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Interview with Ben Rubin about New Product Development

Ben Rubin is the cofounder of Change Collective, a new innovative platform to assist users in changing their behavior. Prior to Change Collective Ben cofounded Zeo, a sleep management company that helped users track their sleep. Ben also blogs about life hacking and other topics at BecomingAwesome.com.


1) The MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) market has almost reached saturation; what is (or will be) the secret sauce that makes Change Collective different than other online educational platforms?

When you think about different types of learning, you can think of different types of learning and how they might benefit from different course networks: the type of learning like you might find in history classes or second-grade math, maybe knitting or even graphic design and Photoshop. Platforms like Coursea, Khan Academy and Udemy… each of these takes a slightly different approach in terms of the type of learning and the way the content is created.

This type of learning is split into two axes: one axis is user-generated content versus professional content. What we see is that within the didactic learning section, most of the market is well covered. In behavior change however, there’s a bit of a different game going on; it’s no longer just learning a skill and having knowledge. It’s about changing a behavior and learning things is actually just a very small part of the process.

Where we see the next technological shift — in terms of being able to serve this market — has been the pervasiveness of smartphones, the pervasiveness of availability of health data through wearables. The enablement of technology allows us to build a course platform that’s geared towards behavior change. Since traditional educational platforms are not specifically or necessarily native to mobile they cannot be with you, can’t remind you, or can’t stay there with you. Individual change fundamentally has to be accomplished in your everyday life, as you are walking around the world.

We see ourselves differentiated in three ways. The first is content type: we are specifically geared toward behavior change. Second, our delivery mechanism is mobile. The third way is in the product experience and design. We are firmly grounded in change science: from psychology, to behavioral economics, to community, and how all of these interact.

2) With regards to change you have said that, “when change matters, identity must shift.” What does that mean and how will you use technology to support this idea?

When you go back to our primal understanding of behavior change, we believe change generally occurred because someone you looked up to did that thing: If you were training to be a hunter, farmer, or woodworker there were role models, village elders, who would show you the way. Their behavior was passed down and modeled. In modern times, the idea of “role model” has shifted into the idea of world-class experts. Instead of mentors being chosen from a small group of people around us, these experts now have a global reach. We can match an individual to a mentor or an expert that has “been there – done that” for a specific aspect of what a person wants to change and/or improve.

When we were interviewing consumers about change and asking them what worked, again and again they would mention community and the community’s respective leader. It became very clear that one of the key aspects of behavior change is actually shifting your identity to become associated with the view within the group. This concept/idea is supported by academic research, too.

Vegetarianism is a great example of this. Someone who has a moral objection to eating meat is very unlikely to choose an expedient and tasty the hamburger, because their identity and their morals are tied up in that position.

Our realization was we could use technology to bring great expert content and actual change facilitation to a wide audience. The experts can now better tell their stories, create communities in a scalable way and enable user identities to shift (which will help effect change).

3) You have spent significant time on product development since announcing your new project at the 2013 QS Conference. What have you learned about your customer segment and product during the process?

We have been talking a lot with experts, and talking with consumers. The process really boiled down who our target customer is. We describe them as one of two personas: The first is the Healthy Achiever. This person tends to be 20 to 55, female, interested in holistic life change, interested in sustainable change across a broad range of avenues from physical life, to raising kids, to household products, to her spiritual life.

The second persona is the Performance Optimizer. This person tends to be male, in a similar age range as the Healthy Achiever, and interested in optimizing risk. He prioritizes career over the rest of his life, but is interested in hacks across the board, and really wants to apply the minimum amount of effort in order to get the maximum amount of the gain. He is less worried about sustainability and a holistic approach.

So we really had a chance to dive in deep, understand those personas, understand who we are going to cater to and then talked to the experts who have already served those market segments somewhat and are well-respected by those consumers. So we have learned a ton about both the consumers in this market and the experts who serve them.

4) Given you are an avid life hacker yourself, what are three “hacks” you have successfully implemented in your own life that have yielded significant desirable results?

I will give you four because I know them well.

1) Sleep: Get 8 to 9 hours in a dark cool room, with black out curtains. You need the appropriate amount of REM and deep sleep. If you sleep right, the rest of your life will follow.

