A New Way to Run Companies (w/ Sam Corcos of LevelsHealth)
What gets measured, gets managed. If you don’t understand the consequences of your actions, you can’t make optimal choices for the future. This is true for both startups and tracking your health. In this episode Sam Corcos, Co-founder and CEO of Levels, shared his experience starting a business, broke down how to run a remote team, and explained why taking control of your health can change your life.
03:03 – Don’t do things you don’t want to do
Sam said his philosophy is if he doesn’t want to do something, he doesn’t do it. Don’t be afraid to stop doing things that aren’t bringing you any joy.
I have a personal philosophy of not doing things that I don’t want to do. My decision tree is actually quite simple. It’s, do I want to do it? If yes, then I do it. If no, then I don’t do it. So I have felt that for a lot of people their challenge is a sunk cost problem. I was talking to a friend who, this was like two years ago now, he really wanted to move to New York. He’s like, “Man, I don’t like it here in San Francisco anymore. I need to move to New York.” I said, “Great. Then go.” He’s like, “I can’t, my lease still has six more months on it.” I was like, “But just go. This is a sunk cost. You don’t have to live there just because you have a lease.” And he couldn’t get over that mental hurdle. And he actually stayed in San Francisco until his lease expired. And that mental hurdle, you could sublet it, you can just move on, it’s often too much. I don’t know if there’s like a cognitive dissonance thing in there as well, because you feel like you’ve committed to something so changing that would be challenging.
05:11 – Be comfortable with discomfort
Sam has pushed himself to practice discomfort, which has freed him from a lot of stress and anxiety.
I’ve gone pretty far in challenging myself to practice discomfort, showing up in a foreign country without any plans, just because it was the cheapest fight, just to see what would happen. And it turns out these things often just work themselves out. I actually remember a trip that I went on with a friend of mine to China and as you would expect I’m a pretty experienced traveler, and he had never done one of these big multi-week backpacking trips. And he brought like his entire life with him on this trip. He had to pack for every contingency and I came with like a small backpack. He was like, “Well, what happens if you need bug spray?” It’s like, “They have bug spray in China.” He’s like, “Well, what happens if your clothes get dirty, you need to do laundry.” It’s like, “People do laundry in China.” And most of the time, these things just work out. And over-preparing I think is a tremendous source of anxiety for a lot of people and it’s just not worth it.
11:05 – Don’t hide your feelings
Sam said it’s important for his leadership team to feel like they can be honest and open with one another, that way hidden resentments don’t grow.
One of the commitments that we really try to reinforce in our leadership team is that when you feel a certain way, even if it’s uncomfortable and even if you don’t know what’s causing it, just bring it up and just say, “Hey…” This actually happened recently with me and somebody on the team where I just said, “I don’t really know why, but I’m feeling frustrated with our interactions. They’re leaving me feeling like something is missing and I’m feeling frustrated. So don’t really know what that means or how we solve it or even what’s causing it, but we need to fix this.” When you have people on the team who understand that, it really can lead to a much better outcome.
17:28 – What is company culture?
Sam believes company culture is based on the set of assumptions you can make about a fellow employee before you even meet them: you can trust how they work, communicate, and make decisions.
Something that’s really been crystallizing for me in terms of what does company culture actually mean, I think what it means, company culture is the set of assumptions that you can make about somebody that you work with without having ever interacted with them. What are the agreements that are already in place spoken or otherwise where I know that if I start working on a project with this person, they’re not going to immediately call for a recurring meeting. I know that they’re going to follow up with me in this way. I know that their communication habits will be like this. I know that I can trust their judgment. These are assumptions you can make about people that you work with.
21:20 – Give up control
Sam said that when you allow more things to happen outside of your control, you realize how many people truly have your best interest at heart.
You realize how much more is possible when you’re willing to give up control. I think one of the things that really became clear to me when I started allowing more things to happen, you realize how most people in the world, they really have your best interest at heart. Most people are good, most people can be trusted. I think that especially things like the news, which really focus on these negative events, lead people to believe that the world is a really bad negative place and that most people are out to get you. And it really just isn’t the case. I’ve been fully news sober since 2013, and it was probably the best decision that I’ve made.
29:31 – The possibilities of asynchronous communication
Sam said leaning into an asynchronous work environment allows you to push the limits of what’s possible for your team.
What are the things that are actually possible that you couldn’t have done in a co-located team? And really leaning into that, it enables so much more. It’s like the difference between having a file cabinet where you need to index everything and find it versus a Google search. Those are like graph-type searches are not things you can do in the physical world. But most companies who try remote, they take all of their old practices of how to do things and then they just say like, “Every meeting we were doing, now just do it on Zoom.” And it’s actually worse. Zoom is so crushing in a way that meeting in-person isn’t. If you really lean into what the medium enables, it can be a superpower. The ability to lean into things that can be asynchronous, doing them to the greatest extent possible and things that should be synchronous, just doing them synchronously. And that’s fine, but really trying to push the limits of what’s possible.
36:06 – Content solves a lot of problems
Sam said every Zoom call can be a piece of content if you record it, and the more content you have, the easier it is to build your brand.
One of the things that I reinforce is that content solves a lot of problems, a lot more than people realize. One of the biggest differences that remote enables that being co-located doesn’t, kind of by accident, every Zoom call is a piece of content if you want it to be, every interaction you have with somebody becomes a piece of content. If you just look over and start talking to somebody, that’s not content, that’s just information being transmitted between two people. You have to go out of your way to capture that information, but because of the digital medium, all you have to do is record it and now it’s a piece of content.
40:11 – Understand your customers
Sam said it’s important for founders to know who their customers are and what problems they face so that you can understand the market.
Something that I advise early-stage founders on is to really make sure that you understand your customers and to understand the problems that they face. I found that one of the most common failure modes is being really obsessed with a feature or a product and not really understanding who your customers are and what problem you’re solving for them. So I would say if you didn’t have capital, the best thing you can do is just talk to people, talk to your customers, really validate willingness to pay, make sure you understand the market. To draw an arbitrary number, I’d say that 99% of the time, you can do this without any engineering resourcing at all.
43:35 – Don’t overbook yourself
Sam said you need to be careful not to overbook yourself, and it’s better to have extra free time in your schedule than to start falling behind.
The thing to watch out for when you proactively budget time is you need to be mindful of overbooking yourself. I would say a good target is to only have 50% of your capacity defined because things will come up. It’s inevitable. It will always happen. And it’s way easier if you have extra capacity, pull something in from tomorrow and work on it now, rather than this like cascading problem that happens where you book yourself super tight and then something got bumped because something came up and now you’re like three weeks behind because you missed a couple of hours one day because everything just cascades into this huge problem. I think that almost everybody that I work with on this stuff, they think they can do a lot more than they can.
49:30 – The problem with processed food
Sam said people eat more sugar now than they ever have in history, and the high amount of sugar in our diet is increasing the rate of metabolic dysfunction.
We eat so much more sugar now than we ever have. And processed foods have the same problem. They contribute to things like non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Something like 45% of the United States now has fatty liver disease or fat in their liver than they didn’t before. When we say metabolic health crisis, it’s hard to explain in many ways that not only is the rate of metabolic dysfunction increasing, the rate of increase is increasing. The second derivative is positive. If you think it’s bad now, just wait a couple of years and it’s going to be massively worse. If you look at the curve, it’s really, really disturbing. These things take a long time to really develop. These are chronic illnesses that take a long time to really fester. But fortunately, most of them are largely reversible. So hopefully over time, we can not only prevent people from transitioning into these states, but just continue to help people be healthier.
