Shadow founders sling high-minded rhetoric, but is their sleep app all just a dream?

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on October 29, 2013

From The News Desk

In some ways, being a crowdfunding favorite is like winning "American Idol." For one moment, you're on top of the world. People have voted. You are the winner, and now you have the money to show it. But so often, following your triumph, you make your product -- be it an app or an album -- and then that's it. Your glory fades. All you have is the story that it happened, and the hope that it could happen again. Chances are, you'll make a Christmas album or a version two, but they won't be as glorious as the first.

While I don't think this is true for every app that has made it big on Kickstarter (or for every musician who's won reality TV before), this is always in the back of my head whenever I chat with apps boasting their newfound popularity.

This was especially the case when I sat down with Hunter Lee Soik, the founder of the app Shadow.

Shadow, in its current iteration, is an app aimed at recording your dreams. The premise is that most people forget their dreams, and this app will help people wake up better poised to record them, as well as train them to do so over time.

It does this with an alarm that slowly rouses you from your slumber. From there, it lets users record their dreams as they wake up, either by recording a voice text or typing the dream right into the app. Shadow explains that humans forget 95 percent of their dreams. This app can help change that.

According to Soik, he got the idea for Shadow after spending an extended period of time working as a creative consultant for Kanye West and Jay-Z's tour. He worked all day and all night while on tour and slept merely hours over a span of weeks. Finally, once this glorious and oh-so-tiring stint was up, he took a much need vacation. Day one came, and he slept for 23 hours. This caused him to think about sleep in a whole new way (probably given the fact that he spent such a long time without it).

So last January he began developing the app, and started pitching the idea. He told me that interest and buzz kept building in the form of other devs wanting to join and design accolades from his initial app plan. Following this, he decided to put the app on Kickstarter in September to get some real momentum.

It became an overnight success. In just a few days the app raised $20,000 out of its $50,000 goal and reached its goal in about a week. The campaign ends in four days and has currently raised over $76,000. Soik told me that once the Kickstarter is finished and the app is released in December, he plans on seeking venture funding to take the project even further.

But what precisely does this mean? Shadow is an alarm app that lets you record your dreams. That's a unique concept, but is it an actual business? Soik explained that the business isn't merely the app, but in what the app records. That is, dream data.

And he used big concepts I generally don't hear in app pitches to convince me of its potential. Soik's high-sounding ideas include mentions of the likes of "Jung," "Freud," and even our "human condition."

Hold up: our human condition? Is he trying to make an app that solves the innumerable and unnamable problems intrinsic to our core being that philosophers like Hannah Arendt spent their entire lives trying to untangle?

What I hope Soik really means is that Shadow, if it becomes a sensation (which is a huge "if"), could be sitting on a big data goldmine. While people may be interested in remembering their dreams, they may be more interested in how their dreams correlate with themselves and others over time. So Shadow will be taking note of the images recurring in users' dreams and then as the data becomes more robust it can analyze and highlight interesting motifs. He sees a future in tapping these dream trends and mapping them across the world.

The words Shadow uses to describe itself are lofty and nebulous, but may explain why it got its initial success. It uses philosophical words and liberal arts references to describe an app, and the app has to do with your unconscious. Hell, the Kickstarter video looked like it was taken from "Inception" outtakes. This just screams "internet viral," and helps contextualize why it got so much funding. But it doesn't explain if Shadow actually has a future.

And Soik really believes in its future and sees it transcending mere app status. "I think we can create a lifestyle brand around sleep," he said to me. He sees Shadow's dream data as a way to do this. How, precisely, he hasn't quite figured out. Or he has so many ideas and hasn't pinpointed which one will actually monetize. He told me he could see himself selling the data to other sleep brands, or coming up with ways to use the data toward making more products.

He was quick to remind me that humans spend one-third of their lives sleeping, so this data could be a way to better elucidate that unknown portion.

The first step for him, however, is getting people to use the app, and continue to use it. It's great that the Kickstarter was a success, but once the app is released it's going to have some real legwork to prove itself as the future of the sleep industry. And if it does get the data he so greatly wants, then he's going to have to figure out what precisely he's going to do with it.

Yesterday, the Shadow founders announced they're teaming up with another Kickstarter sleep device, Baboomi, to make limited edition alarm clocks that record dreams. This kind of development shows that the company is looking toward multiple avenues to increase its branding. But it's going to have to figure out what it actually can do with this sleep data.

And until that becomes known, Shadow very well could be just another Ruben Studdard.