Ep42 – Metabolic Fitness – Co-founder of Levels Josh Clemente on Max Spence Business Podcast
Why does a mechanical engineer with a promising career shift gears to launch a health wearable startup? Because he understands the body for the complex chemical machine that it is — and the potential that holds for a life-changing company. Here, Josh Clemente of metabolic health company Levels talks with Max Spence of the Max Spence Business Podcast about how his eyes were opened to his own surprisingly poor glucose control, despite being an optimally fit Crossfit trainer. Josh explains why people need to know how they personally react to oatmeal or a banana, even if they already follow a “healthy” diet. And he shares some of the business background on the company and its growth, and their plans for the future.
2:52 — The origins of Levels
A mechanical engineer, Josh first got interested in a holistic approach to health and diet control while working for SpaceX, which ultimately led him to co-found Levels.
“I led a team in the life support program that developed pressurized life support systems. These are things that deliver breathing gas; they maintain cabin pressure inside the spacecraft when it’s in the vacuum of space. And that exposed me to a lot of really interesting new research from NASA and their research partners about how to keep people healthy when you don’t have medical care available. And so that exposure to the holistic approach to recovery, sleep and diet control that is necessary to avoid chronic illness. And then the data that NASA collects for their crew members, which goes well beyond anything that we collect in our modern lives, really got the wheels turning for me and, and started to get me interested in measuring these things in real time and making a program which ultimately became Levels.”
9:34 — An invisible health risk
A person can appear very healthy and fit — like Josh did — yet still have poorly controlled glucose and metabolic dysfunction (a failure in the body’s energy production process).
“Metabolism is the set of mechanisms in our cells that produces energy from our food and environment. So like sunlight. Food. The molecules we consume — turning that into energy in ourselves. Everything from our brain to our muscles to our body fat needs energy, each of those cells in order to function. So when that energy production process fails, that’s called metabolic dysfunction. And the way it manifests is very different, depending on who you are. For some people, when those systems break down, you get trapped in this cycle of weight, gain and inflammation for other people, you get the same inflammation, but you don’t have the expression of that as weight gain. Instead you have things like cognitive dysfunction…And so I am a person who does not gain weight. I don’t look like someone at risk for diabetes, but because my blood sugar was very ill controlled — it was just very erratic — I was in a very high risk pre-diabetic state.”
16:24 — Is 96 mg/dl glucose “good”?
Levels doesn’t just spit back glucose levels; it offers targeted recommendations to improve them based on a host of factors — your food choices, meal time and composition, sleep habits, and stress level.
“Giving someone information that just says you’re at 96 milligrams per deciliter — that doesn’t make much sense to most people without a physiology and metabolism degree. How do you know what to do with that information? So Levels is focusing on the data science and the insights framework that takes that raw data and gives you scores for the choices you’re making. So you log your meals, exercise, sleep, and stress habits. And then the system pulls in a whole host of variables related to your blood sugar response to those choices and shows you how, for example, simple movement — like a little bit of a walk after a very indulgent meal — or five hours of sleep versus nine hours of sleep, or the timing of your breakfast, the composition of your meal, whether you have fat/carbohydrates/protein in equal proportion versus just carbohydrates alone — how all of these things affect your metabolic control.”
19:50 — A healthy food that isn’t
Until you have evidence of how your blood sugar reacts when you eat a food — say a banana or a cookie — you won’t know if it’s really good for you or not.
“Two people can eat the exact same two foods — in this case, it was a banana and a cookie made with wheat flour — and they can have equal and opposite blood sugar responses to those two foods. What this means is, depending on who you are, and probably your genetics, your microbiome, your stress environment, your body composition, all of these different factors — you can either be more sensitive to fruit sugars or grains sugars or something along those lines. And without knowing, you may be doing something daily — for example, eating oatmeal — that is potentially working directly against your goals. You expect that it’s making you healthier. It could be doing the exact opposite.”
22:10 — Changing behaviors, changing lives
Levels isn’t a gimmick; it’s important to Josh and his team that people actually use the product to adopt healthier lives, not just as a novelty.
“We’re not going to just kind of open the floodgates, so to speak, because we want to be very specific about the effect of what we’re building. We don’t just want to build and sell something for novelty’s sake. We want to be sure that when people use this program, they’re learning and making better choices as a result. That they are going forward healthier than they were before and understanding, with confidence, how to be optimal. So we’ll be making sure that as we move outward into these new audiences, the product is still resonating and producing the concrete habit change that we want.”
27:44 — Double down on talent
The diverse, talented team of experts that Josh and his initial co-founder Sam put together was a strong draw for investors.
“We were both in full agreement that the world-class team is what makes a world-class problem solvable. So it really does not matter what the concept is. The execution is everything and the execution doesn’t happen without the executors. So we focused all our attention on building the remainder of the co-founding team out. Once we had that strong team, that’s an even stronger signal to other people who want to join as early members, and to investors, and to the market at large — the potential customer base. So we were very focused on the people. We remain very focused on the people. It will always be a primary focus of the company: to continue to double down on people and talent and talent density specifically.”
30:30 — Selling from the start
Levels sped through early growth stages in part because they sold a prototype concept to early adopters and generated revenue only 60 days in.
“We were also able to bring on early customers at the same time. We actually had revenue within, I think, 60 days of forming the company. And we were able to do that because we sold essentially a prototype concept to the very earliest adopters in our network, people who were willing to kind of take a risk; they trusted us. They knew us and if we’re working on something and we believe in it, they’d be willing to be an early adopter. And so we were able to bring in revenue early and then of course, with the investment, we were able to double down and really grow our rate of progress.”