Sam Corcos (00:00):
Most companies who try remote, they take all of their old practices of how to do things and then they just say like, “Every meeting we were doing, now, just do it on Zoom.” And it’s actually worse. Zoom is so crushing in a way that meeting in-person isn’t.
Noah Kagan (00:19):
What is up you beautiful bastards? It is your boy, Pickleball, AKA [inaudible 00:00:23], AKA Noah Kagan. In today’s episode, I talk to Sam Corcos. He is the co-founder of Levels Health. That’s levelshealth.com. Now, Levels Health is a glucose monitor. So you stick it in your arm, which I did and then you could see how, when you eat things, how it actually affects your blood sugar Levels, and then you could make changes based on that. It was pretty interesting data that I tried it, as well, Sam runs this company a little bit differently. If you’ve ever want to learn about how to run a remote team and pushing your comfort zone, I think you’re going to enjoy this episode.
Noah Kagan (00:49):
Here’s three gigantic things you’re going to take away. Number one, what Sam learned about discomfort by laying down on the streets in public. Please don’t do that while you listen to this podcast. Number two, how to avoid co-founder resentment. And number three, you had to actually build company culture. Enjoy those three things, plus a bunch more ear nuggets along the way. Before we drop him in the show, go check out appsumo.com. That’s it. If you’re interested in buying or selling software to start grow your online business, appsumo.com. Also, a special pre-show shout out to listener Danny Lehr from Caffeine and Kilos. I love this dude.
Noah Kagan (01:17):
He left review saying, “Fantastic show if you like honesty and actionable tips. Listening is like having an old friend who’s grown multiple businesses to millions of dollars mentor you.” Damn, man. I really appreciate seeing your name and I hope you’re doing well with your family and life. And thank you, Danny, for your feedback and every other one of gorgeous listeners for listening to the show. If you want to shout out in a future episode, leave a review wherever you listen to the show, I check every single one of them. Taking a step back, Sam was telling us that he’s in Austin, checking it out, looking in the next two to five years to potentially move here. And I was curious how he normally makes decisions and likes to think through them.
Sam Corcos (01:50):
I don’t normally plan more than a few weeks out. Sometimes I’ll have things in my calendar, but one of the joys of not having a lot of stuff and not having a permanent location is that it’s pretty easy to just bounce around. I’m in Austin right now, a big part of it is meeting up with a team. We have a couple of people in Austin that I haven’t met before. I think I still haven’t met close to half the team in-person yet. So I’m probably going to spend a good chunk of the next year or two in New York, just because I really like New York. People have told me that I’m a digital nomad, but I don’t think of myself as one. It’s more like I go where I want to go and I stay there for as long as I want to stay there. And I guess the outcome of me bouncing around so much means that I am one of these things.
Noah Kagan (02:36):
Well, I guess how do you normally make decisions? I was in therapy this morning, all my therapist doesn’t shit talk on me. Then I give him money and it’s just like, “Wow.” It’s like a weird Jewish neuroticism. He was just reflecting back that I’m having commitment issues. And I think it’s either committing to doing nothing or committing to doing everything. And so I guess I was just thinking through yourself, how do you commit to like, “I’m going to be in New York for this time period. I’m going to explore Austin.” How do you make these commitments or figure that out?
Sam Corcos (03:02):
A lot of it is I have a personal philosophy of not doing things that I don’t want to do. My decision tree is actually quite simple. It’s, do I want to do it? If yes, then I do it. If no, then I don’t do it. So I have felt that for a lot of people their challenge is like a sunk cost problem. I was talking to a friend who, this was like two years ago now, he really wanted to move to New York. He’s like, “Man, I don’t like it here in San Francisco anymore. I need to move to New York.” I said, “Great. Then go.” He’s like, “I can’t, my lease is still has six more months on it.” I was like, “but just go. This is a sunk cost. You don’t have to live there just because you have a lease.” And he couldn’t get over that mental hurdle.
Sam Corcos (03:46):
And he actually stayed in San Francisco until his lease expired. And that mental hurdle, you could sublet it, you can just move on, it’s often too much. I don’t know if there’s like a cognitive dissonance thing in there as well, because you feel like you’ve committed to something so changing that would be challenging. But a lot of it is also, I don’t have a lot of stuff, so the friction of moving… The difference between me staying over at a friend’s house and moving in, I’m currently at Justin Mayors’ house, which I think you probably know, and he has a beautiful house here. Literally all of the stuff that I own is currently in this house. So, have I moved in? Well, I don’t know. It’s an arbitrary distinction.
Noah Kagan (04:30):
You could always take some of Justin stuff, I guess, too.
Sam Corcos (04:33):
Noah Kagan (04:35):
I guess where I’m curious, what it sounds like to me is, what areas of your life currently are you uncertain?
Sam Corcos (04:39):
There are certain things that I’m just very comfortable being uncertain in. This might be a way of avoiding the question, but there’s some certainty in the uncertainty of, I don’t know where I will be two weeks from now. I know I’m going to Park City, and then from Park City, I know I’m going to Sacramento or to San Francisco, and then Sacramento for a few days. Then after that, I don’t actually know. I don’t have anything booked. So I’m highly confident that I will know by the time it happens, that I will be somewhere and that it’ll happen. I don’t really get stressed about these things. I’ve gone pretty far in challenging myself to practice discomfort, showing up in a foreign country without any plans, just because it was the cheapest fight just to see what would happen. And it turns up these things often just work themselves out.
Sam Corcos (05:26):
I actually remember a trip that I went on with a friend of mine to China and as you would expect, a pretty experienced traveler, and he had never done one of these big multi-week backpacking trips. And he brought like his entire life with him on this trip. He had to pack for every contingency and I came with like a small backpack. He was like, “Well, what happens if you need bug spray?” It’s like, “They have bug spray in China.” He’s like, “Well, what happens if your clothes get dirty, you need to do laundry.” It’s like, “People do laundry in China.” And most of the time, these things just work out and over preparing I think is a tremendous source of anxiety for a lot of people and it’s just not worth it.
Noah Kagan (06:05):
Yeah. I’ve been reflecting the past six months about all these things I’m afraid of, like going on a trip, I didn’t want to do it, some of these other experiences. And then when I finally did it, I went on this trip, I didn’t want to knock on doors, it’s a video we put recently. I really didn’t want to do it. And then I did it and I was like, “Why’d you make such a big deal about it?” Why did I make so much anxiety and stress that was unnecessary. It didn’t really help as much. Are there discomforts in things that you did? Because I think if I was someone listening, I would think, “Well, he’s an executive, he has some money. It’s easy for him to do this.” So I’m curious to people that maybe have day jobs or other things, how they can put them themselves in places of discomfort.
Sam Corcos (06:39):
The short answer is that it’s really hard to do it. There’s a famous TED Talk. This was something I discovered actually fairly recently, but a guy, he wanted to practice being rejected. And this is a TED Talk. He did like 100 days of rejection, I think, is what it was called, where every day he wanted to get rejected for something. And he would do random things like go to Domino’s Pizza and say, “Hey, can I deliver pizzas for you?” And they would say, “No, you don’t work here. You can’t deliver pizza.” He’s like, “Can I please, I’ve always wanted to deliver pizza.” Like, “No.” And he said that the first time he did it, he got rejected for something and he said it was like, “It was really uncomfortable.” And he actually ran out of the building. It was so uncomfortable for him.
Sam Corcos (07:24):
And then at certain point he just got used to it. I took a year off work before Levels and spent a lot of time really thinking about how I wanted to spend my time and just reading a lot and practicing some of these things. One of the things that I really tried to work on, as simple as it may sound, it was pretty enlightening for me, it was just spending time learning how to recognize my own emotional state, which is something that you think is just a thing that everyone knows how to do, it’s really not. And one of the exercises was to go somewhere very public. At the time I was in New York and I went to Union Square and I just laid down on the ground, just in public.
