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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.

Interview with Bob Summers about HealthKit and Fitness Apps

A long-time digital entrepreneur, Bob Summers has founded several startups over the last twenty years. His current endeavor, Fitnet, helps individuals achieve their health goals by providing easy-to-access fitness sessions through their mobile device (currently available in the App Store). Some of Bob’s previous startups include TechPad, EnergyWare and the nanoCom Corporation. Aside from being an online entrepreneur, Bob partakes in community and economic development as a member of the Board of Directors for the Roanoke – Blacksburg Technology Council and Virginia Tech Entrepreneur Club. Bob also led the installation of gigabit fiber access into Blacksburg, making it the world’s first free open access gigabit Wi-Fi network.


1) As a developer of health and wellness apps, what excites you by the recent announcement of HealthKit at the 2014 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC)?

The conference has been a lot of fun and the energy has been really high. 5000 developers, all picked by lottery and the result is that 75% of the developers are new. The rumor mill was that Apple was going to announce a wearable but that wasn’t the case. Instead, they announced HealthKit, which I believe is the first step in that direction, because Apple needs a piece of foundational software like this in the ecosystem before they can really execute well on a wearable so that any device they come out with can be built on top of it. Any good application needs to have a good software ecosystem, and HealthKit makes sense for them given the proliferation of health and wellness apps in the App Store. There are now over 40,000 health and fitness apps and it is a terrible user experience that each time you try a new wellness app you have to fill out the same health information. The same frustration that we have when we have to fill out new paperwork with a new doctor… telling them the same stuff we have time and time again… that same experience is true for health and wellness apps. A good app may not get used just because the user doesn’t want to have to go through the process of answering the same questions they just did for an inferior app. HealthKit means this type of information is now portable, stored locally in the HealthKit repository, and users don’t have to rely on apps to talk to each other through APIs and the Internet. This will now all happen locally within the user’s phone. All of these individual apps, with unique APIs, have stifled innovation for too long. It’s exciting stuff. There are some limits since it is new. It is not yet available for the iPad, but I’m sure that will resolve itself in short order. There is clearly a lot of excitement about it so I’m sure it will evolve quickly. It excites me too because it means I’m in the right space.

2) Outside of HealthKit, what other big takeaways excited you from Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference and the unveiling of iOS8?

The introduction of a new programming language, Swift, is the most exciting thing at the conference in my opinion. It is a programming language that is more approachable, less noisy, and extremely powerful at the same time. Why this is so exciting is it is going to bring in more developers and create more inclusivity within the developer community. Objective C, which is what a lot of folks currently develop in, is a difficult language for people to get their hands around. In my opinion, Swift is a game changer in regards to efficiency, which will allow developers to iterate more quickly, test more things, which in the end will lead to better products. It is going to bring in more developers and lower the cost of development. This is really a big deal because more competition in this space is ultimately going to benefit the end user. In my view, this is going to have a massive effect on the marketplace.

3) You have an impressive success rate at technology competitions, are there any sharable keys to your success that have helped stack the odds in your favor?

One, there is some serendipity regarding my story because I’m in the health and wellness space and that’s just a hot market right now, so one key to share is either through luck, or by choice, pick a hot market. I can take credit for really paying attention to my presentations. In competitions (pretty much all competition not just technical ones) the best presentation is going to win, right? You can have better elements than anyone there but if they’re not passed along to the judges properly then how are they going to know? So there is some salesmanship that for better or worse is important to hone before you get in front of judges. Also, experience is going to help. I’ve been at this awhile, but that said, that doesn’t mean I don’t practice each time either. Just because I have a good track record doesn’t mean I can now go in and win these things easily. I do the work (through practice, prototyping, etc.) and I’m sure that is a major component to my success. Also, I go into these situations with an open-mind, but I will then quickly focus. This is important in two ways. One, I don’t get stuck on anything preconceived. For instance, I have a great idea, but it does not fit the parameters of the competition. I spend the whole time trying to figure out how to jam a square peg into a square hole. That’s just not going to work. Two, I kill ideas quickly. Understand the challenge, brainstorm a lot of ideas, then pick the right one – not a few – but the right one and spend time making that idea great. If you pick a few ideas to consider you start to dilute your energy (and time) thinking about multiple pathways. These strategies have worked for me.

4) In your opinion, specific to health and wellness apps, where do you believe people are currently getting it right, and where is there room for improvement?

I’ve been really inspired about what Nike was able to do in the sense that they made my data usable. They took what I provided and did not just spit it back to me but gave me suggestions and added value to it. Innovators that are going beyond just collecting metrics and data are getting it right. Mobile competitors like Android will come out with their own version of HealthKit and soon applications that don’t enhance your collected data will quickly fade away anyway.

Where I think there is room for improvement is there are all these great platforms out there and none of them are really talking to each other. What a terrible experience for the general consumer, right? I am tracking my food intake over here, and my activity over here, and doing mindfulness exercises over here. Not very much out there is integrated even though, and I truly believe this from my interaction with competitors, we all want to help our clients and users. We don’t want to get in their way. We want what is best for them. Yet, we do little to make it easy for them to correlate their data and look at their health in a holistic way. In that regard, we could be doing a lot better to unify in a way that doesn’t hurt our respective businesses, while making our products work better (in collective) for the end user.

5) Your app has seen impress growth. What are your top three growth hacking strategies?

There is no secret sauce here. One is persistence. You got to want it and work at it every day. Without this strategy, I’m not sure how you make it. I don’t have any shortcuts that replace hard work. The second would be find great partners. What can you offer other people (you must give first to receive), and once you have that established how can you use what you have (and offer it through partnerships) to expand your reach and/or benefit from a competence that you might not inherently have yourself. For instance, I have partnered with fitness celebrities. For them, I have an innovative vehicle for which they can deliver content in a unique way. For me, I gain a content expert pertaining to health and fitness. It’s a win-win. Lastly, make meaningful contacts and connections and keep them updated. I do keep a list of valuable influencers and advisories and make sure I stay engaged with them. If you want a successful endeavor you need a promoter. If you are not that person, then you might need to acquire that expertise through someone that knows public relations. It’s not a secret that good PR will assist you with growth, but some forget it is a strategy that you can do well or poorly… where perhaps hoping something goes viral is more of a wish than a strategy. 

Interview with Brad Bowery about Coworking Space

Brad Bowery is the former Chief Executive Officer of SRECTrade, a company that provides software to solar energy traders. He has recently become a partner of Founders Den, which is an innovative shared coworking office space helping other entrepreneurs take their companies to the next level.


1) Considering the economics of bootstrapping a startup, when does it make sense for a budding entrepreneur to consider moving their idea from their home (and/or coffee shop) and incurring the additional cost of a “coworking” space? More directly, how can an entrepreneur rationalize the return on investment?