31:30 — Not going at it alone
Josh had to be honest with himself that he couldn’t bring the Levels concept to fruition on his own.
“The biggest challenge for me (which I think I was very slow at) was the process of realization that this is something that I couldn’t tackle alone. For about a year, I was in that kind of concept development phase and very, very slow rate of progress. A lot of research, it was very important, but it took me a little while to realize, the potential here is so large, I’m not doing it justice with the rate of my own progress. And not only that, but I’m just incapable, as an individual, of taking on this massive project space by myself. And I need to multiply my own efforts with co-founders and with a team. If I were to do things over, I would move more quickly on that, you know, approaching Sam and bringing on a team to form this around.”
38:33 — Not a one-time thing
The data you get from one month of using a Levels’ sensor is enormously beneficial but dynamic (since it’s based on personal factors that continually fluctuate like diet and stress); that’s why Josh recommends doing it at regular intervals to keep checking in.
“That 28 day program is something that people really learn a tremendous amount, and that knowledge is useful going forward. And we recommend, because everything is dynamic — the human body changes all the time; stress, age, body composition — all of this affects your metabolic control. So it’s important that this is not just a one-time thing. It’s something that people can check in as often as they’d like, and depending on their goals — we don’t require that people subscribe in an ongoing fashion in order to use the product. Some people like to use it yearly. Some people will like to use it quarterly, biannually. Other people do want to subscribe full-time. Once they put the device on, the data is so compelling and the accountability is so strong that they just don’t ever want to take it off. I’m one of those people, I’m going on three years now of continuous use with these sensors. And I learned something new literally every week.”
40:35 — The vicious blood sugar circle
When you have an ultra-high blood sugar response to a food like oatmeal (which many Levels’ users do), it’s typically followed by a “crash” marked by fatigue and hunger.
“Your glucose is skyrocketing. That’s an inflammatory situation. Your body wants to very quickly correct that and bring glucose levels back down into the normal range. And so your body will overcompensate for the most part and your blood sugar will then crash back down as insulin floods your system. And during that crash, people tend to feel fatigued, irritable, hungry, and they go grab another meal of some kind and start the process all over again.”
41:24 — Fruit juice…it’s not the real thing
It’s eye-opening to learn the real-time blood sugar impact of the different foods you eat — like realizing that your body reacts to fruit juice as if you were drinking a soda or milkshake.
“Another one is just seeing the difference between like a pressed juice, where all the fiber is stripped out of fruits and vegetables, versus eating the whole fruits and vegetables on their own. The difference is staggering. And so people are oftentimes thinking if fruits and vegetables are good for me in small quantities, they must be really good for me in large quantities. So, you grab this large juice as an alternative to something sugary and ‘unhealthy.’ And oftentimes people have the exact same blood sugar response to this pressed juice as they would to, for example, a milkshake or a soda. And so it’s important for people to realize that everything is nuanced. Balance is important. And with the data, you can start to navigate these decisions with real concrete confidence.”
42:43 — Base your diet on your own data
Data from research studies is important, but it’s not your data — so it won’t necessarily hold true for you.
“I don’t want to imply that no one should have pressed juice or no one should have oatmeal. It’s more — so do you know if you should have press juice or if you should have oatmeal? Is it something that is supporting your goals, if that’s weight loss, or if that’s just reduction of long-term risk? It’s important that no matter what our dietary philosophy, whether we’re plant-based vegan, carnivores, keto, whether or not you fall in some dietary philosophy, it’s important that you ground that in data — and that data should be yours. It should be your body. Not an assumption based on studies on other people. I think studies in academic research are very important, but the concepts have to make their way down to the individual. And the individual is not the average. And so that’s what we’re saying: each person should have some information to guide their choices.”
Max Spence (00:00) Hey guys, welcome back to the Max Spence Business Podcast. Today I have a very special guest, but before I actually jump into this, if you guys liked the content that I’m putting out, the podcasting, all the episodes that I have, please, please, please subscribe. It helps a lot with the channel and also with the people that I’m bringing on with exposing their brand more. So yeah, leave a like. Leave a comment.
Max Spence (00:22) Yeah. So today’s guest is Josh Clemente and he’s actually the, he’s the Co-founder and President of Levels. So it’s great having you on the show, Josh.
Josh Clemente (00:32) Great to be on. Thanks for having me and I’m excited to dive into some of these topics.
Max Spence (00:37) Awesome. So why don’t we jump right into this? Why don’t we do a brief little rundown about what Levels is.
Josh Clemente (00:43) Yeah. Levels is the answer to the question, what should I eat and why? Historically, people have used internet advice. They’ve used the bathroom scale. They’ve used friends’ advice, what worked for someone else. They’ve never used their own health information in real time to make daily choices. And so Levels connects people with health information from a series of sensors that measure molecules like glucose and then we surface insights to help people make better decisions in the moment about diet, exercise, sleep and stress.
Max Spence (01:17) Okay. Awesome. Yeah. Yeah. That’s incredible. Yeah, because I actually first came across your company on LinkedIn and I thought it was really interesting what you guys were doing. So before we actually jump into a little bit more about Levels and what you guys are actually doing at that company, I want to go back into your background a bit, where you grew up, where you’d go to school, and what was your journey like getting into this industry?
Josh Clemente (01:43) Yeah. So I have a non-standard background. I grew up in rural Virginia, about an hour south of Washington DC. I’m from a very large family. I have eight siblings and my mom, she was a high school teacher before my parents got married. And so she actually taught all of us in the family all the way through K through 12. So I was homeschooled until college. For college, I went to the Catholic University of America, which is a small school in DC and I studied mechanical engineering. And obviously, that is not related to physiology or metabolism or healthcare. But what I did with that degree is I went and worked at SpaceX for about six years. That was my first job out of school and I started off working on spacecraft systems, structures, composite products and then I was one of the first employees to move into the life support program at SpaceX. So when they went from basically launching cargo and satellites to launching human beings, that requires a very different approach to design requirements, and of course, safety. And so I led a team in the life support program that developed pressurized life support systems. So these are things that deliver breathing gas, they maintain cabin pressure inside the spacecraft when it’s in the vacuum of space.
