By Ruth Doris
A startup is on a mission to change our sleeping habits and get us bouncing out of bed in the mornings.
The FirstUp app rewards users for resisting the snooze button with treats like free coffee or a new lipstick.
With almost half of us getting less than the optimal six to eight hours per night, and two-thirds of those who manage to get enough sleep, reporting poor sleep quality, according to The Natural Sleep company’s 2016 survey, it’s clear we’re in need of a wake-up call about our morning routines.
Co-founders Ruaidhrí Finnegan and Dan Moriarty came up with the idea for FirstUp when Mr Finnegan was working as a DJ. He had felt that he needed a lifestyle change and began to get up early in the mornings to go to the gym. He called Mr Moriarty to talk about his idea of rewarding people for getting up early.
At the time, in early 2016, Mr Moriarty was working for pharmaceutical company Tonix, which made drugs for disorders “that were underpinned by issues with sleep”. That phonecall prompted him to look at sleep in a new light, he says. Having completed research and testing, the app was launched in December 2017. The current app, which is “kind of the prelude to the main act”, has over 5,000 downloads, with 1,100 people earning rewards from one of FirstUp’s brand partners, including Benefit Cosmetics, Maxol, and eyewear brand Ambr.
Instead of the standard alarm beep startling users out of their slumber, the FirstUp alarm clock app plays soothing ambient sounds to ease users into the day.
The team has developed “five pillars of better mornings”. The first four ideas are simple and proven lifestyle habits to improve sleep quality, and the reward is the hook that gets people interested in the app, Mr Moriarty says.
He says research shows basic lifestyle interventions to help improve sleep quality like reducing screen-use late at night, can reduce the risk of unipolar depression, anxiety issues and conditions like chronic fatigue.
Mr Moriarty says fast food company McDonald’s had a similar alarm clock app in Singapore and Taiwan that rewarded you for waking up. However, he likens FirstUp’s app to a more morning- centred version of the Headspace app, which is about “self-optimisation and a healthy mind”.
Almost half of the app’s users are in the 24 to 34-year-old group, and about a third are 18 to 24.
Mr Moriarty, 29, says users are tech savvy and they don’t like advertisements. “There’s a feeling among younger people that a lot of communication with brands online is shallow and superficial and like it’s been written by a bot. We’re trying to move away from that,” he says.
“The idea is that if the user is willing to spend their time with a brand and interact with a brand, they will in turn spend their money with the brand,” he says. The app has a companion website First Up Mornings with a lifestyle section, giving tips on alternatives to coffee in the morning and the best food to eat late at night to help sleep.
The team is developing additional social features to make it “like a community where users interact and set each other goals and challenges”.
Having received two grants from their Local Enterprise Office, of €5,000, and €15,000, FirstUp also raised €20,000 through private funders.
The company has earned over €28,000 in pre-launch revenue from the company’s brands and is exploring opportunities to get more partners.
Mr Moriarty says the team wanted to prove the commercial viability of the app before looking for further investment.
“You see the likes of Snapchat, and they get so many users and they never really made money. I think for a long time the investment community in the tech world was open to the idea of ‘let’s get the users and figure out how to monetise them later’.
The company is looking for the right investor, “someone who recognises the benefits of optimising your wake-up”.
Mr Moriarty says FirstUp plans to take the concept to a global market.
“We want to go from waking up thousands of people in a better mood to waking up millions of people in a better mood.”