Lila Labs on Republic
Your ultimate relationship app, powered by astrology
People have been drawn to the stars for millennia, using them for everything from navigation to storytelling. Although light pollution can make them hard to see these days, many people still feel an intrinsic connection to planets and constellations. Astrology may be old, but it is far from outdated.
LILA is a mobile app that allows users to build relationships through astrology. It currently includes three levels of relationships: self-discovery, relationship building, and social discovery (or dating). We reached out to CEO and co-founder Ricky Wiliams to learn the origins of the company and how his team came together.
Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Can you give us a brief elevator pitch for your company?
LILA is a mobile app that translates horoscopes into psychological insights that promote self-love, community, and more fulfilling relationships. We simplify astrology and focus it on an area of life that we all value, our relationships. Whether you are content to be single and working on yourself, single and looking, or in a current relationship, understanding yourself and the people in your life can make relationships less frustrating and more fulfilling. We organize our content into three distinct “dimensions” of relationships: the relationship we have with ourselves, the process of meeting and getting to know new people, and the nurturing of our current bonds.
Our special sauce is the wisdom and experience of our team of astrologers. With more than 60 years of astrological counseling and writing experience combined, Steven Forrest and the AstroTwins have long track records of delivering value to their communities. At a time when young people are flocking towards astrology in search of answers, we’ve built a team qualified to meet the challenge.
What inspired you to take the leap and build this company?
The inspiration behind LILA was the time period between my first and second marriage. The ending of my first marriage made me appreciate how important knowing myself was to finding happiness with another person. Although my first wife and I loved each other and always got along, we had different goals and expectations for our marriage. Eventually, we realized that we were great friends but horrible life partners. It took us 15 years, three wonderful children, and a lot of heartache and misunderstanding to get there. I wouldn’t trade the valuable information I learned about myself through that relationship, but I also realized that a lot of the pain and suffering could have been avoided if we had more clarity about ourselves and our needs before entering into a serious relationship.
When I was introduced to Linnea, astrology was right there from the beginning. The first thing I asked her was, “What is your Sun sign?” She told me she’s a Pisces, which is the archetype of The Mystic. We fell into this really mystical conversation. And that conversation led to another conversation, and another conversation, and then I started thinking, Wow, this woman is amazing.
So we started to build a relationship together. Because I was an astrologer and she was open to learning astrology, it became a big part of our lives, and we started taking classes together. We took a class on synastry, the astrology of relationships, with the great Steven Forrest, author of Skymates and other classics.
At that point, I was about a year out of my first marriage and about a year into my relationship with Linnea. So I was kind of in this middle ground, and everything suddenly made so much sense. The ending of my last marriage made sense. How Linnea and I met and how we got close — it all started to click. After that class, Linnea and I looked at each other and said, “Wow, we gotta get this information out into the world.”
Relationships are wonderful, but they also are the cause of a lot of suffering. And what we both learned is that with astrology, you can improve the enjoyment factor in your relationships and you can limit the pain, anguish, and suffering. And that’s the inspiration for LILA.
What past experiences prepared you to start, build, and lead your company?
As a freshman at the University of Texas, I decided that it would be cool to one day win the Heisman Trophy — the most prestigious individual award in college football. Football is often called “the ultimate team sport” because with 11 players on the field trying to execute in unison consistently throughout a game, teamwork is essential.
Coming into my senior year, I was considered the favorite to win the Heisman, but in order to do so, my team would have to perform well enough to make us relevant. I knew that we as a team had to win for me to accomplish my personal goals — they were one and the same. I knew I had to emerge as a leader, and I did. We won some big games while I broke a lot of records.
Through that experience, I learned the power of big thoughts and how to inspire people to believe in themselves enough to execute on them. I developed the ability to bring a large vision to reality through a group endeavor.
What is your vision for the future of the industry you are operating in?
We envision a future for this industry where mobile apps that offer relationship and psychological support and insights provide a product that is practical, energizing, and aspirational to its consumer base. This does not exist to date. The overwhelming majority of these types of apps — as well as the networking and social media platforms — drain and depress their “users” despite seemingly offering something of value on their platforms. They are built to extract personal and behavior data to sell for further corporate profits without the consumer’s well-being or best interests in mind. Our intention is to direct the personal data we will have access to back to the consumer to allow them to market to themselves — i.e., to make more effective choices that enhance their evolutionary development. Currently, corporate behemoths have initially monopolized and capitalized on this process. That’s all about to change.
Who is on your team and how did you come together?
The first co-founder I met was my wife, Linnea. We met at a friend’s birthday party. And because I’m an astrologer, one of the first questions I asked her was, “What’s your Sun sign?” It really wasn’t a pick-up line — at the time I was happily married. I just met this interesting person and was curious to know more about her. And when she said she was a Pisces, my response was, “Ah, The Mystic.” She looked at me and said, “Actually, I’m a corporate attorney.” But as the conversation continued through the night and we kept talking about mystical kinds of things, she loved it. And we found that we had an immediate rapport, which turned into a friendship, which later turned into this marriage.