Josh Clemente (03:04) And that exposed me to a lot of really interesting new research from NASA and their research partners about how to keep people healthy when you don’t have medical care available. And so that exposure to the holistic approach to recovery, sleep and diet control that is necessary to avoid chronic illness. And then the data that NASA collects for their crew members, which goes well beyond anything that we collect in our modern lives, really got the wheels turning for me and started to get me interested in measuring these things in real time and making a program which ultimately became Levels.
Max Spence (03:44) Okay. Okay. Awesome. That’s absolutely crazy that right out of university you went to SpaceX. So what made you want to go down the engineering route? Have you always been somebody who’s really interested in tinkering with things and creating stuff and like that side? Or was it by fluky chance that you just went into this?
Josh Clemente (04:06) Very much the former. So my father is, he’s a tinkerer himself. He’s actually, he was a master homebuilder and led a construction team building houses early in his career and he transitioned into law enforcement. But throughout my entire life, he has been building interesting things and from a very early age, I was his sidekick, learning specifically how to build stuff and I just became obsessed with machinery and tools and I think specifically, elegant solutions to hard problems. Tools are a way of doing things with less effort. And so it was never really a real big decision for me when it came time to select a career path. It was always mechanical engineering. There was just never – I don’t even remember making the choice. It was like, yeah, I’m going to be an engineer. And It ended up being, I think, the best choice I’ve made in my life because it’s led to a huge variety of opportunity. And because it’s a problem solving space and you get a lot of exposure to scientific concepts, you get a very nice first principles grounding for how to attack problems. And yeah, so it’s been, I think, a really wonderful way to launch my career.
Max Spence (05:27) Okay. Okay. Awesome. Yeah. That sounds really interesting. So I want to ask you now – Okay, so you get into engineering, then you go into SpaceX, and then inside SpaceX you get transferred to pretty much to the life support area of SpaceX, and then you came across all this – You were working with all this data with humans and stuff and how they tracked it all. What was the pinnacle point of, hey I’m going to jump off working at that company and start my own thing, start my own company in the health and fitness industry? And I also saw with Levels as well is that there’s a few of you that are the founders. It’s not just you. It looks like it’s a pretty good built out team, that you guys all jumped in and started creating this.
Josh Clemente (06:13) Yeah. So the path from SpaceX to Levels was not direct. So I left SpaceX and I worked for a while on the Hyperloop program. So you may have heard of that. It’s another Elon Musk concept. He’s not actually the one building the company, but Hyperloop is basically a train, a high speed magnetic levitation train in a tube, and you pull all the air out of the tube. And so it’s like taking a train and turning it into a spacecraft and it’s very energy efficient, very fast. But because it is essentially a spacecraft running in a vacuum, a lot of it is very similar in development work to what I was doing at SpaceX.
Josh Clemente (06:48) So I went there for a year and while I was there – My interest in health and wellness goes way back. So I’m a CrossFit L2 trainer as well and so I’ve always cared a lot about physical fitness and performance, but during my time at SpaceX and all the research exposure that I had there to the longevity concepts, it got the wheels turning. And so while I was at Hyperloop, I started to, on the side, think about, okay, how can I make quantitative decisions about my own health? How can I be sure that the things I’m doing every day are pushing me in the direction of better, not in the direction of worse. I genuinely don’t know if my diet choices and my exercise choices are actually improving anything about me other than looking for physical adjustments – so musculature and body fat and things like that.
Josh Clemente (07:39) So while I was at Hyperloop, I started to experiment. I started testing my blood sugar because it’s one of the first – It’s a molecule in the body that most of our energy is produced from in the modern world. And when glucose control, blood sugar control is lost, it’s one of the first signs of early onset chronic illness. And so I started measuring this myself and couldn’t make much of it. Eventually, after a long and arduous campaign to get my hands on a continuous glucose monitor, which is a small sensor that was developed for diabetes, to allow real-time measurement without pricking their finger. I eventually got one of these after having to convince my physician that it was worth doing and I discovered that I was pre-diabetic. And that was entirely unexpected for me. I’ve never had weight gain issues. I’ve always been physically fit and so the realization that metabolic dysfunction, glucose dysfunction can happen to even someone who, like myself who I thought was, I thought I was doing all the right things. I thought I was going to be quite healthy. This realization –
Max Spence (08:50) Sorry. Sorry to cut you off there. When you say pre-diabetic, what do you mean by that? Because by looking at you, you don’t look like somebody who’s very overweight or something. You look in pretty good shape. So what does that –
Josh Clemente ****(09:05) Yeah. That’s a great question.
Max Spence (09:08) How did that happen? What are the –? Yeah, anyway.
Josh Clemente (09:13) Yeah. So the way we in society think about diabetes and chronic illnesses is we expect that they only happen to people who look unhealthy. And the reality is that metabolic dysfunction – By the way, I’m going to just zoom out real quick and describe what metabolism is. I keep using this word.
