Tim Johnson Interview

Tim Johnson is the CEO and founder of Couply: The App for Couples. He was previously the Director of Brand Partnerships at Wattpad and authored 3 science fiction and fantasy books, hitting #1 on Amazon. He’s been featured in Tech Crunch, Apple App Store, Well + Good, Cosmopolitan, MakeUseOf, and more.

I saw that you have three novels, worked at Wattpad for five years, worked on Couply for part of your time at Wattpad, and started working on Couply full-time after winning the 2021 Collision startup conference, is that right? How did you manage all of that?

      Yeah, that's correct. I definitely had to drop some things to focus on Couply. When I was working at Wattpad, I did write two books, which was really fun, and a big part of the way that I got them written was being part of a writing group, which I helped organize on the platform. 

      If anyone reading this isn't aware, Wattpad is a reading and writing website that helps authors connect with audiences for their stories. There's a huge problem in the book space in which only 1 in 1,000 stories actually get published, so Wattpad is a place where any author can put their story on the platform and start building an audience and a community around their novel and around themselves.

      What's so cool about Wattpad is that you truly draw an audience based on your creativity and your art more than anything else, and you could do it anonymously. I thought that was really fun when I was writing because no one knew who I was and they didn't really care. They just cared about the characters and the story.

      So I organized a writing group with other Wattpad writers who also worked for Wattpad or who lived in the area, and they'd come to Wattpad HQ once a week to write, and we continued that remotely during the pandemic. So that's how I wrote when I was at Wattpad doing Couply on the side. 

      I had to stop writing to focus on Couply, and it took some mornings and all weekends to make an MVP of the platform. I took a week off work to go to the Collision conference, and we weren't expecting to win by any means–we were just expecting to get feedback and maybe some users if people thought it was interesting, so that all came as a very big surprise. 

      I was very lucky that the founders of Wattpad were very cool and have always been the most incredibly supportive people, but I think it's important to note that even when I was building Couply, I was a top performer at Wattpad, and I made sure that it stayed off the field versus impacting my role, which built a lot of trust as well. I really was very dedicated to both of those projects and very dedicated to crushing it while I was at Wattpad, so it's not easy to balance side projects with a main job. And I think it's much easier to do if you're really good at your job and at focusing.

How much did you rely on personal motivation versus having a system?

      I've never not been motivated. I'd say I'm like an extremely motivated person once I focus on my objectives, but I think it really just became a system of waking up at five and working on Couply for a few hours, working on Couply all day till eight on Sundays, and then the rest of the time was Wattpad.

      My co-founder would also spend some time on Couply in the evening, so we’d normally connect at seven or eight for a bit before he would pass it off to me when he went to bed which was around three, and then I'd wake up and pick up the baton at five and that way we managed to make good progress. Building a startup is really hard, and I think it's really powerful if you can get some signals that this is going to work without needing to quit your day job and potentially putting yourself into some financial trouble.

      Founders have disgusting hours and work all the time, and I'm obsessed with it, and if I'm not careful, I'll just talk about Couply all the time. So my partner and I have set up rules around how much I can talk about it as well.

What was your mindset going into Couply? Did you ever have self-doubt over whether you were qualified to be working on this?

      Yeah, 100%. I did feel imposter syndrome at the beginning, and as a first-time founder, you're doing everything for the first time. You don't know how to do anything. Everything, everything is complicated, and everything is zero to one over and over and over again. So really you spend a lot of time just trying to figure out how to do stuff. And that's the job.

I was wondering how you would compare building a startup to writing a book, especially since you had a co-founder whereas writing a book is a solitary activity, but at the same time you're working on it outside of your day job, and I'm sure it takes a lot of creative energy.

      I think it's very very similar. And I think writing a book is not a solitary activity. It's sometimes romanticized to be, but for your book to get really good, you need to have proofreaders. You need to have beta readers. You have an editor. It's a true team sport with multiple rounds of feedback during which other people come in and get into your world, right? It’s very very similar to launching a product. You work on it for two years, you put your blood, sweat, and tears into it, you build something that you pray people love. You've really crafted.

      With both books and apps, you put them out, and if you've done a good thing, you'll get lots of five star reviews. But it's reviewed. It is in the public’s hands. They read it, they review it, and you get more feedback. So it's very much a group thing.

Were there any memorable reviews or conversations you had in your journey? 

      Yeah, the story where I truly realized I needed to go all in on Couply was when I was on holiday in Jamaica, and I did a user interview where this guy that had been using Couply basically said, “Hey, because of you, I've got my family back. Like, I'd moved out, I'm renting an apartment. My wife's in the house. We have four kids and have been together 20 years, and we were all but broken up as a couple. This was our last line of communication. We kept doing it question after question, quiz after quiz, and we slowly rebuilt this understanding, and using the app for two weeks meant that I understood more about my wife than I had in the last 20 years. And I've understood so many of the things that we were doing wrong, and now we've started to meet back up, and now I'm moving back in.” And that's so very very exciting and an amazing impact to have on anyone. So you do get deep into it. 

      If the analogy with books is that I was lucky to have one of my books be very well read on Wattpad–I think 850,000 times or have 850,000 page views of it, which is really cool, and I got some amazing letters and comments from that. I had people say, “Hey, I'd been hospitalized, and I’m going through something really hard, and I've just been reading this book, and I'm the same age as the main characters. I'm 15, and the main character is going through all this hard stuff, and I'm just trying to be brave like her and every time I go to sleep, I'm imagining that I'm going to a magical world like she is.” And I’m like, my God, this is wild. So it's wonderful to have an impact. It's wonderful to be read, and it's wonderful to help people in their relationships, too.

Do you feel like you would go back to writing, and do you think you would write the same things?

      There are book ideas that I'm just writing into my notes that I'm not pursuing at the moment, but one day, of course I'll go back to writing, you couldn’t stop me. I get a big creative outlet just from building a company. It’s a challenge that does exhaust every single part of you including the creative part, but I’ll go back to writing one day. Absolutely 100%.

Tim Johnson

Tim Johnson is the CEO and founder of Couply: The App for Couples. He was previously the Director of Brand Partnerships at Wattpad and authored 3 science fiction and fantasy books, hitting #1 on Amazon. He’s been featured in Tech Crunch, Apple App Store, Well + Good, Cosmopolitan, MakeUseOf, and more. He can be reached at and