Interview with Eric Quick about Using Technology for Good

Eric Quick has two decades of experience in food operations, manufacturing and consulting including senior leadership positions at McDonald’s, Disney and Safeway. In recent years Eric has engaged himself in more entrepreneurial pursuits which include launching the successful iPhone app MY FOOD FIGHT! and starting the consulting firm Cloud 9 Performance Solutions which assists food service organizations create healthier food supply chains while also reducing their costs.

Here are my 5 questions with Eric and his answers:

1) In the book Fast Food Nation it’s stated, “What we eat has changed more in the last forty years than in the previous forty thousand.” This is primarily due to advancements in technology. Your latest two entrepreneurial endeavors use innovative technology to promote better nutritional habits and choices. What do you believe technology’s role is in getting us moving in the right direction again regarding personal health as it relates to nutrition?

My belief is technology is going to play a significant role, but I’m still concerned that it will continue to play an intrusive role as well with the integrity of food. Over my career in food we have seen technology used to really over commercialize the food supply. To be fair we cannot blame the technology itself… but we can blame a lot of the people behind the technology and the pressures of Wall Street to maximize profits. That said, technology is also an enabler of the clean food movement.

Personally, we are using aseptic packaging to offer an organic product in a more convenient way. This gets us away from having to use preservatives, stabilizers, coloring, and other foreign agents to provide a “convenient” product for the end-consumer as well as a more nutritional nutrition back panel. Ultimately it is up to us (the producers of food) to make sure technology moves us in the direction of healthier end products. For instance, there is a company in the Bay Area using clean room technology meant for science labs to grow food indoors without pesticides with high yields. It is companies such as this that are moving us in the right direction.

2) With your answer from question one in mind, what currently excites you the most regarding emerging technologies that will help elicit positive change regarding globesity and an overall improvement in global health and wellness?

It is not necessarily the technology that excites me, rather the emerging entrepreneurs behind the technology. They seem to care more about food quality than their recent predecessors and are pushing the cleaner food movement. It excites me that people in our industry seem to be more cautious about their choices and I can see intent is changing. I see companies emerging worried less about profit and more pushing the limits of what is possible. As a manufacturer of food I’m excited that these new innovations (being built) allow me to make a food product that can still have a decent shelf life but does not require garbage ingredients to accomplish this. From the farm to fork people are looking at the entire chain and trying to make each part of the process better and also cleaner. That’s what excites me.

Technology as a communication tool also excites me. Chipotle’s innovative ad about the horrific use of gestation crates for pig farming went viral on social media and generated interest when there was limited visibility prior to the ad going viral. Phone apps like MY FOOD FIGHT! that help communicate/teach better health choices to consumers. These are also steps in the right direction.

3) Given your extensive experience in scalable food manufacturing and distribution, what is one thing you think the industry could change today that would make an immediate positive impact for the greater good of public health?

In my personal opinion it is the use of pesticides and chemicals in the agricultural food supply. The trickle-down effect is profound – neurological issues, environmental factors, the economic impact on local farming – it is almost impossible to know all the ways these products have a negative impact on society. Organic has proven you can produce without it. Admittedly it is more work, and it does come with a higher cost, but put against scrutiny I believe it is worth the effort given the hard to quantify social costs of doing business as usual. What is the cost of health care for those affected by pesticides? What are the economics of environmental conditions left over from chemical use? These are important questions to answer and we do not have the studies to give a clear picture of the long-term impact of chemical use in the food supply chain. Is it easy? No. As a society we have a desire for cheap food and so challenging the status quo is a tricky proposition but a very important one none-the-less.

4) In your twenty years of experience, and in the research and development of MY FOOD FIGHT!, what methods, campaigns, schemes and/or technologies do you believe to be the most effective in lasting positive behavioral change?

Gaming is a very powerful medium, especially for younger people, to create behavior change. I believe we are wired to enjoy games. I spoke at the Games for Health Conference on this topic and during the Conference was blown away at the extremely innovative games emerging that also deliver a value in the form of influencing positive change. You don’t hear about these games the way you hear about the latest Zynga game because they are developed for a particular niche audience… and let me state they transcend nutrition. I saw applications for PTSD, and improving the lives of autistic children, and many others. It is really quite remarkable what games can do to help people in a fun way.

5) Your current project Froovie is a pioneering approach to offer consumers a healthy, organic alternative to notoriously unhealthy beverage choices at the soda fountain. What do you deem as imperative to making sure your disruptive technology is successful and benefits from a lasting product cycle?

