#231 Josh Clemente- Founder of Levels & Former SpaceX Engineer on Building a Great Company, Improving Metabolic Health and Lessons Learned from Elon Musk
What’s it like founding a revolutionary health and wellness business? Josh Clemente took the time to share the process of building and growing Levels Health, walking through the initial testing by intrigued investors to the 100% transparency that defines the company today. Coming from a SpaceX background, Josh learned to check his ego and the door and work alongside others in pursuit of a greater vision. He’s able to do all that at Levels today – with a renewed focus on health, communication, and work-life balance that was missing before. Sean DeLaney of the What You Got There podcast dug into what makes Levels – and the team behind it – so special.
01:51 – Prioritizing health is key
If you burn out, you can’t help others. Prioritizing health and wellness are the key to a happy and productive life.
“Everyone who is working on something that other people are relying on or are a part of, you get a really overwhelming sense of responsibility to just always be pushing and never take time away. So the recognition that your own health and wellbeing is part of the end goal, like it is crucial to whatever success you’re working on. If you burn out, if you fail on a personal level, you won’t be able to achieve what you’re trying to achieve for everyone else. So that’s like the first step is just recognizing this is intrinsic to the end success. And then using calendaring. The real tactical component of this is just blocking it off on the calendar so that every day I know I’ve got a window of opportunity. If I miss that window, that’s on me. But no one’s going to schedule over that. And no one’s going to take that time. Obviously forbidding an emergency, but that’s something that is really key.”
05:20 – Context switching and deep work
Josh doesn’t mix the two. He schedules deep work requiring heavy concentration on Tuesdays. The other days he’s doing what needs to be done in a managerial role.
“I take Tuesdays and I say, that’s my deep workday. And I’m going to just reflect. And I’m going to focus on writing down thoughts for memos for other people, or generally just considering the strategic application of my time and making sure that I’m constantly assessing and updating that. And then the rest of the week is typically more of a continuous managerial schedule where you’re just taking whatever comes at you. Definitely need to preserve it, but 10-20% of my time is spent in that deep mode. Whereas previously I would spend 10-20% in the context switching mode and everything else was deep problem-solving. And I thought that I’m a deep work person. But the reality is that you can adjust to basically anything. You just got to recognize that it’s going to be a bit uncomfortable at first. You’re going to have to get used to trying some new tools and once you hit your stride, it feels good.”
09:18 – Prioritizing a diverse team
Levels has 5 co-founders from diverse backgrounds. Complementary skill sets allow everyone to shine in their area of expertise and guide the team smoothly and efficiently.
“We have a great team. We have five co-founders at Levels, and we all have a bit of a diverse skillset each. And so conversations are really nice in the sense that there is typically someone who’s closest to the background of a specific problem. We can rely on them for expertise, and then everyone else can use their best judgment in terms of whether or not this seems like it should take priority. And so I think that’s the biggest thing. If you’re doing it alone, it’s really challenging. And I’ve done solo projects before and looking back on them, it is very scattered. You’re always looking for the edge that’s going to get you ahead. You feel like you’re constantly behind the eight ball. And so something comes up, it’s just so easy to get distracted by it. And I think we’ve been so much better at this company and just the rate of execution has been amazing. And I attribute that primarily to the diversity and multitudes of perspectives that are coming to every decision.”
22:38 – Embracing course correction
Key values at Levels are a willingness to question the standard approach, adjust course when needed, found beliefs on evidence, and communicate openly.
“It’s really important that people be willing to take a potentially non-mainstream approach. But then also if we find that the direction we’re heading in is not doing the degree of good that we thought it would, we have to be willing to adjust course. And we don’t want to get stuck in a situation where revenue is the bottom line. And so having people who have high integrity at their base gives us higher confidence that course correction could be made if it needed to be made. As we get further and further along, we’re more and more convicted in what we’re doing. And I feel very good that we’re heading in the right direction. The kind of principles we’re looking for is just open, transparent communication. If you do have strong convictions that you at least ground them in some evidence that you feel that this is important to any argument.”
24:52 – Nutrition is notoriously complicated
There are diets with strict blanket rules for everyone to follow. However, the truth is that diets should be customized based on our unique needs.
“Nutrition is notoriously complicated. There are factions that have very extreme perspectives and you have vegan and you have keto and you have carnivore and everyone is very, almost tribal in the way they approach it. And I don’t want to speak ill of any of those approaches or philosophies, but it tends to be, everyone has to do this or they’re doing it wrong. And the reality is we have a growing body of research that shows that humans are extremely diverse in the way that their bodies function, their metabolic systems, which is the system that produces energy from our food and environment is very unique. And so Levels is building that uniqueness into the core product. We take into account how the specific actions that this person’s making affect their specific body and what they should do to improve. And it’s not about the average. It’s not about saying, the average is doing this and you’re doing that, you should do more like the average. It’s saying this specific thing that you did yesterday and the day before and the day before that is continually pushing against your stated goal of say, losing weight. And this other thing could improve that. And that might be something very simple, like substituting a meal that you’re eating.”
28:49 – Stress and sleep are as important as diet
Cortisol directly interferes with your blood sugar levels. So stress and lack of sleep can have a big negative impact on health and wellness. Good sleep hygiene, and keeping calm is critical.
“I think the most surprising thing to me was how significant the implications of chronic stress are for health and wellness. I would say that nutrition didn’t really surprise me. I knew that I was confused. I knew I didn’t have it all figured out in terms of nutrition. So finding out that some things I was eating were not right, that made sense. But the stress element and the way that I could see the difference between a day when I was well-rested and my mind was at ease versus a day where I poorly slept were surprising. And I was on high alert. I could see that the blood sugar levels circulating through my body are affected by cortisol. So cortisol directly interferes with your blood sugar levels. So that really drove home for me the importance of intentionality and mindfulness and your day-to-day, just trying to maintain a position of calm and confidence, and then also the value of a good sleep regime and sleep hygiene.”
35:53 – What is measured, is managed
Chemical processes are happening in your body whether we’re measuring them or not. Since the technology to do so exists, we should do everything we can to break down barriers to access.
“That was the moment of enhanced conviction. First of all, this is happening in my body whether or not I’m measuring it. It’s harmless to measure it. And secondly, why is there a kind of gatekeeper to me understanding my own body’s information? That kind of felt like a violation to me. I feel very comfortable working with an expert and I understand I don’t know everything, but it seemed as though I should be granting access to my body’s information, as opposed to having to ask for access to my body’s information. This device is just simply going to give me levels of glucose that are already in my blood. So that combined with my systems engineering background and knowing that systems don’t break down instantaneously – you don’t suddenly become diabetic. Over time through wear and tear and the continual inputs that we’re providing eventually break a system down. That’s how it works. And typically what you’re measuring determines what you can manage. And so if the goal is to not have a blood sugar dysfunction where your glucose is out of control, you should probably start managing it a lot earlier than once it’s broken.”
39:05 – The light bulb moment
Almost two years of research came together in a moment for Josh. He realized that everyone needs a CGM, and he didn’t have to build technology from scratch – just make it accessible.
“There was one moment when I was coming out of the shower and it finally clicked. There is a sensor system that’s already been developed. It’s out there, but it’s for people who have an illness, and it’s not very consumerized. And just recognition that the area of opportunity is actually not the hardware. I was thinking I should probably build a CGM for people who don’t yet have diabetes and I’ll do the hardware process. And that felt very expensive. It felt onerous. The FDA has to approve it. It’s a very long process…And so that was a light bulb moment where it’s like, okay, got it. We don’t have to go reinvent the wheel and build this hardware from scratch. If we can instead do what Whoop and Oura do for optical heart-rate sensing, they take this sensor that’s been around for a long time and they turn it into a behavior change experience by focusing on your sleep and how heart rate connects to sleep or heart rate variability. And that’s ultimately the moment that it all came together.”
43:07 – Ego and problem-solving
Working at SpaceX Josh was constantly surrounded by people who were smarter than him. That’s where Josh practiced putting ego aside to observe, learn, and work closely with experts to solve problems.
“I certainly have benefited from working at places like SpaceX, where the median was way above me. Everyone around me was just so much better at what they were doing. And so once you get comfortable with your position in an environment like that, you recognize the opportunity. It’s like, this is a huge, huge benefit, and I need to just be a sponge. That’s where I think I first started to develop. I definitely was able to hone a lot of my approaches to problem-solving and just recognize the value of first principles and simplicity and approaching problems from a position of team as opposed to solo solutions. So just relying on those with better expertise, there’s no ego in those environments. And I’m certainly not saying that no one at SpaceX has an ego, but the environment lends itself very well to just leaning on the people with the most expertise. And the beauty of that is that you get to go and spend time while you’re trying to solve one problem. All the subproblems, you’re spending time with people who can help you with those. And you’re seeing their mind at work and you’re seeing the way that they tackle that specific solution. And you can then incorporate that into your approach.”
