[Game Changer] Asleep is working so its users can sleep better

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[Game Changer] Asleep is working so its users can sleep better

Asleep CEO Lee Dong-heon explains the company's Slee app during an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily at the company's office in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, on Thursday. [PARK SANG-MOON]

Asleep CEO Lee Dong-heon explains the company's Slee app during an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily at the company's office in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, on Thursday. [PARK SANG-MOON]


Don’t worry about falling asleep with the air conditioner on.
The newest tech will pick up on your snores and breathing and automatically adjust its temperature to create the best sleep environment tailored to you.
It may sound unrealistic, but this is what Asleep hopes to offer by January next year.
“People spend one-third of their life sleeping,” Asleep CEO Lee Dong-heon said. “We are currently working with another major local home appliance maker, on top of our partner LG Electronics, for the product to be released to the public at the beginning of 2024.”
Founded in 2020, Asleep is a business-to-business company that offers data about people’s sleep patterns. With growing attention directed toward the sleep-aid market, Lee got a call from Amazon in early 2021 and was asked to cooperate on its Alexa speaker.
Asleep's notoriety in the market was again proved at CES 2023 in early January, with more than 100 companies asking Lee for a meeting, including cosmetics company L'Oréal.
Asleep raised a total of 17.8 billion won ($15 million) in investments from four institutions, including Kakao Ventures and Intervest, with more funding to be announced in mid-2023.
The Korea JoongAng Daily sat down with Lee for an interview to hear about his journey and future business goals at the company’s office in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, on Thursday.
Asleep is the third company Lee established, after two failed attempts. He studied AI at KAIST.
Slee analyzes users' sleep patterns by picking up on sounds like snoring and breathing. [ASLEEP]

Slee analyzes users' sleep patterns by picking up on sounds like snoring and breathing. [ASLEEP]

Sleep tech sounds uncommon. What brought you to start a sleep-related business?
In 2015, so many big companies including Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics jumped into the sleep tech industry. Their focuses were very classic, like developing new mattresses, medical devices and sleeping pills. Almost all of them withdrew their plans, and the biggest problem there was that they were offering services without knowing the people and their needs.
Recognizing people’s sleep patterns should come first — that's what I realized at the time. Making good mattresses is meaningless unless you know how they should be made to offer people good quality sleep. So, I founded a business that concentrates on diagnosing sleep patterns.
No company can do both at once. If home appliance makers that spent decades making good electronics turn their eyes to sleep aids, the products will be changed — that's why I call this industry a game changer.
So we offer the technology and data to those big companies so that they can work on products.
People normally spend one-third of their life sleeping. I don’t understand why people do not know or have any means to know their sleep patterns just like they know about their height and weight. And I want Asleep to be a coach to so many other companies that release products that can impact people’s sleep quality.
How does your technology work?
It’s simple and comfortable to use. We have developed an app called Slee, and all people have to do is just place their smartphones next to them while they sleep. It is a sound-based service, so the microphone inside the smartphone will record every sound such as people’s breathing, snoring and even the sound of blankets to analyze their sleep conditions.
It also analyzes how deeply people sleep. For example, when rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep comprises about 20 to 25 percent of your total sleeping time, we could define this as healthy sleep. If people are awake for at least 20 percent of their total sleep, that is insomnia.
There are a few factors that wake people up from sleeping. Snoring and sleep apnea are the two biggest reasons. Then why not help people with those sleep disorders by using devices around their beds such as home appliances and speakers?
Asleep currently has data for 7,000 people. Home appliance makers can apply them to their products that can offer real-time services to users.
Can you please elaborate on your work with Amazon? 
I got a call from Amazon in early 2021 right after Asleep made a booth at CES 2021. They wanted to apply our technology to their Alexa AI speaker.
But the cooperation did not really work out well. We've concluded that speakers are devices that can't really do anything to directly help people sleep even if their patterns are analyzed.
We're still discussing possible ways, but this is why we are not currently considering speaker makers as our partners.
Does this mean that your latest cooperation with LG Electronics and Amorepacific could also fall apart?
LG and Amorepacific have products and services that can actually influence and change people's quality of life. LG hopes to apply our technology to its home appliances like air conditioners, air purifiers and humidifiers. Just to give a simple example: We can make a humidifier that turns on by itself if the user falls asleep. That will be very helpful since snoring really disturbs people's sleep, and people are more likely to snore when the air is dry.
Also, if a person can't sleep well at a certain temperature, an air conditioner can adjust the temperature in real-time.
Beauty is just another example. People wear cosmetics right before and after they sleep, which means they can change the scent of their environment, which can directly help people to sleep better. This is why Amorepacific wants to work with us to make products that not only help people have good skin but also sleep well at the same time.
Is data from 7,000 people enough? What about accuracy?
For now, yes, I’d say it’s enough. There’s no other private company in the world that has data on the sleep patterns of thousands of people.
We acquired the data in cooperation with hospitals that deal with people’s sleep patterns such as the pulmonology and otolaryngology departments.
We are also confident about the accuracy. And we're not just saying this: Asleep has been certificated by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Nature and Science of Sleep journal that the accuracy is even higher than global players Google, Garmin and SleepScore.
Another big funding project will be announced in the middle of the year.
Asleep's booth at CES 2023 in Las Vegas in January [ASLEEP]

