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Your quick love tune-up
In a tech landscape with a bounty of mindfulness platforms for the self, two founders noticed a lack of accessible, good habit-forming resources for busy couples.
My morning has officially started when I get this text from my partner: “Love you! Have a great day.”
I dispatch my 30-character love letter, and everything feels right in the world. It’s a ritual we don’t think too hard about.
Recently I received a different kind of text. It read: “Remember your wedding day... or your first date... Share how you felt about Seamus on that particular day.”
We got married three years ago, but I went back to the night in 2010 when Seamus pulled up to my campus dorm in his white Ford Ranger for the first time. I’d had a massive crush on him for months before realizing we had a mutual friend and begged her to set us up. “On our first date, I was SO excited and nervous that a cool guy like Seamus wanted to get to know me,” I typed. “It was a dream come true because I’d been ogling him from afar, and there we were, finally in each other’s company.”
I smiled and hit send. Don’t worry, I wasn’t being mined for data from a greeting card company. That short mindfulness prompt came from Emi, a recently launched iOS app, first piloted as a text service in 2018, that sends couples daily one-minute relationship-strengthening reminders grounded in research and expert advice.
Co-founders Aya Takeuchi, 41, and Hiroki Hori, 28, created Emi out of a desire to nurture their own relationships: Takeuchi—who has a background in business and held leadership roles at companies like Amazon and Walmart—and her partner of 15 years have three young kids, and carving out space for each other on top of demanding jobs seemed to come last. “We’d come home and there was really no time for us,” she says.
After hearing from friends, seeing similar conversations pop up in Facebook parenting groups, and talking with marriage therapists, Takeuchi knew she wasn’t alone. Soon after, she reconnected with Hori, a seasoned software developer and then-newlywed from Japan who she met in the Tokyo startup scene. Hori and his wife, who works in the music industry, were dealing with different work schedules which he says made him “start to think about creative ways to stay connected during our time apart.”
Takeuchi devoured relationship self-help books as research and found them helpful, but the titles take time to read, and “they’re something personally I would never touch,” she says. In a tech landscape with a bounty of mindfulness platforms for the self, she and Hori noticed a lack of accessible, good habit-forming resources for busy couples.
“Right now, self-enrichment is big, and everyone's rightfully spending a lot of time on apps to make yourself better,” Takeuchi says. “If you're going to spend ten minutes a day say, meditating, let's also spend an extra minute a day to make your relationship better.”
Emi (which means “smile” in Japanese) users can set weekly intentions and choose from exercise categories like “Gratitude,” or “Memories,” and even “Sexting” that include a variety of prompts. You can do as many as you want (they really only take a minute!), but only one exercise is shared with your partner a day (you can opt for text reminders or app notifications to complete it). You’re notified when your partner completes their daily exercise and can look back on them all. Takeuchi and Hori work with a couples therapist, Dominique Samuels, PsyD, to craft the research-backed content and are starting to incorporate crowdsourced exercises from Emi’s thousands of users. “Hearing about what others do makes me more aware and also puts me at ease that the small ups and downs in our relationships are normal,” says Hori.
Longterm, they want to scale their relationship wellness brand to include in-person experiences, and personalize content to specific life stages, say if a couple recently had a baby or their kids moved away for college.
Studies—like this over 80-year-old continuous one by Harvard researchers—show that happiness in close relationships, especially in marriage, is linked to our health. Others cited in Emi suggest that couples who show ongoing gratitude for each other are more likely to stay together. Maybe Emi won’t replace professional help or fix a broken marriage, but tending to your relationship, no matter what condition it’s in, takes work, and the small actions prompted by this app can make a difference. “We get a lot of comments like, I’m using it because my relationship is good, but I want to make it awesome,” says Takeuchi.
Seamus and I don’t use Emi every day, but it’s become another little tool that we can both use to check-in and feel closer to one another during a workday. And these micro-moments add up—especially in a hyperconnected society where tech can actually often wedge us further apart from our loved ones (raise your hand if your screen obsession has caused a “Get-off-your-phone!” argument at dinner). Emi is, in many ways, flipping the technology script and making me cognizant of healthy ways our devices can link us. “We want to make sure people can do these exercises online or in real life because our goal is to enrich the relationship outside the phone,” Takeuchi says. I like to think my response to, “Give Seamus a physical compliment," (I wrote: “You look cute in all your hats”) earned me a kiss that night.
This week Seamus got an exercise asking him to think back to our first Valentine’s Day together. What did he remember?
“Pretty sure I made you some homemade ice cream that ended up being alright,” he wrote.
Actually, it was cookies and cream. He made it in a plastic freezer bag, and it’s still the best ice cream I’ve ever had.