Josh Clemente (09:34) Metabolism is the set of mechanisms in our cells that produces energy from our food and environment. So like sunlight, food, the molecules we consume, turning that into energy in our cells, and obviously, everything from our brain, to our muscles, to our body fat needs energy, each of those cells, in order to function. So when that energy production process fails, that’s called metabolic dysfunction. And the way it manifests is very different depending on who you are. For some people, when those systems break down, you get trapped in the cycle of weight gain and inflammation. For other people, you get the same inflammation, but you don’t have the expression of that as weight gain. Instead, you have things like cognitive dysfunction. Type 3 diabetes is a new term that is being used in the medical community to describe Alzheimer’s and dementia. There are other dysfunctions like PCOS, which is a leading cause of infertility, all the way down to acne, skin wrinkling, these much more minor but daily experiences that people have. And so really, we’re on a spectrum and depending on how well your metabolism is functioning, you’ll express different symptoms. And so I’m a person who does not gain weight, I don’t look like someone who you think would be at risk for diabetes, but because my blood sugar was very ill controlled, it was just very erratic, I was in a very high risk, pre-diabetic state. And because I don’t look like that person, I wouldn’t have anticipated that or looked to change anything without this data.
Max Spence (11:12) Okay. Okay. Awesome. Yeah. That does shed quite a bit more light onto that. So that’s amazing then, because then the device that you guys created will help with that a lot. So what is it – I don’t know if this is in your range of knowledge because it sounds more of a doctor area or maybe a high – You did say you were a CrossFit trainer. What does it come down to with making sure that your metabolism is even keel? And what are the indicators that cause you to go like this up and down, up and down, up and down?
Josh Clemente (11:50) Yeah. To go back to my story real quick. I used a device that was already available for people who have diabetes. It was developed so that they can keep tabs on their blood sugar control. Diabetes is a condition where your body can no longer maintain glucose control, so your blood sugar becomes erratic. And so I was in a pre-diabetic state, which means that my blood sugar was beginning to approach those very erratic ranges. So it was not well controlled. My blood sugar was spiking sky high after meals I was eating, crashing back down several hours later, putting me into what’s called a hyper reactive hypoglycemic state, where I felt extremely sluggish, fatigued, cloudy-minded, hungry, irritable, all of those hanger symptoms that we talked about. And this was happening day over day, week over week, and I was unaware because I was just experiencing the effects. I wasn’t aware of the cause.
Josh Clemente (12:48) And so in order to maintain – Basically, our body is a very complicated chemistry set. It’s not like this clean machine where you add fuel and you get a certain amount of energy out. It’s more so chemicals go in, other chemicals are released to respond to those chemicals and the way that your – Essentially, what we call metabolic fitness of the individual determines whether or not those chemicals will be responding in the appropriate proportions. And if one gets way out of whack, for example, insulin, which is a chemical that responds to glucose to get blood sugar out of the blood and into the cells. When insulin levels become too high for too long, the individual gets stuck in that state of weight gain and they can develop what’s called insulin resistance throughout their tissues. And this is a very bad condition to be in.
Josh Clemente (13:36) And essentially, by choosing daily lifestyle habits and selections that create this instability – so large blood sugar elevations from meals that you’re sensitive to, incorrect selection of stress and sleep hygiene, for example, sleeping for short nights, day after day for multiple weeks – this can develop acute stress in the body, which causes insulin resistance and can lead to even worse reactions to poor dietary choices.
Josh Clemente (14:10) And so basically what we’re doing is using that data to show you in real time how those choices are affecting you, so that you can select for whether it’s removing dietary factors, changing portion control, sleeping better, exercising at different times of day. You can shoot for a glucose control that is much smoother, flatter and more aligned with what allows the body to be metabolically flexible, meaning it’s able to tap into different sources of energy, food, body fat, etc., rather than being constantly spiking and crashing in this dysfunctional roller coaster.
Max Spence (14:49) Okay. Okay. Yeah. That sounds really interesting. So with Levels and the creation that get you guys made, of being able to track that and making that available to the masses. I’m really interested in that because I train at the gym and stuff like that, and I’ll train but it’s like you said, you can be training, but also you need to be eating right too. So having something that can track that, and to be honest, my knowledge, I don’t really think – You don’t really think about it. It’s like, oh, I have to go for a run, go to the gym, do that stuff, not necessarily eat clean. But there’s probably a little bit more. Because I was looking at your website and it seems like really depending on when you’re eating, how much you’re eating, and what you’re eating can really affect how your body reacts to that.
Max Spence (15:38) So with the device, I want to go more into that. So it tracks you and it gives you all this information? And you guys have an app with this as well. Right?
Josh Clemente (15:49) So what we’re doing is we’re actually using devices that have already been developed. They’re technically medical devices that were developed for the management of diabetes. We’re providing access to those devices for a broader audience, for people in the wellness, those who are seeking – They’re just seeking better health in general and not necessarily to manage a condition. What our core competency at Levels is, is the layer of insights between the raw data, so just the blood sugar information, and better choices. So that’s actually quite a big gap. Giving someone information that just says, “You’re at 96 mg/dL.” That doesn’t make much sense to most people without a physiology or metabolism degree. How do you know what to do with that information?
Josh Clemente (16:37) And so Levels is focusing on the data science and the insights framework that takes that raw data and gives you scores for the choices you’re making. So you log your meals, you log your exercise, your sleep, and your stress habits and then the system pulls in a whole host of variables related to your blood sugar response to those choices and shows you how, for example – simple movement, like a little bit of walk after a very indulgent meal or five hours of sleep versus nine hours of sleep or the timing of your breakfast, the composition of your meal, whether you have fat, carbohydrates and protein in equal proportion, versus just carbohydrates alone – how all of these things affect your metabolic control. And so we’re building the layer that, again, takes devices that already exist, and makes them more of a biowearable that’s available to anyone who wants to make more optimal choices.