53:23 – Executing effectively in a remote environment
At Levels, everything is documented and shared with stakeholders. Every decision and choice is shown transparently through memos. This has given investors confidence.
“I believe that the memo culture and the way we were describing our strategy and the way that we were really backing up every choice we made was what came across to the investors, specifically a16z. They were really impressed by the amount of documentation we brought throughout the process. And beyond that, they became very familiar over those months with why we were doing what we were doing. It wasn’t a single pitch meeting that defined the conversation. Essentially we were doing the due diligence process for them on not only our specific product and team but the entire marketplace, why we believe this will exist in a meaningful way, even though it doesn’t today. Just maintaining that cadence of openness and being willing to share the information not just showed not just progress and how fast the product was iterating and how we are an execution-oriented team, but it also gave the investors confidence that…our team specifically was executing effectively in a remote environment.”
56:53 – Perfecting the product with early investors
Even before they developed an app, Levels released a minimum viable product version of CGM. This helped get fresh eyes on the process and attract investors who believed in the technology.
“Rather than having one person who gets familiarized with the product offering and then maybe their quality of feedback or cadence of feedback drops off, we’re focusing on getting more unique perspectives through, so that we can make sure we’re getting fresh eyes on it at all times. And that came from some early conversations with some of our very earliest investors. And frankly, the first customers that we had, even before we had a product, ultimately became investors. And they were critical to go through this conceptual paid process. We charged them as though we had a product and essentially replicated it with text messaging. And even though we didn’t even have an app, we just took their glucose information and chatted back and forth about it. And so these were early investors who were telling us, this is what the product should look like, what it should do for me for me to be happy. So I know that’s not specific, but just incorporating them into the very earliest moments of the product itself, I think is why we are where we are. And then having their conviction because they used it, they could see the vision and they then felt this has to exist, I now understand what this team is trying to do and I can support them even more effectively.”
58:44 – Splitting responsibility and trusting each other
At Levels there’s a prevailing sense of trust among everyone. Josh plays a flexible role, Andrew is building and managing the engineering team, Sam is setting up meetings and maintaining relationships with investors and the network.
“Each of us has to fit in where we should. And that means ultimately splitting up responsibilities. Andrew, for example, with the engineering team is building a phenomenal engineering team, world-class. And they’re just executing on the product goals and pushing us further and further towards holistic system-level scalability. Meanwhile, others on the team have to continue keeping the hiring pipeline open. I focus on hiring and hitting wherever our current resource constraints are, making sure that we’re allocating resources to alleviating those resource constraints and not growing too fast, but making sure that we’re maintaining a pace that allows someone to come in, absorb the values of the organization and hit the ground running. And Sam is at the time-making, large-scale business development decisions and keeping our meetings going with potential partners and investors and our network and such. It could very easily be a situation where all of us as co-founders want to sign off on each decision and make sure that we’re all up to speed at all times, but there’s a prevailing sense of trust among us that we are doing this together for a reason. We trust each other.”
1:04:29 – Working at Levels
With rapid iteration of the product, Levels employees are empowered to define their process and see quick execution and result of their approach. They also believe in the importance of what Levels is trying to achieve which makes for a highly collaborative environment.
“What we’re building here is a job or work environment that I certainly have always wanted, which is one where, because of the asymmetric or the asynchronous approach that we’re taking, you really have the ability to define your approach. And you can tackle problems every single day that are incrementally improving the company. You’re seeing very high turnover in your work. The app is developing at an unbelievable pace. So each engineer is seeing that happening in real-time. And yet they’re able to do this from different time zones, working at different times of the day in a collaborative environment where they’re only having to produce the amount of documentation necessary to explain the rationale, and direct others to be able to pick up the breadcrumb trail if needed.”
Sean Delaney: [00:00:00] I’m Sean Delaney. And you’re listening to What Got You There. What Got You There is a must follow for entrepreneurs, creatives, high achievers and change makers. Each week I sit down with some of the world’s most influential people and focus on the journey behind their success. We uncover the strategy, tactics and routines that help them get there.
Now it’s your journey. So it’s time to learn what’s going to get you there.
Intro: [00:00:22] What Got You There. Josh Clemente is a former SpaceX engineer and now the founder of Levels, which is the metabolic health startup changing the way people live their lives. Prior to Levels, Josh was also on the team at Hyperloop One and is a CrossFit level two trainer. On this episode, Josh dives into what he learned working alongside Elon Musk, how the fully remote team at Levels is building a massive business and what he’s learned raising over $12 million from investors like Marc Andreessen.
Sean Delaney: [00:00:54] Anyone looking for a new job this year? Or are you a company who’s looking to hire great talent? If so, you might want to check out the job hiring platform, Culture Finders. I’m sure you’re thinking what’s different about Culture Finders compared to the other job hiring platforms? Well, their platforms only focus on your job skills and trying to match you with as many companies as possible. What Culture Finders does different is that they uncover the preferences, personalities, unique talents, and abilities that make up each job seeker and matches them with the company that these traits best align. It’s not about sending 100 jobs, but about connecting you with the right job. We know your value to companies goes beyond your resume and it’s time you find a company that sees yours. Job seekers, create your free profile today at culturefinders.com, and if you’re company hiring, you get a free job posting today. That’s culturefinders.com. Oh yeah. Just so you guys know, Culture Finders and What Got You there is actually hiring right now. So jump on culturefinders.com to create your free profile and hopefully we’ll be working together soon.
Josh, welcome to What Got You There. How are you doing today?
Josh Clemente: [00:01:54] I’m doing great, Sean. Thank you.
Sean Delaney: [00:01:55] Yeah. I am honored to get to talk to you, learn from you, understand a lot of the different things that have made you both successful and then also how you’re building for the future. But one of the things I’m really interested in, is there one thing that you do during your day that you think just brings the most benefit to your life?
Josh Clemente: [00:02:13] Yeah, this on, you know, I’ve kind of felt a variety of things contribute, but the biggest for me consistently is exercise, just finding space. It’s not just about the physical component, but being able to like separate from whatever tasks I’m stressing about at that time and go and do something specifically for me.
And I think that process of just like creating that deliberate space allows me to really collect my thoughts and kind of center myself. So I would say that is the most consistent technique I use.
Sean Delaney: [00:02:45] I’m the same way. When I’m facing something difficult, nothing better than getting some exercise.
I know you mentioned you went for a run this morning. How do you approach that? Just we can call it staying balanced right. Here you are, hard charger to begin with leading a company, a startup. How do you balance that out? That you make sure that you find time for yourself when things can kind get hectic and get out of your way?
Josh Clemente: [00:03:06] It’s complicated. You know, for sure everyone who is working on something that other people are relying on or are a part of, you get a really overwhelming sense of responsibility to just always be pushing and never take time away. So the recognition that your own health and wellbeing is part of the end goal, like it is crucial to you, whatever success you’re working on. If you burn out, if you fail as a, you know, on a personal level, you won’t be able to achieve what you’re trying to achieve for everyone else. So that’s like the first step, is just recognizing this is intrinsic to the end success. And then using calendaring, you know, the real tactical component of this is just blocking it off on the calendar so that every day, like, I know I’ve got a window of opportunity, if I miss that window, that’s on me, but no one’s going to schedule over that and no one’s going to take that time. You know, obviously forbidding, an emergency, but that’s, something that is really key. It’s just saying like, this is on my calendar and it doesn’t move. So if somebody tries to schedule over it, sorry, I’m going to have to, I don’t have to shift that.
Sean Delaney: [00:04:05] It’s always intriguing hearing about what people do. I’m really interested. Are there certain things that you might’ve done even for a long time, and then you finally realized this wasn’t bringing that much benefit and it’s time to eliminate?
Josh Clemente: [00:04:16] That’s a good question. You know, I’ve been really going through, this is a very different sort of product experience and development process and really company building experience than anything I’ve been a part of before, so I’m going through a totally experimental, I think adaptation right now where I’m going from a hardware world where things are very like long iteration cycles.
And I’m very much an a maker, you know, eventually manager role, but traditionally just working on some large projects to really being in the constant context switching environment, where it’s, you have to stay on, you know, stay on your toes and be adaptive. And I’m learning a lot, especially for my co-founders who have done this before, and have been multi time founders and entrepreneurs just about the techniques that are important. And for me, I’ve always kind of needed to preserve long blocks of time to think and do deep work. And so one of the biggest things that I thought that was key to having a good outcome is just like spending continuous focus time.