Sam Corcos (08:06):
And if people come up to you and say, “Are you okay?” Just say, “Yep, I’m just lying down.” And what was so interesting was how within like five seconds, every fiber of my body was saying like, “What are you doing? Stand up. You can’t be lying down in public. What are you doing? This is crazy.” And it was just recognizing that feeling of, “This is arbitrary discomfort. If I was lying down at home, I wouldn’t feel this way.” There’s this weird ego thing where you assume everyone’s looking at you and people are judging you. Actually, nobody cares people. People really are not going to come up to you, nobody’s paying attention to you, nobody cares. And it was just that recognition.
Sam Corcos (08:46):
And it’s actually been really helpful because there were times in my life when I feel that same feeling and now I can recognize it as like, “Oh, this that feeling I get when I’m afraid of doing something for absolutely no reason, for something that’s just in my own head.” That year off was probably the most productive time that I spent, I think, really helped a lot in many work related contexts as well that I would not have predicted.
Noah Kagan (09:11):
What did you do in that year? And then what did you discover about yourself?
Sam Corcos (09:14):
I did a lot. I did a lot of reading. One of the things that I discovered was how the previous company CarDash, it was eventually acquired, but it wasn’t like a venture outcome. I recognized that a lot of the problems that we had been experiencing in the leadership team were actually my fault and I hadn’t realized it. One of the biggest one was co-founder resentments. I had let these things bubble up just slowly, quietly, building resentments for things that were happening. My co-founder and I, we thought of each other as having this very open mind of communication, very honest, like open people, but only after the fact, after I left the company, did I realize how I was holding onto these resentments and I didn’t actually have the language to be able to talk to him about them, and I probably should have earlier.
Sam Corcos (10:08):
And it’s been really helpful because even at Levels, I noticed myself feeling the same thing with Josh, my co-founder at Levels, and we just had a very direct conversation, just, “Hey, I’m not really sure where this is coming from, but I just want you to know this is how I’m feeling. We need to solve this.” And Josh, he’s a very mature person and we were able to have that conversation and we worked through it. It was a very tense week, but we worked through it. We actually did a podcast on it, on Founder Dynamics. That was a really interesting one.
Noah Kagan (10:40):
Yeah. Sometimes I lay in bed, well, every night I lay in bed, and I try to ask myself before I distract myself with a book. I’m like, “how are you feeling, Noah?” I really appreciated you reminding me of that, because it’s more often if I can do that, I can notice, think why am I not feeling great, instead of just like distracting it or masking it with some other form of entertainment or distraction.
Sam Corcos (11:04):
This is one of the commitments that we really try to reinforce in our leadership team is that when you feel a certain way, even if it’s uncomfortable and even if you don’t know what’s causing it, just bring it up and just say, “Hey..” This actually happened recently with me and somebody on the team where I just said, “I don’t really know why, but I’m feeling frustrated with our interactions. They’re leaving me feeling like something is missing and I’m feeling frustrated. So don’t really know what that means or how we solve it or even what’s causing it, but we need to fix this.” When you have people on the team who understand that, it really can lead to a much better outcome.
Noah Kagan (11:42):
What happened with that?
Sam Corcos (11:43):
We just had a really good conversation and we agreed that in the moment when I feel that way, I’m going to just flag it immediately and say, “This communication left me feeling frustrated.” and then we can try to diagnose it. And sometimes I’ll give example of, “I had almost this exact conversation with somebody else on the team and I didn’t feel that way. And I think it might be because of these three things.” And then we just incrementally improve it. If you’re able to assume good faith and if they know that I’m not here trying to trick people, I really just want to be able to communicate effectively, it generally leads to just continual improvement on these things.
Noah Kagan (12:21):
Now, I was thinking about the frustration and that open communication with others, not even just business, but in all context, we have this thing at AppSumo in our leadership, which is like, what are the things that we’re not saying? And we just say that. And then sometimes people say something, I’m like, “Oh day, man, really? ” But it’s great. It’s like the stuff that you don’t have to go home and talk to your significant other about, or it’s then you can actually make change. Jumping into Levels, I’ve read a lot of your stuff and I think you’re doing things very differently. So I’d love to hear your vision for Level, and then maybe talk about some of the different ways you’re running this company, I think different than a lot of other ones.
Sam Corcos (12:55):
Yeah. We’ve been fully remote since day one, since before COVID was a thing. I think company cultures are often a reflection of the personality of the founders. It’s definitely true in this case. I really value deep focused work time more than just about anything else and Levels in many ways is an experiment in what happens with the company when you just crank that up to 11. I think our engineers average two meetings per week, and both of those meetings are optional. It’s very possible for an engineer to go a pretty extended period of time without a synchronous meeting. There are trade offs to all of these things, but it is really the work culture that I wish I had when I was an engineer.
Sam Corcos (13:40):
It’s the ability to just focus on coding, not be stuck with all this like JIRA overhead, to not be stuck and sitting in meetings you don’t need to be in, things where you could just say, “And I wish I could watch this on Friday at 2X speed instead of cutting my entire day in half and not being able to do anything productive for the entire day.” One of the things that I emphasize a lot within the team is that for non-technical people often find it hard to understand how an 11 o’clock meeting and a three o’clock meeting. If you have two 30 minute meetings as an engineer, you’re productivity is down by 90% for the whole day. It’s not a one hour distraction, it’s an entire day that gets lost just from those two meetings.
Sam Corcos (14:23):
And so really making sure that our culture is built around the engineering team because I think a software companies in particular, the primary constraint of progress is engineering. You need a product engineering time, it’s a precious gem.
Noah Kagan (14:39):
Yeah. I was literally, I was writing that down to like message a few of the engineers on our team, How many meetings? Not just how many, how long are these meetings? I also think the last time we talked, you said all meetings are optional at the company?
Sam Corcos (14:51):
Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative). It’s pretty easy to do because we also record all meetings by default. So not all meetings are necessarily distributed, but most of them are. Our product team meets when necessary. They’ll meet for a synchronous check-in meeting on some of the things that are blocked on product. In this case, it was four people, it’s a big meeting for us as four people, and it was recorded and it was distributed so that if other people want to see what was decided in the product sync, they can watch it. It’s much, much easier to follow along on things in recorded video, especially as an engineer because it still takes the same amount of time, but if we’re being generous to synchronous time, you really need to index it up at least twice as expensive as async time.
Sam Corcos (15:36):
So the difference between having a one-hour meeting where you have to block off time in your schedule and watching a recording, whenever it’s convenient for you, maybe when you’re going on a walk or whatever, it’s at least twice as expensive, probably much more than that. Whenever possible, we do everything asynchronously, and then there are times when we really do need synchronous communication. Our team is willing to experiment with these things. So we’ve really pushed asynchronicity to its limits, and we’ve found some of those limits. One of the things that seems to be pretty clear is that written communication alone or asynchronous communication alone, doesn’t give the same sense of finality to decisions.
Sam Corcos (16:17):
For some of the decisions we’ve made regarding hires, we would write out a long list of all the reasons why we’re going to hire somebody and we publish it in threads or communication platform. And then we would still get questions, like, why did we hire this person? And it was weird because it’s all available and those people even read it. And we started doing something where the people who were responsible for decisions just do a call that we record where they basically go over the same information and everyone who watches that has no more questions and they understand it, even though it’s the same content, it’s like for some messages, the medium really does matter a lot.
Sam Corcos (16:54):
It’s less to do with the content itself and it’s a lot more to do with the delivery. So we’re really trying to push that boundary as much as we can and figure out where those edge cases are and just be very specific and intentional about them.