Max Spence (17:29) Okay. Okay. Awesome. Yeah. So you guys are doing the same thing that Shopify does with websites and stuff. They just streamline the process a lot easier so now you’re able to go in there, hop on there and make a website really easily. And now what you guys are doing is you’re taking things that already existed, like the glucose monitors and then pretty much having that, streamlining it so everybody can understand it. Because like you were saying, I don’t know what 93 point glucose or something is. I think the majority of people don’t know what that means either and how to react to that. And like you were saying with the different proportions. So yeah, that’s what I really wanted to talk about. With the app, that’s going to tell you what’s happening with the food you’re eating. Let’s say, I had a banana and a protein shake and then a couple hours later, I had a packet of Skittles. And then it’s going to show you the difference and being like, okay, if you’re eating snacking throughout the day a lot, how does that affect you between having three or four meals? Right?
Josh Clemente (18:35) Exactly. So I think a way to think about the company is, for example, the optical heart rate sensor. So this is a little sensor that has been available for decades. But now we have these devices like Whoop and Oura and Apple Watch and Fitbit, they take that optical heart rate sensor and they turned it into a product for better health. So it’s not just your heart rate, it’s how you are optimizing for fitness and how your heart rate variability is responding and how recovered you are as a function of your heart rate. So that user experience, that journey of going from a raw data stream to better behavior is quite complex, and it’s what defines a category changing product.
Josh Clemente (19:18) And so that’s what Levels is, is taking a sensory system and turning it into a behavior change system. There are really amazing studies that have come out over the past few years since this technology has become more available. One would be – It was a trial that was done in 2015 at the Weitzman Institute and they took 800 people that did not have diabetes and they put these continuous glucose monitors on them and had them basically live their lives for about seven days. And at the end of that they showed that two people can eat the exact same two foods, in this case it was a banana and a cookie made with wheat flour, and they can have equal and opposite blood sugar responses to those two foods. So what this means is, depending on who you are and probably your genetics, your microbiome, your stress environment, your body composition, all of these different factors – you can either be more sensitive to fruit sugars or grain sugars or something along those lines and without knowing, you may be doing something daily, for example eating oatmeal, and that is potentially working directly against your goals. You expect that it’s making you healthier. It could be doing the exact opposite.
Josh Clemente (20:28) And so it’s important to know, in real time with real data, who you are and how you respond to the choices you’re making. We need to stop navigating based on emotion and on something that worked for somebody else and averages from the population. We need to start making choices based on data from our own bodies. And that’s what this is allowing.
Max Spence (20:47) That is absolutely insane and that sounds amazing. That sounds incredible. So where – are you guys already – this is still in the – you guys raised capital that sort of stuff. So what stage are you guys at right now?
Josh Clemente (21:03) So we started the company a little over a year ago and we spent about the first six months in a stealth mode building out the framework. So the regulatory compatibility and compliance, establishing a partnership with an independent telehealth physician network so that we could get access to the devices for the people who are looking to get them. And then we launched our first version of the app. That happened in – I think January of this years was when the first app release was and since then, we’ve been doing an invitation-only early access program. And so for people who are willing to be early adopters and work with us and provide a lot of feedback, they get access to the program and we then just do an intensive process of learning from them and developing additional product features as a result of what we’re hearing.
Josh Clemente (21:51) And so that process has been really amazing. We’ve put about 2000 people through the program over the past 10 months now. And we’re at the point where we’re really achieving, I think, a point with the product and with the reception with our audience where we’re ready to start our launch plans. And our launch is going to be, it’s going to be a phased launch over several months. We’re not going to just open the floodgates, so to speak, because we want to be very specific about the effect of what we’re building. We don’t just want to build and sell something for novelty’s sake. We want to be sure that when people use this program, they’re learning and making better choices as a result. They are going forward healthier than they were before and understanding with confidence how to be optimal. So we’ll be making sure that as we move outward into these new audiences, the product is still resonating and producing the concrete habit change we want.
Max Spence (22:43) Okay. Okay. Awesome. Yeah. That sounds absolutely incredible and it sounds really exciting. Yeah. So I’ve actually got a lot more questions about that. So taking it back to the beginning, how did you actually put the team together? Was it somebody’s idea and then you met them and then you guys grabbed – How did that team come to – how did it start?
Josh Clemente (23:11) Yeah. So after my experience discovering that I had this underlying metabolic dysfunction by using a continuous glucose monitor, I basically decided at that moment that I was going to start a company that is going to bring this technology to the mainstream. And I spent about a year in research mode just learning more about metabolism, trying to understand the underpinnings of nutrition and all of the factors that go into metabolic health. And from there, once I had a pretty good grasp on it and a decent business plan, I approached one of the people in my network who I admire most in terms of their ability to build and execute very strongly on a project, and that person and Sam Corcos. He’s my co-founder. I pitched him on it. He quickly saw because of my personal experience and because I had the technology with me at the time, I was able to demonstrate what the concept was, which is a really profound benefit. We did not have to develop the sensor. But by showing the existing sensors and the promise in the space, Sam was able to immediately grasp the potential here. And so he basically decided to join forces with me right away, which I was very, very excited to have that development. And we were then able to really just multiply efforts.
Josh Clemente (24:35) We wanted to bring on a large and strong co-founding team. So it was important to us that we had expertise across all of the technical challenges that we would be facing. So we brought on three additional co-founders, David Flinner, who’s our head of product, Andrew Connor, who runs engineering and Dr. Casey Means, who is a Stanford trained surgeon turned functional medicine doctor from Stanford. And between all of us we felt very strongly that we could take on this challenge of bringing in, not only a new product, but a new market concept altogether to light. And over the following year, we’ve gone from that initial co-founding team of five to, we’re now at a full-time capacity of 14 people. And we’ve really, I think, developed a product that is resonating in a very big way. And I think it’s a function of each of us have a personal interest in the space, in health and optimization. But we also see the potential to really make a meaningful impact on metabolic health outcomes here in the US and globally.