But now, I’m recognizing that it’s very project specific. And like what my responsibility is in this company is to provide resources for the team and to continue to grow the team. And it may not necessarily be that I dedicate long blocks to solving some program need or some project need. In fact, I need to like unblock other people who are better at that.
And so I’m really like reassessing my own role in just the organization and how a good product is built and recognizing that, you know, really the way you allocate your time kind of depends on the project you’re working on and your responsibilities set within it.
Sean Delaney: [00:05:52] I’m intrigued there, about mentioning unlocking other people.
And I mean, that’s essential in terms of being a leader. How do you understand the bigger system that it takes to unlock someone, if you’re not getting that deep work, that’s something that, that you thought was just so important, previously?
Josh Clemente: [00:06:08] Yeah, I think it’s, you know, it certainly is something that I still need, I need that deep, strategic thinking time, but really it used to be continuous where any disruption was a disruption. And now it’s recognizing that I have to segment my time. And I certainly can’t, one thing I know about myself is that I can’t mix those two. So I can’t have, you know, a block of deep work, you know, 30 minutes of that and then 30 minutes of, you know, continuous switching calls or anything like that. You know, it has to be one day of the week, which is what I do. I take Tuesdays and I say, that’s my deep work day. And I’m going to just reflect. And I’m going to focus on, you know, writing down thoughts for memos for other people or generally just considering the strategic application of my time and making sure that I’m constantly assessing and updating that.
And then the rest of the week is typically more of a continuous, you know, managerial schedule where you’re just taking whatever comes at you. And so yeah, definitely need to preserve it but now it’s like 20% of my time or less, you know, 10 to 20% of my time is spent in that deep mode.
Whereas previously it was like, I would spend 10 to 20% in the context switching mode and everything else was deep problem solving. And, you know, I kinda thought that I’m the person that has to do, like I just am the deep work person. But the reality is that you can adjust to basically anything.
You just got to recognize that it’s going to be a bit uncomfortable at first. You’re going to have to get used to try some new tools and once you hit your stride, it feels good.
Sean Delaney: [00:07:31] It’s funny how that works, right? The adaptability, which is essential for any entrepreneur, but it’s one of those muscles, it’s like, once you start running towards that chaos essentially, and kind of the edges of what you’re capable of, you realize how much more you’re capable of.
And then it almost becomes this positive feedback loop that you’re looking for it more and more. I would love just diving a little bit more into your Tuesday, your deep work day, because I’m sure there’s a lot of people listening, myself included that, how do you structure this? Is there any practices that you found beneficial during one of these deep work days?
Josh Clemente: [00:08:00] Yeah. I mean, I still very much use my calendar to block out chunks. So I don’t just take it as like, whatever I want to think about. It’s very structured or I try to make sure that I filled out an agenda of topics to focus on. And you know, one thing I learned from my co-founder Sam is “to-do lists” don’t work.
You know, you can put infinite items on a to-do list, but the reality is that time is finite. And so if you only have Tuesday between certain hours to get your deep work in, you need to be realistic, you know, in terms of what you’re committing to for the other team about what you can fit in that time.
So I’m very, you know, I like to block out best estimates for what it’ll take on whatever I’m focusing on. So if it’s like putting together a candidate tracker for our hiring or putting an update on, you know, what our hardware strategy is going to be as an organization, I’m going to block those chunks out onto my deep work day on my calendar.
And I try to be very committed to what I’ve laid out and if something else pops up and I’ve already got those blocks on my calendar, I’m not just going to overlap them or squeeze them or something like that. It’s like something has to be bumped. And I need to convey that to whoever is, you know, whoever is downstream of that decision, right?
To make sure that they’re aware. So just being like, the calendar has become an indispensable tool for me because it shows me, this is what you’ve committed to, and this is what you can accomplish. I’ve sort of, I think that I’ve improved as a person, on my ability to predict what I can fit into a week because I have it all laid out in front of me.
And I have to be honest, like, yeah, I’m not going to get those two things done at the same time. So one of them has to go.
Sean Delaney**:** [00:09:33] In such a fluid environment, the world of a startup, how do you assess what’s the most important thing that’s capturing your attention at that time?
Josh Clemente: [00:09:42] I think the biggest and most valuable piece here is having really high quality team members who can help you assess your own priorities.
Right? It’s very easy to get distracted by a shiny object. And if you have multiple people who are gut-checking that it’s a huge benefit because the whole kind of group combined, can maintain a predefined trajectory. So you lay out a quarterly strategy. You say, these are our objectives as an organization, and everyone has that in their minds.
And then if one person says, I actually think we need to detour to this other thing that just cropped up, it’s a really cool opportunity. It could provide huge benefit while the rest of the team can provide you with a really nice, you know, sort of litmus test on whether that is as shiny as it may seem.
And this happens all the time. You know, we have a great team, we have five co-founders at Levels, and we all have a bit of a diverse skillset each. And so, conversations are. really nice, in the sense that there is typically someone who’s closest to the background of a specific problem, we can rely on them for expertise and then everyone else can kind of use their best judgment in terms of whether or not this seems like it should take priority.
And so I think that’s the biggest thing is just, if you’re going it alone, it’s really challenging. And I’ve done solo projects before and looking back on them, you know, it is very scattered. You’re always looking for the edge that’s going to get you ahead. You feel like you’re constantly behind the, you know, the eight ball.
And so something comes up, you just let so easy to get. distracted by it. And I think we’ve been so much better at this company or just the rate of execution has been amazing. And I attribute that primarily to the diversity and multitudes of perspectives that are coming to every decision
Sean Delaney: [00:11:29] Yeah those multiple perspectives when you’re able to triangulate your views against some other people And it sounds like some very high performance that’s always gonna be incredibly helpful What exactly is the conversation like Are you guys almost doing a red hat green hat where you’re really challenging ideas playing devil’s advocate or is it just an open exploration of ideas Any more details into this
Josh Clemente: [00:11:49] Well levels is a 100 remote company we’ve been remote since before COVID and so we had always decided we were going to lean into the distributed model And what we had to do is decide you know are we going to be a company that is spending all our time on meetings trying to hash things out in real time or are we going to take a different approach And we chose to go with a memo-driven culture So the way that these typically happen is we have a standup meeting for leadership at the company once a week and then we have little tag ups you know twice two other days of the week And the tag ups are typically 15 to 20 minutes but we set the weekly agenda on that sort of all leadership call And we don’t get you know we will discuss topics but if it goes on you know if the topic conversation goes on say past 10 15 minutes and it becomes clear that there’s maybe disagreement or different perspectives we identify a stakeholder We say this person is going to go do the research write a memo distribute to the team and we’ll then do asynchronous basically commenting on the document or we’ll all add our thoughts on long form And so that allows each of us to really Assess the problem set aside the time we need to tackle it and put our thoughts down so that everyone else can assess those in context And then we come to a set of action items and we proceed And the beauty of this is that the asynchronous nature means that not everyone has to set aside you know like an unknown amount of time to drive a problem to solution And you get rid of this design-by-committee thing which I think generally is not hyper-efficient right So that memo culture with a lot of asynchronous stuff and then just sinking continuously throughout the week to make sure if anything any fires have started that we can help you know balance those resources is the approach we take
Sean Delaney: [00:13:35] I’m very fascinated by this One of my teams we’re fully distributed as well very similar type philosophy I would love to know in terms of the memo for people who aren’t familiar with how you structure this I know a lot of people are might be familiar with how Amazon does it How does levels approach this
Josh Clemente: [00:13:51] So Amazon typically from what I can tell they they write Someone writes a memo and then distributes it prior to a meeting and everyone reads it And that’s oftentimes I think in the meeting the first few minutes will be spent reviewing a memo kind of silently And then you start the conversation and you have a live synchronous meeting levels take some more and even more asynchronous approach than that And some of this has to do with the fact that we’re you know we’re not co-located We have different time zones It is just not generally efficient to try to force conformity into a schedule so that everyone’s on the call at the same time And you’re having a synchronous meeting but really we’ve taken an approach It’s like we don’t have meetings really I mean we’ve eliminated all but Like as I mentioned that once a week leadership meeting we have an all hands meeting with the whole team once a week And then two sync ups which are not strategic it’s more so just like checking and making sure everything’s okay The rest of it is done asynchronously and the beauty of these memos is that they are the entirety of the conversation So if you are a new candidate right you’re coming in you’re joining the company you were just hired You can go and review all of these memos and not only see the ultimate outcome in terms of strategy for the company but you can see everyone’s thoughts along the way So you can kind of see the conversation that would have happened in that Amazon meeting but it’s written out in long form and it definitely takes time You have to be a good communicator You have to be able to write effectively or get your thoughts out But I think the end result is that we haven’t really nice mile-markers set that tells us how we got to where we are and why And we can just distribute this really effectively in terms of you know like I said getting new team members up to speed but also investors strategic partners you know these memos are very valuable in a sense because they document Level’s perspective on any issue
