Quit Genius, backed by Y Combinator, wants to help you quit smoking

Quitting smoking is one of the most difficult things a person can do. But despite the products out there to help, from nicotine patches and gum to e-cigarettes to scary PSAs and government programs, few of these products actually get people to the point where they feel confident in their new nicotine-free life.

That’s where a new YC-backed company, Quit Genius, comes in.

Yusuf Sherwani (cofounder and CEO), Maroof Ahmed (cofounder and COO), and Sarim Siddiqui (cofounder and Head of Product) met seven years ago on the first day of medical school. The med students were assigned to a respiratory clinic, and saw first-hand just how much smoking affects the well-being of patients.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Ahmed recalled time at the respiratory clinic, watching doctors tell patients to quit smoking but not giving them any meaningful pathway to do that.

The idea of Quit Genius had been born.

In the United States alone, there are 40 million smokers. Quit Genius says that 70 percent of those smokers want to quit, but only 3 percent are successful. Most smokers take the cold-turkey approach, trying to throw away their cigs and never look back. But this is not an effective way to quit.

Meanwhile, cessation therapy treatment (which is highly effective) is very expensive, ranging from between $2,000 and $4,000.

Quit Genius aims to bring that treatment to users at a much lower cost through an app.

It all comes back to a therapeutic technique called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

“CBT breaks down situations into three areas: your thoughts, your feelings and your behaviours,” said Ahmed. “What you think and feel can affect how you behave. CBT focuses on replacing any negative thoughts and feelings you may have that trigger you to smoke, with healthier and more positive thoughts that will help you to quit smoking.”

Quit Genius uses this technique to help users quit smoking in stages, offering animated videos, audio sessions and interactive exercises to help people understand how smoking affects them and how to stop.

Without asking you to quit immediately, the first stage of Quit Genius simply asks users to tell the story of why the started smoking and try to identify smoking triggers, while teaching users what CBT is and how it can help.

In the second stage, Quit Genius aims to inform the user about how nicotine affects the body and mind, and prepare the user for hurdles that they may face when trying to quit.

Quit Genius uses users’ triggers to inform them about their misconceptions about nicotine. For example, many people smoke because they say it helps with stress. If stress is your trigger, Quit Genius will explain that nicotine is actually a stimulant, which increases heart rate and blood pressure and ultimately stokes stress levels.

Stage four is all about taking action. Users will set a quit date and using those videos, audio sessions and exercises to prepare your body and mind for the big day.

The final stage focuses on sustaining what users have built, staying strong as cravings continue.

Alongside the main treatment, Quit Genius also offers a Smoking Diary (where users can track their cigarettes to help identify triggers) and a Coping Toolbox, which lets users grab one of those mindfulness exercises or relaxation techniques on-demand in their moments of weakness. Quit Genius also comes with a community of fellow quitters (which is monitored by doctors and psychologists, to let users connect with one another in their path to quitting.

The base Quit Genius costs $4/month. But Quit Genius also has a premium layer, Quit Genius Gold, which gives users personalized, one-on-one support from a qualified Quit Coach at any time. The Gold service costs $15/month.

A recent independent study carried out by researchers at Imperial College London (where the founders met and studied) showed that 36 percent of participants who used Quit Genius quit smoking, and users who did not quit smoking still saw a 69 percent reduction in the amount of cigarettes they smoked.

What’s more interesting is that Quit Genius is prepared to take on other categories. CBT is seen as the gold standard for any big behavior change, and the company can use their current process to take on other addictions as well as simple lifestyle changes like eating habits or exercise.

Quit Genius has raised $900K from Y Combinator, Merck & Co, Telefonica, and Force Over Mass Capital. The app is available now on the App Store and Google Play.