Max Spence (25:39) Okay. Okay. Awesome. Yeah. This is actually so cool to hear this and I absolutely love this because like I was saying before, I didn’t really know this stuff existed or was important and it was just like, “Oh, if you just eat healthy.” But like you were saying, it really depends on your body and how it reacts to different foods. And I was hearing that more from with different diets and different diets affect everybody differently, like you’re saying. But I think what you guys are doing, it’s going to be incredible.
Max Spence (26:15) I want to now transfer it to a little bit more to the business side of it. So okay. So you pretty much pitched your friend and then you bring him on to pretty much the team and then you guys grow. So what was the timeframe? Has it been a year or two years or three years from start to this point now?
Josh Clemente (26:34) So we founded the company in June of 2019. So it’s been coming up on a year and a half. I had spent about a year prior to that in research. So let’s say that the – I was quite slow moving initially because I just really wanted to have a good grasp on the problem space and just understand it at a personal level because that was most important to be able to build something. So I would say the concept has been in incubation since 2017 effectively since I first took an interest in it, and then very meaningfully from about 2018 until now. And the process of – Sam joined quite quickly because he had just exited his prior startup where he had run engineering. He’s an extremely execution oriented individual. And so he sees a problem that he wants to work on and he doesn’t waste any time in analysis paralysis. It was very quick for him to join. And then from there, that signal of having two people with the opportunity cost leaving to work on something together, it’s very different from a single person. So it’s kind of a zero to one moment when that co-founder comes on.
Josh Clemente (27:42) And from there we were able to really focus and we were both in full agreement that the world class team is what makes a world class problem solvable. So it really does not matter what the concept is, the execution is everything and the execution doesn’t happen without the executors. And so we focused all our attention on building the remainder of the co-founding team out, and once we had that strong team, that’s an even stronger signal to other people who want to join as early members and to investors and to the market at large, the potential customer base. So we were very focused on the people. We remain very focused on the people. It will always be. A primary focus of the company is to continue to double down on people and talent and talent density specifically.
Max Spence (28:30) Okay. Okay. Awesome. Yeah. That’s very interesting. Yeah, because you guys have actually gone, let’s say in that year when you guys brought the team together, you guys have gone pretty fast and you’ve raised capital. So how did you, when did you know you guys were at the stage of, “Hey, we’re now going to have something.” Did you guys already have a physical prototype of it that you guys created? Or did you have this idea mapped out and then you pitched investors, raised capital and then had the prototype built?
Josh Clemente (29:01) So because the devices themselves are already in existence. They were developed for diabetes management. That was a really huge benefit to us because, of course, we’re trying to take the raw data from those sensors and turn it into behavior change. But the beauty of it is that you can describe a concept and demonstrate the very, very early vision for it with the device that already exists. So we were able to show people pretty meaningfully what this could do eventually, show them the existing device and this was developed under very rigorous standards. It’s been approved for use in clinical trials. It’s been approved for safety in people with an existing metabolic dysfunction. So all the mechanical miracles, so to speak, of the hardware has already been solved. And now it’s about taking that and adding on the behavior change data science aspect and the psychological aspect and the brand growth and consumerization of the product. And so that ability to demonstrate a very early prototype was critical to us.
Josh Clemente (30:07) And so we were able to actually raise capital from strong strategic angel investors who have been absolutely amazing in terms of just the acceleration of the concept for us. They’ve been just a huge asset. So we were able to raise that fairly quickly by just using the existing devices and discussing what the concept for what we were building was. We were also able to bring on early customers at the same time. So we actually had revenue within, I think, 60 days of forming the company. And we were able to do that because we sold essentially a prototype concept to the very earliest adopters in our network, people who were willing to take a risk. They trusted us. They felt if they knew us, and if we were working on something and we believe in it, they’d be willing to be an early adopter. And so we were able to bring in revenue early and then, of course, with the investment, we were able to double down and really grow our rate of progress.
Max Spence (31:09) Okay. Okay. Awesome. Yeah. That’s absolutely incredible. So what would you say was the hardest bit of that up until this point? What did you find the most difficult?
Josh Clemente (31:21) That’s a good question. I think, personally, the biggest challenge for me, I think, was the process which I think I was very slow at, but the process of realization that this is something that I couldn’t tackle alone. For about a year I was in that concept development phase and a very slow rate of progress. A lot of research, which was very important, but it took me a little while to realize, okay, the potential here is so large that I’m not doing it justice with the rate of my own progress. Not only that, but I’m just incapable as an individual of taking on this massive project space by myself and I need to multiply my own efforts with co-founders and with a team. So I think, if I were to do things over, I would move more quickly on that, approaching Sam and bringing on a team to form this around. It’s not a regret, it’s just something that I think would have accelerated things.
Josh Clemente (32:27) And then as a team, the biggest challenge thus far has been, I think, pushing the boundaries of what’s been done before. We’re in a space that challenges existing assumptions across a lot of industries. So everything from nutrition and food and food marketing, all the way through to our general approach to accessing our own body’s information, standard medical care, which orients itself around checking blood sugar’s once a year, for example, and that you don’t need to worry about blood markers until you are diagnosed with a condition. So we’re challenging these preconceived notions about what people should be doing in their daily lives to be healthier. And so that’s been a – I think we’re making very good progress but I also think that we could be making much better progress if things were a little bit different and I’m looking forward to us being instrumental in changing perceptions in this space and bringing this new market to life. But yeah, it’s just been one of the struggles that we’ve been facing.