Sean Delaney: [00:15:42] The way we approach this my team at culture finders we’ve view this as slow down to speed up and it’s kind of that upfront work to begin with but long-term those benefits so far out exceed what might’ve happened if you’re just kind of flying by the seat of your pants there I also love how you guys are working on that document at the same time but on your own time because where I think the Amazon model is slightly flawed is that you read something and instantaneously you’re almost responsible for that response where at your own time you’re able to kind of step back get a little bit more deep thought into it So I love that approach there fully distributed team I’m wondering how much thought went into the structure of levels at the very very beginning of the company
Josh Clemente: [00:16:25] That’s a good question Surprisingly little it was an easy decision because both Sam and I so I originally formed the company with my co-founder Sam and we wanted to bring on more co-founders we wanted to get like deep skill sets across all of the like key product verticals or company verticals really And so but initially we formed the company and we made that decision day one It was just we didn’t live in the same area He was in New York but I think he was heading back to San Francisco Soon I was in Philadelphia I had to be there for some amount of time knew I didn’t want to stay there Long-term and we both kind of wanted to hit this project immediately but couldn’t easily put together a solution for where we should do it And it just it felt like This project in particular lent itself very well to a distributed format And so even before it was cool And frankly when it was a risk you know two years ago or a year and a half ago we just said we’re going to do this Like everything about a company is an experiment And both of us feel really good about doing this remote Sam has been kind of a nomadic entrepreneur for a long time He’s has done some co-located office situations but he’s been traveling and doing you know very effective work for close to a decade And so he certainly felt super great and it was able to convince me that this would work And again coming from a hardware background I wanted that remote work because I felt like it would really contribute to a balanced lifestyle but I wanted it to be sure it was going to be successful and developing hardware You know it’s a very different problems that you do need to be co-located to some extent typically And so I was like kind of on the fence and Sam’s assurance was really powerful And so we were just like let’s do it and leaned in And frankly It saved us when COVID came around We just continued you know We’re lucky but there was just no disruption to the way we did business And we already had a structure in place that we could lean into And I think we if anything accelerated through the time
Sean Delaney: [00:18:23] you’ve mentioned Sam a few times also having multiple co-founders besides just having deep expertise in certain domains What else did you see in Sam and then the other co-founders that just you felt really good about having them on the team
Josh Clemente: [00:18:39] So the beauty of the founding team we’ve got is that we’re all about one degree of separation apart from the beginning So Sam and I David and I who runs product we had known each other for a few years I had known Sam a little bit longer And I just knew the way he approached problems He’s a very transparent person He speaks his mind He’s super like one of the strongest networkers ever He’s got a great podcast that talks about his approach to networking but I just felt highly confident in his ability to build relationships his pre-existing relationships And then his expertise was very specific So you know he has a deep software development experience and entrepreneurship So you know just all of those together in my awareness that we shared principles So the way we thought about the world was similar enough that I didn’t think we were going to have you know big trouble just even you know at the highest levels of the company what should we do and why you know we could agree So that was the big thing for me was just Sam as a person was a good fit And then he has this excellent sort of bias towards execution you know and I always thought I was an execution oriented person I certainly am And I tend to bias towards doing things faster than slower but Sam takes that to another level And so that was another thing which I always value speed over perfection and I think we share that across the founding team And so Sam you know had close connections again to David who I also knew David’s worked at Google on compliance and payments and had just deep expertise and product that we could lean into And also just a great person action-oriented and you know he worked with Andrew at Google and Andrew was he led engineering for what ultimately became Google voice just really spectacular engineer and another deep thinker and then Casey who was you know we all I guess David knew her brother And as soon as David brought up the concept of levels her brother said this is my sister’s thing You know and she’s a Stanford trained surgeon turned functional medicine doctor And so we needed the expertise in the medical space you know we needed someone who could bring a very high level understanding of the biochemistry and the human physiology to drive our clinical strategy and our content strategy And the first conversation with Casey you know she’s the one I’ve known for the shortest amount of time but the synergy between our ways of thinking and the ways we perceive the solution to the metabolic crisis were essentially identical And you know we just she was coming from a totally different background from us and the fact that we could both arrive at the same conclusion and just met each other at the same timeframe it felt serendipitous And then you know I have continuously just redoubled my faith and happiness in Casey like she’s such a great person and has done such a phenomenal job accelerating our progress So you know it was frankly just looking for shared principles and shared ways of thinking about the world And then that was the I think the context within which every one of these co-founding decisions was made it was just like this person is I think approaches problem solving and team building in a similar way and also believes in what we’re doing at a very deep level So
Sean Delaney: [00:21:57] It’s amazing how many founding teams often don’t have shared principles It’s almost like that’s the first order problem that needs to be solved If you’re not aligned to there it’s going to be different.It‘s very cool though Hearing about the relationship with Casey and that your conviction level essentially has gone up over time Anytime there’s a relationship like that it’s just really special It’s a great bond I love you bringing up bias towards action This literally was the focus We do a Monday team call as well talking about just having a bias towards action So I love that talking about the principles and even understanding you guys are starting from the same place then this could go nowhere I’m wondering though how much self-work did you do to understand what your principles were how you view the world how you operate your values all of those things
Josh Clemente: [00:22:39] Hmm Well I think that the biggest thing that Sam and I agreed on is that we needed to be a transparent high integrity organization that did not subscribe to a specific dogma So what we were looking for in all of the founding team was just openness and willingness to change perspective based on better information and much of that is just due to I think that has like a team dynamic component You want to make sure that you’re working with someone who is you know driving from a position of just evidence-based decision-making You know you don’t want to get stuck in a situation where you have an emotional disagreement that ends up defining your experience together It should always be I think you should be able to return to rational arguments And so that was key for us And it’s very hard to define of course but then secondarily when it comes to the nature of the product we’re challenging a lot of preconceptions about what it means to take control of your health and why you should do this And when you should do this and in challenging you know frankly some large entrenched interests in the food industry and some pharmaceutical interests and such And so it’s really important that people be willing both to take a potentially non-mainstream approach But then also if we find that the direction we’re heading in is not doing the degree of good that we thought it would we have to be willing to adjust course And we don’t want to get stuck in a situation where you know revenue is the bottom line And so having people who are I think have high integrity at their base gives us higher confidence that course correction could be made if it needed to be made and you know as we get further and further along we’re more and more convicted in what we’re doing And I think feeling very good that we’re heading in the right direction but those are kind of the principles we’re looking for is just open transparent communication and willingness to not necessarily take a if you do have strong convictions that you at least ground them in some evidence you know that you feel that this is important to any argument that evidence is important to any argument
****[00:24:53] Yeah The model I use for this is strong opinions weakly held So I put in a ton of work in terms of understanding all of that But once new information comes in like you said you’ve got to be willing to switch sides there I would love just because you’re talking about paradigm shifts and kind of going against the grain here could you even give a deeper level into what levels does So we have a clear picture then we can even dive into some of these things I’m just loving the conversation here and what you’re hitting on about how you guys operate the business
Josh Clemente: [00:25:19] Absolutely Yeah Levels answers the question What should I eat and why And we do that with real-time data coming from the individual’s body in a closed-loop fashion So basically you wear a little sensor on your arm which is measuring molecules in your body and you make decisions You eat food you go for exercise you sleep you have stress from your normal day All of these things affect the way your body is functioning and you get real-time or near real-time feedback on how good or bad the decisions you’re making are and the way that you are responding to them And then we surface insights to help you improve those So this is what we call bio wearable It’s something that is measuring a molecule in the body as opposed to a superficial marker like pulse or step count And you know there’s a tremendous amount of background here So nutrition is notoriously complicated There are sort of factions that have very extreme perspectives and you have like vegan and you have keto and you have carnivore and everyone is very almost tribal in the way they approach it And I don’t want to speak ill of any of those approaches or philosophies but you know it tends to be everyone has to do this or they’re doing it wrong And the reality is we have a growing body of research that shows that humans are extremely diverse in the way that their bodies function their metabolic systems which is the system which produces energy from our food and environment is very unique And so levels is building that uniqueness into the core product So we take into account how the specific actions this person’s making affect their specific body and what they should do to improve And it’s not about the average It’s not about saying you know the average is doing this and you’re doing that You should do more like the average it’s saying This specific thing that you did yesterday and the day before and the day before that is continually pushing against your stated goal of say losing weight And this other thing could improve that And that might be something very simple like substituting a meal that you’re eating So an example would be something like 70% of people who eat oatmeal while using the level’s product find out that their blood sugar elevates to a very abnormal state and then comes crashing back down causing a whole hormonal implication that is like contributing to weight gain and could potentially be inflammatory to the heart And so we can recommend an alternative you know maybe avocado toast or something like that has a more balanced profile and more healthy fat potentially some more protein that could be an alternative And people are finding these very like minimal micro optimizations throughout their lives to improve the way their metabolic system is functioning And the reason we believe this is necessary is that 88 of American adults currently in the United States are metabolically unhealthy And the CDC States that about 84 million people in the United States have pre-diabetes 90% of them don’t know they have it And 70% of that group will become type 2 diabetic in the next 10 years if they don’t do something about it So levels is identifying the space where we have a dramatic worsening problem We have no information So basically we wait decades until we get a diagnosis of illness or at best we wait months until our bodies you know until our bathroom scales start to increase before we take any action And it’s non-specific action You have no feedback to tell you when you sit down for lunch and you choose something to eat Did that work and if so why And so we’re trying to fill that gap with real objective data
