New alarm-clock app gets your day off to a fun start

Sebastian Savidan, Paul Callens and Marc Briquet © Alain Herzog/ 2019 EPFL

Sebastian Savidan, Paul Callens and Marc Briquet © Alain Herzog/ 2019 EPFL

Two EPFL Master’s students, an EPFL PhD student, a UNIL PhD student and an EPFL alumnus have teamed up to develop a new alarm app called Wakeit. The app draws on users’ social-media contacts to make getting out of bed a little easier.

Getting up in the morning can be unpleasant, especially if you’re woken by the shrill cry of your alarm clock in the wee hours of the morning - who hasn’t hit the snooze button once or twice? But it doesn’t have to be that way: a group of friends has come up with an app to make mornings a little less arduous by adding a touch of humor, or as they put it, by "turning grumpy mornings into funny mornings."

The team members, who met at EPFL or through the Innosuisse Business Concept program , are about to launch Wakeit - a free alarm-clock app powered by social media. Its main target is the Generation Z cohort, for which this kind of online interaction is perfectly natural. "Most alarm-clock apps out there today work pretty much the same way. We wanted to change things up, adding an element of fun and variety," says Sebastien Savidan, who graduated from EPFL with a Master’s degree in microengineering. "Our app wakes people up with a selection of stories and photos that open when it’s time to rise and shine . And we included features to prevent people from cheating and setting their alarm for the middle of the afternoon so as to get a sneak preview of the following morning’s selection. There’s also an option for users to play a game or resolve a challenge in order to turn off the alarm."

The Wakeit team is still finalizing the design and doesn’t want to reveal any more details for now. Users will eventually be able to add new "Wakies" - the social-media elements that wake people up - to the app every month. The researchers want their app to be as customizable as possible. "We will program the various wake-up methods ourselves, some of which will incorporate artificial intelligence," says Savidan.

XGrant funding

"We fleshed out the idea for our app during the 2018 Lausanne Startup Weekend," says Paul Callens, a third-year Master’s student in microengineering at EPFL. That’s an event where people have 54 hours to turn their business idea into a business plan. "Since both Sebastien and I have trouble waking up in the morning, we thought it’d be cool to have an alarm clock that’s a little more invigorating than standard ones. Our idea was selected and we spent the whole weekend thinking through the details and in the end won an award ."

In addition to being friends, Savidan and Callens share an entrepreneurial spirit. After their success at the Startup Weekend, they conducted market research by sending out 250 surveys and interviewing around 20 people. The goal was to get more information on how consumers in their target market typically wake up. The pair also asked a dozen of their friends to test an initial version of the app, finding that the social-media aspect was particularly popular.

Savidan and Callens obtained an XGrant in 2018; these grants of up to CHF 10,000 are intended to help EPFL students who want to start an innovative business. Savidan and Callens are using the proceeds to develop a beta version that should be ready for both iOS and Android smartphones in September.

Three other people have joined the team since the Startup Weekend: Mark Mouawad, a first-year student in computer science at EPFL; Bastian Muriel, who is pursuing a PhD in organic chemistry, also at EPFL; and Marc Briquet, who is working on a PhD in neuroscience at UNIL. Mouawad is developing the technical components of the app while Muriel and Briquet are in charge of business development. "I’ve learned that programming alarm clocks is a nightmare," says Mouawad. "Testing and debugging code is really difficult - the program might work when we set the alarm to go off in 5 minutes, but we also have to test whether it will work for users who set it for 10 hours later. That means we have to wait until the next morning and hope the program doesn’t crash overnight. But the real challenge - and what I think is the most exciting part of this project - is designing an interface that provides an enjoyable and seamless user experience."

Learning new skills

In addition to overcoming the technical challenges, the team had to master the various skills involved in starting a business. "We learn new things every day, whether in marketing, finance, project management or business development. And we have to come up with fast solutions to the problems we face," says Muriel. The team members are currently working on Wakeit in addition to their day job or studies, but they hope to soon be able to spend more time developing the business. Their goal is to make the app an indispensable tool for users in Switzerland and beyond.

The team intends to offer a free basic version of the app and then charge for additional Wakies. And they are already in contact with local firms for potential partnership opportunities. "The idea is to have different kinds of businesses pair up with us on Wakies. For example, a fitness club could suggest exercises to start the day," says Savidan. But Muriel makes one thing perfectly clear: "Our app will not have any ad banners or pop-ups." After all, they don’t want people waking up on the wrong side of the bed.