By Jacquie Pirnie - April 4, 2015
Tags: consumer apps, how to create an app
Getting your app idea off the ground is both exciting and stressful. We were lucky to get the insider’s view of the process with the winner of last fall’s Startup Bus/Pioneer Festival held in Vienna. She and the AppHappening team led by our CTO, Simon Anquetil, had just a few days to put together the app as a prototype (on a bus, no less!) to be pitched in front of a panel of world-class tech experts when they arrived at the capital.
Since her big win at this global event, Kristina WIlms and her app named Arya have gone through an intriguing growth process. We asked her how things are going and what lessons she learned along the way.
Kristina, could you give a bit of background about your amazing app?
Sure, Arya is a mobile app created to support the treatment of depression and other mental illnesses, which are treated by behaviour therapy. To give you a better understanding of why an app like Arya is needed, let me just give you some insight into behaviour therapy.
Behavior therapy focuses on helping a person understand how altering their behaviour can evolve into changes in how they are feeling.Behavior therapy’s goal is focused on growing a person’s engagement in activities that are positive or socially reinforcing.
The first step is always to gain an understanding of your actual behaviour (which is not only “action” itself, but also the emotions, physical feelings and thoughts in a given situation).
The buzzword would be “Self-Monitoring”.
The person is asked to keep a detailed log of their mood, physical feelings (like a hurting neck, stomach problems, a narrow feeling in the throat), thoughts (like,” I am afraid of doing something wrong“ , “I am lonely, nobody likes me“, the underlying circumstances (like a conflict at work, bad sleep, an exam that is coming up) and the reactions (like staying in bed all day long, postponing meetings with friends, crying) By examining the list at the next session, the therapist can see exactly what the person is doing, what triggers certain moods and reactions and so on.
The next step is to analyze and reflect (mindfulness!) on it and to show and practice other ways of behaviour or to challenge and put things into perspective. The recording of these feelings and behaviours are normally done on paper in form of a “mood-diary“. This “equipment” has to be carried around by the patient all day long. Doing this and recording one’s feelings in public is annoying, unpractical and indiscreet.
People who are suffering from depression for example do already feel pretty bad, have problems in coping the day and managing the simplest things like cooking, going to work, because of a lack of energy.
In many cases the recording is simply not done, because it is too “exhausting” and people feel ashamed.
Or if it is done people normally do it at home in the evening and rethink the day and track the things that they remember – therapists complain because it was found out that people evaluate the situations and feelings differently afterwards.
Now the recording can be done with Arya. Arya enables the patient to record the mood, the circumstances, the physical feelings, thoughts and reactions intuitively, quickly and completely discreet into the mobile device. The data is automatically sent to the therapist, who has a special dashboard to manage and analyze the data that he or she receives.
In addition to the recording and reflection function, Arya has two additional features.
The “Hero-Tool” works as a patient activator and reminds the patient to do things that have a positive impact on the mood. The app is smart and all the records are stored and with some kind of an algorithm that triggers the hero “talk” to you in difficult situations.
A symptom of depression is that people don’t see any reason for doing anything anymore. Nothing makes sense anymore, no energy is left and everything is grey and empty. To get out of it, you have to get active again (which is the most difficult thing, because it is against everything you actually want at this time, but you have to) – so, the hero is a friendly reminder in bad situations that gives you a structure and tasks with some kind of a reason to do actually something.
The second feature is the Inner Circle. Through the Inner Circle the patient is connected to 3-5 people (like friends and family). The Inner Circle challenges the social isolation that comes with a depression and creates a feeling of being connected.
Studies show that just the knowledge that someone is keeping an eye on you is makes you feel better.
Last but not least, there is the Arya-community because Arya is more than just a professional app to support the treatment of mental illnesses. We want to build up a community of people who decided to not ignore this prevalent problem in our society anymore.
Tell us about your experience with the StartUp Bus (and Simon).
Well, I would say that this was some kind of a life changing experience.
As you might know, I won the ticket by accident as I was not expecting to win.