2) Nutrition: For me, the hack is Paleo, but there’s good reason to believe that lots of different approaches work for different people, so you need to discover what works for you.

3) Physical activity: Specifically, for me, it’s a combination of CrossFit and Olympic lifting that works. That will not work for everyone. However, I do tend to suggest some form of resistance training or other type of weighted work.

4) Meditation

5) What is the most valuable takeaway from your experience building and winding down Zeo?

I will give you two:

1) Listen to your customers. We always knew they didn’t love wearing headbands. We also knew Zeo was a great product — the device gave amazing data quality — and we projected that consumers would get over their objections (to headbands) because the product was so amazing. That never happened. Had we listened to our customers more, gathering stronger intelligence earlier in the product lifecycle, we would have more quickly shifted to non-contact sensor products.

2) The importance of building a corporate culture based around shared values. We started Zeo when we were 20 years old, just a couple of college kids who got together and started building something, perhaps without a truly defined shared purpose. When I look at the thing that has really worked for us at Change Collective, it is unity and shared values and really being mindful of building those shared values into the organization and company culture.

Interview with Craig DeLarge about Digital Mental Health

With a career in health and wellness spanning two decades, Craig DeLarge has held significant leadership roles for Johnson & Johnson, Communications Media, Inc., GlaxoSmithKline and Novo Nordisk. Craig recently left his management role with Merck, serving as the Global Leader of Multichannel Marketing Strategy & Innovation, to pursue opportunities in the digital mental health space. In addition to Craig’s pursuits in health and wellness, he is also a successful business coach and blogger. Craig’s coaching blog can be found at WiseWorking.com.


1) After a long and successful career in pharma, what are the major factors pulling you to now focus your energy on digital mental health?

There are 2 major factors that have contributed to my pivot. The first is that I have fortunately reached a period in my life where I have the luxury of taking a sabbatical. During this sabbatical I am bringing together my 15 years of digital health care experience with my personal interest in mental health as a professional coach/trainer and mental health advocate. I am not a psychologist, but I have experience helping people with change and personal growth. I also have a personal interest because I am a caregiver and due in part to that personal journey I have done extensive work with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

The second is there a major paradigm shift in health care from a pay for service model to a pay for outcome model. I am interested in playing a part in the evolution of this change. I realized I need to contribute to commercial models focused on health outcomes.

2) What has impressed you so far about the budding digital mental health space? What has been a disappointment?

As I have surveyed the space of digital technologies focused on the prevention or treatment of mental health/illness, I have been impressed with the breadth and variety of available technologies.

I won’t call this a disappointment, but what I would like to see more integration of individual technology solutions. Although there is clearly a lot more out there in digital mental health, I have yet to see many players integrate their offerings and create a holistic solution to the benefit of the patient and caregiver.

3) Given your unique vantage point, what role do you believe pharma plays in supporting digital mental health initiatives succeed?

Pharma can help integrate these products with their core product – drugs – to get a synergistic 1+1-3 safety & efficacy effect. For instance, drugs are only effective if you take them. In mental health there is a lot of non-compliance. There is a chance for digital health tech to have a complementary effect strengthening compliance & support. There is also the opportunity for better use of patient’s data to create win-win therapy & outcome situations.

Another point is Pharma has the money to invest to support digital health in a venture capitalist & scale up role. Most of the big Pharma players already have innovative investment funds, and have mechanisms for investing in budding digital health technologies.

Lastly, Pharma is skilled at influencing public policy. In that respect, Pharma can help assure there is room for relevant digital health technologies to grow in their beneficial application and use.

4) One of the early assumptions about wearables specific to digital physical health was that data in and of itself would be a change agent. There is growing evidence that to improve physical wellness, the human element is still required and that digital monitoring is simply another tool to augment mentorship and coaching. Do you think the same will be true for digital mental health?

The simple answer is yes, but not in the short-term. There will come a day where artificial intelligence will be smart enough to help mental health patients. I am confident of that, but we are not close yet for two reasons. One, the technology is simply not sophisticated enough yet. Two, my generation does not possess the comfort level with technology that they would see their phone as their therapist. However, our children and grandchildren are growing up in a new world where their generation might be able to have that type of relationship with technology. There is a degree of acceptance that needs to occur for technology to supplement the human element at that level and that will not come quickly, but it is coming. In the short-term although I do not believe digital health tech can replace human mediation, I do think there is a good chance that the right technology will be great at augmenting traditional therapies. These technologies today have an opportunity to act as supplements and/or amplifiers to the experience a person has with their healthcare providers and caregivers.

