Helping a Non-profit Test an Innovative Outreach Opportunity

GoArchitect helped design and code a modern tool for helping people overcome alcoholism.

— Client
Don App
— Focus
Non-Profit & Social Impact
— Challenge

Overcoming alcoholism is a daily challenge faced by millions around the world. Sobriety requires hope, consistency, and a community to achieve. Not everyone has access to these 3 elements.

— Outcome

GoArchitect tested the hypothesis that an app could be used for building healthy habits and strengthening mental health in the journey to sobirety.

— Impact

Don was launched in 2016 with the goal of reaching a younger generation of seekers of sobriety. The lean startup cycle helped the team identify other non-profit areas with more perceived impact. The non-profit focus later turned towards helping the homeless and the Don project was closed down.

If you are having an emergency with drugs or alcohol, please call the Aid in Recovery Hotline: 1-877-721-3439

Starting with Why...

Developing an app for helping people overcome alcoholism may seem like a far-cry from analyzing real estate opportunities or facility investments. However, the reality is we like to focus on challenges where not only is the solution unclear but even the question is unknown. This "grey area" is where we thrive as we explore the entire ecosystem of an issue and use data & design-thinking to test hypotheses and move forward.

From a personal side, our team knows many people who have suffered from alcoholism. This proximity has given us a unique perspective on the challenges and an inherent desire to help.

The question has always been... what can we do?

After analyzing and gathering data, the source of the specter. People trapped in addiction have a difficult time seeing an alternative, a future without their captor. The future is murky and unless those goals are written down and reinforced daily they are easily forgotten. Sobriety goals are good but they must be something more, they must be personal and powerful to the individual. They must also be part of system of consistency to tear down the old habit and build anew.

Enter Don...

Don is an iPhone app designed to help people overcome alcoholism.

The Inspiration

Don was inspired by Mad Men. Image credit: AMC

The Technology

The core idea behind Don is to provide a consistent partner in your journey to sobriety. A partner who won't judge and won't get tired but is already ready to be helpful. Since most people carry their phones daily, an app is a logical place to have this partner.

Sobriety Counter

Don tracks your sobriety day by day. Creating an intuitive desire to keep up the pattern of success by not breaking the pattern. This repetitive desire to not "return to zero", is a strong battle march in the short and long term.


Don unites personal goals with the user's length of sobriety by having them write a goal for each sobriety milestone. What would you accomplish if you were sober for 1 day? How about 3, or 7, or 14? You may think, "Well, not very much" but even these small goals have value. A 1 day goal may be an important task like throwing away all the beer in the house or simple reading a book and going to bed earlier. Now imagine 14 days... Could it be to go back to the gym. How about 90 days? Now imagine, 365 days. As your goals get bigger and further out into the future, you can start to think of the fundamental things that could change in your life without alcohol

By writing these goals out, the user is openly saying to themselves that they can have a future beyond alcoholism. These goals are then reinforced at every opportunity to remind the user why they are choosing to be sober. Don reinforces the promise the of hope while providing the consistency of a partner.

Practical Help

Don goes beyond psychology and gives practical ways to help with sobriety. Since temptations may be associated to location, having the ability to leave is extremely important. Don does this by building Uber right into the app. Press the button and an Uber will come and get you.

On a lighter side, if you're feeling a little tempted, press the Distract Me button and Don will open up a random web link for you to read.

Don also helps you connect with your accountability partners, AA sponsor, or caring friends by always having their numbers close at hand to call or text. This was a key element as we built in "off-ramps" for the user.

Help with Setbacks

Having setbacks is an unfortunate part of the journey but Don makes the experience more about growth than failure or disappointment. If a person has a setback and drinks, the sobriety clock restarts and the user is guided to read their goals again and put themselves back on the train to success. By returning to the goals, it reinforces just how important these are to the journey of overcoming alcoholism.

Planning for Future Innovation

Lean startup approach

Don was created with the minimum number of features that we believed were necessary to make the app useful. We also built in a feature request and voting system so users could communicate what they thought might be helpful and how it could impact their journey.

Through this pattern of rapid development and learning, we were able to gather valuable information about how people approached and pursued sobriety. The Don test was eventually concluded as the non-profit focus shifted to other impactful projects with helping the homeless in Southern California.

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