Blog Post

Can an app help you be a better person?

Between scales that tweet your weight loss progress and apps that track your running times, it’s clear there’s a desire for social devices and apps that can encourage, motivate and produce results for people trying to get physically healthier. But can an app designed to turn you into a better, more adventurous or accomplished person produce real results too?

Everest dreams appThat’s what the founder of an iOS(s AAPL) app called Everest is trying to prove. Everest is a goals app, and as the name implies, it’s aimed at people trying to conquer something. You sign up, list life goals (short- and long-term) that you want to accomplish, and publicize them within the app’s network so that fellow travelers with similar goals or who have accomplished those things can offer encouragement through comments and congratulations. The person with the goal can also post updates or pictures of how they’re making progress on the goal.

Everest has plenty of influential believers on board already: Peter Thiel, Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia and X Prize founder Peter Diamandis contributed to the $2 million in angel funding he has received since summer 2012.

The app is sort of tangential to the “quantified self” movement, which has to do with a person’s physical state — tracking sleep patterns, heart rate, exercise, food intake and more. Everest is more about the actualized self: having a vision of the person you want to be and using encouragement, motivation and help from people like you to unlock your potential.

Keeping track of your dreams on your iPhone

Everest founder Francis Pedraza believes his app can produce results because it gives people two things: a record of their goal and encouragement along the way. “Most people lack organization. Less than 10 percent of people actually write down things they want to do,” he said to me in a recent interview. “They need process and steps to take — they need a tool.”

But that’s not all: “There’s a lack of support,” he said. “They don’t share what they want to do or the progress, so they can’t get encouragement, accountability or learn from people who’ve done similar things.” The types of goals or “dreams” entered into Everest vary a lot. It covers a lot of physical health goals, but also things like, “be more organized,” “write a new song,” “save money,” “apply for a business license,” “code every day,” “perform 20 random acts of kindness,” and more.

Challenges EverestThere is plenty of research that supports the effectiveness of social groups helping each other, online and off, John Grohol, psychologist and founder of told me.

“When you have people who hold your feet to the fire in terms of helping you reach your goals by keeping in touch with you, by texting you, by saying hello in the app … when you’re in a group of people like that, it tends to help everyone in that group achieve their goals more quickly and makes it more likely they’ll meet their goals.”

There have been 1 million dreams input into Everest since it launched in February. But how much are people sticking with them over time? There’s a lot of activity of entering dreams, but it’s hard to tell just from flipping through the app how much follow-through there is, and Pedraza did not elaborate.

Aspirations matter

Whether or not people actually follow up on their goals in Everest — that is, whether people are writing new songs, learning new instruments, starting a business or practicing their hobbies more regularly — will matter eventually, especially if he wants to build a lasting business around constantly engaged users. But I think Everest taps into the same vein as apps like Snapguide and Pinterest: it’s aspirational. The idea of identifying your specific goals or dreams is the initial appeal.

These kinds of services, Pinterest especially, are full of non-professionals or amateurs who want to promote their own creative skills and help other non-professionals achieve something — from being the kind of mom that makes only organic, locally sourced baby food, to brining and roasting a chicken like a pro, or recreating a wedding that looks like it belongs in a glossy magazine.

My Everest goal, for example, of traveling to one new country per year doesn’t necessarily require instruction — I’m quite familiar with booking travel. As a goal, it is self-improvement: it’s really about me literally expanding my horizons. But it seems perfect as an Everest kind of goal because all I really need is inspiration from the places that others travel.

Everest is combining the prevalence of our devices with drawing inspiration and purpose from social networks and the examples of others. It’s also very well-designed. With all of these qualities, Everest has a shot at signing up a lot of people. But getting them to follow through and stay engaged is another mountain for them to climb.

3 Responses to “Can an app help you be a better person?”

  1. Rob Shoesmith

    I’m personally looking at some NLP apps and have learnt a fair bit. I think apps can make you a better person.

    I have also been using the TED app a lot and some of the speakers I have watched have made me look at things in such a different way and make me think about things I should improve on.

    One example was a North Korean man who managed to get into the USA and study for a degree after watching his father die of starvation.

    It has made me think about how I take certain things for granted such as how much opportunity there actually is for people like myself in the UK.

    There have been so many apps that have helped me through troubled times to make me a better person.

  2. Jordy Mont-Reynaud

    “There’s a lot of activity of entering dreams, but it’s hard to tell just from flipping through the app how much follow-through there is, and Pedraza did not elaborate.”

    Spot on.

    This is the dirty little secret of goal setting, “habit design” or “behavior design” apps. It’s easy to list a bunch of dreams on a website or app, but actually following up one week or one month later is a different story. I should know because I’ve been testing these apps for the last 4 years with closed betas at and (both shut down/pivoted after failing to gain enough traction).

    We saw the exact same thing – users would create tons of goals and then never come back. You create these goals when you’re feeling inspired. But then you actually have to do the hard work, and you don’t. And then you see this long list of things that you “should be” doing but you aren’t, and you feel bad about yourself. Self improvement is a real pain in the ass, I tell you.

    I share Francis’ vision about technology for self actualization, and I admire the progress the Everest team (as well as Lift app) has made on that front. They got farther than I did, that’s for sure! But after the last several years, my gut tells me that these general-purpose “list any any goal or habit” apps have a really steep challenge ahead of them. It’s true that community is a huge part of successful behavior change. The problem is that it’s really hard to build community around “any goal”. It’s much easier to build community for one niche. Take RunKeeper for example. They started out as FitnessKeeper but zoomed in to focus on running and that’s how they get their initial traction. Now years later they are trying to go more general-case again with the Health Graph API etc. This feels like the right strategy to me.

    The other thing I’ve learned over the last few years are that technology doesn’t change people. People change people. It’s not about the app letting you list goals and all of a sudden that’s all you needed to live your dreams. You need a real human being that you can turn to when you fail at your goal, who will listen to your story, who will listen to you expressing vulnerability and weakness and failure, and who will believe in you when you stop believing in yourself. *That* is the real magic of self improvement, self actualization, whatever you want to call it. A relationship with another human being who can guide you on your path. Of course, that doesn’t scale. So no tech companies are going down that path… yet.

    Look, I don’t want to say that Everest and Lift are doomed to fail in their current versions… but they have a long and difficult road ahead. I would love to be proven wrong. :)

    • Erica Ogg

      Great comment. And it’s good to hear from people who’ve been down this road before. I’m very curious to see where this app goes. I wonder if it will end up focusing on a specific goal some day, as you mentioned with RunKeeper? We will see!