I need to clarify that Founders Den is primarily composed of entrepreneurs who are introduced to the space through personal networks. They usually already have some sort of funding and money for office space. In my experience, they tend to be in a little bit different position than other founders who might be on the fence about taking office space. So companies that come through us are funded and have office space in their budget.

So to answer your question, let me take a step back and talk a little bit about my own personal experience. This type of decision is really going to depend on your respective circumstance. I bootstrapped my first company for the first two years, but I did this because I had the luxury of having a dedicated room in my apartment. I had a roommate who was never there and I had a lot of space. My environment was ideal. However, there came a point where more space made sense. I was also fortunate that my company had early cash flow. My decisions about what to invest in would have been different if we were burning cash.

In short, the return on investment in the context of your question is subjective. There are many things to consider: Is your living environment such that it can adequately support your entrepreneurial endeavor? Is using precious cash on renting working space the best investment, or could you get a better multiplier by investing in technology or more head count? Lastly, does the new workspace make sense for your company? Does the culture of the space match yours? There are a lot of choices regarding space, especially here in the Bay Area, will the environment help support your mission, culture, and values in ways that working somewhere else would not?

2) When an entrepreneur is considering picking a coworking environment vendor, what should she/he consider when making a decision about which space is the right “fit”?

This is an interesting question, because there is definitely a growing focus on the importance of one’s work environment. You have places like Facebook and Google that have made their campuses fun, and places that in a lot of respects are inviting. You are seeing people new to the workforce shy away from traditional work environments and levitate towards more dynamic ones.

At the Founders Den, we are really trying to create a curated experience for founders that come into our network. Our goal is to provide a lot of resources and a curated work environment for our entrepreneurs during a very crucial time of building their company. These entrepreneurs are able to cohort with a lot of other companies, all coming together, who are all going through similar challenges and feeding off of each other’s energy and skill sets. They also benefit from our network of advisers that include some of the top entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. For Founders Den, it is really about a community. There are benefits that go beyond a standard coworking space.

There is a fairly large spectrum of choices for startups. Like most decisions, you will make the best choice by shopping your options and weighing costs against the value you will get. Cost is not just money, there is opportunity cost if the “fit” isn’t right, if there is dissidence between the culture of the company you are creating and the culture of the space in which you are doing it, you could be wasting energy. A bad decision is not without consequence, this new space is likely where you are building your company’s foundation (i.e. new hires, social norms, etc.).

3) There are possible pros and cons to a “coworking” space. For instance – potentially on the negative side – there are the inherent risks of distraction in a collaborative work environment. On the positive side, these type of arrangements are meant to be temporary so this type of engagement might provide motivation for a desired amount of growth by a certain period of time. What strategies can you recommend for someone to make the most out of their experience using a “coworking” space?

Let my start by clarifying that this comes from my own experience, but I believe there is certainly this idea that all the founders in Silicon Valley are networking all the time, and partying, and that’s all they’re doing. The reality is the people who are successfully building companies are going through a completely smothering experience. When you are building a company, you are living and breathing it. As a startup, it’s so easy to just put your head down, put the blinders on, and wait for months before coming up for air. That is something I experienced with my business. In my opinion, some healthy distraction is probably a good thing. In my experience, if I can get out of the weeds and sit and talk with someone smart it starts to trigger things in my mind that relate back to my business. It’s a great time to step back and look at the bigger picture. Since we are selective about the entrepreneurs invited to the Founders Den, I’m not worried that our entrepreneurs will have a problem putting their head down and getting work done. I worry they might not take full advantage of the opportunities to interact with other people, to sit in on talks, and take advantage of other resources that they can get in a well-designed coworking space. There are easy ways out there to get a desk, computer, and phone. In that sense, I guess one of the negative aspects would be that you could over pay for simple amenities by overpaying at a sophisticated work space (if you are not going to take advantage of all they offer when all you wanted was a phone).

So continuing along with the same theme, the upside is you are probably surrounded by a bunch of high performing entrepreneurs. I believe the great entrepreneurs will never have trouble focusing on their businesses, getting them to come up for air and refreshing the perspective from which they are thinking about their business is what we are challenging them to do. That is where a coworking environment can really be a benefit. You have the opportunity to cohort with other really smart people sharing the same journey but with different skill sets. You are surrounded by people that potentially see the world differently than you, as well as access to unique resources only available to the collective. Our entrepreneurs generally are accommodated for six months because we want them to get in, take advantage of the resources at a unique time in their growth and then graduate on to bigger things. It also helps us create an environment that is dynamic and constantly being updated with new faces and perspectives.

4) Moving to you personally: regarding Dunbar’s number, in my experience you are the exception that proves the rule. Your innate ability to stay connected to a large and diverse body of friends and associates, while still maintaining a high degree of authenticity is extraordinary. Given there are only so many hours in the day, what strategies do you use to maintain meaningful relationships with so many people?

I am a firm believer that you get what you give, and that is what has worked really well for me. I try to take the lead by being authentic and vulnerable when getting to know people… even if I’ve just met them. I lay my cards on the table early and often and, in turn, I have found it gets easier for others to reciprocate. I don’t create a high bar for getting to know me personally and it has helped me feel connected to people in a short period of time. Personal disclosure and trust is important to deeper relationships, and I suppose the way I communicate speeds up this process. This inherent style is not without its drawbacks. Put me in a networking event with a bunch of strangers and I’ll struggle not because of social anxiety, but because everyone there has been socially conditioned for small talk. It’s tough to really connect with someone in that environment. I like situations where you can have deeper conversations with people and move very quick past small talk and get into substance quickly.

I really do enjoy making connections and staying connected, and there are few things I do that probably help me feel connected to friends who I may not get to see as often anymore. For instance, I love taking photos. I’ve had a blessed life and I’m constantly documenting it so that I never forget it! I love going through old photos and will often come across a gem that I just can’t help but send to someone. It’s quite spontaneous and it always leads to some good back and forth. Those shared experiences will never go away, even if the new ones are fewer and farther in between.

Lastly, I love bringing people together. I’ve thrown some fun parties in the city, co-hosted a few charity formals, organized a few kitesurfing trips and co-hosted a couple huge Rose Bowl tailgates in Pasadena. People tell me I should be an event planner, but I could never do that for a living. It just wouldn’t be fun anymore if I were doing it for money. I love creating great situations that bring all the wonderful people I know, and the ones they know, together in meaningful ways. And there is nothing better than seeing people who are good friends, colleagues or even married because they met at something I put together. I have been to at least three weddings where I played a role in making the connection. How cool is that? Aside from being fun and rewarding, creating events is simply a great way to scale keeping in touch. There are no expectations and there is no hidden reason to why I like doing it, but there is no denying that it is a scalable way to stay connected to old friends and meet new people (within your network).