Sean Delaney: [00:28:49] I love it Just taking on such a massive important problem with just tremendous impact here I am going to dive more into how this even came to be but I would love to know for you what’s been the most surprising feedback you received from the device
Josh Clemente: [00:29:04] Well it certainly has I consider myself to be basically patient zero for this application I discovered despite being a CrossFit trainer and caring deeply about physical fitness as a way to maintain long-term health I discovered essentially by accident that I had either borderline pre-diabetic and or fully pre-diabetic glucose levels And so it was very erratic metabolic function and This was in an effort to try to track down some severe fatigue I was experiencing I was getting a lot of mental and physical burnout My mood was really bad It was at a point in time when my career demanded very high performance and I wasn’t able to deliver I felt And so I essentially using the real-time feedback from continuous glucose monitoring So measuring the sugar levels in my blood real time full time I was able to identify not just nutrition factors that I thought were healthy that I was eating every day and relying on as staples were causing really bad responses in my body but also the effect of stress and sleep And so I think the most surprising thing to me was how significant the implications of chronic stress are for health and wellness You know I would say that nutrition didn’t really surprise me I knew that I was confused I knew I didn’t have it all figured out in terms of nutrition So finding out that some things I was eating were not right that made sense but the stress element and the way that I could see Really the difference between a day when I was well-rested and my mind was at ease versus a day where I was poorly slept And I was on high alert I could see that in the blood sugar levels circulating through my body and those were affected by cortisol So cortisol directly interferes with your blood sugar levels And so that really drove home for me the importance of just intentionality and mindfulness and your day to day just trying to maintain you know a position of calm and confidence and then also the value of a good sleep regime and sleep hygiene
Sean Delaney: [00:30:59] Is there anything you do today when you feel you’re starting to red line and just getting a bit stressed just even in the moment say you’ve got a really busy day still ahead of you and that stress is starting to peak anything you do then
Josh Clemente: [00:31:13] Yeah So for the more benign moments you know when we were just feeling like a little bit heightened we’re feeling a little bit like things are out of our hands I’ll just do some eyes closed breathing and just kind of and this is something I never did It’s very simple It takes two to three minutes at least but just closing my eyes and just taking some deep breaths and exhaling and just kind of focusing on the breathing and trying to like clear the mind It’s not quite a mindfulness practice I’m still trying to improve my consistency with a focus meditation practice but just that bit of breathing and taking kind of control over my physiology really helps to center because these are background processes and they can just run haywire when we’re continuously kicking ourselves with more and more stressful stuff and jumping from one thing to the next So I think just that similar to you know taking an hour out to go for a run you’re intentionally taking control of your physiology and putting your body in a specific state I think breathing is just for a few minutes can kind of replicate some of those And I see a big benefit for my mental you know Wellbeing but then also I do feel that it has a physiologic effect on my glucose levels it’s a minor one but that’s just one thing If things are getting really out of control you know I’m continuously like for multiple weeks I’m poorly slept and things are feeling rough You know I tend to just take time to go for long walks typically at night because I really find like a lot of peace from stars and just like you know space and that dark surrounding And I’m able to just focus There’s not as much stimuli And I like to just ask you know Is what I am stressed about going to matter in five years You know if I can just ask myself that one question invariably the answer is no Like every once in a while obviously there’s something that’s going to have a big implication for your life and that’s a good way to sort of examine it But certainly for the majority of us like if we just ask that question about the day-to-day stress we’re experiencing Most of the time it’s gonna be like no I’m not even gonna remember this moment And that is a really nice you know reference frame You can recognize it probably in two weeks this moment will have passed and it won’t have a long-term effect on my life And that’s just a good way to kind of return to earth
Sean Delaney: [00:33:24] It’s certainly helpful to have some of those simple questions that really do just reset everything and let you see things through a different perspective You mentioned the breath work that’s something I subscribe to as well I think that’s just been so impactful Another thing if you’re in the meeting say things are getting heightened stress One thing you can do And I know Dr Andrew Huberman out at Stanford has done some work on this It’s around the soft gaze So you can be looking directly at someone and just kind of look off into the distance slightly And that kind of drops you a little bit as well Those are things that have been really helpful I would love to know even the origin story with levels though How did this idea even come to be And then it’s first idea but then what you talk in bias towards action Very few people take the idea and say you know what I’m going to start a company with this
Josh Clemente: [00:34:05] Yeah I mean again I was in this point or at this point in my life where physical fitness alone like hitting the gym alone wasn’t I looked healthy You know I can just say that frankly like I looked healthy I felt like I should feel healthy but I did not feel healthy So every day you know I was feeling these waves of fatigue that would overcome me I would get these yawning attacks and I would literally I mean it was ridiculous It looked like I was just out partying all night In reality I went to bed early I was eating as well as I could I was exercising every morning I was doing the things that I thought create health And I just felt like I had a terminal illness and so I Got to this point where I just wanted like I read a research paper in the course of my work I was working at SpaceX at the time and I read a paper that described the effect that diet can have on human physiology It was about ketosis and how it can have a protective effect for seizures And anyway that just like really surprised me because I had never really examined nutrition beyond just saying like okay let’s eat good foods you know good is kind of an ill-defined category But you know I certainly wasn’t eating fast food but I did have a bit of a sugar addiction I liked candy I like desserts a lot you know and I would I felt I’m not gaining weight I can indulge And anyway I started to think like maybe there’s something to this Maybe I need to take a more intentional approach to my nutrition and in order to really improve health because this whole fitness thing is just it’s not Hacking it alone Anyway I started to read more about metabolism and the way that our energy is produced because I was having this energy crisis and discovered through and of course time is going by here This is like a nights-and-weekends type just reading up type thing And I had left SpaceX by this time I was working at Hyperloop And I read a book called Wired To Eat by Robb Wolf And his book came out in 2017 and he just describes like defining a diet based on how your blood sugar responds to those foods And his argument is that blood sugar directly affects hormones and those hormones affect our experience and they also affect our likelihood of longterm risk of illness So I read this book It made a ton of sense in the back He talks about this new technology called a continuous glucose monitor And I had been pricking my finger repeatedly to measure my blood sugar levels Since I knew a bit about metabolism Now I knew that glucose is our primary source of energy for the modern human I wanted to just see if I could find any patterns And so I was pricking my finger a bunch of times to get single point measurements This book told me there’s a new device that was developed for diabetes and it measures your glucose continuously and streams it to your device That felt like An ideal solution for me I went to my doctor I asked for a prescription and he basically looked at me cross-eyed and said that’s for people who have an advanced condition you do not have that condition You don’t need to worry about this Like it’s just not for you And nor is it something that is even interesting for someone like you to measure And that like that was the moment of enhanced conviction So it was like I left that visit And I was like first of all this is happening in my body Whether or not I’m measuring it Right So it’s like it’s harmless to measure it And secondly why is there a kind of gatekeeper to me understanding my own body’s information like that kind of felt like a violation to me It was I feel very comfortable working with an expert and I understand I don’t know everything but it seemed as though I should be granting access to my body’s information as opposed to having to ask for access to my body’s information Like this device is just simply going to give me Levels of glucose that are already in my blood So that combined with my systems engineering background and knowing that systems don’t break down typically they don’t break down instantaneously You don’t suddenly become diabetic over time through wear and tear And the continual inputs that we’re providing you eventually break a system down That’s how it works And typically what you’re measuring determines what you can manage And so if the goal is to not have a blood sugar dysfunction where your glucose is out of control well you should probably start managing it a lot earlier than you know once it’s broken So all that came together into an idea And eventually I did get a CGM I discovered sorry that happened before the idea I got the CGM I discovered that my blood sugar was very erratic It was not controlled It was directly correlated with my feelings of extreme energy loss My mental like cloudiness my mood issues were all kind of in the 2:00 PM timeframe And I had lunch at noon had this big blood sugar elevation and then a big crash And those crashes were right with that you know that sort of malaise experience And I started to just iterate towards better glucose I changed my nutrition I changed my sleep habits I tried some breathing exercises and over time I just recognized that this information is crucial It’s actionable Like you can change it with better choices and there’s a blockade Like there we need enhanced access to this technology but we also need to then take it and create actionability Like there has to be an added layer of insights because not everyone is going to read through All the literature on glucose and figure out what is causing which elevations and what their target should be And there’s this opportunity to produce a really amazing new behavior change system that is taking real-time biological data and transforming it’s a simple insights that you can implement in your life And so that’s the goal for Levels
