By J. D. Peterson
Last week we spoke with Dr. Gary Krane, founder of the CoupleWise multi-media online relationship-improvement service, to find out how this venture came about (see article “My Journey,” http://couplewise.wordpress.com/about-2/our-history/) and where it fits into the field of modern relationship counseling. In this installment of the interview, Gary discusses the challenges his startup company has faced, where it’s headed, how it will work, and the process and benefits of becoming a member.
IV: What have been the major challenges you’ve faced in the development of this kind of program?
GK: It’s very simple: the biggest challenge is the coding, the engineering, the programming, or putting it another way, finding a tech cofounder who is both competent and also honest, and that’s been because I’ve never had the finances to hire good engineers, and I’ve never had the training to do the programming myself. So I’ve had to rely on engineers who turned out to be, in every case until very recently, either incompetent, dishonest, or both. And so, unfortunately, I’ve had a very long, sad history trusting the wrong people. But that’s turned around now, and as long as we can find one more good engineer, even half time, we should be able to launch in about two months.
IV: Can you tell us a little about how it will work?
GK: The first thing you’ll do upon enrolling in CoupleWise is set up an account for both you and your partner. The account creation process will probably take each of you anywhere from 30-45 minutes or longer, depending how thorough you want to be. This includes answering a small number of key questions, rating how well you feel your partner is meeting your identified needs, and prioritizing those needs to let your partner see clearly what’s most important to you. Then you would link your accounts, review your partner’s answers, and begin working together to resolve your differences, or if your relationship is already great, to ensure it stays that way.
We’ll have a number of fun and useful tools to help guide people through this process, including member forums, constructive games, interactive video, professional advice columns, and much much more—there’s just so many ways that a multimedia, social-networking system with access to limitless information can help couples in need.
IV: What about those who say that face-to-face human interaction is a necessary part of couples counseling, and that it requires a trained therapist to perform this role adequately?
GK: I would say certainly for very severe diagnoses, we ourselves are going to tell people to seek professional help—certainly if there’s any violence or any addictions, people should be getting professional help, but I guess the verdict is out as to what else we will not be able to do that only a therapist can do. But you should also keep in mind that, according to a NY Times study about two or three years ago, forty percent of the people that see therapists end up worse off. So hopefully we’ll have a much better track record than that, and it will certainly cost less—instead of $150 an hour, for that price people could subscribe to us all year long, and that’s 24/7.
IV: Do you envision your service as running in competition with therapists or the traditional therapy community?
GK: Not really, because I think it’s going to be a very valuable compliment to therapies. One of the biggest frustrations therapists have is that, if they’re good, people still can’t afford more than an average of seven or eight sessions, which is a statistic from the American Association of Marriage & Family Therapists. So people leave at a much improved level of functioning, but then they start to backslide.
So the reason why we think therapists are actually going to like our software is that they can use it as an aftercare tool to help couples maintain whatever they’ve learned seeing the therapist, and possibly even improve. It’s also going to benefit therapists because, if therapists, for example, buy ten or twenty of our vouchers to give their clients (which would be very cheap, probably like five dollars for a six-month subscription or something), we’ll give them a nice ad on our site.
No doubt some people might, after experiencing the value of our service, be more willing to see a therapist than they would’ve before, and there’ll be a whole section advertising therapists to go to—so they’ll actually get some promotion. But I think the biggest advantage for therapists is, if this backsliding thing is eliminated, their clients will keep saying good things about them month after month, year after year, and that’s going to generate more business for them.
IV: Will it be free like many web-based applications, or what will you charge, and how do you rationalize that price?
GK: There’ll be certain tools that will be free—we’re not sure which ones yet—probably the tool that helps people be clear about what their problems are, and that will be pretty valuable in and of itself. In testing our alpha, we tested about 100 couples and almost 80% of them said it was really great the way they just got clear about what the problem was in ways that didn’t get them into arguments or blame and criticisms.
So that’s going to be our free gateway, and then the price of $15-20 a month—that’s just sort of something we felt was subjectively small enough that most people would not feel too reluctant. If you work it out by week, and people only have to spend the cost of a glass of wine or a bowl of soup for something that might really improve their marriage or relationship, most people are going to say, “Why not?
IV: When will your beta be available to test, where can people find out more about being testers, and what do they get in return?
GK: Great question. They can simply e-mail us at email@example.com, and they should put “beta tester” in the subject box. Although, we definitely do not want to make this available to individuals who are working or will be working for a potentially competitive company, because the last project, which I also worked about five years on, was stolen by a big company. So I don’t want that to happen again, because I’ve been living on nothing and spending a lot of my savings, and because my cofounder has been working almost two years without pay, and I have other people who have been working for months without pay, so it would be a great disservice—so I’m trying to protect it as much as possible while I can.
This means testers will have to sign a document guaranteeing that they don’t have any conflicts of interest, that they’re not working for or are friends with anybody in a potentially competing company. We will then send them an invitation to test this out, and what they get for giving us feedback or criticism will be two free subscriptions—one for themselves for a year, which should be worth about $150-200, and then a second subscription which would make a great gift for, say, a friend’s anniversary.
By the way, we’re looking for other incentives, so if anybody has any other incentives they think would work, let me know. As far as when the beta will be available, we’re already looking for some beta testers now—we still have about 20 slots open. And then, once it gets a little more perfected in two or three months, we should have slots for 200-300 more.
IV: In case anyone in our audience might have the knowledge or resources to help, what is it that you need most right now in your continual development of CoupleWise?
GK: The three things that we need most would be either a passionate ruby engineer, ruby developer, or someone who could give us the money so we could hire that person—that cost being anywhere from ten to thirty thousand dollars.
Number two would be a good designer, especially one that’s UIE (user-interface-experience) savvy, or someone who would be willing to be an advisor to an intern. Equally important would be somebody who would want to partner with us who’s good at utilizing social media like Facebook and Twitter to get the word out.
And then the third priority would be someone who is willing to help us in business development and overall marketing, a CMO or a DP level person willing to work for equity until we’re funded.