5) Men’s Fitness had an article earlier this year titled Silicon Valley’s New Social Network and the first line goes, “It’s an open secret in the technology industry: If you want to score a deal, learn to kiteboard.” The overarching theme was that deal-making is moving out of the country club and traditional office spaces and has become more adventurous and accessible. Knowing you are an avid kite-boarder, and in line with the theme of this interview, do you see the way entrepreneurs succeed at building businesses changing? Similar to the way open technology is being touted as creating a “Cambrian moment”, do you think the way we are accessing each other is a trend, or alternatively a paradigm shift that is forever changing the way startups will be built moving forward?

I think few would argue it’s a little easier to get an idea off the ground and get a company started than it has been in the past. I am not sure I would make the same assertion about later stage funding/financing, but I don’t believe that addresses the spirit of your question anyway. Also, I have heard things like, “kitesurfing is the new golf.” I’m not sure that is true. Are there more avenues to make connections and get things done through crowd-sourcing, coworking environments, meet-ups, events, etc.? Yes.

Focusing on kiteboarding is a red herring. Yes, it has some visibility right now in the Bay Area. However, for an entrepreneur looking to make connections, just getting to know new people through common interests is more important than getting involved in the latest fad. I got my business school internship through my involvement with pole vaulting. It was an awesome internship. I traveled around the world and got to do some really cool stuff working for an investment fund. I successfully partnered with someone to start my first company through a softball league. My Founders Den involvement did come through kiteboarding where I met Michael Levit during a summer kiteboarding trip I organize each year. Are the ways startups are being built changing? Yes. Are the ways we are accessing each other changing? Maybe. However, putting yourself out there and developing relationships through common interests is timeless, the popularity of certain activities just changes from time to time.

Interview with Apple about Health and Fitness Apps

Apple’s App Store is the go-to marketplace for all iOS device users, including iPhones and iPads. This digital distribution platform, maintained by Apple, allows users to browse and download a wide range of different types of useful (and not so useful) applications. The App Store started in 2008, roughly a year after the first iPhone was sold. The original iPhone was launched with only built-in apps, but based on consumer demand and smart business principles, Apple began letting independent developers build and profit from iOS applications (which they are able to sell through Apple).  Although the App Store was a tremendous hit right from launch, profiting from app development is known to be a precarious proposition (as documented in the Fast Company article, Striking It Rich In The App Store: For Developers, It’s More Casino Than Gold Mine). Despite the risks, the App Store launched with roughly 500 apps, and presently is home to over one million. It is estimated to have over 40,000 health and wellness apps in the market, but the usefulness and utility of a majority of these apps is consistently questioned (ex. Time’s article: Bad News About Your Favorite Health Apps: They Don’t Work). The information for this interview took place over a three hour period, with seven employees from the app store speaking specifically about health, wellness, and medical apps. Apple has not endorsed this interview and it is comprised as a composite of various responses from the various individuals. 


1. What makes a good wellness or fitness mobile app? When a developer asks you for advice on how to build a great product what do you tell them?

There isn’t one recipe for building a great app. We work with various developers at varying capacities. Ultimately, our job is to ensure that Apple’s marketplace is curated in a way that maximizes the user experience.  Obviously, everyone benefits when we can help developers produce their best work, which is true across all of our channels. Apple is known for usability, so in that regard we would like that tradition to carry through to anyone developing on our platform. Therefore, a good wellness or fitness app is one that ensures a great user experience for the intended audience. In addition to that, it must create utility that the end-user otherwise would not have. There also has to be a sensibility about cognitive load and user-centric design. Is the app really solving a problem or creating one? Is the app creating value by innovating or improving upon something else, or is it simply crowding the marketplace? These are questions worth asking. When we reach out and work with developers, it is usually because we’ve identified potential, but we also see opportunities where we can help the app improve. We have different teams that work with developers directly on coding issues, as well as a team that helps identify user interface improvements.

2. How can digital health app developers go about app store optimization (ASO) and does Apple support this type of app promotion?

As a rule, Apple does not help developers with app store optimization. There are services outside of Apple that claim they can assist with this, but it is really about simple fundamentals and multivariate testing their marketing. There aren’t that many variables involved so an app creator can simply play around and see if tweaking any of them creates a lift and/or improvement in sales.  This includes trying different app icons, changing the app’s title, making sure the description of the app uses relevant keywords a potential user of the app would search for, and really paying attention to the wording in the first two lines of the description to make sure any relevant information about the app is relayed quickly to catch the consumers attention quickly.

3. I come to the table with allegiances to the Quantified Self (QS) and Health 2.0 communities, yet it seems that much of the popular health and fitness apps today are more content focused, and from where I sit it seems like Apple is not really tapped into these communities (with the exception of Rock Health).  Why do you think that is?

Interpreting our lack of visibility in the QS and digital health communities is not necessary a fair judgment, and a little misleading. We are here to support anyone who makes a good app and to develop relationships with key individuals. Outreach into these communities isn’t necessarily a function of the App Store. If you look at it from simply a demand standpoint (meaning we get plenty of health and fitness app submissions per day), clearly we are covered. So there isn’t really a need for us to go out to these communities and drum up business. Furthermore, we like to work with a wide range of developers, span from big corporations to lone developers. There are a lot of groups out there making great apps.

4. What is the biggest challenge facing the Apple App Store today?

Like most innovative organizations, we have a flood of work and limited staff. We get a tremendous amount of product submissions daily, which means that we tend to be in a perpetual state of triage. Our internal systems are custom built so we don’t benefit from system upgrades that someone might see if they were running a third-party SaaS system. We do the best with the resources we have. We genuinely care about the people developing these products. Like any entrepreneur, often these individuals have invested significant time, money, and energy into their product… some have gone as far as to find themselves in sink or swim situations. We try to help the best we can, but we just do not have the current capacity to help everyone.

5. How can mHealth and digital health developers benefit from iOS 8 and Healthbook?

There is no way to answer that. Apple will not discuss future products and releases, so all that can be said is that the blogosphere has been wrong before. People that work for the App Store get very little information about  internal workings of the company. This is primarily to protect us, since we are an external facing team. Anything in active development could potentially change, so it could be harmful for us to discuss something not yet released because it is subject to change. Of course, the future is going to be exciting. Take the M7 chip for example, it’s really impressive the way it’s being used by health and wellness developers. We principally focus on what is possible now, and that is what developers should be focused on anyway. The present is as exciting as the future.

Interview with Neville Medhora about Wantrepreneurs

Neville Medhora (AKA Nev) is an established copywriter and the trusted sidekick of Noah Kagan, as a partner of the entrepreneurial marketplace AppSumo. Nev made his mark creating one of the first successful drop-shipping businesses on the Web, HouseOfRave.com, and has since sold that company to work on creating successful digital and packaged products as well as consult fellow entrepreneurs on how to launch successful start-ups. He is known for his quirky attitude and ability to connect with his audience through unique marketing copy, which he passes down to other marketers through his Kopywriting Kourse [sic].


1) Your copywriting style is reminiscent, in my opinion, of some of the techniques Dan Kennedy teaches. Who has helped and/or influenced your sales copy style and how have you refined your voice over time to make it uniquely your own?

