This Y Combinator-backed startup wants to break your Facebook addiction and keep employees productive — just as everybody is starting to work from home


omid rooholfada harry qi ethan yu

  • Motion is part of Y Combinator’s latest batch of startups and offers a tool to monitor online behavior and time spent on websites.
  • The Chrome extension provides daily reports, and will automatically alter a website’s user interface to make it less distracting. For example, it will hide posts on Facebook’s News Feed, but still allow access to Groups or Business Pages.
  • Although the team won’t be pitching investors on stage at the now-canceled Demo Day pitch event, cofounder and CEO Harry Qi told Business Insider they have built the tool’s infrastructure to handle up to 2 million users.
  • The tool comes as many workers have had to shift to working from home amid mass office closures in places like San Francisco, Seattle, and New York. Motion addresses a common fear among managers and employees that workers are less productive at home.
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As America’s workers head for the home office in droves, a little-known startup is quietly preparing a tool to ease employers’ fears over lost productivity from remote working.

Motion is part of Y Combinator’s most recent batch, although the team entered the Silicon Valley accelerator program in May 2019 with a wholly different business. The “real problem” they’ve committed to solving now, according to cofounder and CEO Harry Qi, is loosening the vice grip that social media sites like Facebook and YouTube have on remote workers’ attention during the work day.

“That’s the goal of those multibillion-dollar companies,” Qi told Business Insider. “They A/B test the s— out of their platforms to increase time spent, they do thousands of those. We believe that’s wrong, and want to give that time back to the people.”

After months of their own testing, Qi and his two cofounders launched Motion as a Chrome browser extension in February. The tool acts similarly to screen-time trackers common for Apple and Android mobile devices, but specifically for all those company-issued laptops now resting comfortably in a home office away from the prying eyes of coworkers and managers. 

It provides users a report at the end of each day with a summary of time spent on each website, and users can flag whether certain websites like Facebook or Gmail are distracting or necessary for work. If the site is flagged as distracting, the Motion plug-in will automatically alter the user interface to remove distracting elements, such as Facebook News Feed posts, while allowing access to essential business functions, like administrative access to a Facebook business page.

“Motion does not feel like an enemy to our users, it’s more like a personal helper,” Qi said when comparing Motion to other productivity and anti-distraction tools. “The user is battling the other tools, but Motion is just a layer that sits on top of all your work apps.”

The timing is especially serendipitous for Qi and his team. The tool has roughly 4,000 active users, and the team built its infrastructure to handle up to 2 million. But in the last few weeks, as more employees have gone fully remote amid coronavirus self-isolation, downloads have spiked and more companies are urging employees to try it out.

“They have more flexibility in their time and more freedom, but when you have more freedom you get distracted easier,” Qi said. 

That’s probably something Facebook and other attention-driven tech companies have already figured out, Qi said. He doesn’t doubt that the tech giants have already noticed a spike in time spent in the last week, and are actively fighting to keep users engaged on its site but slacking off otherwise.

“I am on there for business and I see the News Feed that’s a giant dump of crap, but it gets me hooked. That was completely time wasted for me,” Qi said. “As a user you want to work, but Facebook is so bad and so addictive. I really believe it’s a bad thing for society.”

Although Qi won’t be taking the stage at Y Combinator’s annual pitch event to sell investors on his startup, it’s likely few will be able to ignore the rising market opportunity as workers settle into new remote working routines while grappling with a new reality on multiple fronts. Qi said that this is the seventh minimally viable product he has built with his team in less than a year, and they are ready to muscle through whatever lies ahead.

“We have been preparing for this for a while,” Qi said.

SEE ALSO: Silicon Valley’s most famous startup training program just scrapped its famous ‘Demo Day’ founder pitches and will instead make startups submit investor-friendly slides

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