Max Spence (33:42) Okay. Yeah. Yeah. That does make a lot of sense. Yeah. You guys aren’t just tackling one problem here, you’re going into a lot of different markets here inside the health industry, which is actually humongous and huge. So yeah, that does sound like a pretty big problem is trying to change when you’re re-marketing stuff, because like you were saying, nobody really knows about this stuff. Nobody really knows that it’s actually important to do. Previously it was just going to workouts and eating healthy and that just got recently popular. If you look back 20/30 years ago, nobody was really going to the gym. Now, today, it’s a lot more people are going to the gym, and that actually even depends on which country you’re in and stuff, depending on how much you go to the gym. So what area? So are you guys rolling this out across the US or certain states? Or are you trying to go North America or Europe? What’s your idea right now?
Josh Clemente (34:45) So right now, because the devices themselves are regulated medical devices, there are specific regulations that we have to be careful about and one of those is we can’t ship across borders. There are specific country by country standards. So right now we’re focused exclusively on the United States. We’re currently live in about 40 states in the United States and we’ve been growing that availability. This year in quarter four, we want to be available in all 50 states and then early 2021, I expect is when we’ll start taking a look at international expansion and most likely expanding into Canada, probably the UK and then there are some very large markets that we really want to get our attention to, places like India, China, Europe will be coming thereafter. So each market is going to be different. Like you said, even the fitness approach, it varies by country and by region. People have different concepts about what it means to be healthy and what it means to live a good life. And so we have to understand our audience and we have to be intentional about our growth strategy.
Max Spence (35:54) Okay. Okay. Awesome. So I want to now touch on – So marketing for the company. How are you guys approaching that? Is it more of a direct to consumer that we’re going to be able to go on your website and purchase it and it’s going to get shipped to you? Are you guys going to be in health and food stores and stuff like that? How are you guys approaching that right now?
Josh Clemente (36:13) Yeah. So we’re a direct to consumer play and as of right now, we’re still in the invitation-only beta phase, but when we do go live, you’ll go on the website and you’ll be able to sign up. You’ll have a prescription consultation with a physician in your state and then after that consultation, the product will be available direct to your doorstep fulfilled through our pharmacy partner. And so we have a very, I think, a very streamlined, elegant and convenient process built out and that continues to improve as we improve our onboarding and improve our throughput operationally. So eventually we will likely have some B2B options as well, so working with practitioners across multiple areas of expertise, whether in performance and athletics or more on the medical side, but practitioners who have clients who’d like to take advantage of this real-time data and then leverage it with the expertise of the trainer. And so that’s something that we haven’t yet launched, but that’ll be down the line sometime.
Max Spence (37:14) Yeah. That sounds actually really interesting, as well, as with personal trainers, being able to partner with doctors. What a lot of personal trainers do is they have their little network of doctors and chiropractors and all that stuff. So being able to work that all around with somebody, I think is going to be great. So let’s say, if somebody wants to get this, they have to, are you paying for the individual product? Is it like a subscription with it? Because I know that you guys have an app with it as well. What’s the pay structure for this?
Josh Clemente (37:49) So right now, the product is structured as a one-month program and it’s actually 28 days long and so you sign up, you get the kit in the mail and then you proceed through about a four week experience. The first week, we recommend people just learn about how their – Don’t make any changes, just learn about how your existing habits are affecting you. Once you have that week of baseline, you can spend about two weeks in exploration. So trying different habits, trying different sleep, different meals, different exercise techniques, understanding the boundary cases, so to speak. And then in the final week, we recommend people do this optimization where they take all the lessons they’ve learned and shoot for maximum metabolic control and try to nail all of the scores in the system.
Josh Clemente (38:35) That 28-day program is something that people really, they learn a tremendous amount and that knowledge is useful going forward. And we recommend – Because everything is dynamic. The human body changes all the time – stress, age, body composition – all of this affects your metabolic control. So it’s important that this is not just a one-time thing. It’s something that people can check in as often as they’d like, depending on their goals. We don’t require that people subscribe in an ongoing fashion in order to use the product. Some people like to use it yearly. Some people will like to use it quarterly, bi-annually. Other people do want to subscribe full-time and wear this – Once they put the device on, the data is so compelling and the accountability is so strong, that they just don’t ever want to take it off. I’m one of those people. I’m going on three years now of continuous use with these sensors. And I learn something new literally every week. So eventually, as the cost of the product improves, as the supply gets larger and the market economics can do their thing, we will be pushing to more subscription based models that people can have likely at a lower cost, but continual access and we have a longitudinal data set.
Max Spence (39:46) Okay. Okay. Awesome. And then you guy’s whole idea would be like everybody can have this at their fingertips and everybody can check what’s going on with their glucose and how eating that banana or having the oatmeal is actually affecting their body?
Josh Clemente (40:03) Exactly. Yeah. There are a ton of really, really, really interesting and counterintuitive examples that people are learning all the time. Oatmeal is a great example. if you Google, “what’s the healthiest breakfast?” Top five results every time are going to include oatmeal. And the reason for that is we just have this historical assumption, because it’s a whole grain, so to speak, that it’s a really good meal by itself. About 70% plus of our users find that when they have oatmeal on its own, they have a pre-diabetic or sometimes a diabetic range blood sugar response to this. And what that means is your glucose is skyrocketing, that’s an inflammatory situation, your body wants to very quickly correct that and bring glucose levels back down into the normal range. And so your body will overcompensate, for the most part, and your blood sugar will then crash back down as insulin floods your system and during that crash, people tend to feel fatigued, irritable, hungry, and they go and they grab another meal of some kind and start the process all over again.