I’ve been writing for a long time and I’ve always had a weird way of writing. I do not care for grammar all that much. I’ve just feel that if it gets to the point, what’s the difference. You know how some people complain, “kids nowadays use the letter U instead of ‘you’,” those kids are actually being more efficient with their words. The point of language is not to write it in a certain way, it’s to get information from the page to your brain, right? So if it does it, who cares? So I always wrote like that a bit, in my unique way, and then I started reading Gary Halbert. He was definitely a huge influence. His style would just get you to keep turning the page and turning the page, until you were done with the whole letter and you were captivated the whole time. And I was just like… why was I more captivated by his stuff than anyone else’s? And it’s because he laid it out in a unique way. I realized later he actually put effort into this… like okay, by the end of the page, they should want to turn the page, so I’m going to leave them a cliffhanger, and this format will help them along.

So Gary Halbert was definitely a huge influence. Joseph Sugarman, I liked his stuff because he was always a marketer, but he was never a scummy marketer. A lot of the copy guys in the past would use all these tramped up language – “the most exciting thing…” and then the product was actually crappy. That’s called a LIE. At least where I come from, that’s called a lie. When you say one thing, but you deliver another, that is a scam or a lie and I am not into that. And Joseph Sugarman would actually deliver what he said he would. I liked his stuff cause he was definitely not a scammer. I tell the truth and write like I speak. It makes sense to me. Why would I change my language just because I change the medium? So that’s how I developed my writing style… my own recipe influenced by Halbert and Sugarman.

2) Given you put a high value on copy, what’s your opinion on budding entrepreneurs extensively using multivariate testing? In other words, is it worth spending resources seeing if it’s the right product, just the wrong message? And, do you have any testing hacks you can share to make A/B testing easier?

It really depends on the use case but basically there are two different kinds of people. There’s the person that already has his product running and another type of person who doesn’t know their product yet. The latter is the kind of person that needs to go out and put out tests before any serious investment, right?

Let me give you an example… it’s called positioning, right? So I had this company called House of Rave back in the day. It was a drop-shipping business that did well enough that it paid my way through college. I spent a lot of time on it. Everyone kept asking me, “How did you make that drop-shipping business work?” They assumed I did very little and I would constantly have to answer questions about operations. So I made a six-part series on my blog where I just answered every single question people had. Yet, people kept asking me more and more and more questions so I decided to make a digital product about how House of Raves works to cater to this demand. And sure enough, a lot of people bought it off my blog and then created their own drop-shipping businesses. 

The need for testing also depends on how you get your traffic. I had been putting content out there for a long time  so I had warm prospects… no need to test if people are asking me directly to give them product. My value proposition was already familiar. Now if you have cold traffic coming from Google AdWords, and the visitors don’t know anything about you, and you have to convert them right away then you really should be testing.

3) What advice do you have for people trying to find their voice, as well as an audience, in the sea of Internet clutter? It seems like there are some many people trying to emulate the style of Gary V. or Frank Kern on the assumption you have to drop the F bomb to get attention. What advice do you have for good people that are not necessarily suited for “peacocking”?

I am an extrovert. I like going out and being in crowds. I get my strength from other people. If there’s someone else working in my apartment with me, I work harder. When I’m alone I tend to slack off because I generate a lot of my energy from other people. I know that about myself. And therefore  whenever people meet me in real life, it’s pretty congruent to what they thought they were going to get. There are some people who try to emulate a loud style, but they are very quiet in real life. And it usually doesn’t translate very well… like they’ll curse to get attention, but cursing doesn’t get attention, it just offends people. If I keep saying Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! You’re just kind of like, “Why are you saying that, what’s the point?” Okay. But if I’m getting really, really into something and I need to make a strong point, and that curse word happens to be fuck, in the heat of that moment, that curse word does add some emphasis to my point. Whereas if I just say fuck for no reason, it’s just kind of inappropriate and for written copy you know spam-filters are going to catch it sometimes so your at risk of not reaching your audience as well. Do you need to add in stuff like that? If you are boring and technical, you can be boring and technical… be yourself… because you know what, there is other boring and technical people out there that will read your stuff.

I know some people that don’t like going out, they don’t like being in crowds, they prefer not to talk to other people, they like just being in their own head. They don’t need your validation for really anything, they’re very secure. In my experience these folks are not good at writing stuff that entertains but that is okay because copy doesn’t always need to be that entertaining. Sometimes it just needs to be informative and useful. If you’re a boring, calculated kind of person, write in a boring calculated way. Also it is important to note nowadays it is easy to take cheap classes and improve on almost anything even if you do not have inherent talent. For instance a lot of people that are good on camera are actually very shy. Marilyn Manson is actually a really shy guy, but does crazy things on stage. His inner persona and his on-stage persona are very different. Some of this can be taught and improved upon, so just because you’re not good at it now doesn’t mean you won’t be good at it later. Andrew Warner, when he started Mixergy, he wanted to be the best interviewer in the world, so he was like – I’m just going to interview someone every single day until I get good, and now he is.

4) What are three relatively unknown and/or obscure productivity tools that you use to make your entrepreneurial life easier, that are not contained within your Problem Solving Checklist product?

I think simple shortcuts are underrated and can save people a lot of time, so the first is the Alfred App and shortcut keys like Chrome’s keyboard shortcuts. The second is there’s a thing called SelfControl. For this app you type in a list of websites you don’t want to go to and press start, and in a certain amount of time, it will just nuke those websites. The third productivity tool that I use is my old-fashioned handwritten To Do List. Have your readers take a look at the following video.


What I don’t mention in the video is I write my tasks the day before. That’s the main thing, I make my to do list the day before, and I don’t add anything to my list the same day (generally). If you pile stuff on in the same day you do not get the satisfaction of ever being done. What’s the fun in that?

Another nugget not in the video is I try to stack the most important things first, but if I’m being lazy I’ll just pick the easiest thing to do. Not a good method but it is what I do. Good advice is doing the hardest thing first, so you just get it done. But sometimes if I wake up really early in the morning, my brain is just not working and so I’ll just do the easiest thing, just to knock a few out of the way and get momentum. If it is something timely like going to the DMV to get my registration fixed and the DMV doesn’t open until nine or something I might mess with the order too, but ideally you stack the most important items in order first so they get done first.

5) Given your experience with the AppSumo Wantrepreneur course, what’s a consistent folly you see with budding entrepreneurs that you know from your own experience they might not overcome by mere mentorship and instruction?  In other words, a common weakness that is usually only overcome through the school of hard knocks?

