This trio is breaking taboos on sex education with a kickstarter card game

These days, card games are everywhere – Cards Against Humanity is a fun way to make everyone laugh, and games like Saboteur and Explosive Kittens excite everyone with a sense of friendly competition.

There are also more serious games, like We’re Not Really Strangers, which combine fun with heartfelt, touching moments as everyone explores the meaningful connections they have with each other.

But what if these card games could be used to address more taboo topics, like sexual health and wellness?

And that’s exactly what Charmaine Tan, Junel Seet and Ruth Ong set out to create – their own card game, focused on Sexual Health and Wellbeing (SHW) for Singaporeans.

Today the three launched a card game called A Year Of Us (AYOU), with the express aim of helping couples around the world build better relationships – and are already planning overseas launches for game and other products.

Start as students

Despite AYOU’s success, the game itself is the product of many experiments and a rather unconventional journey. For one thing, Junel and Charmaine met when they were in college, while Ruth and Junel were former co-workers during their time at Shopback and Seedly.

When Junel and Charmaine embarked on the NUS Overseas College program in New York together, they were impressed with how open people in the United States were to talking about SHW.

“We’ve seen ads from companies like For him and for her on billboards in Times Square. When we compared it to the barrenness of Singapore’s SHW scene, it got us thinking. Despite the same body anatomy and needs, why was it acceptable to talk so openly about SHW in the US, when it was treated like a taboo subject in Singapore? »

-Charmaine Tan, co-founder of AYOU

A billboard for him in New York / Image credit: Lean Luxe

Armed with this realization, Junel recruited a former colleague she had met at Shopback-Ruth, as a co-founder.

The three of them then pitched their startup concept as a telehealth platform to the NUS Overseas College Venture Initiation Program, which eventually provided them with US$10,000 to pursue the idea.

With this first vote of confidence, their first adventure, called Shy, sees the light of day in 2019.

But who in Singapore talks about SHW?

Shy initially got off to a promising start. Their first event was to hold a sexual health campaign day, during which they received about 100 questions about SHW from their audience.

With this initial success, they decided to launch their own forum on SHW to capitalize on this success, believing that there was a ripe market for such discussions.

The aim was to fill the information gap in Singapore’s SHW scene and launch something that would provide factual and localized content to young Singaporeans.

Much to their dismay, however, the forum received only a lukewarm response and the team was forced to reconsider how they would help break the taboo on SHW in Singapore.

However, the team was still determined to turn their idea into something successful, and they took the time to figure out why the forum was not being actively used.

As former employees of startups, they also drew inspiration from their experiences and realized they needed to become more strategic in their decisions.

“As a lean team with limited resources, it’s especially crucial for us to differentiate between what we want to do and what has the most impact for end users. We realized that the forum failed because it didn’t solve a real problem.

Going forward, we decided they should become more data-driven and intentional in getting user feedback and testing hypotheses – for everything from how we market our products to planning new launches. .

-Ruth Ong, co-founder of Shy and A Year of Us

With this in mind, the team decided to focus on educational workshops.

One of Shy's workshops
One of Shy’s workshops and collaborations / Image credit: Shy

“I was particularly passionate about educating young people and we were looking for a way to have a direct impact on more of our target audience. When the opportunity arose, we were thrilled to be able to curate relevant content for our audience! »

-Junel Seet, co-founder of Shy and A Year of Us

These were paid engagements where the founders hosted sessions with experts such as doctors and health experts on sexual health and wellbeing – and their clients included large multinational corporations such as Airbnb .

These workshops eventually proved enough to support Shy’s operational expenses – and with this new source of income, the trio decided it was time to build something even better.

Create a Card Game for Couples

According to Ruth, the genesis for their new idea came from the trio’s personal experiences.

“The idea was born out of a personal pain point and through conversations with our close family and friends. After running Shy for a few years, we also felt it was time to refine our mission and we realized that improving relationships was at the heart of our community’s desire.

Charmaine Tan, co-founder of Shy and A Year of Us

They realized that most relationships progress through several phases – hunting, comfort and cruise mode. After the couples invest effort in getting to know each other during the chase, they get comfortable and slip into cruise mode as the relationship progresses, and that’s where the boredom sets in. installed.

With this in mind, the founders wanted to find a way to encourage couples to always stay curious and came up with the idea of ​​a game to help couples “explore, discover and rediscover each other”.

Seeing the viral success of card games like “We’re Not Really Strangers,” they decided to embrace card games as a way to help couples at all stages of their relationships.

“I remember the constant doubt I lived in and all the sleepless nights I had during a toxic relationship. It reduced me to a shell of my bubbly self and I constantly questioned my self-esteem. Looking back, I wondered how I endured this for almost a full year.

A few months after dating my current partner, I realized what a healthy and rewarding relationship looks like, and how it has built me ​​in every way possible.

Building a relationship takes constant work, and my partner and I thought, why not crystallize those learnings and share them with our audience? So we married the knowledge that our Shy audience wanted to acquire with card games, and that’s how AYOU was born.

-Ruth Ong, co-founder of Shy and A Year of Us

To fund this new venture, Ruth, Junel, and Charmaine decided to launch a seed campaign of around $4,300. In a short time, they had increased the amount, and more, not only to local consumers, but also to consumers in the United States and abroad.

Earlier this year, they released their pilot for AYOU- and sold out within three weeks.

The card game itself is meant to be played over the course of a year and features 52 questions for couples to answer and 52 activities to do together.

Contents of an A Year of Us deck.
Content of A Year of Us/ Image Credit: A Year of Us

Recognizing that all relationships have bumps in the road, the founders have also included conflict resolution prompts to help them improve their relationship in tangible ways, inspired by Tom Bilyeu’s Theory of Relationships podcast.

Conflict resolution maps in A Year of Us game.
Conflict resolution cards in A Year of Us / Image credit: A Year of Us

This success didn’t come easily — and among the challenges the founders faced was coordinating their schedules. While Ruth is based in Singapore, Junel and Charmaine are based in Los Angeles and New York respectively. Finding a suitable time for their weekly calls was difficult, given that there were significant time differences between the three locations from which the founders worked.

Yet they manage to find time to work together.

“I’m an early riser, while the other two are night owls,” Ruth recalls. “It helps us a lot because I can get up early for calls, while Junel and Charmaine can go to bed late. This ensures that we are always kept up to date and know what to do each week. »

Charmaine, Junel and Ruth on their weekly call
Charmaine, Junel and Ruth on their weekly call / Image credit: Ruth Ong

Currently, AYOU has listed his game on Shopee to bring his game to a wider audience, although he is also looking to work with other couple-centric merchants.

“We recognize the appeal of online marketplaces and seek to list products online to reach a wider audience! Additionally, we also partner with various local businesses with couple-centric products and activities. Ultimately, our goal is to be the Asian equivalent of We’re Not Really Strangers.

-Ruth Ong, co-founder of Shy and A Year of Us

And given the interest in the game, the team is already planning a US launch to bring AYOU to even more couples around the world.

A Year of Us card game
A Year of Us card game / Image credit: A Year of Us

From startup employees to founding their second company together, Ruth, Junel and Charmaine’s journey has certainly been no ordinary one. Yet it is precisely because they have taken the road less traveled that they have created something unique, which fulfills a need of Singaporeans.

Featured Image Credit: shy

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