How Ukrainian startup OBRIO turned psychic reading and astrology into a thriving business venture

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If I were choosing an industry for a Ukrainian startup to disrupt, I would select robotics, gaming, edtech, agritech, or miltarytech. I wouldn’t pick astrology.

But I recently met OBRIO, the Ukrainian startup behind the leading psychic reading and astrology guidance platform, Nebula.

While major tech companies have lost jobs in 2023, OBRIO has had a 250 percent boost in income. Its platform boasts 30 million users worldwide and $50 million ARR in 2022.

Nebula is the ranked Number 1 lifestyle app on the Apple Store and Play Market multiple times in the USA, Canada, and Australia, and the top astrological brand in the USA and Canada, according to Facebook Brand Audit.

And, despite the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the company continues to thrive. Since February 2022, it’s welcomed 55 new team members and nearly six million new users.

The OBRIO team. Photo: Uncredited.

I spoke to CEO Alex Fedorov to learn more.

Why astrology?

My first thought was, why astrology?

Fedorov likens the benefits of astrology to those received by counselling and psychological support, especially in relationship challenges, a core reason why people access Nebula.

Fedorov explained:

“People say they don’t believe in astrology, but according to the statistics, one in every four Americans believes in astrology and star signs.

Have you ever checked the compatibility of your zodiac sign with your partner? Some people don’t believe in astrology, but they do believe in compatibility.”

“People turn to astrology for emotional support and help in decision-making. People will always have problems with self-esteem, self-belief, and understanding themselves. Astrology is a tool to ease those problems.”

He shared:

“People want to validate the advice they get from others. It’s very common for a user to turn to us because of a relationship problem. They often choose an astrologist or psychic (or several) for a second opinion. They then combine the advice to develop an action plan to fix the problem.”

I guess it makes sense if you think about where you get your support from in terms of your love life; it might be friends, family, faith or religion, extending to Facebook groups and Reddit communities such as AITA (am I the asshole), anonymous advice, and further along counsellors and psychologists.

Curious about how astrology stacks up to psychology, I wondered how much astrology tells people what they want to hear?

Fedorov explains that the company’s motto is never to say anything bad. Unlike the notion of astrology or psychic readers as a soothsayer of trouble ahead, he contends:

“Our purpose with Nebula is to inspire people, to help them, not to put them down. It’s much, much easier to put people down than to uplift them.

So we do not allow and fire people who give advice that goes against our positive approach.”

How to disrupt a niche legacy sector

When I was a kid back in Australia, the daily horoscopes were read out on the morning TV news (not anymore) and featured in the newspapers daily. Later, there became teleservices and, more recently, digital services and apps. So, how the heck do you gain entry?

Obrio spun out of Genesis, a Ukrainian co-founding IT company and one of the largest global publishers of non-gaming applications. Fedorov attributes this to the founders’ experience in the Genesis ecosystem:

“We didn’t start from zero, we had a very good head start. This included a lot of expertise in Facebook and Google marketing. But beyond that, I think what has been key for Obrio is the belief in the value of our product.

We understood from our users’ first inquiries what problems they wanted to solve.”

The company started with Facebook marketing, but now almost 50 percent of users come from organic traffic because of brand recognition.

“So when people hear astrology, they think about Nebula, the same way that when you hear phone, you think iPhone.”

Nebula is powered by a platform of freelance astrologers and psychics (or experts, as the company refers to them).

Recruitment is a complex process that includes interviews and test periods. Once employed, they receive training and quality control reports that cover everything from tone of voice to the value of the advice given — all of which must be positive.

While the company is often asked about using AI in comparable services, Fedorov contends:

“Currently, we don’t believe AI can be empathetic enough, with the support and understanding of humans. We use AI for tasks such as automating reminders and facilitating push notifications but never as a core feature for our users in problem-solving.

In October, the company launched a service where new Nebula users can talk to a psychic reader of their choice in a free online psychic chat to get an idea of how online psychics work.

There’s no need to pay for readings unquestioningly before having enough information to decide whether or not to request a paid reading.

Since 2022, the company has opened a new branch in Warsaw and contributed over $250,000 to support the Ukrainian army. Currently, it’s dedicated to providing mobile laser launching systems to the front lines of the Ukrainian armed forces.

Lead image: Alex Fedorov, CEO of OBRIO, the company behind Nebula. Image via Nebula.

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