First time entrepreneurs notoriously like to complicate things so they don’t have to take action. I see this especially with engineers. Here are extremely smart people. They can create a product over a weekend (think hackathons), faster than I ever could. Yet, they consistently get in their own way with questions like: What happens if it grows too big? What happens if we get 10,000 customers the first day? It’s like, don’t flatter yourself. If you start getting 10,000 customers a day, then worry about how you are going to spend your money. And the biggest thing I see is the fear of putting it out there right away. Here’s an example, someone came to me wanting to be a photographer. They said, “I’ve been wanting to be a photographer, but you know, I’m in school for most of the day, etc., etc.” So many excuses! I give these people advice like just try testing your service to people you know and I hear responses like, “I’ll think about it and I’ll do it next week.” No you won’t.  Back to the photographer example, we go and we start typing out content for a website, take a couple of their best sample pictures and put them out there and it is so nerve-racking for this person because they’ve never really done that before. There has always been comfort in the excuse. I ask them to post their site on their Facebook page and they’re reluctant. I’m like, “Well, you want to be a photographer, right?” They say, “Yeah, I really want to try that.” And I say, “Well, have you told a single potential customer about it?” And they say, “Well, my portfolio isn’t fully…” Dude, you want to be a photographer, but you don’t want to tell anyone about it? If you want to be a photographer start being a photographer, and then keep doing it and you’ll start becoming a better photographer. This is just one example but it applies to most entrepreneurs. My advice: put something out there really quick and see if anyone wants it; if they do, congratulations you are an entrepreneur! Now start working on being a better one.

Interview with Pat Fellows about Entrepreneurship Reality

Pat Fellows is a serial entrepreneur who currently runs the restaurant Fresh Junkie in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In addition to his various entrepreneurial accomplishments Pat is a health enthusiast, devoted triathlete, and a representative of Mizuno Running. As if that weren’t enough, Pat is also a proud husband and father of two, as well as an avid philanthropist. He is the founder of Rocketkidz Foundation (RKF) which provides activity based programs for kids to help fight childhood obesity as well as supports programs with a similar purpose such as Girls on the Run and Wheels to Succeed.


1)  You had an entrepreneurial endeavor, Rocket Burrito, that was a personal passion but ultimately you had to pivot from it and shut it down. What were the key elements that made you realize it was time to pivot and what did you learn from the experience?

My 2 biggest takeaways from this were:

  1. Sometimes it is just the wrong timing.  You have the right locale, but things don’t fall how they should.
  2. The biggest takeaway was that a business failure is not a personal failure.  

I “was” Rocket.  People still call me Rocketboy.  I was devastated and for awhile wondered how I could be such a failure.  It’s tough.  I didn’t do everything right, but I didn’t do enough to fail as badly as I did other than it simply being bad timing.  There is a thriving Chipotle now right next to where I had my burrito joint…  albeit 7 years later.

2) Inc. ran a recent article, The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship. In the piece the author (Jessica Bruder) highlights the soft underbelly of entrepreneurship which is often avoided in print to protect the popular heralding of entrepreneurial accomplishment. It seems few writers are willing to tarnish the lure of owning your own business by highlighting the tales of failed endeavors. I know some of the common challenges of entrepreneurship have affected you in the past as we just discussed. Based on your own experience what can you add to the advice that was passed on in Bruder’s article?

The reality is that some people are just wired for entrepreneurship AND running a starting business is rough.  Hell running a 7 year old business is tough.  I have gone deep into depression and to this day, I leave my wife out of some things as it is just too much.  She runs the house.  I don’t keep her stressed with what is going on. She feels it, but I don’t kill her with the “my bank account is over-drafted” stories.  I have been in every pit of despair there is.  Yet, I am driven to push my ideas.  I have a great job, love the guys I work with, but when I am doing my best, it’s when I am intellectually and “idea” engaged.  I am wired to see my ideas win and be fulfilled.  Bad days are just a part of the process.

3) Giving back to people and the community seems to be a significant part of your ethos. You are the unofficial cheerleader of your friends, as well as people in general – I myself have benefited from this. Other efforts include your 32 Mile swim for charity (see Pat’s TEDx talk) and the RocketKidz Foundation which has been established to help fight childhood obesity. Given the time and resources it takes to be a successful entrepreneur, what are the driving forces that motivate you to want to give back in big ways?

My number one goal has always been  to make people better. Period.  It’s the right thing to do. Just as I can’t not be an entrepreneur, I can’t not give back. Even when I was broke and had to sell a house to get out from under a loan, I was still better off than a ton of people.  I don’t lose light of that.

From a health and nutrition point of view, the reality is our country eats so poorly, that it’s shameful.  I walked through a “grocery store” the other day and I challenged myself to find a row that was completely nutritious.  There wasn’t one.  PERIOD.  Obesity, to me, is currently the number one problem in our society.  Period, end of story.  It drives our economy (downward), and is the battle of our lifetime.  How can you not give back and fight that?

4) You are a proud father, a successful entrepreneur, an Ironman athlete, a representative of Mizuno shoes, a philanthropist and a TEDx speaker. Given your incredible ability to hold it all together, what are your three most successful productivity advantages, methods and/or tools that you can share?

  1. Realize that your 70% is probably better than most peoples’ 100%. If what you do is truly passion based, then on most days, you have to accept that ‘finished’ is good enough.  Kind of the progress vs. perfection idea, if you’re passionate about something you can get in your own way.
  2. Say no.  This is hard, but there is only so much time in the day.  You have to say no to okay, to have time to say yes to awesome.
  3. Exercise every day.  This should probably be #1.

5) Given all your various life lessons to date, what is one piece of advice you wish you could give the young Pat Fellows as he stepped into his first day as a serial entrepreneur back in 2000 (not about that first business per se but about the journey you were about to embark upon in general)?

Really, I don’t think there’s much.  Think and talk less, execute more.  Be more financially strong and responsible. Finally, I’d tell myself, “You are doing this right. If you believe it will work out, it will.” It always has so far.

Interview with Mike Leveque about Fitness Innovation

Mike Leveque has a decade of executive leadership experience in health and wellness innovation. He previously was the President and Chief Operating Officer of Star Trac Fitness and is currently the Chief Operating Officer of MYZONE. MYZONE is a chest strap and monitoring system that displays heart rate, calories, time and effort to a LCD monitor, while simultaneously creating an online logbook of all physical activity that can be viewed anywhere in the world through the Internet.


1) The MYZONE device relies on heart rate and time as the primary data sources by which to track an individual’s overall activity. When compared to accelerometers – aside from the obvious advantage that the MYZONE device is able to more effectively capture effort from activities where movement is limited (ex. spinning, group training, etc.) – what additional advantages does heart rate tracking have over the standard tracking offered by traditional pedometers/accelerometers?

First of all, the pedometer is limited to the movement of the device. If you are wearing a pedometer on your foot and exercise on a Krank Cycle, you will not log activity. Additionally, there may be cases where a bumpy road triggers step credit on a pedometer. Lastly, the pedometer/accelerometer can only calculate a standardized step credit. For example, let’s say a user is cross country skiing, the “steps” credited will be nowhere near equal in intensity to a similar amount of “steps” while taking a walk on the beach at the same velocity.