Noah Kagan (17:06):
I guess, taking a step back here and we can talk about the vision and the product itself, do you have a philosophy or like a culture guidelines that help make a lot of these decisions? So for example, at AppSumo, we have test and invests. That’s a one thing we’ve always done, which is like, we never go hard on something until we’ve at least done some form of a test. And so I guess I’m curious, what’s the stuff that helps direct a lot of these decisions?
Sam Corcos (17:26):
Probably the top one is to treat people like adults. Something that’s really been crystallizing for me in terms of what does company culture actually mean, I think what it means, company culture is the set of assumptions that you can make about somebody that you work with without having ever interacted with them. What are the agreements that are already in place spoken or otherwise where I know that if I start working on a project with this person, they’re not going to immediately call for a recurring meeting. I know that they’re going to follow up with me in this way. I know that their communication habits will be like this. I know that I can trust their judgment.
Sam Corcos (18:03):
These are assumptions you can make about people that you work with. So in the treat people like adults context, we will often ask ourselves when we’re considering some way of approaching a problem, how would an adult handle this situation? And I found that a lot of companies, they build their culture around the lowest common denominator of the worst company. It’s like, “Well, what if you have somebody who acts this way?” It’s like, “Wow, then we need to have all these extra rules because what if somebody does this thing?” It’s like, “Well, we need to add more rules for that.” And our philosophy is like, “What if somebody does this?” The answer is don’t have them at the company.
Sam Corcos (18:41):
Only have people whose judgment that you trust, who operate in good faith, who are aligned with the culture. It’s a short answer. Once you can make assumptions about everyone that you work with and you can assume certain things, a lot of these rules just aren’t as relevant. Netflix culture talks a lot about this. One of the philosophy is around no rules rules, which is if you have a team of people who have good judgment, you don’t need to create all of these special exemptions for people with bad judgment, you just reinforce what good judgment means and hire those people.
Noah Kagan (19:13):
It’s so awesome to be around impressive people. I saw this guy on Twitter today, Growth Student, or I saw him last week and I emailed him and I messaged him and I was like, “Yo, man, I really like your stuff. Do you want to maybe work together? Can you send me an example of something you’d want to do.” He sends me an example today and I was just like, “Wow.” It’s just like [inaudible 00:19:30] I dig that. One thing that, this is a little bit left field, but still in the same vein, when’s last time you were out of control?
Sam Corcos (19:36):
Control is something that’s been hard for me to relinquish just in general in my life. It’s something that I’ve been practicing. Levels is actually, it’s the first time I’ve really been able to let go of a lot of things within the company. We’ve hired really a very senior team, much more so than companies, I think in general, at our stage. And just being able to let go of very important relationships or major functional areas within the company and just being confident that they’re handled. In terms of personal control, I’ll have to decide if I want to go down the path, but I would probably say psychedelics, the last time would’ve been with [inaudible 00:20:15] of… being able to let go and really lean into the experience was quite hard for me.
Sam Corcos (20:22):
It took a lot of effort and practice to be able to let go from my current surroundings and really experience what was happening. It took a lot of effort to be able to do that. But I think when you can trust your surroundings and the people that you work with, it really enables a lot more.
Noah Kagan (20:39):
Yeah. I like what you were talking about earlier, getting comfortable with discomfort, laying down, or realizing it’s discomfort and being a little bit more okay with that and embracing it. Because a lot of what you’ve put out there, like the article on first round and Levels itself is tracking everything. It’s control over everything and optimizing everything. I’m reading Will Smith’s biography and he has a section now where he is making so much money, he’s doing so awesome, he is getting everything he wants, but he is still not satisfied. And I definitely, I feel like that at times too. That’s why I was wondering for you on the other side of control is, I don’t know, I guess spontaneity potentially?
Sam Corcos (21:14):
There’s a book, The Surrender Experiment, I don’t know if you’ve read that one.
Noah Kagan (21:18):
And I love it.
Sam Corcos (21:18):
Yeah. I think some of it is you realize how much more is possible when you’re willing to give up control. I think one of the things that really became clear to me when I started allowing more things to happen, you realize how most people in the world, they really have your best interest at heart. Most people are good, most people can be trusted. I think that especially things like the news, which really focus on these negative events, lead people to believe that the world is a really bad negative place and that most people are out to get you. And it really just isn’t the case. I’ve been fully news sober since 2013, and it was probably the best decision that I’ve made.
Noah Kagan (22:02):
I’m going to come back, though, how do you distract yourself? What do you do on the toilet?
Sam Corcos (22:07):
I don’t know if I do.
Noah Kagan (22:08):
What do you mean? It’s like late night, you’ve done all your work, you’re optimized.
Sam Corcos (22:12):
Somebody asked me the other day, what is my superpower? I felt like the answer was just stamina, which is, I don’t really get tired. I really like what I do. When I was doing programming, I would just do it until I fell asleep because I liked it more than anything else I could be doing and I didn’t really get tired doing it. It’s like how extroverts get energy from being around people, I just got energy from doing all of these things that I really like doing. I’m recharged by writing long form strategy documents, by thinking deeply about the future of remote work and company operations. Those are the things that I really enjoy doing. So maybe that makes me a strange person.
Noah Kagan (22:58):
Yeah, definitely. If you’re on the internet, in some capacity, you’re definitely a weirdo, myself definitely included. I guess that I was thinking, and we’re going to come back to Levels and company examples because I think you have a lot to meat on that bone there and it’s really fascinating. Plus I’ve used the product, so I want to talk about that. Who do you think you’re going to marry? Do you believe in marriage actually? Because I can even see you and be like, no.
Sam Corcos (23:18):
Yeah. I think who, that’s a difficult question. Hopefully the person that I’m currently dating. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be dating. This is maybe intellectualizing it a little bit, but I think that there’s a perfectly valid argument that I know from some of my libertarian friends on why marriage is an antiquated institution and all the reasons not to do it, but I’m also somewhat partial to the [Burkian 00:23:44] argument of, this is an institution that has existed forever and there’s probably a reason for it. Maybe if we don’t fully understand it and that doing away with it is probably not a good idea. I tend to be a believer that long standing institutions that have been around for thousands of years probably have knock-on effects that we don’t fully understand.
Sam Corcos (24:06):
I am, I guess the term is pronatalist. My hope is to have a lot of kids, but it’s up to higher powers to decide that, it’s not always in my control.
Noah Kagan (24:17):
Well, I hope you have a lot of kids, man. I was literally, I was thinking it, I was like, “Whoever you marry, I want more kids from this guy because they’re probably going to invent some crazy shit out there.” I can see you doing it and then multiply you by a lot, I would invest in that. Can we invest in your business?
Sam Corcos (24:35):
Maybe.? I don’t know. That’s a new startup idea.
Noah Kagan (24:37):
That’s not a bad idea. Well, and for context for the listeners that are out there, a lot of, it seems how you live your life is very, I would call it regimen where it’s like, the days are scripted, this hour, you’re on time, you finish it on time and then you go and do more work. I’m curious, what kind of partner balances that or compliments that, does she work more than you?
Sam Corcos (24:57):
Yeah, I’m not sure regiment is actually a good word for it. I would say probably intentional is a better word for it. If you look at a lot of my days, there are weeks where every 30 minute increment for the entire week is occupied, and there are others like next week, I have nothing on my calendar for the entire week. I just blocked it all off. I take, I think, week, once a quarter where I just don’t do anything. And I usually end up doing a lot of writing, but sometimes I just read, sometimes I just go on long walk and think about stuff, but it’s not regimented, it’s completely open ended. A lot of days, I’ll just block off multiple days in a row to just not have anything and just think about stuff.
