Should I start a
business? Should I have a baby? Should I move house?
You may have put these questions to Siri on a whim before, but
you probably didn’t expect to heed the answer. US-based
entrepreneur Erik Larson, however, thinks his platform Cloverpop will
be able to help you with these big life decisions. He’s so
confident, the beta version of the story sharing and coaching
platform, has just gone live.
According to a release on the service, the Cloverpop world
includes “all the services required to think through, plan out and
act on life’s big decisions, from mortgages, business loans and
real estate to employment, education, marriage and parenting”.
That’s probably a stretch, but it is an interesting model.
Cloverpop fits neatly into a burgeoning marketplace of life
improvement apps, including the likes of Headspace. These tools are essentially designed to give you the
time and space you need to live a healthier and happier life. Our
devices so often serve to provide us with a cacophony of alerts and
information — the expanding wellbeing sector is using technology
to help us tune that noise out at times, and in doing so provide a
refreshing change of perspective.
This is where Cloverpop could potentially excel.
The platform is a combination of a questionnaire, a
story-sharing platform — where the analysis and results of this
questionnaire are anonymously published — and a paid-for coaching
service. The latter is an add-on, and comes at a cost
The whole thing is designed to help us combat our own biases,
and it primarily achieves this by leading us through a flow of
thought-processes in the questionnaire.
It begins by asking, “If you had to decide right now, what would
you answer?”, then gets you to rank how much experience you and
others have with this particular decision in order to find out how
much weight it should give to your strong (and presumably
instinctual) opinions, if you have little experience, for
It asks you to choose five areas of your life the decision will
most impact — things like friends and family, career, money –
then how much those things will change. Everything is on a scale,
forcing your priorities to the surface. For instance, you might
rank your career as the top thing taking up your time and effort in
the past year. But on the next page, you might rank family as the
thing that gave your life the most meaning and purpose in the past
year. Or vice versa, of course.
The question flow is not the last word in decision-making
science, but it does at least work to stop and make you think about
things from a new perspective.
Founder and CEO Larson came up with the premise after leaving
his role as a product executive at Adobe to set out on his own. He
had wanted to help people set and achieve their goals, using tools
like his mood tracker prototype. This didn’t quite work out. But he
did find out that those who had never used such tools opted to in
this case because they were facing a big life decision. “That was
the ‘aha’ moment,” he tells Wired.co.uk.
“I realised the science of decision-making was a blue ocean
opportunity. We make bad decisions in incredibly consistent ways –
we see the world slightly differently from how it is. If it’s a
consistent problem, there ought to be a way to solve it and make
“There are really no tools or set of tools to help us with the
decision process. There is tonnes of information but we’re terrible
at using it in the right way. We use it to reinforce our own
Most people revert to the best and worse case scenarios of a
decision’s outcome, and they do so with their own unique biases.
The point of Cloverpop is to push back against those biases and
help people think through a variety of potential outcomes they
perhaps hadn’t entertained.
The user is carefully led towards these alternatives through the
flow of questions, built upon common threads described by
mainstream decision-making theorists. The whole process is
purposefully spread out, with handy motivational quotes from Oscar
Wilde and Amelia Earhart interspersed, so that it takes around ten
minutes — enough time for the brain to start “really paying
attention to something”, according to Larson. Then, towards the
end, you are asked to come up with three alternatives to the
particular in question. So for, “Should I start a business?”, the
alternative might be “Stay in my current job”. The alternatives
have to be ones the user would genuinely consider doing.
The section’s worth is most clear when you are asked to rank
those three alternatives — you are then asked of the top one,
“which choice would turn out better?” the original option on the
table, or the alternative.
Another section asks the user to imagine what life would be
like a year from now if they made the decision to go ahead with
whatever it is they are mulling over. As they type, a line of stars
fill up, encouraging them to write more to fill all five.
“Without exception — from our usability studies — after people
have written two sentences, they pause and realise they have to
write more. In that pause, they go ‘wow, yeah I could also do this,
or I never thought of it this way’ or whatever. In that moment, we
realised we have to encourage people to write more. In the third or
fourth sentence you hear their voices crack — the emotions come
out. They realise if they really do or they really don’t want to go
ahead with it.”
At the end of the questionnaire, you have the option to post
that section publicly, or delete it. If you choose to share this
boxed example of your decision-making process (see below), others
can comment on it and track the decision — presumably helpful if
they are in a similar predicament. The analysis box can also be
helpful if users decide to opt for the additional coaching — it
will help them get matched up with a coach. Cloverpop has around 30
on its roster right now, and there are plans to open up the service
to be an ongoing thing if a user wants it.
For now, the company makes money by taking a cut if a coach is
requested, and charging a referral fee if the user becomes a
client. However, Larson plans on turning Cloverpop into a one-stop
shop for all of life’s big decisions — commercially speaking. So
if the decision is “should I relocate”, and you decide to, it might
sync you up with an estate agent, rather than a coach in the
A tool like Cloverpop is unlikely to imminently overtake old
favourites such as talking to friends, or flipping a coin. After
all, a user — along with anyone interested in their story — has
to wait a significant amount of time to find out if they made the
right decision. A long wait is not exactly an easy sell for a
platform today. However, the business model is certainly an
interesting one that will ultimately depend on the usefulness of
the coaching system.
Taking a look at the kinds of decisions being explored on the
platform demonstrates just how much potential there might be for
the marketplace to grow, and how much it could prove to be in
demand if eventually found to be truly helpful. They include:
“Should I end a partnership with my business partner?”; “Should we
get married?”; “Should I focus on grades instead of
extracurriculars?”; and a personal favourite, “Should I just drop
everything and do only fun stuff?”
Then there’s a few odd ones. Like, “Should I invade East
Ukraine?” From the Real Putin.
“I’m convinced if world leaders sat down without a bunch of
people shouting at them, it would make a big difference,” says
Larson. “But they probably fall into the demographic of most
unlikely to do that.” Which is probably a good thing. Sole
decision-making as a leader being something more akin to a
dictatorship. But besides, Cloverpop is probably not really there
yet and is likely to stick with national problems like divorce and
a growing population.