By Kevin Kline

When was the last time you used an actual clock as your alarm clock? It’s been years for me. I mostly use my iPhone’s built-in alarm (with the Apex ring), but there are always people who want to build a better mousetrap.

Despite hundreds of alarm clock apps available to download, an Irish pair believe they built the best mousetrap.

Ruaidhri Finnegan and Dan Moriarty’s app FIRST:UP connects brands with sleepy users, rewarding people for waking up each day. Wake up on time all week and get something like a free coffee, a day pass to a gym, or a store discount.

Finnegan says he wanted to focus on waking up, because when he woke up early to work out, eat healthy, or do yoga, his day would go a lot better.

“By 9 o’clock, I would already have a great start to the day,” says Finnegan. “It would really strengthen my resolve to achieve more.”

The app uses positive reinforcement to train good behavior. It is similar to how I give my dog a treat when she listens to a command.


A few consumer companies like McDonalds tried launching their own alarm clock apps with some success. FIRST:UP would be a little different because users could choose from among several brands.

Moriarty used to run an Irish subsidiary of Tonix Pharmaceuticals, maker of several sleep medications.

“I had really weird knowledge about sleep and waking up,” says Moriarty.

He argues all of the hundreds of alarm clock apps are wrong, because they are meant to startle you awake.

“There’s one the Rock made that is a prerecording of Dwayne Johnson shouting at you,” says Moriarty. “That’s not pleasant. That’s masochistic.”

The FIRST:UP team focused on the opposite: “sultry tones” and a “groovy” appearance as the company’s soothing promotional video put it. They believe a pleasant start will lead to a better day.

Finnegan says the company’s strategy is to ask, “how do you add value to someone’s day from the get-go?”

Moriarty and Finnegan hope to launch a limited test in Ireland this month with a wider Irish release in May.

FIRST:UP is in negotiations with Electric Ireland to offer brand rewards during the test. With the wide release, they plan to add four additional brands.

For the advertisers, Finnegan and Moriarty say the app gives strong access to customers at the start and end of each day.

“There’s so much potential for campaigns in terms of how you can not just market to someone but help them,” says Finnegan. “If you help someone, they’ll feel more of an affinity toward you.”

When I received an email from Moriarty about FIRST:UP, I sent the company’s video to a few friends for their gut check. The responses varied. One had pure indifference to yet another app.

Meanwhile, another friend said it reminded him of Pact. That app rewards users with real cash for going to the gym, but takes money from you for skipping. It’s the carrot and stick.

“Rewards (and penalties) are good motivators,” he wrote.

Of course, there’s a full debate about whether the phone is the best choice for an alarm clock. Looking at bright screens right before bed makes it harder to sleep well by keeping your brain alert. Plus, it is way too easy to log onto Facebook when you wake up at 3:43 a.m. and check the time on the smartphone.

Still, billions of people already ditched the alarm clock for an app, so Finnegan and Moriarty see an opportunity for FIRST:UP’s customers and advertisers.

They say around 1,000 people asked to join the test this month. After some time operating only in Ireland, they plan to use what they learn here to expand to the United Kingdom and United States.

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