Asleep's booth at CES 2023 in Las Vegas in January [ASLEEP]

Are you offering any business-to-customer models?
Anyone can use this Slee app. It’s been only two months since its launch, and it has garnered more than 10,000 monthly active users.
Asleep is still a start-up, so we are only dealing with software for now. But we do aim to expand the area to hardware and release some actual products that can directly affect people’s lives.
An alarm service we recently applied to the app is an example. Let’s say a user sets an alarm for 8 o’clock, but the user is in the middle of a deep sleep at that time. Waking up then would be very unpleasant and tiring.
But if we set off the alarm at 7:40 a.m., when the user was in REM sleep, that will be more pleasant for the user. The user would feel less tired even though they slept 20 minutes less.
I only sleep four to five hours a day but never feel tired.
Who are the main users?
Users are largely divided into two types depending on age.
People in their 20s and 30s hope to sleep less but well. They aren’t willing to go to hospitals or get medical services, but they will make efforts by themselves to have better sleep. Buying mattresses and eating health supplements are some examples.
Sleep disorders emerge mostly in people in their 40s and older, especially in those who are going through menopause. We are trying to approach this in the medical area.
Visitors take a look at Asleep's booth at CES 2023 held in Las Vegas in early January. [ASLEEP]

Visitors take a look at Asleep's booth at CES 2023 held in Las Vegas in early January. [ASLEEP]

You said you aim for a Nasdaq listing. When and why?
We are aiming for 2026.
The United States is the country that is seeing the sharpest increase in the sleep-tech market. This is inevitable since people with higher yearly incomes care more about their sleep quality.
Korea is a developed country, but it’s still not at the level at which people care about their sleep. Lots of people still struggle to get a job and make a living and consider health a matter for later. Some even think they are lazy if they sleep longer hours.
Naturally, a new industry is formed more quickly in rich countries. And since the sleep tech market is in the process of growing, we want to be a key player in the market.
We hope to go public when we actually become a key player in the market, and that will be in 2026. That year will be the new chapter of our journey.
What is your ultimate goal?
Simply, in the long term, Asleep wants to make people have better sleep. There are so many factors that make people tired, and I believe good sleep is the only solution for that.
But in the short term, Asleep is trying to make a new market. And for this, we desperately need the government’s support.
When Google made Android, no one said it was necessary. Google just made it, and then it formed a big smartphone market. And with smartphones, apps were developed and another big market emerged.
The autonomic driving business is also a case.
A change of perception is necessary, but the public is late in doing that. Asleep wants to make the industry move before the customers. Medical professionals will constantly voice out problems of sleep disorders and their impact on people’s well-being. Companies will then recognize the problems and come up with devices and products.
Asleep will be the movement — and that's how a new market emerges.

BY SARAH CHEA [chea.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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