Sean Delaney: [00:39:36] All of that exploration doing the work on yourself How long did that take And then what was the point where you said you know what let’s start a company here
Josh Clemente: [00:39:46] It was you know from the time that I read the paper that got me thinking about nutrition and I started to dig in on metabolism physiology and then start experimenting It was well over a year It was really I left SpaceX in 2016 I was experimenting pricking my finger in 2017 I read the Robb Wolf wired to eat book in 2017 and then by early 2018 it congealed into like this is what I want to do And I was putting pen to paper on a business plan but it was a long process And by no means you know I will say there was one moment when I was coming out of the shower and I was just like it finally clicked Like there’s the sensor system that’s already been developed It’s kind of out there but it’s for people who have an illness and it’s not very consumerized and just recognition that the area of opportunity is actually not the hardware I was thinking like I should probably build a CGM for people who don’t yet have diabetes and I’ll do the hardware process And that felt very expensive It felt onerous The FDA has to approve it It’s a very long process Then the recognition was just that that’s not the area of opportunity The area of opportunity is in that whole process of learning that I had gone through for two years It took me a long time I read hundreds of papers on pubmed about the human body and how glucose works and how it should work for me And so focusing on the chasm between raw data coming out of a blood sugar monitor and ultimately behavior change is where we should focus It’s the insights framework that lies on top of the hardware and tells you this is what this means and this is what you should do instead And so that was like kind of a light bulb moment where it’s like okay got it We don’t have to go reinvent the wheel and build this hardware from scratch We can instead do what say whoop and Oura do for optical heart rate sensing You know they take this sensor that’s been around for a long time and they turn it into a behavior change experience by focusing on your sleep and how heart rate connects to sleep or heart rate variability connects to sleep or your exercise performance And so yeah that’s ultimately like the moment that it all came together
Sean Delaney: [00:41:55] Those insights the flashy insights the aha moments you have all that incubation period the multi-year is And then all of a sudden it just kind of that subconscious going to work while you’re in the shower there Josh you come off to me as someone who is just voraciously curious and always learning Am I wrong here Or is this how you are just talking about reading hundreds of paper kind of nights and weekends Have you always been like this
Josh Clemente: [00:42:19] I think I have so I’m putting myself in context with other people I know who are like even more voracious for everything And I think I don’t have I really love learning but I love specific things that I think you know I love spacecraft and vehicles and machines and I dig very deeply into those and I’ve dedicated a lot of my life to building them and designing them And I really am passionate about them You know something it has to have like a personal appeal to me and this whole process of like self-exploration I’d never had a deep interest in human physiology or medicine And I think that’s the uniqueness maybe about the way I approach things is that and maybe there’s a selfishness component here but if I have a connection to it it makes it that much more meaningful And I think it gives me a framework to understand the information you know I don’t do very well just bringing in a lot of abstract information sort of without context And so yeah I definitely love solving problems and certainly I feel a huge satisfaction when a problem can be solved in an elegant way And I think that’s what it comes down to is just I do enjoy that challenge and I think generally any information I can consume about that will make that more possible is something I go after but I don’t consider myself to be like one of the most voracious consumers of information you know Unfortunately I just I have to stay focused
Sean Delaney: [00:43:44] You mentioned that the systems engineering background and then talking about building up those frameworks how can someone who is trying to even develop those frameworks How can they work on that and just kind of have a better baseline
Josh Clemente: [00:43:58] I think there’s no replacement for seeing it in action So being around people who have developed those frameworks already does a lot of the work for you You know you can read books and I certainly consider books to be an exceptional source of information for finding an edge and making better decisions or developing mental models but there’s really no replacement for seeing it again in action demonstrated And you know I certainly have benefited from working at places like SpaceX where the average the median was way above me You know everyone around me was just so much better at what they were doing And so once you get comfortable with that with your position in an environment like that you recognize the opportunity It’s like this is a huge huge benefit and I need to just be a sponge So that’s kind of where I think I first started to develop Well I definitely was able to hone a lot of my approaches to problem solving and just recognize the value of first principles and simplicity and approaching problems from you know a position of team as opposed to solo solutions So just relying on those with better expertise there’s no ego in those environments and I’m not certainly not saying that no one at SpaceX has ego but the environment lends itself very well to just leaning on the people with most expertise And the beauty of that is that you get to go and spend time while you’re trying to solve one problem all the sub problems You’re spending time with people who can help you with those And you’re seeing their mind at work and you’re seeing the way that they tackle that specific solution And you can then incorporate that into your approach And so I just think like for people that want to improve on this and it’s a constant lifelong process work with great people you know just like try to not only work with them but try to have them work Alongside you or show you how they work You know I think that’s the best process
Sean Delaney: [00:45:57] as someone who struggled with this early and kind of would want to go at it alone Once you suspend that Eagle and you understand that bring other people on especially people who are way smarter than you that skill development how fast you can excel and learn is pretty remarkable Do you have any specific example I would love if you could even dive in whether it’s at Hyperloop or even SpaceX just some of that maybe you didn’t do going into it but afterwards it just left a profound impact And it’s a way of thinking that you guys incorporate at levels
Josh Clemente: [00:46:29] Well I think that first principles and the most elegant solution is the simplest So kind of an Occam’s razor approach to solving problems is something I hadn’t really internalized until my time in SpaceX So the first principles are essentially the like the core fundamental components of any problem And you know a car for example is a very complicated machine with a lot of extraneous details but ultimately it’s trying to move people from point a to point B And so the first principle solution is moving People or the first principles are of the problem are moving people from point a to point B against the physical constraints of gravity and wind resistance et cetera any time that you’re talking about a problem outside of that air conditioning and you know lug nuts and such you’re talking about an abstract extraneous detail to the core first principles So if you’re trying to solve a problem start there do not start with what’s been done before Don’t start with you know building on the expertise or the experiences of others Definitely take that into account But the core of the concept or the core of the solution conversation should be around what are we ultimately trying to solve And you should try to do it with the least I think number of in hardware used to call mechanical miracles but like every time that you have to solve another problem you’re adding to the complexity of the end solution And so like just seeing that you know at SpaceX we did not value complexity or reward complexity or reward like the most abstract theoretically interesting breakthrough It was the simplest solution always was most I think celebrated And that was a beautiful thing because in my you know it’s very easy when you’re going through school and you don’t really have context for the way the industry works to start thinking that complexity is really amazing and like If someone is able to pull off you know the most complex solution in history it’s like this incredible breakthrough and it’s a demonstration of their expertise And I now look at it the opposite If something can be done with you know one tenth of the number of parts components processes it is the far more beautiful solution And I just revel in that and I always pursue it in my own approaches And so I think in pursuit of that we at levels really push our first principles mindset And you know just I think the simplicity of what we were proposing which is that rather than trying to develop a one size fits all lifestyle approach that you know we pass through legislation or we get you know somehow distributed across the entire globe as you know rigid follow this format and achieve physical health which seems nearly impossible to even get any sort of you know unanimous approval for but also doesn’t seem well-suited to the diversity of the human population Instead we’re breaking it down into the simplest actor and that’s the individual it’s like if each individual is making better choices you do that times many individuals and you have social scale change and it’s actually possible and easy to do this with real-time feedback you can connect the dots between an action I took the reaction my body experienced I’m just focusing on me I’m not focusing on the rest of the world And so I think that’s kind of a first principles elegant solution I really like that And then one other thing that we had at SpaceX that Elon from the very earliest moments drilled home was just in pursuit of the elimination of kind of an expertise culture a complexity culture There was no acronyms and industry jargon was essentially illegal You’re not allowed to speak in terms or everyone is like Encouraged to speak in the simplest terms possible And so you know if you’re not using a bunch of acronyms that someone has to leave the meeting and look up it allows for everyone in the conversation no matter who they are or what their background might be to be involved and to be considering the problem as you’re describing it and potentially contribute to it So we do the same thing at Levels We just despite the fact that we’re working with some complex human physiology stuff the mechanics of it can be described very simply and should be And so we definitely push that same mentality of just keeping the conversation open transparent simple in order to encourage the simplistic solutions and contributions that anyone may be able to make