In the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from The Center for Disease Control, it is recommended that every adult exercise each week for one hundred and fifty minutes at moderate intensity  or seventy-five minutes at vigorous intensity. Never does it recommend a certain number of steps, because there is simply no accurate way to measure the intensity of physical activity via a pedometer or an accelerometer.

A recent report from Flinders University in Australia has found that there is an unbalanced relationship between steps and high-intensity training. In the report Dr. Norton states, “Most physical activity guidelines recommend a 30 minute daily walk but we found that it would take 50 hours of walking to achieve the same aerobic fitness that you could get from just one hour of high-intensity (or vigorous) activity.”

Heart rate monitoring provides a level of accuracy that pedometers and accelerometers cannot. Every body reacts differently to exercise and the beat of your heart is the only accurate way to measure effort during physical activity. This accuracy allows our MYZONE software to provide user-generated content to track metrics such as average effort, time in user specific zones and caloric expenditure during exercise. Because the MYZONE software logs the user’s age, gender, weight and every heart beat during a workout session, it can utilize those four variables to calculate the calories burned during a particular session. This is much more accurate than the algorithms used by pedometers and accelerometers.

2) At the Quantified Self Conference this year Gary Wolf made a comment eluding that corporate wellness is somewhat degrading the sanctity of self-tracking. He was then reticent about the sentiment but my interpretation is he was alluding to the potential damage program parameters can have on motivation and personal drive when it pertains to the positive benefits tracking can have on wellness. In other words, limiting autonomy and confining options (ex. a company that only offers step challenges) might actually end up doing more harm than good. How important do you think it is to let the individual set their own health and wellness goals (opposed to them being mandated)?

I believe most reasonable executives would agree that utopia would be providing regular health assessments, thoroughly educating each employee individually on their results and then allowing them to set the most appropriate health and wellness goals that motivate them to achieve a better future state. However, a wellness program that is customized to each employee is neither practical nor cost effective for most companies. So then the question becomes, is the net benefit positive of a standardized program where the goal or goals are set by the firm? After taking into account the human cost of capital and other direct costs, the vast majority of studies agree that there is a strong return on investment of any wellness program that encourages increasing regular physical activity, even if the participants are not able to set their own goals.

3) When it is difficult enough to get the layperson to understand the existing wellness vernacular, what is the added value/utility of introducing a new branded concept like MYZONE Effort Points (MEPs) for measuring and tracking physical activity? How does this improve upon the existing lexicon and contribute to a better user experience?

The two main benefits of MYZONE Effort Points (MEPs) are standardization and gamification. Since MEPs progressively reward a user for increasing effort in their personal heart rate zones, we have created somewhat of a golf handicap in the awarding of points to users. For instance a deconditioned user may rapidly enter their higher point earning zone but they will fatigue more quickly than a well-conditioned athlete. A well-conditioned athlete, with an efficient cardiovascular system, may have a hard time approaching the high point earning zones but they can maintain durations in their lower zones for much longer than a deconditioned user might. The benefit is the system rewards general effort and standardizes for various levels of physical fitness .

Many users need an increase in their motivation to achieve their goals. Through gamification, MEPs allow MYZONE users and their fitness facilities to encourage attainment of health and wellness targets by establishing user challenges, goals setting and rewarding goal achievement. Cycling various user groups through individual and/or collective challenges has proven to engage and maintain club member participation in an exercise program while simultaneously creating the stickiness of the member to the associated fitness facility.

4) Current science suggests that if you can get an individual intrinsically motivated to stay healthy (ex. focus on the benefits of general well-being), adherence to behavior change will generally be longer lasting when compared to an individual who was extrinsically motivated (ex. the carrot of winning a weight loss challenge). If this is true, what role can technology play in fostering intrinsic motivation?

Utilization of technology is an effective mechanism to provide an individual with user generated content (UGC) of their physical activity and its related outcomes. UGC, such as duration of a training session, intensity of a training session and an accurate caloric expenditure total, helps educate the MYZONE user as to how effective an exercise session has been. It creates a currency by which all future sessions can be compared.

Since the MYZONE system can be linked to a body composition analyzer, a MYZONE user can track important biometric information, such as weight, BMI, body fat percentage and muscle mass to gauge whether or not they are benefiting from their current regime. MYZONE and devices like it can also provide the user a basal metabolic rate calculation to help the user regulate food consumption to achieve their health goals. It is through this increased availability of information that an individual can track their activity and make better decisions.

5) What currently excites you the most about the accelerated advancement of personal technology as it pertains to health management? What do you see on the horizon that you believe is going to be a game changer?

Accessibility of data as it relates to physical fitness will allow fitness facilities to add gamification to their offering. When deployed correctly, gamification will support the club’s efforts to attract, integrate and retain members at levels the fitness industry has never seen. In addition, personal technology will aid in the club’s outreach to provide richer feedback to corporate clients. The holy grail of technology as it relates to fitness is linking activity to lower health care costs and ultimately lower insurance premiums. Once this happens and information is accessible to all individuals, the fitness industry should grow exponentially.

Interview with Ari Meisel about Self-Tracking

Ari Meisel is a productivity optimization expert who coaches clients on optimizing, automating and outsourcing every task possible. Ari’s Achievement Architecture coaching program is an optimization framework design that helps individuals and teams improve their effectiveness and reduce the amount of time they spend on tasks. Ari’s personal website The Art of Less Doing has become a go-to resource for those seeking to improve productivity either in business, life, and/or health. Ari also has courses on wellness and productivity available from Udemy.


1) There is a lot of talk about what it might take to cross the proverbial chasm with regards to making bio-hacking more commercially viable. In your opinion, what do you think is important to get right regarding bringing the benefits of self-tracking to a wider audience? What’s currently missing?

Nowadays you can track everything… from how many emails you have sent, to how many calories you have burned… or even how many calories you have eaten if you have the right sensor. It’s so easy to do this stuff without even thinking about it now, which is great… which is the first step. The second part of it though is making this data actionable, and as far as I’m concerned there are very, very few products that provide the lay person with any sort of usable data. It is one thing to see that you’re losing this many calories today, and this many yesterday, and so on and so forth, but what does the average person do with that? Unfortunately, there are not a lot of ways that people can correlate this data and make it actionable. There is a really great website called Tictrac where you can do drag and drop corollaries; Tictrac is a step in the right direction.

2) You’ve made mention that you have some particular effective shortcuts for improving running speed? This is my gratuitous, self-serving question: I’m a Clydesdale runner who has been stuck at 8:45 minute miles for a few years now despite various training regimens. What do you suggest for someone like me that might help me move the needle?

The obvious ones are H.I.I.T. (High Intensity Interval Training) programs, workouts that involve high intensity drills with short periods of rest… there are a lot of different interval workout types that help you increase speed and efficacy from sprinting to plyometrics. I think that fartlek training is really good too, and not only because it has an awesome name. What I have actually found to be extremely effective as far as speed, and I know it sounds like stupidly obvious, but I recommend increasing leg strength. Once I started doing really heavy squats and box jumps my speed went from a mile PR of 6:17 to running one mile in 5:45. In my opinion, you simply add more horsepower when running isn’t the only thing you do to get better at running. Adding plyometric and explosive movement training makes your runs feel like every time your foot hits the ground you’re on a rubber band and ready to go again once you hit that next stride.

