We ran a Phone Check at a YCombinator event in San Francisco.

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We ran a Phone Check at a YCombinator event in San Francisco.

The Setup

YCombinator keeps telling us to “do things that don’t scale,” and since we are building software that helps people spend less time on their phones, we decided to do the least scalable thing possible: take everyone’s phone from them during happy hour.

Of the ~150 guests in attendance at the event, 37 of them opted to go “phone free” for the evening, and left their phones with us.

Here’s how it worked:

(1) You give us your phone, and we give you a claim ticket like any coat check.

Your claim check doubles as a raffle ticket to win one of our three analog prizes: typewriter, coloring book, art book.


(2) You get a “Replacement Phone” which is a notepad and pen.

In case you need to write down something that comes up while networking like “reminder to follow up with Brian Chesky about buying clearspace for all airbnb employees”

(3) You get a “Phone Free” badge to wear around the party

The “no phone” sticker became a badge of honor. We heard reports that throughout the happy hour whenever one “phone free founder” saw another, they would gravitate towards each other. It also served as the perfect natural growth loop to draw more party goers to our phone check.

Why we did this and what we learned

First and foremost, we wanted to give our batch mates an opportunity to experience something that is increasingly rare, especially with 2-weeks to go until demo day: a night of being unplugged.

Secondly, we wanted to hear all the actual reasons someone wouldn’t give up their phone. As we continue to build software that works to separate the utility of devices from the distracting components we are always gathering data around what are the truly mission critical aspects of the device.

Here are the list of reasons people wouldn’t give us their phones:

  • “I’m expecting an investor call”
  • “girlfriend might be breaking up with me”
  • “I love my phone”
  • “getting a call from my mom”
  • “I don’t trust you guys”

Here is what we heard from people at the end of the night who had gone “phone free”:

  • “I talked to way more people”
  • “It felt liberating, a little scary, it was fun”
  • “I was anxious to do this, it was a lot easier than I expected”
  • “My cofounder needed me to 2FA our Stripe login, and I couldn’t” ☠️
  • “I reached for my phone in my pocket several times, I don’t like that I did that”

About Us

clearspace is an iPhone app that eliminates compulsive phone use and cuts doom scrolling sessions short. We are a part of the current YCombinator W23 batch and help thousands of people a day cut their screen time in half. Check us out in the App Store and let us know what you think!

And if you want us to run a phone check at your event email phonecheck@getclearspace.com 😆

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