Sean Delaney: [00:50:53] Yeah There’s just such a beauty in the simple elegant solutions So I love that I’m wondering is there anything you saw in your past roles past experiences that you would like without a doubt I don’t want this to be part of levels
Josh Clemente: [00:51:07] Well There are a few things in terms of like the way the organization should operate I’ve had experiences where organizations are I think incentive-misaligned where it’s all about vanity metrics and things like team growth and having targets on head count growth and having targets for money raised and such and much of this I think is secondary to the primary purpose that everyone is there for making sure that the organization is aligned on and staying just deadly focused on the goal the primary goal why are we doing what we’re doing is key And it has to proliferate through all of the business kind of metrics Anything you’re tracking has to be driven by your core focus You know Elon’s companies do this really well again just to bring it back to that but The goal of SpaceX is to make humans multi-planetary and there is no business function happening or at least when I left there wasn’t that was not primarily focused on making that happen There is no target there’s no objective for ad count It is just is this decision going to push us closer to that ultimate goal And I think it’s just yeah again I’ve had experiences at I follow on projects that were not the same and it’s key at levels that we keep our eyes on the prize And the goal is to reverse the trends of metabolic dysfunction And that doesn’t imply that we need to have some arbitrary growth goal It doesn’t imply that we need to have some arbitrary team size The reality is just efficiency in our execution and if we can do something to improve that to get towards that end goal Great But otherwise we don’t want to compete in a game We’re not playing
Sean Delaney:: [00:52:56] I’m wondering how you approach this Because I think it was back in November you guys raised $12 million on your seed round Congratulations on that from injuries and Horwitz Mark Randolph some other well-known investors So I’m wondering you even talked about earlier about you guys were fully distributed and certain people prior to COVID would have said that could be a risk I’m wondering then how you think about that were not going after some of these vanity metrics and I would love to just know how your investors either instill confidence that what you’re doing is the correct way and to not get drawn into some of those vanity metrics that so many startups do
Josh Clemente: [00:53:34] Yeah we are still actively kind of suppressing our growth We’re in development mode We want to get to a certain degree of a net promoter score which is something we care a lot about which is the quality I think of the person’s experience which dictates whether they would share it with someone else So we’re focusing very much on customer feedback on the quality of their experience and on the behavior change that we think is ultimately necessary in order to improve metabolic health So we are still in an invitation only mode We haven’t actively grown even though we easily could have you know just cut the rope and said we’re growing now we’re going to try and like ramp up revenue and shock the investors with our approach Instead we focused on tactics strategy and continuous updates and just making communication available So throughout the fundraise process which by the way was happening during the deepest parts of COVID when all the uncertainty was at its peak there Yeah You know couldn’t have asked for worse timing I think but you know we just continued to keep updates going at a steady cadence of transparency about what we were doing and what we were focusing on And I believe that the memo culture and the way we were describing our strategy and the way that we were really backing up every choice we made was what came across to the investors specifically a16 you know they were really impressed by the amount of documentation we brought throughout the process And beyond that they became very familiar over those months with why we were doing what we were doing It wasn’t a single pitch meeting that defined the conversation It was essentially we were doing the due diligence process for them on not only our specific product and team but the entire marketplace why we believe this will exist in a meaningful way even though it doesn’t today And so yeah just maintaining that cadence of openness and being willing to share the information showed I think Not just progress and how fast the product was iterating and how we are an execution oriented team But it also gave I think the investors confidence that and it was a prolonged process but it became obvious that a the entire marketplace or the entire industry really tech industry was embracing remote work And so that certainly didn’t harm us in the sense that like reframe the whole conversation about remote but that our team specifically was executing effectively in a remote environment So what may have started out as a demerit point I think ultimately became a benefit because they could see that we could tap into talent all over the world And we could execute with it
Sean Delaney: [00:56:17] Josh This is awesome I feel like most times you hear about a company raises a bunch of money obviously the product’s got to be good The idea has got to be good but some of those small things in terms of going so deep in terms of how you guys approach problems and that they found value in that that’s really cool to hear about I’m wondering did any of the investors I’m assuming they’ve given plenty of advice is there some advice that just stood out or you think really has kind of changed the trajectory or even approach for levels
Josh Clemente: [00:56:44] Well we have a very strong roster of not just you know institutional investors but also angels And they’ve been critical to our progress so far just really having convicted supporters in the form of angel investors has been one of the biggest benefits I think throughout this process And now with Andreessen on board they’re just picking up the pace right alongside And so like we have very much leaned into our investors as a network of experts And as a source of potential introductions to additional experts and we really value collecting information to check our own approach and improve our you know just improve our cadence and or access to better information a specific example Let me think about this one I think that we take a pretty non-standard approach to many things like our product is not by default a subscription right now which initially was confusing to many people because there is opportunity for a subscription a recurring revenue model and we’re transitioning towards that but you know from the beginning we’re hyper-focused on moving large or like larger numbers of unique perspectives through the program one time so that we could get their experience and clock their feedback and make improvements And rather than having one person who sort of gets familiarized with the product offering and then maybe their quality of feedback or cadence of feedback drops off we instead we’re focusing on getting more unique perspectives through so that we can make sure we’re getting fresh eyes on it at all times And you know that came from some early conversations with some of our very earliest investors And frankly like the first customers that we had even before we had a product ultimately became investors and they were critical to like going through this Conceptual paid process We charged them as though we had a product and essentially replicated it with text messaging And you know even though we didn’t even have an app we just took their glucose information and chatted back and forth about it And so these were early investors who were telling us this is what the product should look like what it should do for me for me to be happy So I know that’s not specific but just like incorporating them into the very earliest moments of the product itself I think is why we are where we are And then Having like their conviction because they used it They could see the vision and they then felt like this has to exist I now understand what this team is trying to do and I can support them even more effectively
Sean Delaney: [00:59:18] That certainly is helpful Josh I’m wondering because you’re talking about getting multiple perspectives from users investors and then everyone on the team And I know you guys have the memo culture I’m wondering how leadership is able to zoom in on the details but then also zoom out understand long-term and overarching systems within all of this just to make sure the details you’re going after are the right ones
Josh Clemente: [00:59:42] much of it has to come down to trust So on the team there are we each have different responsibilities and frankly I’m the one who kind of plays the flex role I don’t have a software engineering background and much of what we’re doing is software and data science and sort of consumer product development So each of us has to kind of fit in where we should and you know that means ultimately splitting up responsibilities and like you know Andrew for example with the engineering team he’s building a phenomenal engineering team world-class and they’re just executing on the product goals and pushing us further and further towards holistic system level scalability Meanwhile you know others on the team have to continue keeping the hiring pipeline open And so myself I focus on hiring and hitting our you know wherever our current resource constraints are making sure that we’re allocating resources to alleviating those resource constraints and not growing too fast but making sure that we’re maintaining a pace that allows someone to come in absorb the values of the organization and hit the ground running And you know Sam is at the same time making kind of large-scale business development decisions and keeping our meetings going with potential partners and investors and our network and such And you know it could very easily be a situation where all of us as co-founders want to sign off on each decision Right And make sure that we’re all up to speed at all times but really there’s a prevailing sense of trust among us that each of us has to like we are doing this together for a reason we trust each other We believe in each of our ability to make good decisions And so it’s very nice in the sense that we can just Allow some of us to focus on the bigger picture some of us to focus on the iterations that are having to happen each day And then we just stay sinked up on those in a kind of a memo format And because our team is fairly large our founding team we do have the resources to kind of allocate to both the big and smaller chunks
Sean Delaney:: [01:01:41] Trust certainly speeds things up I’m wondering I would love to dive into to hiring to culture how you guys get people based on the values I know this is something you’ve put a tremendous amount of thought into and then also execution So how do you approach that when you guys are looking to bring someone new on where are you even starting there to make sure that they’re aligned with your values and there’ll be a good fit for you
