Often when we least expect it, life can present us with an event that turns us on our heads, leaving us wondering what comes next and what to do. A physical health crisis. A severe bout of depression. The loss of a family member. Even a joyous event, such as adopting or giving birth to a child, can leave you wondering—where can you turn for advice? How do you find others who can let you know what to expect? How can you find the commiseration and empathy you are looking for? Now you can turn to the app Wisdo.
Wisdo CEO and co-founder Boaz Gaon, a former journalist, created the app he needed when he himself was overwhelmed by a sudden life development. His father, a prominent businessman in Israel and the President of the Israel Cancer Association, was diagnosed with cancer himself two years into his term. Over the eight years that Gaon acted as his father’s primary caregiver, even with access to the best doctors and resources one could hope for, Gaon found himself still concerned about the choices he was making, hoping they were the best ones but not knowing because he had never been there before. He wished that there were an easy way to connect with others who had been through the same things, so he could learn from their mistakes and successes, and receive support from people who understood.
“I had no experience with cancer, and there was no ‘map’ for what I should do next, and no one to give me direction,” says Gaon. “I also understood that this could not possibly be true: there had to be many millions of people who had lived through this exact situation and who could help guide me—I just needed to find them.” Gaon thought about the traffic app Waze, which uses a community of drivers to input information on traffic flow to offer real time directions, and thought, if you can do this for traffic, why can’t you do this for life? Could there be a way to crowdsource life’s journeys into steps and timelines in a way that would really represent what they are, and use them to match them people with whom they should be speaking to about with what they should know that they don’t know?
“This was the seed of Wisdo,” says Gaon. “Connecting people around these experiences, finding the everyday wisdom that we all need, sharing the earned wisdom that we all have, building a map for life’s emotional challenges, and giving people insight into what happens next.” Founded on the principle that people who are facing major life challenges need guidance and support from others who have been there, Wisdo was designed to match individuals and groups around shared life experiences, rather than shared friends or interests. The result is an instantly available support network that answers the supply and demand of humanity and empathy in a society dominated by social media status. “As soon as our beta of the app was launched, it was immediately very clear that mental health and wellness seem to be the core of what we’re catering to,” says Gaon. “People feel alone, people feel judged—even young adults, who are active on social media and connected to millions of others.” In fact, social media has been correlated by recent studies with major feelings of loneliness and depression due to high pressure around concealing any hardships from their digital social circles. Wisdo is turning the social media model on its head by not tapping into established friend and family networks, where fear of judgement can stifle honest discussion. With contribution rates as high as five times the industry standard, each Wisdo community is organized around the mission of helping others, rather than entertaining or getting “likes”. As a result, a survey of 7,600 Wisdo users showed that, after just two weeks of using Wisdo, there was a 15 point shift away from feelings of loneliness and towards greater connection. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, where you may not want to be open or honest with your struggles, Wisdo has built communities that are safe spaces, monitored by volunteer community managers, where everyone involved is walking the same path. Rather than striving to get “likes” with funny memes or cute pictures, Wisdo uses buttons like “helpful” or “been there”.
Wisdo was designed to connect both those seeking help and those offering help. Users are asked which communities they would like to join, with many life experiences ranging from depression and anxiety, to surviving sexual assault, to improving body image, to parenting and adoption. Through Wisdo’s unique “timeline” feature, users in each community lay out their shared life experiences into steps, or notable challenges they’ve faced during a pivotal life event. Wisdo’s patented algorithm analyzes this to understand where people have been and where people are still struggling. Based on more than 13 million collected steps for more than 70 communities, Wisdo has developed a “map” for each life experience. Upon choosing communities and meaningful experience steps, Wisdo users have access to a group of people facing the same issues to provide a social support network built around shared experiences. Wisdo also uses sophisticated matching algorithms to match each user with potential “buddies” that are dealing with, or have dealt with, the exact same moments. One-on-one conversations surrounding specific pivotal life moments have a 92% reply rate among these pairings.
Sharing such intimate struggles can make a person feel vulnerable. So how does Wisdo keep the sharing safe? Wisdo reinforces helping others by improving the community rank of people who consistently receive positive “helpful” feedback from other users. The most helpful and highly ranked Wisdo users can move into three more prominent positions (Buddy, Guide, and Super Guide) on the platform to help more people in one on one settings and with Wisdo-provided training materials. “By identifying people’s needs and the satisfaction they get from helping others, we have created a community that safeguards the quality of the conversation,” says Gaon. “We invest a lot of time in building the community properly. The more helpful you are to those on Wisdo, the more likely you are to graduate to being a Guide. Guides receive monthly trainings from people such as crises experts and advocacy experts, and they feel we are investing in their skill set. In return, they are active on the site participating in what we think is one of the safest and most empowering conversations online.”
The community is also careful to self-regulate. “We’ve put in place watchlists and flagging systems that very quickly are able to zone in on things that need to be highlighted,” Gaon says. “One example is a watchlist for words, which our Guides control. Words that suggest bullying, a very sensitive mental condition, or underage users, for example, alert guides via a notification and they can immediately go in and look at the context.” Guides then follow a warning protocol, which can lead to suspension or banning. Specific users can also be added to such a watchlist. “The combination of an empowered community of moderators, where we invest in their skill set, and the technology standard that has already been developed in platforms like Waze and Wikipedia, is something that we see creating a level of safety that puts our users at ease.”
Now for the real question: does Wisdo work? The answer appears to be yes.
After more than 8000 reviews globally, Wisdo has ranked 4.6 out of 5 on English speaking app stores, with users describing Wisdo as a “no judgment zone life changer.” Gaon continues to interact with users to get feedback about what they like, and what they think his team needs to spend more time on. “I just finished a conversation with a user who has been a member since August,” says Gaon, “And he basically said thank you for creating this because my life has improved immeasurably since I have joined.” Gaon knows there are a lot of apps out there, but feels Wisdo is really special. “It is a mentally satisfying and gratifying to finally be at a point, where we not only have a very inspiring mission and a very committed community but we have a product that is working so effectively and being endorsed by so many users,” Gaon says. “There are a lot of apps out there. We took the time to make sure that we had something that is really helpful—we really pained over this and gave it our all. We spent three years building this and reaching out to experts and making sure that we have something out there that is really helpful. I just hope we grow into the company Wisdo can be, and that people will come check us out and help us improve.”