Sam Corcos (25:38):
I think regimented would imply routine. I think of regiment and I think of my friend, Todd, he was in special forces and he wakes up exactly at 4:00 AM every day, works out. He has a routine that he follows every day. I think of that as regimented, and I don’t have routine as much as I have, I try to be intentional about how I spend my time.
Noah Kagan (26:00):
Do you work backwards from goals? What’s the system here around these?
Sam Corcos (26:04):
Yeah. Every once in a while, I think about what I like doing and what I want to be spending my time on, and then every so often I’ll audit my time. I keep track of basically every 15 minute increment of how I spend my time. And this is all kept up to date by an EA in the background on a spreadsheet. Every once in a while, I’ll take a peek and see if what I’m doing is aligned with my goals. And sometimes I’ll discover, I didn’t realize that I was spending this many hours on just team stuff, on one-on-ones. And then I’ll send messages to everyone on the team, “I’m switching my one-on-one cadence to monthly so that I can spend more time on strategy.”
Sam Corcos (26:44):
Other times it’s just thinking about what I like doing and what I want to be doing. This happened I think two weeks ago, I was looking ahead on my calendar, realized how much of my time was spent doing a particular activity which was related to recruiting that I didn’t really like doing, and I just said, “Hey team, I know I said I was going to do this, but I actually don’t want to. So let’s figure out somebody else to do it, or we can just consider it dropped.” And somebody else had capacity and they took it on. And that was fine. But in general, one of the reasons why I’m able to spend so much time on all this work stuff is that I try to avoid doing things that will lead me to burnout.
Sam Corcos (27:24):
And I think the burnout zone is you’re working a lot of hours and you’re working on things that you don’t like. That’s really what pushes people over the edge. So I try to avoid that as much as possible.
Noah Kagan (27:34):
Coming back into Levels, the company is very no meetings, very public, you publish a lot of your things. I’m assuming a lot of the other people there, I guess, are intentional like you, what are the downsides to running the company this way? And the reason I ask that is that at AppSumo, I would say, we do try to treat people like adults, we do have our culture behaviors, but I would say we’re a very meeting centric company. And I think what’s interesting that I noticed though, is that in December we experimented with like completely asynchronously, at least around leadership team and I hated it.
Noah Kagan (28:07):
I actually was surprised how much I felt like I didn’t know what’s going on. And this is also on me when I would get a report about things going on, I’d have other things going on, so I wouldn’t go check on the asynchronous information, it forced it to happen. It’s like, “Hey, you’re going to go over it.” But what was interesting and I think we’re all growing, that’s why I find it fascinating to talk with you and share your stories. What I found though, was some of these meetings just felt like status updates, it’s like, “Hey, I’m just recording to you.” And it’s like, they don’t need that. I like it, but it’s not as efficient. Maybe recording it and sending it could actually be the way.
Noah Kagan (28:38):
But I will say we did some meetings that are more directed like, “This meeting is going to be focused on just figuring out head count for 2022.” And when we did that, I actually found that to be like, “I wish I had more of those meetings.” Or maybe creating more meetings that are more directed.
Sam Corcos (28:52):
A framing of that I think is useful is, this is something that Matt Mullenweg mentioned, founder of Automattic and WordPress. You mentioned this on a podcast a while back. They’re one of the OGs of remote companies. And he said that in many ways, remote work is in the same state that radio was in the early 1900s. And when radio first became a thing, everyone just said, “All right, let’s read theater plays out loud, but on the radio.” It didn’t really take advantage of the medium or make good use of it. It wasn’t until people figured out, what is actually possible now? Sort of like with the internet, what are the things that are actually possible that you couldn’t have done in a co-located team? And really leaning into that, it enables so much more.
Sam Corcos (29:40):
It’s like the difference between having a file cabinet where you need to index everything and find it versus a Google search. Those are like graph type searches are not things you can do in the physical world. But most companies who try remote, they take all of their old practices of how to do things and then they just say like, “Every meeting we were doing, now, just do it on Zoom.” And it’s actually worse. Zoom is so crushing in a way that meeting in-person isn’t. If you really lean into what the medium enables, it can be a super power. The ability to lean into things that can be asynchronous, doing them to the greatest extent possible and things that should be synchronous, just doing them synchronously. And that’s fine, but really trying to push the limits of what’s possible.
Sam Corcos (30:26):
One of the things I like about the people that we have on the team now, because people are so bought into this idea, we do a lot of experimentation. In fact, in our onboarding, we have a full one month onboarding for every new hire, no deliverables for the entire month, just read material, learn about the culture, do onboarding stuff. The entire third week of onboarding at Levels, you’re only able to communicate with people through asynchronous video and audio. So no writing at all. And it’s weird. It’s super uncomfortable, like somebody sends you a message and you have to like record a voice memo and send it to them in response. And somebody sends you a note and then you have to record a video of yourself responding to it.
Sam Corcos (31:07):
And it’s really uncomfortable because it’s not something people are used to. And usually what happens is there’s this assumption that the quality bar needs to be high because it’s video. And so oftentimes, the first couple days people will take like four or five, six different takes to give the response. And then a certain point, you realize that pretty much everyone just does it in one take, and the quality bar doesn’t need to actually be that high. And if you stumble or if you have filler words and you have long pauses while you’re thinking about something, that’s fine. That’s actually what happens in a regular meeting. You don’t always have the continued flow of conversation. So we’ve really been trying to lean into what is possible because of remote. And so it’s been a lot of our experiments
Noah Kagan (31:50):
To give light on what you’re doing, we’re trying to work on AppSumo, I’m doing recruiting through Twitter. I’ve actually found Twitter to, and I don’t like people being followers, but you can use that read my tweets, look through them and actually find really impressive women and men. And so I was setting up a meeting to show how I do it to the recruiting team. And then I was just like, “Why don’t I just record it and then they can do it whenever the F they want.” But I do think that you’re right, it’s not circle to square, there’s different ways of thinking about this modern work force.
Noah Kagan (32:24):
You got me rethinking our leadership meeting, it’s like, “Everyone, check in on your numbers.” But what’s the real thing we need to do there that we need everyone in a real time chat, a real time conversation?
Sam Corcos (32:34):
We have, it’s not a hard rule, but as a general rule, we try not to have meetings with more than three people ever. It’s extremely rare to have more than three people at a meeting.
Noah Kagan (32:44):
So how do you do your leadership meetings with all the different team leads?
Sam Corcos (32:47):
We do a weekly team all hands, which is optional. In fact, I may have sent you one of them.
Noah Kagan (32:52):
Sam Corcos (32:52):
But you still notice that a lot of the presentations in the team all-hands are synchronous. So there’s like recordings within the recording. So like Tom’s our head of partnerships. If he doesn’t want to come to the meeting, he can just record a Loom of himself doing his presentation and then send it in and then it just gets played on the video, it gets played in the presentation. And then maybe I wasn’t even there, I’m basically watching a recording of Tom on the recording of the all-hands. And so it’s like many layers of asynchronicity and about half the team shows up live, which is great, and it’s totally optional. You can go or not, if it fits your schedule, I go to about half of them.
Sam Corcos (33:32):
It’s one of those things where there are a lot of assumptions around how these things need to work. And almost every time we’ve tried an experiment of, what if we did this asynchronously for a month? Let’s just try it and see what happens. And we do it and then almost every time we discover that people like it a lot better because it’s not nearly as intrusive on their schedule. There are a lot of assumptions that people make related to the like interpersonal dynamic that comes from these meetings. And I think that that’s fair, but if you can separate out the interpersonal building, like trust building with people from the status updates, you actually get a lot more intentional time with those people, and it’s a much, much better use of that synchronous time together.
