I wish that I could say that PostureHealth started as a privacy-first company, but that would be a big fat lie. We were young entrepreneurs with an awesome idea that we knew could positively impact everyone who used a computer.
Traction is everything in Silicon Valley, so we moved fast with what we had, not thinking too much about long-term privacy implications.
Luckily, a funny photo made us quickly realize that we had to put privacy first in order to accomplish our goal of improving people’s health and productivity while they work from their computers.
Turns out, our decision to push back our launch ultimately led to the success that we are seeing today.
Here’s More Context
In late 2019, my roommate and soon to be Co-Founder Ion-Alexandru Secara, and I started PostureHealth. Our app uses AI and augmented reality to correct your posture in real-time.
Our app is much more seamless compared to other posture correction solutions like back wearables because we don’t require you to purchase or wear any additional equipment.
The app uses your webcam to measure and correct your posture. Wherever your laptop goes, PostureHealth can go with you.
We knew that we could positively impact people unlike any other posture solution, but we didn’t anticipate the privacy challenges that we would face.
We initially believed that building a universal machine learning model for “healthy posture” would create the best user experience.
Essentially, we would gather thousands of photos of ourselves sitting in what we considered to be a healthy posture position.
The app would eventually realize what healthy posture looked like based on specific body parts, like the tip of the nose, ears, or shoulders.
A user would come in and start a “posture session”. If they moved out of our qualified healthy posture zone, we would send them a browser notification alerting them to sit up. We planned on asking thousands of people to join us in taking photos so that we could build the model.
The Privacy Issue
At that time, PostureHealth was a web-app running completely on the cloud. This means that every time Ion-Alexandru and I used the app, hundreds of photos were being taken of us and stored in the cloud.
At the time, I didn’t think that this would be an issue for users since Zoom and other popular video conferencing apps record live video.
We were super focused on just getting the app to work so that we could launch. At the time, we both were working full-time jobs and wanted to validate our idea as much as possible before going full-time on PostureHealth. We truly believed that people wouldn’t mind if the app ran on the cloud.
Wrong! Yes, very wrong. Luckily, we found this out through our own learnings, not through users.
One day we were taking a look at some of our photos to improve the model, and I realized that I looked very silly stuffing my face with a burrito in one of the photos.
It took that hilarious moment for me to realize that Ion-Alexandru and I couldn’t launch PostureHealth as we planned.
I imagined that image of me stuffing my face with a burrito being a more serious image that I wouldn't want anyone to see. And I imagined that one day we would have a cloud with millions of photos that we wouldn’t be able to completely censor.
At the time, we didn’t know how to move forward, but we knew that we couldn’t proceed as planned.
We missed our target launch date. But it was well worth it. Ion-Alexandru later realized that we could go along with our proposed plan without storing any photos or videos through our web app.
He quickly rebuilt the application. Within days we launched on Betalist and received great feedback.
However, privacy was still a huge concern. Going into the day, we felt so relieved that we finally figured out how to move forward without storing any photos or videos, but our users were still super worried.
We knew that we could alleviate privacy concerns even more by building a desktop application because all images and photos would be stored directly on the user's computer, never in the cloud.
But, this would lead to us essentially ruining our launch momentum and another month or so of development. This time, we didn’t think much about it and immediately went to work on the desktop app.
A month later we finished the desktop application. Instead of creating a model for healthy posture, we realized that it's best to educate people on how to sit and stand comfortably and then let them measure their posture based on their actual ideal version of healthy posture.
Essentially users would start a “posture session” by taking an initial “sync” photo of themselves in their ideal position. This would be used as a baseline for their healthy posture position which the technology could then easily notice when a user has moved from that position.
This proved to be a way more intuitive process for users, ultimately leading to greater adoption of our product.
How PostureHealth Works: https://vimeo.com/manage/444984540/general
Shortly after our V3 release, COVID-19 spread across the world. The impact was devastating. We put the startup on hold and to ensure that our families were healthy and dedicated time to support our communities during the time.
We soon realized that most Bay Area companies moved to remote work policies. Ultimately, this led to people in need of ergonomic resources. Unlike ever before, we had the opportunity to help millions of people struggling to work comfortably from their home couch, kitchen table, and beds (yes we all do it).
Privacy > Traction
At this point, our app was very polished.
We introduced Zen, your posture coach that mirrors you in realtime and guides you back to healthy posture when you slouch.
Introduced cool post posture session analytics…
Created educational content for working from home with the support of our third Co-Founder and posture expert Jack Cooney…
Created back and joint care programs…
And created a motivational dashboard to keep track of your ergonomic goals.
People and companies across the nation started to reach out to us for our solution.
Gratefully, our transition to a desktop application helped us pass security reviews from tech companies in the Bay Area very quickly.
If we stayed on the cloud, we would’ve missed the opportunity to help people during this time. And I’m sure that people would call us out for terrible privacy practices, ultimately ruining our reputation.
One thing that I learned from this experience is that user privacy should be prioritized over everything.
We saw companies that had been putting off security and privacy updates for years make the front pages of tech newspapers for being exposed.
At PostureHealth, our goal is to be at the forefront of privacy in the ever-growing “Digital Ergonomics” space. Never putting quick traction over our user’s privacy.