Josh Clemente (41:00) And so once you see that and you realize, “Oh! So this thing that I’ve been doing that I actually don’t even really enjoy all that much, eating oatmeal every morning, is not actually great for me and if I just have this other thing like avocado toast or a couple eggs, that response and the qualitative experience I have afterwards and also the quantitative risk associated with having these inflammatory blood sugar spikes, completely changes.” And so that’s the type of realization.
Josh Clemente (41:26) Another one is just seeing the difference between a pressed juice where all the fiber is stripped out of fruits and vegetables versus eating the whole fruits and vegetables on their own. The difference is staggering. And so people are oftentimes thinking, if fruits and vegetables are good for me in small quantities, they must be really good for me in large quantities. So you grab this large juice as an alternative to something sugary and quote unquote, “unhealthy” and oftentimes, people have the exact same blood sugar response to this press juice as they would to, for example, a milkshake or a soda. And so it’s important for people to realize that everything is nuanced, balance is important and with the data you can start to navigate these decisions with real concrete competence.
Max Spence (42:08) Oh, okay. Okay. Awesome. Yeah. I’m still blown away with this just this one podcast, how much more I’ve just learned from speaking to you about health in general and what you’re eating and making sure to be eating properly just like that. Because everybody thinks, like what you were saying there with oatmeal – I eat oatmeal in the morning and I have no idea how it’s actually affecting my body at all. Is it good? Is it bad? Should I be actually eating the eggs and avocado and toast? What should I be switching that up with? How my body reacts to it?
Josh Clemente (42:40) And it’s something that again, I don’t want to imply that no one should have pressed juice or no one should have oatmeal. It’s more so, do you know if you should have pressed juice or if you should have oatmeal? Is it something that is supporting your goals? If that’s weight loss or if that’s focus or if that’s just reduction of long term risk? It’s important that no matter what our dietary philosophy, whether we’re plant-based, vegan, carnivore, keto – whether or not you fall in some dietary philosophy, it’s important that you ground that in data and that data should be yours. It should be your body, not an assumption based on studies on other people. I think that studies and the academic research are very important but the concepts have to make their way down to the individual and the individual is not the average. And so that’s what we’re saying is just each person should have some information to guide their choices.
Max Spence (43:32) Yeah. Yeah. 100%. Yeah. This podcast has absolutely been incredible speaking with you. I know we’re coming to the end here, but where can – Like you guys, I’m 100% interested in this now, with what you guys are doing. This sounds amazing that when this gets rolled out to full marketing and comes to Canada, I’m from Canada, so when it comes to Canada, I’ll definitely be looking into this. Where can people actually find out more about this? And if they want to actually volunteer to be part of the research group or something?
Josh Clemente (44:03) Yeah. Absolutely. So the website is levelshealth.com. I highly recommend starting off at the blog, which you’ll find on the homepage. It’s our way of introducing the concepts of metabolism and describing how they affect each of us. It doesn’t matter who you are and where you fall on the metabolic health spectrum, you have a metabolism and your metabolism is affected by the choices you make every day. We are the sum of the choices we make. We get compounding interest on those choices, whether positive or negative, and so learning from the blog about how your specific goals may be affected by your metabolic fitness is a great place to start.
Josh Clemente (44:40) You can find us on social on Twitter and Instagram @Levels. And if you’d to get involved now, you can throw your email in on the website. So on the homepage, you’ll see a sign up to get in the loop and we share updates through our email list there and our newsletter. And of course, we’ll be releasing details about our big launch as we get closer to it. So that’s the best way to get involved, and of course, reach out to us, ask questions, we’re highly motivated to learn from our audience and find out what we can provide to better understand metabolism.
Max Spence (45:13) Awesome. Awesome. That’s incredible. Where can people actually find out about your personal brand and more about what’s going on with you inside the company and stuff?
Josh Clemente (45:25) Yeah. So I’ve loved doing podcasts to describe the process here. I think it’s really important that we be very transparent about this. We’re all at the company, very excited to be working on this project and very transparent, I think, as a culture on what’s going on and the challenges we’re facing and just helping other people who are going through similar big problem solving choices, helping them as we can to do so effectively.
Josh Clemente (45:55) So you can reach me. I’m on Instagram @josh.f.clemente and I’m on Twitter @joshsforrest. Reach out. Shoot me a DM. I’m happy to share info and excited to be in touch with people. And all my co founders are also on Twitter and Instagram and you’ll find them linked directly through my profiles. So that’s probably the best way to get in touch with us.
Josh Clemente (46:16) And yeah, I think, personal brand is something I’d never really thought much about. But generally, I think the best place to go is just tuning into these podcasts and sending feedback on them and letting me know what you’d like to hear more of, and of course, repeat appearances would be awesome. I’d love to come back on and talk about things as they develop. They’re changing quickly.
Max Spence (46:37) Yeah. Yeah. 100%. Yeah. I would love to have you again. I’m really interested in you guy’s company now. That sounds really cool when that gets rolled out and it becomes very simple and normalized to get this and stuff. And I think it’s going to be a huge benefit for people. And probably when you get – You guys probably have goals in the future to take advantage of the technology that’s within it, that you can actually probably get a lot better and stuff, which I’m super excited for because I think that’s going to pretty much skyrocket people’s health and how much they know and how much they can actually individualize their plans and their training plans to themselves.
Josh Clemente (47:18) Absolutely.
Max Spence (47:19) Yeah. Yeah. So guys, I highly recommend that you go check out Levels the company. Also go check out Josh on social media as well. And if you like this podcast, please subscribe. Leave a like. Leave a comment. It’s been great having you on the show, Josh.
Josh Clemente (47:34) Thanks a lot for having me, Max. And yeah, I just really appreciate the opportunity.