Matt Cohen, COO – I met Matt several years ago. He’s married to one of my closest friends growing up. Matt was running his own app at the time. Linnea and I were talking to him about LILA, and he shared some really wonderful insights to help us stay on track. Later on, he loved the idea so much that he decided to come on as our COO. And he’s invaluable, because of his experience running a tech start-up.
Steven Forrest – I met Steven about the same time I met Linnea. I had been studying astrology for more than 10 years, and I finally got to the point where I decided that I needed to take it more seriously. I looked online to see where I could start studying. I kept coming across Steven Forrest’s Apprenticeship program, recognizing the name as the author of some of my favorite astrology books. I saw he was teaching a workshop up in Seattle at NORWAC, the big Northwest Astrological Conference, on my birthday. That’s when I took my first class and really started to understand astrology.
Ophira and Tali Edut (The AstroTwins) – The addition of Ophi and Tali Edut has been one of our biggest early victories. I’d been fans of the AstroTwins’ brand Astrostyle for a few years, but it wasn’t until I picked up the AstroTwins’ book Love Zodiac and read their advice to women dating Gemini men (I’m a Gemini) that I knew we needed their bold voices, brilliant astrology, and experience marketing astrology to make LILA all could be. I reached out to them and found out they were fans of Steven’s work — and choice-centered astrology in general. Moreover, they share our passion and gift for “bringing the stars down to earth”. Since joining the team, the Twins have become dynamic partners and the captains of our karaoke team.
Do you have any competition, if so, how do you differentiate?
While we don’t have direct competition because we exist at the intersection of two markets — the dating/mating market and the mystic services market — we do have indirect competition from both. Bumble, Hinge, Plenty of Fish — those are our indirect competitors in the dating/mating market, and we differentiate ourselves by offering a means of a less superficial connection between two people. The Pattern, Sanctuary and Co-Star — those are our indirect competitors in the mystic services market, and we differentiate ourselves through quality of content based on the years of experience of the astrologers behind the app. There is something to be said for maturity and the wisdom gained over time. The generational diversity on our team gives LILA a distinct voice that we believe will resonate with a broader audience than our competition.
What does your business model look like?
Our comprehensive approach to relationships provides us with many potential ways to provide value to our customers. Primarily, we are a freemium subscription service that offers premium features and access to our astrologers at basic and VIP tiers. We will also offer a free version with reduced features and reduced social discovery access to grow our audience and increase sponsorship revenue and other marketing opportunities. As our member base grows, the company plans to sell various products, experiences, and services that LILA’s paid and free members will enjoy.
Our business model’s success will rely on how well the company can convert free users into paid members and retain those members through investment into an excellent user experience and insightful content.
The planned revenue streams for the company are as follows:
- A monthly subscription model for unlimited app content and insights
- A higher-priced monthly subscription model which includes everything from the premium tier plus a virtual “Relationship Siri”
- Astrology and relationship education courses and products
- Events and festivals
- Affiliate marketing
- Branded merchandise
- Sponsorships and advertisements
What brought you to equity crowdfunding and how do you intend to use the money you raise this round to scale the business?
Integral to the whole idea of LILA is getting astrology out to the world. There is a relatively small, passionate group of people that get it and really love astrology, but there’s a whole lot of people that really don’t understand it. As I thought about raising for this project, I imagined how wonderful it would be for the people who are passionate and understand astrology and understand how to improve relationships to be on the upside of what we’re doing. We truly believe that LILA is here to stay and that LILA is truly going to do something major to change the world.
What do you want potential investors to know about you and/or your company?
With LILA at the intersection of the online dating industry ($7 billion) and mystic services space ($2.2 billion), we are poised to disrupt how technology is used. A big critique of technology right now is that it alienates people from themselves, and one of our main objectives is using technology to connect people to themselves and the people around them. Investors are investing in a truly sustainable model for using technology.
As you think about the business 5-10 years down the road, what do you see exit opportunities looking like? Have you set any future goals for the company?
Our goals revolve around expanding our model into other useful applications. We are in the business of the practical application of astrological insight. Our starting point is personal relationships because they are so central to our lives, but we plan to expand the application of astrological insight well beyond relationships. We imagine LILA for parenting and various B2B applications, LILA for health and wellness, LILA for educators, just to name a few future possibilities. The utility of astrology is greatly underappreciated, and we aim to be a big part in changing that. We believe that will open up many possible exit opportunities that would be impossible to predict today. In addition to expanding applications of LILA, we see ourselves creating a community of people based on a common appreciation of synchronicity and the interconnectedness of all people.
We look forward to seeing where Ricky and his team take the company. LILA Labs is currently raising on Republic.
About: Olivia Strobl
Olivia comes to KingsCrowd with a background in venture capital and technology. She spent time at Glasswing Ventures, an AI-focused venture fund in Boston, before joining the KingsCrowd team. There she helped develop machine learning algorithms for the opportunity qualification of preseed and seed-stage startup companies. Prior to her time at Glasswing, Olivia worked in a lab studying the neural correlates of attention. She holds a degree in Neuroscience from Wellesley College.