When John Peterson decided to start The Nudge with his sister and co-founder Sarah over a year and a half ago, he began by mulling over a single self-introspection: “I have never really felt like technology has served me in the parts of my life that are most meaningful to me.”
That’s a bit of a revolutionary statement to make, what with over 2 million apps existing in basic app marketplaces alone. If they’re not serving us in meaningful areas of our lives, what are they doing?
“People have this vision of the type of person they want to be,” Peterson explained over cappuccinos at Fort Mason on a sunny morning in late June. “And a lot of those things are really similar as far as what that person looks like. When I thought about the influence technology was having on those parts of my life, it was either not helping at all, or in a lot of ways, it was very negative.”
John Peterson and I met at The Interval - a fairly unspoiled coffee spot tucked away next to Gallery 308 and Radhaus. It’s a place you can pound through some work, read a book, or grab an easy drink with friends or coworkers devoid of any real “scene.” (Coincidentally, The Interval was highlighted in a Nudge Text a couple of months ago.) Immediately as the conversation starts, three things become very clear to me: 1) John Peterson is extremely passionate about the work he does, 2) He is tremendously well-spoken, and 3) The power of The Nudge isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon.
As far as my latter observation goes, I can say this with little doubt due to the fact that the service offered by The Nudge is a service that many, many people need - in a multitude of different ways. On a fundamental level, people need to take initiative in order to do anything well and good in their lives. You want to get the job? Clean up your resume and prep like crazy for the interview. Want to get yourself in shape? Hit the gym, say no to Netflix for that fifth hour, hold yourself accountable. Want to get the girl (or guy!)? Make a plan, put yourself out there in a real way rather than trolling the bars every weekend and praying somebody worth having falls into your lap.
Without initiative, nothing really comes of anything. Even the most weird and wonderful memories of our lives are made, not because we set up the perfect layup in which to make it happen, but rather because we just did something. We left the house, we went on that trip, we said yes even though we were tired and lazy and bitter and maybe really wanted to say no. In a world where so much of the mundane, boring tasks can be outsourced by an app or service (Instacart, Prime Now, Postmates, hell - you can even take an eye exam through your iPhone now), perhaps the last thing anyone thought to employ technology’s assistance with was the most fun option of all: doing things.
Enter, The Nudge. A “planner friend in your pocket” that wants you to get moving and grooving on holidays, weekends, and even the rare weeknight. Some of their plans are big and strenuous, i.e. a ten mile loop around Bon Tempe Lake in Fairfax. Others are funky and off the beaten path, like going to Hot Glass Cold Beer in Portola Place. All of them, however, are sure to place their community of Nudgers in a life-enhancing setting, all with minimal planning or itinerary stress involved.
“I was very inspired by the idea of a planner friend,” Peterson says of the genesis of The Nudge. “I thought, there should just be a platform for that. People like the concept of a plan rather than an idea. Because, if you only give me an idea, it’s really just a bunch of work that I’m not going to do.”
He’s right. How many ideas live in the upside-down of almost-plans, good intentions, and weekends we whiled away arguing in the group chat. Making plans in a group chat is like trying to operate a canoe with one oar; it’s a lot of spinning in circles, only with more memes and shit talking involved. A Nudge Text is kind of like the perfect call to action that makes everyone fall in line. We can do this! The entire plan is laid out for us and all we have to do is go.
Unlike a bout of googling that ends in you checking your email fifteen times or accidentally online shopping for twenty minutes rather than actually researching that idea you had about that one thing, Nudge Texts are a one-stop shop offering only the need-to-know’s.
“What I realized through some soul searching is that websites and apps are terrible at giving people initiative,” John said. “The plan part is great…but that doesn’t give people initiative. The Nudge was born out of that idea. Let’s test out this idea that is basically trying to mirror a helpful friend.”
Though he sees the power of The Nudge applicable to communities all over, as a Bay Area native himself John agrees that San Francisco may have been the perfect place to launch his idea.
“I do think what the Nudge is doing is solving a fundamentally human problem,” he starts. “But I do think San Francisco is a city of people that are really open to new ideas. It has this rich history of artists and dreamers and people trying to create new things, so I’ve always been very romantically drawn to that, and I love it. Of course, there are those people that say that is going away, but I still hold onto that. I think for that reason, if you’re doing anything new that’s in the space of tech or products, it’s a great place to be.”
On a larger scale, Peterson sees The Nudge transcending the text dimension and reaching people in real life in an equally beneficial, community-centric way.
“I really think down the line we can do a lot with community,” he said. “For example, all these physical spaces are taking off like The Wing, The Assembly, The Riveter in Seattle. And I certainly think that’s something the Nudge could do someday.”
As far as his team goes, he likens the role of Nudge city directors to that of a movie director. These people are conducting the unique Nudge experience for all followers.
“What’s surprising to a lot of people is that our city director will spend more time thinking about you and your point of view than about the actual thing we’re going to send you to,” he disclosed. “We build trust by talking to you in a way that makes you nod your head. The first sentence of the text, we want you to nod your head to.”
I.E. something like the following: “We’re guessing you're not at all prepared for Bay to Breakers.” Or: “So Tahoe feels like a must this winter, but naturally you’ve got questions: Where to stay/what resort? Do I need to sell my fridge to afford lift tickets?”
Talk about feeling seen. It’s exactly this voice and attention to brand that keeps Nudgers opening texts, recruiting friends, and low key maybe forming a cult—but like a cool cult, a super positive non-creepy cult. Don’t we all need one of those in our lives?
As John continues building the brand with his dream team in San Francisco, along with several other fledgling Nudge cities in the works, he sees tremendous hope and possibility for the tool. And he’s proud of the unique angle the team has been able to achieve with users.
“I can’t think of a better way to build a brand other than texting people multiple times a week,” he laughs. “At the root of the brand is what we stand for: Life is short. It takes a little bit of effort to make the most of it. But here’s this community of people that is dedicated to that. Not only do we nudge you, but you nudge yourself, and nudge your friends.”
Isabella Welch is a graduate of UCLA with a degree in history. Her writing has been featured in history journals, travel blogs, arts & culture magazines, and more. Director of Editorial & Creative Development at Bob Cut Mag, lover of stories and tinto de verano, she’s usually found wandering the Headlands.