Simply put, if our product is not great tasting it is going to fail no matter how healthy it is. I know the theme of this interview is technology but it is just as important to share that consumers aren’t going to be impressed with our technology; rather they are going to want something they enjoy as much or more than soda. If our product does not taste great the technology is not going to matter. We have to cater to a palette that has been conditioned to like things that are extremely sweet. In my lifetime I’m confident the advances in technology are going to be mind-blowing and yet what I have just shared with you will be just as true then as it is today. Your product has to be as good or better than the alternative to survive.

Interview with Ken Snyder about Biometric Data

Kenneth Snyder is the founder of the London-based start-up LifeGadget which is a platform for aggregating and analyzing one’s social, activity, health and wellness data through a contextual interface. Ken has almost two decades of experience in Information Technology through a diverse range of experience spanning from leadership positions at established players such as Sapient to founding roles at various start-ups. When Ken is not working on his next project he shares his entrepreneurial passion through various strategy workshops in the United Kingdom.

Here are my 5 questions with Ken and his answers:

1) Only a few years back there was a budding hope that simply empowering someone with their own health data, with nothing else needed, would be enough to see measurable improvement based on the attribute being measured (see Data is the Next Blockbuster Drug). The current general belief is that some sort of guidance is a necessary component for human improvement and that data, for the simple sake of data, is an ineffective intervention. What is your point of view on the importance of data and its role given this context?

The word empowerment means different things to different people. I believe data is very valuable and is allowing us to see correlations and patterns that we simply did not have access to before. For me there are four powerful aspects to tracking data:

  1. The ability to reflect on historic data to identify patterns, patterns which are pretty much imperceptible experientially.
  2. The ability to share historic artifacts about yourself with others – be it your doctor, a wellness advocate, and/or social supporter such as a family member. For many people memory is a poor substitute for the truth.
  3. The ability to make predictions and correlations based on multiple data sources. For instance, weight by itself can be interesting, but put that into an ecosystem with other data and it gets a lot more interesting. One can begin to derive secondary effects and make better choices.
  4. The ability to make data sharing frictionless and explicit. In other words, data sets are becoming rich and the integrity of the data is getting better as we move away from pen and paper.

That said there are still some universal truths that are important. For instance, sustainability is one. The four aspects I just mentioned don’t mean anything if the means to which one tracks their data is difficult. If the process/method is difficult then utility is compromised. Another truth is that people’s goals change and interest in anything tends to trend in an angulating fashion. This needs to be incorporated into the ease of use of collecting data since it’s a norm, and developers should build products around expecting data to come in ebbs and flows.

2) LifeGadget is being developed in part so that people will better understand their behavior and choices holistically. How profound do you speculate facilitating better access to biometric and behavioral data will move the needle towards allowing users to find unique correlations in aspects of changeable behavior that aren’t available today?

There is a balance between the value data provides and the effort needed to get data. We are getting better at lowering the effort threshold by reducing the friction between users and their data. We are also making data more enjoyable through various methodologies such as gamification. Regarding your question, single variables are important but it is exploring the complex relationship between those variables that ultimately will really move the needle.

For someone to really understand what is going on, they need access to a more complicated picture of their environment. As individuals we are usually not well-suited (without good tools) to explore our raw data and extrapolate meaning from that environment. Secondarily, even those that might be great at Excel modeling and have the aptitude to generate meaningful complex algorithms won’t have the time to do it just for themselves. Great tools let people bring forth observations quickly and easily by finding meaningful relationships in the data effortlessly.

3) One of major themes of this year’s Quantified Self Conference was the fact that hardware and software manufacturers have done little to standardize biometric data types. With the exception of the FIT Protocol and Open mHealth Architecture data standards for biometric data practically do not exist. What do you perceive as the implications of this, both as an advocate of the space and a product developer?

We are still in what I call a “Wild West” environment, meaning rapid change is taking place. At a personal level I naturally gravitate to these types of environments. This type of great change is very exciting. Since it is still a land grab you have players like Nike that do not want standards because it gives them a competitive advantage. Also it is important to note that not having standards creates a lower cost for start-ups and pioneers because they’re not limited by boundaries. However, from an infrastructure standpoint standards are starting to develop and that is unlikely to slow down… things like OAuth 2.0 and RESTful APIs are making data integration easier and cheaper to orchestrate.