I received an invitation to enter the contest in my email from AppHappening on a Monday. Normally I would not even enter it because I am definitely not working in the field of digital innovation and startups (at this time I was a student for dance-therapy) but I did. So I sent my really rough idea for this kind of app never expecting to win because I never won anything and I actually thought nobody would ever read my reply.
However, two days later on Wednesday I got a call from an Australian number and I answered the call and there was this person (who turned out to be Simon) screaming something like “KRISTINA! CONGRATS! YOU WON THE TICKET! I was so surprised! I was unsure as to what I was getting into but I finally decided to take part, even though I was not really convinced and I was afraid.
The Startup Bus was crazy and exhausting and challenging and sometimes annoying, but it was the best thing I ever did.
I did things that I never thought I could.
I mean, I am suffering from depression, which means I normally need structure, security and a plan, enough sleep and so on. There was nothing of those things during StartUp Bus competition. But I still liked it because there was something that I realized is more important for me than all these great “well-being-components. There was a group of people, I was part of this group and they respected me.
Even more, I was only able to push my limitations because there were people like Simon who simply believed in me and the idea (more than I actually did).
They kept (and still keep) “a warm hand in my back” there to nudge me in a friendly way.
What was the toughest decision you had to make in the last 6 months?
Actually there were two things.
I was terrified that I wouldn’t manage to survive this, and that I would not be able to swim in the open ocean.
And yes, it was and still sometimes is pretty challenging, but I learned that there are people who keep my head up if I am really struggling.
Secondly, was the decision to leave the initial StartUp Bus Team. We had some differences in goals, and I felt that I needed to make decisions that dovetailed with vision.
It was the first time in my life that I made a decision according to my values even though it would provoke a conflict and possibly risk the whole project.
But it turned out to be the perfectly right decision.
What aspect of the development of your app was the most important?
The most important process was actually to communicate the idea to the developers and designers. I don’t have any idea about coding and any digital-related stuff, so I simply told them what I want the thing to do and what kind of user-experience I think it should evoke – for that, the design was very important. The user should feel good and safe and accepted. Using Arya should not be a burden, it should be connected to something positive.
How do you stay motivated?
I never really thought about this.
It is simply that Arya is more than just an app. Yes, the app will help to make the treatment easier. That will increase the quality of life of many people.
But there is so much more and it is hard to put it into words.
As soon as I start to talk about my reality, people respond by opening up as well. This was especially true when I was engaging with members of the StartUp Bus. Those successful and “cool” people were not only saying that they understood, but that they themselves have similar experiences or that they know someone who suffers from depression.
I always thought that I am completely alone with that, like an alien, not fitting into this world somehow.
Now I know that I am not that alone.
And, I realized that starting to get active and leaving the role of a victim helps A LOT.
This is why I would love to give more people the chance to do the same, to find the courage and the support of people to speak up and raise their voice – because once you are accepting yourselves the way you really are, life becomes easier.
This keeps me motivated: The fact that it is not only my problem and the wish to show and encourage others to speak up as well.
What has been the biggest surprise in the last 6 months?
Really simple: That it is ok to be me. That it is ok to say “Hi, I am Kristina and I suffer from depression and this is why I sometimes feel like crying even though everything is fine” and people still want to talk to me and have a beer!
That it is ok to live and act according to my values (it even feels good).
What is your goal for 2014?
This overlaps slightly with the motivation question: I want to build up the Arya community.
As I mentioned before, the Arya community are people who are supporting the project and/or who are suffering from whatever kind of mental illness.
We are conducting campaigns, events and workshops to challenge the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illnesses. And I simply want people to come closer to the point of accepting themselves with all their weaknesses.
Another, more personal, goal is to discover more possibilities of things that make me feel good. I have the feeling that I just started to live a life that I always wanted to live. But I have the feeling that there is so much more to explore, so many possibilities and things to see.
Oh, and one thing on my list is, maybe not this year, to visit Simon in Sydney. I had been living in Sydney for a month last year and since I heard his accent when he called me, I want to go back.