Josh Clemente: [01:02:03] One place to start And I mentioned our angel investing You know kind of cohort that we’ve got we’ve got a lot of strong strategic folks and they’re very many of them are experts in the fields and industries that we’re building inside of So that’s where we start Typically especially if we’re looking for a leadership role we will make and ask directly to our investor group and just say this is what we’re looking for here is you know we will always write a detailed requirements page So we use notion for this but we’ll write a job description and really dig deep on what we’re looking for And then we’ll just say can you introduce us to the two best people that you know in this specific space and many of our investors you know again they may not have direct experience but they will know someone who does and they’ll say look I’m not a designer a UX designer but the best UX designer I’ve ever worked with is this person They’re not looking for a position but they can certainly recommend two of theirs So we like open our network wide open and just get even if these people again aren’t looking for a job we’ll just start to foster conversation And we’re now we know with confidence that we’re talking to a pre-filtered cohort and we will put a job or a type form for people to apply you know inbound interest to apply for the position which we will also filter But again it’s like we definitely start from a position of our network which allows us to conserve resources and focus where the recommendation is highest and where someone has pre-existing experience with them And our approach is very much information overload You know we will share a huge number of documents and we down-select for people who not only put in the time to consume that information but then can reflect it back to us with good kind of questions You know it’s like we would expect that We’re not doing everything right And so if somebody’s looking through our memos that we’ve produced throughout they’re going to identify that and say like there are all these areas that don’t make sense And we expect that And we want to see that in this person it’s like they should be challenging us And that’s how we kind of iterate towards the final candidates And I think really seeing inside the organization has been such a benefit You know these people are seeing probably more information than they’ve ever seen about a company before starting And that really sets the foundation They’re I think intrigued by it And ultimately we’ve had a few people who weren’t working or sorry weren’t looking at the time who ultimately decided to come and join us just I think because of that approach to just transparent starting off from a very open position and letting them get a feel for the problem we’re solving and the team
Sean Delaney: [01:04:53] the two things I love there And I hope every business if they’re not doing it starts doing it And that’s building up that talent pipeline You never know when someone’s going to start looking for that job or who they can connect you with So I love that element But then also being more open up front I mean too many people because they’re not upfront they take this job this career and all of a sudden it’s like wait a second I had no idea This is what it was going to be Like if I was talking to call it someone who’s been recently hired within the last six months what do you think they would say it’s like working at levels
Josh Clemente: [01:05:26] Well I think that’s a good question I hope that they would say that it is like working It is like being given the best job you’ve ever wanted You know I think that and I don’t mean to say that in like some sort of conceited way but I think that what we’re building here Is a job or work environment that I certainly have always wanted which is one where because of the asymmetric or the asynchronous approach that we’re taking you really have the ability to define your approach And you can tackle problems every single day that are incrementally improving the company and you’re seeing very high turnover in your work So you’re you know the app is developing at an unbelievable pace And so each engineer I think is seeing that happening in real time And yet they’re being able to do this from different time zones working at different times of the day in a collaborative environment where they’re I think only having to produce the amount of documentation necessary to explain like the rationale and direct others to you know Be able to pick up the breadcrumb trail if needed And I think that combined with a group of people that I consider just brilliant and engaging and fun and like the way that we’re taking on a problem that has direct ties to so many of us like there are just a huge number of people who have been touched by metabolic dysfunction like in their family whether through diabetes or heart disease or infertility and all of the different ways that it manifests And it’s a fun project to work on because you’re not only doing it in an interesting new remote environment where you can travel and keep up But also you’re taking on a complex and like I think frankly compelling problem space with a new and interesting consumer technology So it’s just like such a huge blend of different things And I hope that’s how someone might answer and certainly how I feel And I don’t want to speak for anyone on the team but I do feel that people are able to get up to speed quite quickly and seem to be reflecting back those feelings
Sean Delaney: [01:07:42] Well I’m sure we both seen when leaders or organizations feel that way about the work A lot of times the people who are with them also feel that way A lot of exciting things happening for you which is the most exciting thing right now that you’re looking forward to or that the future holds for levels
Josh Clemente: [01:08:01] Well I have to say that you know things are pretty unbelievable Just getting to this point is amazing to have such a strong team the wind in our sales so to speak you know with our investment round we’re well capitalized And we have a market that is just outpacing expectations We have over 76,000 people on our wait list right now for this product And that’s something that I certainly did not anticipate But I think even more importantly the product is making meaningful differences in people’s lives every day I mean we get messages constantly from people who have seen dramatic improvements in their metabolic health and in their blood work for other you know non-glucose related symptoms or I should say analytes And so that’s the biggest thing is that I am excited because the goal is manifesting right now and people are improving their lives with our product today And we’re only a year and a half in you know there’s a tremendous amount of work left to be done on a roadmap just for really phase one of the company And I just am super optimistic that we’re going to take a big chunk out of the not only financially but socially costly metabolic dysfunction is ravaging every developing country in the world And it’s exciting to see Progress towards that goal you know I would anticipate it would take much longer and I’m seeing the earliest signs now
Sean Delaney: [01:09:20] I mean I’m getting excited thinking about this I mean the huge problem you and I both love tackling and trying to solve big problems So it’s funny hearing about that two final ones here Josh before we let you get back to the day I know you mentioned not huge in terms of books you love more experience any books that have left an impact for you
Josh Clemente: [01:09:39] Oh yeah You know I like to I love to read books about things I’m passionate about And so two recent ones I have to talk well one very recent one which is extreme ownership by Jocko Willink really reframes the conversation around you know what is in your control and how I think it’s ultimately a lesson on how you can allow your psychology to drive Or you can just easily eliminate all the emotional uncertainty of putting blame or shifting blame around and just take it on yourself And that gives you power It really as long as you always know who’s responsible you can always iteratively improve And that’s a huge benefit I think for many people and certainly for me and I’m going to read that book many times The other book that I just have loved for business recently is No Rules Rules which is about the Netflix story and sort of the culture they’ve built there I highly recommend that And lastly I’m going to throw in out there That’s totally different but it’s The Three Body Problem trilogy by I always mess up his name by Cixin Liu it’s amazing It’s fiction but it’s science fiction and it talks about essentially what the book is about is the solution to the Fermi paradox which is why we have not seen evidence of other life in the universe yet and so that Trilogy totally changed my world
Sean Delaney: [01:11:00] No it’s great Three books three different categories here we recently had on Erin Meyer who wrote with Reed Hastings no rules Rules So if anyone’s interested in that they can dive into that episode Josh final one here though This has been a lot of fun for me I’m walking away with just a ton of notes I can’t wait to go back and listen to this but if you’re going to sit down do this an evening of conversation just getting to ask whatever you wanted with anyone dead or alive just who’s not a family member someone you’d love spending the evening asking questions with who would that be
Josh Clemente: [01:11:28] That’s a great one. Let’s see. I mean, I have to say I really would love to dig in deep with Peter Attia. He is a doctor, a physician, and a former surgeon, engineer. He has got a great podcast but overall I just love the way that he takes a very similar first principles data-driven approach, and I would just like to dig in. I’ve got so many questions, you know, I think he takes a very similar like borderline consumer approach to like getting this information out there and helping people make better choices. And I think he’s by far, the leading thought, the thought leader in the world of real-time bio information for better health. And so right now, top of mind, would love to have that conversation with him.
Sean Delaney: [01:12:15] If that ever
happens I hope that’s public because over the past probably four or five years maybe I’ve spent countless hours listening to Dr Peter Attia, studying his thinking. So yeah, that’s a conversation I would love to have. Josh, anywhere else you want the listener staying connected with you, checking out Levels and maybe turning that wait-list into 80,000?
Josh Clemente: [01:12:35] Definitely. Please go to our website levelshealth.com and I recommend signing up for the waitlist. We distribute our newsletter to that cohort. And we’ll also be introducing, you know, obviously more opportunities to get into the early access program and eventually we’ll be distributing launch information through there. But also check out the blog which is linked from that homepage. And that’s a great opportunity to learn more about metabolism and also how it specifically touches each of us every day. I also recommend following along many of our members, share their stories on Twitter and Instagram at Levels. And I’m also at Josh dot F dot Clemente on Instagram and at Joshua’s forest on Twitter If you want to keep up with my stuff.
Sean Delaney: [01:13:15] Awesome Josh. We’ll have all that linked up in the show notes but once again thanks so much for joining us on What Got You There.
Josh Clemente: [01:13:19] Thanks so much, Sean. This was great.
Sean Delaney: [01:13:23] You guys made it to the end of another episode of What Got You There. I hope you guys enjoyed it. I really do appreciate you taking the time to listen all the way through. If you found value in this, the best way you can support the show is giving us a review, rating it, sharing it with your friends and also sharing on social. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. Looking forward to you guys listening to another episode.