SelfSpark Wants to Help You Optimize Your Life Through
“Serious Life Hacking”

SelfSpark Wants to Help You Optimize Your Life Through “Serious Life Hacking”
By Monika Jansen

James Norris, co-founder of SelfSpark, is a very, very interesting person. Aside from the fact that he is one of those people who just can’t sit still, SelfSpark is technically the seventh startup he has helped build, he was always destined to be an entrepreneur. During elementary school, he started selling candy at recess. During high school, he participated in nine NASA-backed international space settlement design competitions. And during college, he started life hacking, which you’ll read about more below. SelfSpark launched in January 2012.


Here’s James’ story:

Where did the idea for SelfSpark come from, and why did you decide to pursue it?

The key in my life is to do as much good as possible. I did some experiments in college to hack how we studied and got things done. We started bringing people together in one day events, called Get Stuff Done Days, and we found that personal growth should not be personal, it should be social. We realized there was power in numbers. That turned into a personal development group. We tried to see what was working and what motivated people to change.

Finally I attended an event, and it changed my life. I went to a self-help event, and I thought there was value there but I was uncomfortable with the sales pitch. They basically sat me down and tried to make me buy a lot of programs. I realized there were smart people in the audience, and we should crowdsource self help from them.

SelfSpark has done seventy one-day events and tested out techniques. We have learned through all of these iterations.

In 140 characters or less, what does SelfSpark do?

We use technology to help people optimize their lives.

Why is your startup useful?

One of the problems with behavior change is it’s hard to figure out what to do and how to do it. We, as humans, are not designed to be self-actualized and happy. There’s a lot of research behind this. We are not designed to eat well, for example. We are designed to eat for survival. You can’t fight it with willpower, you need to fight with a systematic design. What’s around you will help you with results. We are looking at apps, gadgets, and old school technology like meditation and integrating it into your daily life so you have a better chance of making those changes.

So, it sounds like you also really interested in life hacking.

It’s a great term if you know what it means. We redefined it as simple, effective short-cuts for improving your life. It’s about real change. We are actually debating calling it Serious Life Hacking.

What is your business model?

Selling tickets to SparkWeekend, the main event we do. We give you part of your money back if you reach your goals after 30 days. So you get paid to lose weight or improve your GMAT score. Another big part of this is corporate events. We’ll be doing one in Singapore on unemployment. It’ll be a SparkWeekend intervention, basically.

What do you need, and what do you want?

The beautiful thing about [being part of the first cohort at] Conscious Venture Lab is it gives us a chance to stop and breathe and decide what cities to do next and also push with our corporate side. As long as we keep testing, doing, and learning, we’ll be set up for global domination [laughing!]. We are really disrupting this. Self-improvement is an $11 billion industry. We want SelfSpark to be global and to reach a wide audience.

Who is your biggest competitor, and why are you better?

The status quo – or apathy. People want to do something, but they don’t know how to get started and continue. Everything we do is online. We are more like Wikipedia – let’s have people help support and increase changes.

Tell me something unique or interesting about you or your company that most people don’t know.

Personally, one of the first experiments I started doing was when I was sixteen and had my first kiss. I realized that the concept of a first was really important, so I started tracking how many firsts I had. Guess how many I have had?

Um, 189?

I have had over a thousand. It’s a fun game and it keeps the neurons fresh.
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