3) A bit outside the realm of health and wellness specifically, but knowing your expertise encompasses systematic lifestyle improvements and predicated on the assumption that generally people want to fix everything at the same time — and quickly — when a coaching client comes to you and wants to improve wellness and productivity at the same time, where do you usually have them start?

What’s the difference, really? The truth is productivity and wellness go hand in hand. It’s so funny because I invariably have somebody come to me for coaching on one of these and we always work on both. Basically, I can make you as technologically efficient from a productivity standpoint as you can possibly be, but if you’re not sleeping well enough and/or not eating right, there is going to be a limit to how much you can produce, or how happy you are going to be with your results. For instance, some come to me and say they want to be a speed reader, which most people can certainly do, but at the same time if you can increase mental focus, retention, and memory by reducing stress and improving well-being you’re going to be a faster reader because part of being a faster reader is not having to reread things.

My method is to tackle the biggest problems first. This methodology quickly addresses the low hanging fruit. So I start with “What are your biggest productivity challenges? Give me the three top things that frustrate you.” Always, always the answers I get back are inevitably two productivity things and one wellness thing or two wellness things and one productivity thing. So they’ll say something like, “I’m not sleeping great and I have to finish X number of things by the end of the day.” It’s always that mix. So if you ask somebody “what is stopping you from being the best you can be?” the answer usually covers productivity and well-being. I’m also a big believer in moving the needle at the onset of our engagement, and quickly, because progress begets progress. The worst that somebody can do is to stagnate and as long as they are doing something, even if it’s a tiny thing, that’s progress.

4) The buzz last year regarding bio-hacking was enabling, through technology, users to make better correlations by aggregating different tracking devices. There are a few options such as Open Sen.se in an attempt to increase the benefit of tracking, but so far I’m unaware of any solutions that are super user-friendly. What strategies and/or tech do you use to increase the value and utility of tracking multiple modalities?

I have already mentioned Tictrac. I find that if you ask the right questions, a lot of the time people can give you the answers about the real issue. But I say that at least with half of my clients, a lot of it involves putting those trackers in place and then letting me read the values. So whether it’s RescueTime to see how often they are checking their email; or Fitbit to track activity I won’t even ask them to look at their own data at first. In my experience I find it is more helpful if I help my client first amass data and start by making recommendations based on their data as a first step in our relationship. I can help them better understand their data after they’re comfortable with it. People usually come to me because they are overwhelmed. They don’t have the time to do the things they want to do or they’re overwhelmed because they are stressed. These are compounding issues so I don’t want to introduce a complex solution just yet. I can introduce a sophisticated set of tools but take on the heavy lifting of interpretation until we make some progress. Not to beat a dead horse but fatigue is not an isolated issue. Are you not sleeping because you’re working too late, because you didn’t get enough done for the day and you are stressed, or are you tired because you’re eating too late and you’re eating really badly… or are you sleeping poorly because you don’t have the right environment in your bedroom? You need data to make a diagnosis and cause will rarely be just one thing.

5) One of the many valuable qualities of the content you curate is your intimate knowledge of the latest technologies that enable shortcuts and optimization. What’s out there, either now or on the horizon, that really excites you regarding wellness innovation?

I dream all day about finding new and interesting ways to use two particular services: one is IFTTT.com and the other one is Zapier. Zapier has identical functionality to IFTTT.com but it’s much more business focused. IFTTT.com has like 60 different services, everything from Twitter to Facebook, Gmail and stuff like that and services that 90% of the computing-using world uses. Zapier has those things as well but it also has things like Salesforce, MailChimp and PayPal and a lot more business focus things. So IFTTT.com will do so much regarding automation but Zapier really lets you drill down and get some unbelievably detailed things done. Through these websites I’m always trying to think of ways I can automate things to make them more efficient.

These kinds of things really get me really jazzed up. The great thing about automating some of these processes is it actually allows you to track things a lot better as well, because you know when the requests were made; you know how long it took to get them done and you can correlate those things a little bit too if you’re tracking your own productivity. It’s a lot easier to go back and see how and when things have happened and how often you did them through these services. They also let you compile things in effective ways. For instance, you can have Zapier set up that every time you make a sale on PayPal the sale is added to a Google spreadsheet, so right there you can make a data set that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. There’s a whole lot of creative ways that you can use this functionality to make your life easier.

Interview with Gary Vaynerchuk about Passion

Gary Vaynerchuk is a multi-faceted entrepreneur, New York Times best-selling author, and sought after public speaker. In 2009, he was crowned the “Innovator of the Year” by Wine Enthusiast magazine, and became a part of Decanter magazine’s “Power List” of the most influential figures in the wine industry. Gary has become famous in part for his effectiveness in reaching people through social media, so much so that he once hit the Facebook friend limit and is about to reach the million follower mark on Twitter. Gary’s content is available through two websites Wine Library TV and GaryVaynerchuk.com. Gary’s newest book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy, Social World about social media marketing strategies is available for pre-order and will ship by the end of the year.


1) Other popular thought leaders such as Tim Ferriss and Chet Holmes make reference to really working hard on establishing a base of advocates (1000 True Fans, The Dream 100, etc.)… and I get the sense that you recommend acquiring this type of loyalty more organically through authenticity rather than methodology… would you say that’s a fair statement? And if so, why do you choose authenticity over methodology?

I don’t really know Chet, but I think Tim really likes people and interacting with them a lot so I believe he would tell you, as I’m telling you, no one advocates one of these over the other. I’m well known for how much I like engaging with people. I think Tim is a brilliant operator and thinks more about the strategy of this stuff. I think about strategy as well, but I think it’s fair to say I’m a little bit less concerned with my time than other people are. I believe in the serendipity of it all, I believe personally that making myself accessible has a lot more value for me than others. I think the real answer to your question is there are a lot of different ways to skin a cat. There are a lot of different ways to build brand advocacy and both methods can work. I think what Tim and I have done extremely well is become really self-aware. People who know what they are good at and then execute against what they do well… they are the ones that win. Tim is more organized than I am, and that works for him and he gets a lot of upside out of his organization. I can’t even begin to sit down and get organized… but on the flip side I have the capacity to go 24-7, 365 days a year… I mean, here we are 9pm for me and I’m doing our interview. This is what I’m good at… everybody is different. I would never want to outsource my engagement, my interactions, or all the things that I know that I might be able to make more efficient, because frankly I get a lot of happiness out of them.

