appreciate it. That, at the end of the day, is what Happier is about, the idea of giving thanks embedded in an app. The road to success for a company like Happier is a perilous one, dependent on fickle consumers and tricky economics. But if anyone can realize the company’s vision it’s Kogan and her team. That they’ve chosen Boston to do it stands to not only benefit the city’s startup ecosystem, but also, perhaps, to make it a happier place.