Noah Kagan (34:16):
One thing that you said I thought was really interesting is just framing it as an experiment. Like, “Hey, we are experimenting. It’s not forever. And if it sucks, we’ll fix it. If we don’t like it, we’ll go back. If it’s better, we’ll keep it.” And I think that’s almost a healthy culture to be encouraging. Last time we talked, I wrote it down, all meetings are optional. And then I went to our team all-hands and I was like, “Ugh.” But I like it. You don’t want to come, it’s not helpful for you, don’t come. Any experiments you think every company that has some remote or not remote should be doing?
Sam Corcos (34:41):
One of the things that we do is all meetings are recorded by default. It’s actually just a Zoom setting that you can just change at the top level of the organization. Every meeting within Levels is recorded to the cloud just by default. People can turn it off if they want, but this is like the nudge of just default behavior. By default, it’s recorded. Most conversations, probably 99% of them stay recorded. We don’t necessarily distribute them. A lot of our one-on-ones are recorded, but they just stay in the ether and we don’t really use them. Every once in a while, something really interesting will come from one of these one-on-ones that you just wish you could…
Sam Corcos (35:22):
I’m sure you’ve had these moment, you’re like, “Oh man, I need to write that down. That would’ve been so great if I could share that with everyone else on the team, but alas, we didn’t record it.” Well, now everything is recorded. So there was one where Miles on our team was talking about how to think about big deals with major companies and mergers and acquisitions. And that was in a one-on-one that you have with somebody else on the team that other person said, “That was such an interesting conversation. I’m going to clip this and share it with the rest of the team.” And we all learned a ton from it. And there’s so many of these things where some of these ended up being content pieces that have been viewed by, I posted them externally, they have been viewed by thousands of people.
Sam Corcos (35:58):
Just interesting nuggets of information that would ordinarily just disappear, you now have it in the form of content. So one of the things that I reinforce is that content solves a lot of problems, a lot more than people realize. One of the biggest differences that remote enables that being co-located doesn’t, kind of by accident, every Zoom call is a piece of content if you want it to be, every interaction you have with somebody becomes a piece of content. If you just look over and start talking to somebody, that’s not content, that’s just information being transmitted between two people. You have to go out of your way to capture that information, but because of the digital medium, all you have to do is record it and now it’s a piece of content.
Sam Corcos (36:43):
So you may have seen our company podcast is it’s intended for internal use, a lot of the episodes are just conversations like Mike Haney, our editorial director, my co-founder Josh and I had a long conversation about what do we really mean when we say treat people like adults. That was an internal conversation of just us thinking through this concept and it was recorded and we thought, “Wow, that was actually pretty interesting. Maybe let’s turn that into a podcast so the rest of the team can see it. And anyone else in the world can also see it.” So every one of those meetings, it just inherently becomes content that you can repurpose for other use cases.
Noah Kagan (37:20):
Anything that’s backfired or downsides to all this default open, default record, asynchronous, everything as much as possible?
Sam Corcos (37:28):
There are downsides. I think that with all of these things, you have to know what the trade offs are. I think too many people when they’re thinking about this stuff, they dramatically over index on the negatives. It feels to me like the default assumption is if you are going to do something that is different from how most people do it, it can’t have any downsides. If there’s any possible downside, you just shouldn’t do it and you should just do it the same way that everyone else does it. I can give you a specific downside. When we were raising our seed round about a year ago, we had all this stuff default open. All of our investor updates are public.
Sam Corcos (38:03):
And we had one potential investor who basically accused us of negligence. He was like, “This is negligent sharing this much information to me before you sent me an NDA.” And some people who maybe our first time founders would probably freak out when they hear that. And what I hear is, “It sounds like you’re not a fit, we should probably end it here and we should never work together. So have a nice day.” So some of the downsides are, I bet that there are a lot of people who are very talented who would be super uncomfortable with the degree of openness that we have as a culture. We haven’t gone as far. Some companies base camp is a good example of a company, their flag in the ground is everybody’s compensation data is public knowledge. They just have a spreadsheet that’s public, and you can see how much every person makes the company.
Sam Corcos (38:54):
And we decided not to do that, but I can guarantee you, that is a good filter for the type of culture that they’re building. If you’re the kind of person who is open to having your compensation data made public, you’re probably somebody who’s on board with a lot of the other transparency things that they do. We’ve had conversations about this and we decided that’s not as far as we’re willing to go on the transparency thing, there are reasons why people wouldn’t want that information public and that’s fine. You make these trade offs and you decide where that line is for you.
Noah Kagan (39:25):
Let’s talk about some of the Levels stuff, man. For people that don’t know, I wore it. I thought it was really interesting. You put it on your arm, you get it for basically 28 days and you get to observe your glucose levels in the Levels app. What I’m curious about though, and Mitchell and I were talking is, the intent was to help people understand their health. If you understand what you’re eating and how it impacts your life, how would you do this if you were just getting started and you didn’t have a have capital?
Sam Corcos (39:48):
It’s a tricky question. We probably could have. This is actually a conversation that Josh and I had in the early days. Josh, my co-founder, he wanted to bootstrap us. And I found that you could move a lot faster when you have capital, especially when capital is not nearly as hard to come by as it was when I started as an entrepreneur, maybe eight years ago, back when a $500,000 seed round was a big deal. There’s something that I advise early stage founders on is to really make that you understand your customers and to understand the problems that they face. I found that one of the most common failure modes is being really obsessed with a feature or a product and not really understanding who your customers are and what problem you’re solving for them.
Sam Corcos (40:31):
So I would say if you didn’t have capital, the best thing you can do is just talk to people, talk to your customers, really validate willingness to pay, make sure you understand the market. To draw an arbitrary number, I’d say that 99% of the time, you can do this without any engineering resourcing at all. You don’t need an engineer to solve these problems. In fact, at CarDash my last company, I think we were doing $600,000 revenue run rate without a server. The whole thing was on Google Sheets and we just manually ground through customers. And it was like the elbow grease of Will Chavey who was our head of ops, just figuring out how to manual, do all this stuff before we even set up our first server.
Sam Corcos (41:13):
And we could have, I’m an engineer, we could have set it up. We just chose not to because we didn’t want to prematurely optimize our systems. We wanted to make sure we really understood the market before we built the stuff out. I would say some aspect of this is discipline, which is, spend the time doing what you say you will do. This is the thing that most people struggle with. I had one and a half hours today blocked off to do a legal review of one of the projects that we’re doing. And that’s not the most fun thing, and I could have just gotten distracted and did something else, but I was able to stay focused. I had all of my website blockers on, I had everything that just prevented that from happening so that I could really stay focused on it.
Sam Corcos (41:57):
We’ve been doing a YouTube productivity series, which is really intended for internal use, but as with all things, we publish it externally, just people from the team asking me about how I use my calendar. I think that the biggest things, the two things, they’re totally different things. One is retroactive or retrospective categorization of time. So as the day is progressing, adding to your calendar, how you actually spent your time. And that’s one thing, and that has its own value and you can audit your time and you can see if you actually spent it doing what you thought you would.
Sam Corcos (42:31):
So like, I might set myself a goal of, I want 10% of my time to be spent on strategy this week. I actually have my EA, LJ goes through my calendar and she categorizes all of us just on a spreadsheet. It’s very simple. She just goes through every day and just categorizes these and over time… I’ve actually, another interesting tidbit, I have five EAs that I work with now. I’ve been working with them for many months now. I have never spoken to one synchronously yet. All of my communication with them is through asynchronous Looms and instructions and videos, the feedback that they give me is asynchronous and it works really well.