5) Playing the role of an optimist but tempered by the current results of activity tracking and cognitive brain training (thus far), how much do you think can be accomplished regarding digital mental health over the next five years?

This might be out of bounds regarding the specific questions, but I would hope simply we are more accepting, less judgmental, and have erased much of the stigma around mental health and mental illness that currently exists in society.

Going back to a previous answer, I hope in five years developed comfort with these technologies allows us close the gap between our view of physical health and mental health as separate things. The two are interrelated and it is damaging to separate them. There is a rising tide of awareness, and through social media it is amplified, which is bringing awareness to mental health issues. As a leader, I want to make sure this momentum is supported and progresses.

Additionally, I think wearables will become ubiquitous and invisible, and improved in their ability to reliably measure for outcomes. Its digital health adoption will grow exponentially. As a caveat, I don’t think you will see people who suffer from hallucinatory illnesses (such as schizophrenia) really benefiting from these technologies, but other mental illnesses, like depression, bipolar, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, etc., where increased mindfulness, awareness, and social support can be an important intervention should benefit greatly. 

Lastly, I would love to see technology help the caregivers of the mentally ill. There are opportunities to support this groups and especially in the face of comorbidities they face as part of the caregiver role. My hope is that innovators can find ways to help caregivers and create technologies that works for them too.

Live Life Love | Volume Twenty-Eight

Hello Everyone,

It’s been a great summer for me, and I hope the same is true for you. I was able to connect with a lot of old friends over the past few months, something I had not done for some time because frankly I had not made it a priority. What a mistake.

This month I met up with an old friend from high school, Mike D., whom I had not seen for decades and had a brilliant lunch. We shared our aspirations of leaving the world a better place, and he described that notion in mathematical terms: finding ways to increase the Global X. This idea has stuck with me since. I have always liked the Elizabeth Lesser quote, “Look for a way to lift someone up. If that’s all you do, it’s enough.” However, thinking about global flourishing in terms of increasing the Global X resonates higher with me, since I tend to think of things in quantitative terms.

Solving for some sort of Global X highlights the beauty that no matter what part you are playing in helping others, whether it’s a big or small role, in the end you are a purveyor of good, moving the same Universal needle as everyone who stands with you — those that understand that our purpose here is to learn and help one another. So I dedicate this quarter’s newsletter to friendship and increasing the Global X. This quarter’s interviews covering business and wellness are below.

Entrepreneurship: This quarter’s entrepreneurial interview is with Ben Rubin who is the cofounder of Change Collective, a mobile product that help users with behavior change. Prior to Change Collective, Ben helped launch the company Zeo, maker of one of the first commercial sleep-tracking devices. My  five questions with Ben Rubin about launching a new product can be found here.

Health and Wellness: This quarter’s health and wellness interview is with Craig DeLarge who just concluded his tenure as Global Leader of Multichannel Marketing Strategy & Innovation for Merck to pursue opportunities in the digital mental health space. My five questions with Craig DeLarge about the future of digital mental health can be found here.

Life Experience: Continuing with the theme of friendship, I have two life experiences to share this quarter. First, my friend Jill was visiting Vermont and picked me up a Heady Topper so that I could complete the personal challenge of drinking the “best beer in America,” which I discussed a couple of quarter’s ago. That was so thoughtful, and Heady Topper lives up to its reputation.

Heady Topper vs. Pliny the Elder

The other life experience came while visiting my friend Nate in New Jersey, I stopped by New York to see the Statue of Liberty. It was great seeing Nate; even though we only spent a couple hours together reminiscing about our quick visit still makes me smile.

Statue of Liberty

Contribution: There is no harm in being a lemming when it is for a good cause, so of course I got sucked into the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge craze thanks to another long time friend Joe.

I also contributed to Pat’s effort to raise money for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America and made a donation to the Midway Shelter for Abused Women and Children.

In the spirit of friendship, I wish you a great fall season with your friends and family. I look forward to checking in with you again around the holidays. As always, thanks for reading.

Warm regards,
Michael