I believe when a standard(s) do begin to take root you will see a very rapid move towards standardization. I suspect this will happen – the drawbridge will get lowered if you will – when businesses see value in collaboration. This will naturally happen as the ecosystem evolves. The industries that service this data will push for it and data producers will either fall in line or face exclusion.

4) Aside from the issue discussed in question three, what is one thing you would do today to improve the biometric tracking industry at large if you had unlimited resources?

I think one potential roadblock is the inherent cautiousness of the healthcare industry. If I had unlimited resources I would use them to influence the constructive disruption of the healthcare industry. I’m not suggesting we throw out caution, but I am suggesting we don’t let it get in the way of innovation. A great example is the stethoscope. The stethoscope was invented and it took another 30 years for it to get adopted by the healthcare industry. These types of delays as it pertains to biometric data innovation would be catastrophic. People need better access to genetic data and data generated by remote monitoring now. There is so much potential but progress is being hindered by legal and risk-based boundaries. For example the Federal Trade Commission is blocking the ability to see real-time glucose monitoring… why? Seriously, what is the harm in that? This is where I would like to see the industry improve.

5) The space is evolving rapidly, in part driven by the need for innovation to help improve healthcare. A recent article from CNN (Tracking Your Body with Technology) suggests that mind-blowing devices are on the horizon. From what you have seen and heard, what excites you the most about the future of self-tracking, biometric hardware, and/or mHealth?

I am excited about the rapid growth of this sector and the acknowledgment that it is beneficial to people (and these benefits are only getting better). I am excited to be involved in this not only professionally, but also personally. I started going to Quantified Self meet-ups because I have been tracking my own data for years. I’m excited that devices are improving with each iteration. For example, sleep tracking devices right now, in my opinion, are good but not great. I’m excited to see devices such as the Zeo get better because sleep quality is such an important piece of the puzzle… so we need better data regarding sleep. Another thing that excites me is seeing the way we track food intake improve. No one has gotten that down yet but someone will. This goes back to my answer to question two… right now the effort to track food is too high to maintain sustainability, but someone will solve this and that excites me. Lastly, it excites me to think that blood and biometric markers will likely be available to consumers without having to puncture the skin. Things like cholesterol, reactive protein counts, and other standard measures will be easily obtained without a blood draw. Once this happens we are going to be able to do some really great correlative analysis and really empower people with a clear, unique picture of their data and what their data means.

Live Life Love | Volume Twenty

Hello Everyone,

This marks the end of the fifth year of the Live Life Love Project. I cannot believe five years have gone by already! Getting to meet and talk with so many fascinating people has been a real honor and strengthened my belief in the power of reciprocity. Looking back at past interviewees it’s amazing what these people have accomplished since I was able to sit down with them. Todd Dipaola made the cover of Entrepreneur Magazine. Ed Baker sold his company to Facebook and stood next to Mr. Zuckerberg himself during Facebook’s IPO. Matt Szymczyk’s company was just awarded a game-changing patent. Bryan Pate’s ElliptiGO bikes can be seen everywhere now. Dr. Michael Gervais was called out on international television by Kerri Walsh Jennings as being a crucial part of her success in the Olympics. Simply great stuff… inspiring and motivating! This quarter I’ve reached out to two more entrepreneurs on the fast track to success.

This quarter’s business interview is with Eric Quick, the Founder and CEO of Cloud 9 Performance Solutions. Eric has over twenty years experience in food production including time with notable companies like Disney, Safeway, and Revolution Foods. My interview with Eric Quick about using technology for good while still making a profit can be found here.

This quarter’s wellness interview is with Kenneth Snyder, the Founder of LifeGadget. LifeGadget is a budding company that aggregates social, activity, and wellness data to build a comprehensive and contextualized view of oneself. My interview with Kenneth Snyder about the power of personal data can be found here.

My contribution this quarter went to John Z’s effort to support the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. John not only finished The Disney Half Marathon this month, but also was able to double his fund raising goal for pancreatic cancer as a part of this admirable achievement.

I have a lot this quarter that qualifies as new life experience but what I’m most proud of is attending my first Quantified Self Conference and being allowed an “office hours” slot with my colleague Ryan McFadden.

Quantified Self Conference 2012 | Michael Rucker

Quantified Self Conference | Palo Alto, CA 2012

I’m developing a thought-leadership position in the area of technology and behavior change. As all my personal passions start to meld together — psychology, health and wellness, technology, and marketing — I’m quickly finding my professional footing as these fields serendipitously are converging in the consumer market of biometric and medical tracking. Someday soon, someone will be writing about my success in their opening paragraph.