Sam Corcos (43:10):
The other benefit of not doing it synchronously is that the instructions that of them, because it’s asynchronous, it’s now a piece of content. The next time they bring in a new EA to help with that task, they just share that piece of content. I don’t need to have another conversation to train them on how to do it, they just say, “Here is the original instruction for this task and here’s how you can do it.” It scales in a way that you can’t do in a co-located team working synchronously. The thing to watch out for when you proactively budget time is you need to be mindful of overbooking yourself. I would say a good target is to only have 50% of your capacity defined because things will come up. It’s inevitable. It will always happen.
Sam Corcos (43:52):
And it’s way easier if you have extra capacity, pull something in from tomorrow and work on it now, rather than this like cascading problem that happens where you book yourself super tight and then something got bumped because something came up and now you’re like three weeks behind because you missed a couple of hours one day because everything just cascades into this huge problem. I think that almost everybody that I work with on this stuff, they think they can do a lot more than they can. I remember one person specifically, I was helping her with this. She has an issue where she’s been like really underwater with the amount of work that she has on her plate.
Sam Corcos (44:29):
And she has this really long to-do list of everything she’s going to do this week. I worked with her on, “Let’s take those thing, let’s figure out how much time you think they’re going to take and we’ll put them on your calendar so you can see how much time each takes and how much time you have in a week.” And we started doing that and we get like 25% of the way through her calendar. And she’s like, “Well, I don’t have any space. Your system’s broken.” It’s like, “No, maybe you’ve over-committed yourself.” There’s literally not enough time in the week to do all the things that you think you can do this week. Maybe the problem is you can’t actually do this much stuff.
Sam Corcos (45:03):
That’s the problem with these to-do lists is that you can just keep adding stuff and you can say, “Yeah, I’ll have it done by end of week. End of week is fine. End of week.: And then end of week comes, you’re like, “What happened to the week? Where did it all go?” Everything that takes one day, we don’t have the mental model of like days don’t happen in parallel, they happen sequentially.
Noah Kagan (45:22):
I love that. I am curious. I do want to talk Levels. I think the life tracking is interesting. I did tweet about this because one thing I will say with the tracking stuff is that I’ve seen people who are very undisciplined to be very successful and I’ve seen people who are very disciplined to be very unsuccessful. And I don’t know, I was just like reflecting on that where I would still bet on the discipline person though, if I had to choose between the two, I just think sometimes people they’re so focused on the optimization and the productivity that they don’t think as much about the output. The efficacy is different than the effectiveness.
Sam Corcos (45:53):
Yeah. With a lot of these things, it’s important not to miss the forest for the trees. It’s hard to do. One of our biggest pushes for Q1 is to really give a lot more context on what these choices actually mean for your health. It’s going to be a pretty significant change to the product in the next few months. This is like the question of working harder versus working smarter. There’s definitely something to that with diet as well. Some of the challenges are around the fact that there’s so much misinformation around diet and nutrition. I’m actually reminded of a specific instance where most nutritionists really love Levels and they love the product and they recommend it to lots of people.
Sam Corcos (46:33):
We had one nutritionist who really did not like it. One out of 10 NPS, which is anomalous. I think it was even the first nutritionist that gave us a really bad piece of feedback. And that’s helpful. We talked to this nutritionist and it was interesting to see the reason why it was. She said, “Well, I don’t like your product because it’s wrong.” “Oh, okay. What about it is wrong?” She said, “Well, I’m eating healthy things. And your app tells me that it’s not healthy.” “Okay. Like what?” he’s like, “Well, I know that oatmeal and orange juice is healthy and your app tells me that it’s not.” It’s like, “Oh, okay, well, I don’t think we’re going to see eye to eye on this one. Just because orange juice has vitamin C doesn’t mean it’s healthy, it’s almost indistinguishable from a can of soda. It just has this aura of healthiness around it.”
Sam Corcos (47:23):
I had a very similar conversation with somebody recently around, she really loves apples, especially these really sweet honey crisp apples.
Noah Kagan (47:31):
Oh my favorite. I love them. That’s all I eat.
Sam Corcos (47:34):
Yeah, exactly. And there’s a good reason why, because they’re loaded with sugar and they taste really good. She was saying how, “This is ridiculous. Your app says that they have a lot of sugar in them and that I should be avoiding them.” She said, “Everyone knows, an apple a day, keeps the doctor away.” And I said, “Well, what if hypothetically, I told you that that’s a marketing slogan, not something that doctors made up, just hypothetically?” And that was a moment of clarity, realizing that a lot of these assumptions that we have are really just ingrained from decades of intentional misinformation. Something that hopefully over time will be able to wind back to get people to realize what’s actually doing us good and what’s not.
Noah Kagan (48:15):
With Levels, you guys have an exorbitant amount of data now on people’s eating and blood levels. If you could have a megaphone to the earth about things you’ve learned from Levels that you could tell everyone, what would be some of the key things you’d recommend to have a healthier life?
Sam Corcos (48:29):
This is one of the optimization things where a lot of people using Levels, they’re already pretty healthy. Oftentimes if you’re taking the time to use something like this, you’re probably already on the right path. I would say, if you avoid sugar and you avoid processed foods, just generally, you’re like 90% on the way there. That would be the top objective, would be, avoid refined sugar, avoid processed foods, you’re most of the way there. To use Rob Lustig’s terminology, they are metabolical, they’re very, very bad for metabolic health. The amount of sugar that we consume now is massively more than ever in human history.
Sam Corcos (49:12):
We’re talking depending on how it’s calculated, 100 years ago, it was something between two and four pounds of sugar per year, and now it’s something between 70 and 150, depending on how these things are calculated in terms of what you define as sugar. The specifics of the numbers don’t even matter because they’re so far different. We eat so much more sugar now than we ever have. And processed foods have the same problem. They contribute to things like non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Something like 45% of the United States now has fatty liver disease or fat in their liver than they didn’t before. When we say metabolic health crisis, it’s hard to explain in many ways that not only is the rate of metabolic dysfunction increasing, the rate of increase is increasing.
Sam Corcos (49:55):
The second derivative is positive. If you think it’s bad now, just like wait a couple of years and it’s going to be massively worse. If you look at the curve, it’s really, really disturbing. These things take a long time to really develop. These are chronic illnesses that take a long time to really fester. But fortunately, most of them are largely reversible. So hopefully over time, we can not only prevent people from transitioning into these states, but just continue to help people be healthier.
Noah Kagan (50:22):
What did you eat today?
Sam Corcos (50:23):
I ate Italian kale and sausage soup for lunch.
Noah Kagan (50:27):
What would you have for dinner?
Sam Corcos (50:28):
I would say, of all the different dietary philosophies, I’m probably closest to like paleo, which is mostly meat and vegetables. That works really well for me. I’ve tried. There’s some evidence that generally speaking, you’re better off if it’s mostly plants and a lot less meat, but I’ve tried it, it doesn’t really work for me. It’s not super convenient. And my weight just drops like a stone if I switch to eating too many vegetables. I’m 6″ 1′, my [inaudible 00:50:54] body weight’s probably 145. It takes effort for me to try to stay above 155, 160. Going plant base is hard for me. I think we maybe overestimate how many people recognize sugar as the source of these problems.
Sam Corcos (51:12):
I was watching one of these popular science channels on YouTube talking about diabetes. The conclusion of this piece, which was published within the last year was, and we still don’t know what causes diabetes. It’s like, no, of course we do, it’s sugar. There’s still this denial around it in a really weird way. And Rob Lustig who I mentioned earlier is a doctor who maybe 15 years ago was ringing the alarm bell of, “Hey, people, hate sugar, sugar is bad. It’s the source of these problems.” He was wandering the desert for a long time. People were not listening.