2) One of the reasons your teachings resonate with me so much is I too believe in the tenets of hustle and family. I’m a self-tracker so I was going to send you my sleep data but elected to spare you the minutia. We put my child to bed at 9:00pm, the wife goes to bed at 10:30pm, and then I crank until about 1:00am. I then get up at 6:30am and do it all over again (this usually includes weekends too). It doesn’t bother me because I love what I do, but I also love my family and as I get older I can tell that sometimes the fatigue catches up with me (regardless of passion). This means despite my best intentions I’m not fully engaged with my family during certain levels of fatigue. In your experience what successful strategies have you seen to help mitigate this risk and maintain balance despite the “hustle”?

I’m still very comfortable with the entirety of the message in Crush It! And here is why, if you read it you know what I am advocating is that if you are not happy with your life the only way to change it is to put in an effort that creates something else for yourself. I mean some people are going to need to spend that energy with their families… to truly crush it they need to spend more time with their families. In other words, what they need to do is spend less time at work. Here is the spirit of the message: I think that if you were not happy with what you were doing in 1977 you did not have a lot of alternatives. You had to pay the rent; you had to pay your bills, right? You got home from your job in the evening, and the best you could do is maybe moonlight at some other terrible job. Today if you come home in the evening and you are unhappy you have the ability to start a business online at night and work to create a scenario that could change your life. I still believe that to be a hundred percent true. Just like if you are unhappy with how much you work – well, then – go get a job that is less demanding and spend that extra time with your family.

So here’s my point, I’m speaking to the 90% of people that complain about their situation. And my point is if you are complaining about something, change it.

3) In The Thank You Economy you mention that companies that believe “caring” cannot be scaled do so at their own peril, but for solo entrepreneurs and SMB figureheads’ bandwidth will eventually cap. You’ve also mentioned before in jest that you’re great at building communication models that don’t scale. You now have an auto-responder for fans that email you because you simply cannot response to everything coming at you. As you begin to reach the limits of what is humanly possible what do you need to make sure – bar none – doesn’t get lost regarding the customer/fan experience? And, have you developed any tricks and/or can you recommend any technology that can help a person (like yourself) optimize the connection and rapport needed to maintain their respective fan base (regardless of size)?

I have an intimate knowledge about what I’m about to say which is one’s capacity for effort is usually grossly underestimated. So, yes I have already reached critical mass, but I am actually engaging more now than I use to believe it or not. I mean now I do an obnoxious amount of engaging. I think my one interview a day series is a good example of that. It is not scalable, but using our interaction now as an example I have to assume, unless I’m naïve, that you and I now have a deeper intimate relationship after this phone call than we did before. I was happy to strengthen that bond because I can tell you consume my content and you clearly know it. I think this is what it comes down to – I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately too – is that I honestly, genuinely, completely and utterly believe in what I talk about. I think the authenticity of that really resonates with people. I believe, actually I know, that when you are trying the world notes it. Some people are more efficient, more guarded, with their time. There are people much more strategic than I am… the only optimization I have now that I did not have before is more people to help me. That is still human though, I’m not automated. I’m serendipitous. I’m careless, but it’s my carelessness that has created my strength.

4) What is your take on the new crop of companies focused on optimizing against Net Promoter Score (NPS) and developing campaigns to exploit this type of success metric? Are there any new and/or established companies that, in your opinion, succeed at helping companies streamline and optimize their ability to foster advocacy aside from traditional social media channels?

I never signed up for a Klout account for that reason. Note not because I don’t like Klout, it is just for the fact I am very scared of a world where people try to con and/or figure out how algorithmically to build brand equity. I believe you need to give to receive. I understand why these types of things exist. There is some value to it to some I’m sure… but you know, I live at the crossroads of analytics and feeling. I would like to believe I have a high emotional intelligence.

There are so many ways to build your fan base and – again – the people I see win the most are those that are self-aware. I envy people that are more efficient than me, and in theory “achieved” what I have achieved in shorter periods of time. These are the folks that squeeze the most out of every minute. I envy it. On the same token, I think they should envy how deep and authentic my relationships are, and I believe that matters. For me the way I got there, and what I advocate, is putting in the work. So to try to answer your question… I believe in scaling the un-scalable, I believe there’s enormous magic in it. Especially as the world becomes much more efficient, and people buy more into the analytics and the “quant” it is a competitive advantage to be real. Authentic, consistent effort and going the extra mile are becoming less and less and less of the norm, these things are becoming more and more scarce. I think real, less automated, approaches will soon outweigh the methodologies that game advocacy because of the inherent value of authenticity.

5) I’m fired up for your new book, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy, Social World… it alludes in the summary that the idea of just curating great content is not enough anymore. Responsive design and optimizing for mobile is now clearly more important than ever; without the luxury of intimate knowledge of your new book I ask: Have you been persuaded at all by the budding Lean Startup Movement – the entrepreneurial idea that passion alone is not enough anymore in today’s marketplace – that passion should be paired with a consumer-centric approach? Or, are you still a believer that passion and tenacity are the primary ingredients for success (i.e. creating and adapting to your market vs. finding and instructing your market)?

Go look at what I did with Wine Library TV and I think most would agree I lived “Lean Startup” long before it was written about by Eric Ries. I love Eric’s work. The spirit of it is don’t waste time, energy and money on things that do not move you forward. Be efficient. But here is where I think some people get it wrong. If success was easily quantifiable, if everything could follow a perfect blueprint… efficiencies were easily learned… everyone would be rich. It should be obvious to anyone however that if this was really true the game would be over by now.

In other words, if everything was about efficiencies and math and Lean Startups… success was all mathematically driven… the whole world would be over by now. Every single nerd would have all the biggest companies in the world. In my new book I make the case that there is a balance between creativity and analytics. I also believe social networks are required engagement platforms… they are necessary to understand and will be important tools with which to interact with your people and will be relevant for at least the next 36 months… simple as that. They’re state of the union on how to get your story across on the platforms that I actually think people are paying attention to right now. These platforms still cost little to no money to tell stories people will consume and resonate with, opposed to producing professional prefab content at a significant cost.

Can I tell you something funny before we finish? I would tell you I think a lot of my success comes from the fact that I’m undereducated. I think that me not knowing all the rules has made me guided by my own internal light thus making me unique enough in some way, some shape, some form, that it has made me fresh and interesting to other people. It’s my naiveté and lack of academic education that has made me in some ways break out because I wasn’t educated in the same way that a lot of my contemporaries are. Truth be told, the “Lean Startup” is called running a successful small business. The truth is hustlers don’t have any choice but to be lean. Too much funding and what’s your carrot? My family… we lived paycheck to paycheck. Anybody who follows me knows my story, what they don’t know is we were probably making a 10% gross margin at the store. We grossed three million which left $300,000 before expenses. We didn’t really make any money.

This is not something I have ever really talked about. This is one of the first times I have mentioned it in an interview actually, but it gets to the spirit of your question. It is kind of why I did this interview series, to say things I have never really said in the past. Look, true self-funded entrepreneurs are lean; for us there is no other option.