Speaking of paragraphs, my sincerest gratitude for reading this all the way to the last one. Wishing you happiness and your own success as we close out 2012!

Warm regards,

PQQ, Nitric Oxide, and Peroxynitrite

There have been a few of you concerned about pyrroloquinoline quinone and erectile dysfunction. Recently we received the following question:

…positive results in animal studies (show) relative avoidance of ischemic reperfusion injury following induced stroke in lab animals. This was due, I understand, to PQQ’s ability to block nitric oxide synthesis. This begs the question; do you think PQQ can cause male erectile dysfunction since normal function depends on adequate levels of nitric oxide?

Pyrroloquinoline quinone is a redox active nutrient that can scavenge various reactive oxygen species (ROS), such as superoxide radicals, which can act as deleterious oxidants. This is one of several aspects that make PQQ an effective anti-ischemic agent.

PQQ is unable to directly interact with nitric oxide. Research shows it doesn’t block nitric oxide synthesis, which in part addresses the concern about erectile dysfunction. Rather, pyrroloquinoline quinone’s effect on nitric oxide relates to it’s ability to reduce the levels of the major ROS derived from nitric oxide, a compound called peroxynitrite. Nitric oxide can react with superoxide radicals to form the product, peroxynitrite.

Peroxynitrite is an oxidant and nitrating agent that can severely damage a wide array of molecules in one’s cells, including DNA and proteins. With respect to PQQ, less peroxynitrite is formed, when the formation of superoxide is blocked or reduced, because of PQQ’s ability to act as an anti-oxidant.

Should entrepreneurs trust their instincts?

There has been a long standing dictum, one I happen to believe, among self-help and entrepreneurial gurus that leaders perform better when they follow their instincts. Furthermore, good leaders rarely retreat from a decision. Conversely, poor performers consistently change their minds, which slows down their own decision making process and often adversely effects others as well.

In the kingdom of blind men, those who are blessed with one eye are kings.

In my experience entrepreneurs that constantly second guess themselves or make decisions out of fear usually end up making ill-fated choices that crush them in the long run. That is why it is often recommended by business consultants for entrepreneurs to go into endeavors with a solid competency of what they are about to do . Even if what you are promoting is an innovation with no historical basis, one needs the ability to at least envision the (possible) future in the hopes of successfully navigating through it.

As the French proverb goes, “In the kingdom of blind men, those who are blessed with one eye are kings.

PQQ and Parkinson’s disease

Regrettably, there are no clinical studies that been done to date to directly address whether PQQ is effective in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, although the assertion is sometimes made in nutritional supplement-oriented blogs and websites less scrupulous than ours. However, there are a number of basic studies that appear promising, which suggest pyrroloquinoline quinone may be beneficial in slowing or altering the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

What is known to date? In studies using experimental animal models, PQQ does interact with the neurotransmitter systems. It appears to be a neuroprotective (also see the post, PQQ, glutamate, nitric oxide and N-methyl-D-aspartic acid receptors). PQQ could potentially protect against neurotoxicity induced by compounds that promote or produce Parkinson-like symptoms in laboratory animals. Moreover, PQQ in chemical assays inhibits the aggregation of alpha-synuclein, a process that is associated with the progression to Parkinson’s disease. Pyrroloquinoline quinone also seems to protect nerve cells by blocking new amyloid beta molecular structures from forming before they can cause cellular damage akin to what is observed in Parkinson’s disease. Although these observations are promising, questions nevertheless remain regarding how direct and specific the actions of PQQ are as they relate to altering the functions of alpha-synuclein and amyloid beta, if and when they are abnormally aggregated.

If you would like to do a deeper dive on this topic you should read:

1. Kobayashi, M; Kim, J; Kobayashi, N; Han, S; Nakamura, C; Ikebukuro, K; Sode, K. Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) prevents fibril formation of alpha-synuclein. 2006 Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications 349: 1139–44.
2. Zhang JJ; Zhang RF; Meng XK. Protective effect of pyrroloquinoline quinone against Abeta-induced neurotoxicity in human neuroblastoma SH-SY5Y cells. 2009 Neuroscience Letters 464: 165–9.
3. Kim, J; Kobayashi, M; Fukuda, M; Ogasawara, D; Kobayashi, N; Han, S; Nakamura, C; Inada, M et al. Pyrroloquinoline quinone inhibits the fibrillation of amyloid proteins. Prion 4: 26–31.