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These days, card games are everywhere- cards against humanity is a fun way to get everyone laughing, and games like saboteur and exploding kittens get everyone worked up with a sense of friendly competition.

There are also more serious games, like We’re not really strangers, which combines fun with heartfelt and touching moments as everyone explores the meaningful connections that they have with each other.

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

And this was exactly what Charmaine Tan, Junel Seet, and Ruth Ong set out to create- their very own card game, with a focus on sexual health and wellness (SHW) for Singaporeans. 

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

Starting out as students

Despite the success that AYOU is seeing, the game itself is a product of many experiences and quite the unconventional route. For one, Junel and Charmaine met when they were in university hall, while Ruth and Junel were ex-coworkers during their time at ShopBack and Seedly.

When Junel and Charmaine embarked on the NUS Overseas College programme together to New York, they were taken by how people in the US were open to talking about SHW.

“We saw ads by companies like For Hims and For Hers on billboards in Times Square. When we compared it to how barren Singapore’s SHW scene was, it got us thinking. Despite the same bodily anatomy and needs, why was it okay to talk so openly about SHW in the US, while it was treated as a taboo topic in Singapore?”

-Charmaine Tan, co-founder of AYOU
A For Hims Billboard in New York
A For Hims Billboard in New York/ Image Credit: Lean Luxe

With this realisation, Junel brought on board a former colleague that 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 Programme, which eventually provided them with a SG$10,000 to pursue the idea.

With this first vote of confidence, their first venture, called Shy, was born in 2019.

But who in Singapore talks about SHW?

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

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

The goal was to address the information gap in Singapore’s SHW scene, and start something that provided factual and localised content for Singaporean youths

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 understand why the forum was not being actively used. 

As former startup employees, they also drew on their experiences, and realised that they needed to become more strategic with their decisions. 

“As a lean team with limited resources, it is especially crucial for us to differentiate between what we want to do and what is most impactful for end users. We realised that the forum failed because it did not solve a real problem.

Moving forward, we decided that they would have to become more data-driven and more intentional with getting user feedback and with hypotheses testing- for everything from how we market our products to planning ahead for new launches.”

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

With this in mind, the team decided to pivot towards providing educational workshops.

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

“I was particularly passionate about youth education, and we were looking for a way to directly impact more of our target audience. When the opportunity arose, we were elated to be able to curate relevant content for our audiences!”

-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 wellness- and their clients included large multinational companies such as Airbnb.

Creating a card game for couples

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

“The idea was borne out of a personal pain point, and during conversations with our close family and friends. After running Shy for a few years, we also felt that it was time to refine our mission, and we realised that relationship improvement was at the core of our community’s desire.”

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

They realised that most relationships progressed through several phases- the chase, comfort, and cruise mode. After couples invest effort into getting to know each other during the chase, they ease into comfort and slide into cruise mode as the relationship progresses, and this is where the boredom sets in.

With this in mind, the founders wanted to find a way to encourage couples to remain ever-curious, and came up with the idea of a game to help couples “explore, discover, and rediscover one another”.

Noting the viral success of card games like ‘We’re not really strangers’, they decided to adopt card games as a medium to help couples in all stages of their relationships.

“I remember the constant self-doubt I was living in and all the sleepless nights I experienced during a toxic relationship. It reduced me to a shell of my bubbly self, and I consistently questioned my self-worth. Looking back, I wondered how I endured it for almost a full year.

A few months into dating my current partner, I realised what a healthy, nurturing relationship looks like, and how it built me up in every way possible.

Building a relationship takes consistent work, and my partner and I thought- why not crystallise these learnings and share them with our audience? So we married the knowledge that our audience at Shy wanted to learn about with card games, and thus, 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 kickstarter campaign of about US$3,000. Within a short period of time, they had raised the amount, and more- not only from local consumers, but also from consumers in the US and overseas.

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

The game itself covers everything from questions about sexual intimacy to goals and aspirations for the future, and is meant to be played over the course of a year, and features 52 questions for couples to answer and 52 activities to enjoy together.

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

Recognising that all relationships have bumps in the road, the founders also included conflict resolution prompts to help them improve their relationship tangibly, inspired by Tom Bilyeu’s Relationship Theory Podcast. 

Conflict resolution cards within the A Year of Us deck.
Conflict resolution cards in A Year of Us/ Image Credit: A Year of Us

This success did not come easily- and among the challenges that the founders had to deal with 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 tough, considering that there were significant time differences between the three locations that the founders were working from. 

Still, they manage to find time to work together. 

“I’m an early riser, while the other two are night owls”, Ruth recalls. “That helps us tremendously because I can wake up early for calls, while Junel and Charmaine can stay up late. It ensures that we are always kept up to date, and we 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 their game on Shopee to bring their game to a larger audience, though they are also “looking to work with other couple-centric merchants”.

“We recognise the draw of online marketplaces, and are looking to list products online to reach a wider pool of audiences! In addition, we are also partnering 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 how much interest the game has attracted, the team has already completed a US launch in August to bring AYOU to even more couples worldwide.

A deck of A Year of Us cards
A deck of A Year of Us cards/ Image Credit: A Year of Us

From startup employees to founders on their second venture together, Ruth, Junel, and Charmaine’s journey has certainly not been an average one. Yet, it is precisely because they have taken the path less travelled that they have created something unique, that is filling a need for Singaporeans.

Featured Image Credit: Shy

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© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)