Ambitious but weak-willed self-improvers may soon find the answer to their problems — with some help from a Yale student and two Yale professors.
Stickk.com, a new Web site developed by Yale economics professor Dean Karlan, law professor Ian Ayres and Jordan Goldberg ’06 SOM ’09, will allow users to create contractual commitments with family, friends and employers in order to reach personal goals such as losing weight, quitting smoking or earning better grades. Currently in the planning stages and with a launch date set shortly before 2008, the Web site harnesses the same basic concept as other user-generated, Web-based companies such as MySpace, Facebook and YouTube.
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The site allows users to create personal profiles viewable by the public or a private “support network,” members of which can comment on their progress — or lack of it, Goldberg said. He said he hopes the site will provide built-in accountability for users attempting to achieve difficult goals.
The name of the site, Goldberg said, comes from its use of the “carrot and stick” approach.
“We are trying to motivate people to accomplish personal goals by having users literally put something on the line,” Goldberg said. “We’re not simply a motivational site. We’re actually giving them the necessary tools for success.”
Those tools include a rewards program, under which users can pre-purchase items — such as a big-screen TV — through the Web site, Goldberg said. The transaction only goes through if the user accomplishes his or her goal.
A group of friends can also create a group contract in which each commits a certain amount of money to a pool. The entire pot goes to only those friends who accomplish their goals, Goldberg said.
He said some companies have expressed interest in collaborating with Stickk.com to encourage employees looking to make healthy life changes by matching employees’ pledges.
“There’s a vested interest on the part of employers in the health of their employees,” Goldberg said.
Karlan said the idea for Stickk.com came from established theories in psychology and economics showing that people often fail to achieve their set goals despite a sincere desire to do so. Karlan published research in 2006 that showed that individuals studied in the Philippines were more successful at controlling their finances if they signed contracts beforehand that restricted their right to withdraw money.
Good intentions defeated by a weak will are also a problem for people trying to lose weight, Karlan said.
“The temptation of something really yummy always overpowers them,” he said.
After Karlan discussed the initial idea for Stickk.com with Ayres last year, the two professors began searching for a student to handle the day-to-day development of the business. Following the recommendation of one of Goldberg’s SOM professors, Karlan and Ayres contacted Goldberg and convinced him to come on board.
Goldberg said he was not committed to pursuing a business career when he entered Yale, and in 2006 he graduated with a degree in American studies. But in his senior year, he applied and was chosen for the Silver Scholars program at the Yale School of Management, which pays for the first year at SOM for select undergraduates. The program mandates that students take a year off between the first and second years of business school to gain professional experience.
The opportunity to work on Stickk.com could not have come “at a more opportune time,” Goldberg said.
He fine-tuned the idea further this summer at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, a 10-week program designed to foster New Haven-based enterprises. He presented the idea to many of YEI’s guest speakers, who provided him with positive feedback, YEI Director Jennifer McFadden SOM ’08 said.
“The idea was very well-received,” McFadden said. “I think that his [project] stood out because the idea was generated by two faculty members, and that kind of gives it a little bit of edge over the other projects. And on top of that, it’s an interesting idea.”
Although the basic elements of Stickk.com are similar to those of other user-generated and Web-based companies, Karlan said the project is unique because users can use the site to achieve an end that is tangible outside of the digital world.
“I think of it almost as a purposeful MySpace or a purposeful YouTube,” Karlan said.
Karlan said he, Ayres and Goldberg are committed to offering the Web site’s services free of charge and that they plan to make it profitable through advertisements and product tie-ins — promoting books that help people lose weight, for instance.
The largest challenge ahead is figuring out how to grow a successful company while staying in New Haven as long as possible, Goldberg said. Although YEI has achieved its goal of fostering a friendly environment for businesses in their nascent stages, he said, the Elm City does present serious limitations for those starting Web-based companies.
“The only limiting factor I see [for a company based in New Haven] is getting creative Web 2.0 talent,” Goldberg said, referring to companies based entirely on the Internet. “When I do need to grow and have a number of in-house programmers, it’s going to be difficult.”
Goldberg said Stickk.com’s late December launch is timed to help users with their New Years’ resolutions.