Sam Corcos (51:46):
And I think it just in the last five years, everyone I know in the Bay Area, New York culture, everyone knows that sugar is a problem. It is now default when you go to a dinner at a friend’s house that everything is low carb or reasonably low carb and doesn’t have anything with sugar in it. That’s just the default, which is great. These things take a long time to trickle down. I was talking with my friend Dylan a couple of days ago about this and he was saying how, where he grew up, pizza and hamburgers are food and health food is like that thing that weird people do. So where he grew up, that’s just normal.
Sam Corcos (52:26):
And where I grew up, it’s exactly the opposite. Some people think of as health food as just normal food and junk food is the thing that you eat on occasion and it’s not normal to eat pizza. It’s like that’s a special occasion thing that you do that you know it’s bad for you, you do it sometimes, and that’s fine. Circling back on what Noah was saying is that your body is quite resilient, it is really not the case that you have to be super militant about these things. If you want to eat pie sometimes, go for it. It’s going to be fine. It’s really these chronic situations where people are eating a half a pound of sugar every day in the form of soda that lead to these incredibly toxic chronic conditions.
Noah Kagan (53:06):
One thing that I’m curious for Levels is that I used it, found some insights, but then I just went back to living. I don’t know, I’m guessing you’re seeing that with other customers?
Sam Corcos (53:16):
Yeah. There are two major value propositions that are, they’re not at odds, but they’re different. One is the education and insights part of it, where the first month a lot of people just learn a ton about their diet. They learn like, “Oh wow, ketchup has sugar in it. I didn’t realize that.” We have a content piece we’re writing on sneaky spikers, things that people assume are healthy that actually are just loaded with sugar. And it’s like Teriyaki sauce, loaded with sugar, a lot of salad dressings are just loaded with sugar and people don’t realize it. And so people think that they’re doing something healthy, but they’re actually not. It’s like stealthily squeezing in like four tablespoons of sugar.
Sam Corcos (53:57):
For some people, that’s enough. And maybe this is something they do once a year, just as a check-in and they don’t really need to do it beyond that. And that’s okay. Other people, the accountability is the value proposition that we hear a lot of. It’s something that keeps you accountable to your diet, because you can’t fly to the sensor. If you have a nutritionist and you decide you’re going to have a donut, you could just not tell them and pretend it didn’t happen. But if you’re wearing a sensor, it’s going to show up. So it keeps you accountable to that. Those are the two value propositions that we’ve seen. We’re leaning into each of them for different audiences.
Sam Corcos (54:31):
I think that it’s totally okay that some people just get value from that education insights there, and that’s totally fine. Where I think this starts to get interesting is we’re rolling out something probably in the next couple of weeks doing at-home blood testing. So you can have a phlebotomist come to your house, do a blood draw and that just gets pushed to your phone. So it just reduces the friction of doing regular blood tests. We’re also looking at multi molecule sensors. There are a lot of companies working on this that will be able to integrate that. Give you just a much deeper understanding of how your choices are affecting you.
Sam Corcos (55:04):
I’d say if you’re being generous to glucose, glucose is maybe 10% of the equation of how your choices actually affect you. To really understand biological observability, you need many, many more molecules.
Noah Kagan (55:18):
Yeah. I guess it’s interesting to see where this goes. How does it go as a business model for you guys if people use it for a month and then they stop?
Sam Corcos (55:24):
It depends on the person. So something in the of 30%, ballpark number, 30% of people use it for longer than that. It’s both a challenge and an opportunity. We have probably a dozen highly distinct demographics of personas. Our median customer right now, most people assume it’s like early 30s, male, biohacker. Our median customer right now is a woman in her late 40s. They have totally different needs than the 28-year-old biohacker CrossFit guy. And that’s okay. Everybody eats food, everybody has these similar challenges that they’re trying to figure out. But if you’re trying to optimize that last 5%, of performance versus trying to understand why every diet you’ve tried over the last 20 years has failed, those are very different people that you need to be able to solve for.
Sam Corcos (56:17):
Different demographics tend to have different behavior in terms of the length of time that they continue to use Levels.
Noah Kagan (56:23):
Yeah. I guess I just wondered if people go back, I just like, “Hey, I learned,” but you just go back to your baseline. I almost wonder if having it on 24/7 would just remind me though. It’s like, “Ugh, I’m being watched.” I noticed that for myself, I was like, “Don’t look at me, eat this cookie tracker.”
Sam Corcos (56:41):
Yeah. It very well could.
Noah Kagan (56:42):
I think the accountability is an interesting piece.
Sam Corcos (56:45):
Yeah. That’s one of the reasons why many of our… We’ve had people who are using Levels every day for the last year. The reason is they’ll go to a buffet line and see the cookies and they’ll say like, “If I didn’t have this patch on, I would totally eat those, but I know it’s going to show up.” So it leads to better choices. So it is like having somebody watching you where they’re just much more mindful of their choices.
Noah Kagan (57:08):
100%. It is just wild, I was surprised. I think it’s true for a lot of things. If you have accountability as well as if you have some data, you actually start behaving differently. And I think it’s interesting that you guys are bringing it to the forefront.
Sam Corcos (57:21):
Yeah. When you actually track your time, I’m sure you’re familiar with the saying, what gets measured gets managed. If you don’t know how your choices in terms of food affect you, you can’t really make changes because you don’t know what’s good or bad. If you’re spending all of your time solving team problems and what you should be doing is dealing with company strategy or fundraising or something else, then you can hold yourself accountable to that and start making changes. So there’s a lot of overlap there.
Noah Kagan (57:49):
I think it applies for everything. I think it’s a balance of tracking, improving, and then also at the end of the day living. I heard the phrase where it’s like, just because you complete the checklist doesn’t mean you’re fulfilled.
Sam Corcos (57:59):
There’s a famous study around longevity. One of the questions is, if you want to live a really long time, calorie restriction is pretty well understood to be a great way to do that. Eating 1,000, 1,500 calories, like some very, very low number of calories per day. And there’s a famous study where they did this with monkeys and they had a calorie restricted group of monkeys and they had monkeys who just were fed normal amount. And the calorie restricted monkeys lived significantly longer, but they were lethargic, they never had sex, they just basically lived this zombie life. And that monkeys who ate the normal amount, they did all the normal monkey things and they had a great life.
Sam Corcos (58:40):
And so it’s like, if you optimize too much for some particular metric, like, “I want to live forever,” you’re probably trading off a lot of things that maybe you don’t want to trade off. So it is definitely a balance in that regard.
Noah Kagan (58:52):
Amen. Mr. Sam, nice chatting with you. I’ll see you around Austin. Appreciate the time.
Sam Corcos (58:57):
Noah Kagan (59:00):
Well, that is a wrap. I hope you loved the episode as much as I did, Making It for You. Go check out Levels at levelshealth.com. Next, text a friend you love him, “Yo, doh, let’s go lie down on the streets together.” Seriously, please don’t do that. Before you go, tweet me @noahkagan, let me know your thought of this episode. I don’t know why I do that, but I do. Also remember to go subscribe to my email list. It’s exclusive for people who sign up, it’s free. I do send out nuggets every single Wednesday, sendfox.com/noah. Also create your own email list at sendfox.com.
Noah Kagan (59:26):
Finally, a couple shouts to my amazing team. These people are phenomenal. Jason at podcasttech.com, as always for making these podcast. Mitchell, George, Jeremy, Huber, Cam, Salsa, Nikki and Jen, from the Dork team for all the magic y’all do. And finally shout out to Anna Notario at AppSumo, you’re just so damn awesome. I’m very blessed that you were at AppSumo when they brought me back, it was just magical. You’re the best. Have a healthy day. What’s your favorite salad dressing? Y’all know mine, it’s that blue cheese. I have a lot of friends that hate blue cheese. Why is that? It’s so good.