In this episode of From Nothing, podcast host Ian Sefferman speaks with Levels head of growth Ben Grynol about the process of scaling a quickly growing startup. He shared both the big wins for Levels, such as their successful fundraising and podcast awareness campaign, as well as challenges such as the growing pain of having an enormous waitlist.
The implications of eating a sandwich
Every meal has a unique impact on your body. Biowearables like Levels help unlock the mystery of those everyday decisions.
A lot of people don’t know, the implications of eating a sandwich, like they don’t understand, “Oh, if I feel sleepy in the afternoon, and I need another coffee.” Or so that is the thought process, it’s actually very likely due to a spike in your glucose levels where your body’s producing a ton of insulin to try to bring those back down. And the byproduct is that when you’re hyperglycaemic, high blood sugar, you start to feel pretty groggy. And so by giving people insight into what their Levels are doing in real-time, it helps people to not only get more energy and feel better, but their overall health, like the implications of poor metabolic health are so drastic. It’s the largest epidemic in the world that no one’s talking about. And so we’re trying to shed light on it and really go upstream, say what happens when you can start to mitigate things at the source.
Taking Levels from zero to one
The first stage of funding for Levels relied heavily on anecdotal evidence from Levels founder Josh Clemente.
2019 is when the incorporation date happened for Levels. And in that period, when Josh and Sam met up between, we’ll call it May and June, they had met in New York. And Sam’s pretty well connected in the tech and startup ecosystem. So he started having conversations, or the two of them had conversations with different angels. Everyone was pretty interested in what they were doing. But it was still early. This is pre-product. This is based on vision. This is based on Josh showing up and anecdotally wearing a CGM and saying, “Hey, this is improving my life.” It’s a great anecdote, but until you actually see data or product, it’s harder to get behind. But there were some people that wrote some checks.
The turning point
Levels started seeing true traction in July, when their waitlist skyrocketed and the number of investors increased.
There was this inflection point in July when the waitlist just went like that. You can see that’s where exponential growth really began. And so it was just this perfect storm of all these factors were the compounding of traction with growth through COVID, with being pretty smart about existing cash flow led to Sam running this really interesting fundraising process of doing stack notes. He just kept stacking them and stacking them. I mean, if you look at the cap table, we’ve got over 150 investors with all different applications, but it led to this, like pretty significant seed round where Levels went from not having any leverage to having a ton of leverage and being able to dictate, loosely, loosely dictate the terms and say like, “Here’s what we want for dilution.” And so yeah, it was really neat. So October is when the round actually closed. And it was objectively, it was one of the biggest seed rounds of ‘2020. So it was pretty cool.
Don’t wait until your MVP is perfect
By shipping an early prototype, Levels was able to get feedback going from their beta users. Ben says that early users are more forgiving than you might think.
I think sometimes teams will think too long and hard about perfecting things. Even perfecting what seems like an MVP. So they’ll get to a point where they’re afraid to ship something because it’s not good enough for market or I’ll be judged on it…the very first version of the app allowed you to input your meal. And your meal can only… The tag that was associated with it, no matter what it was, was pork tacos. So you would go to input, like you’d take a picture of something, you couldn’t change the text. So every meal you had was pork tacos, and everyone was okay was shipping it. It was just, well, it’s not perfect, but it’s something. And so we sort of have this pork tacos mentality that it takes a lot to really frustrate people. There’s a lot of wiggle room in early days where, when you’re at a mature level of the company, sure you have to be a little more buttoned-up. But we’ve got a ton of wiggle room, and we’ve taken that opportunity as being something graceful that we can use to our benefit right now.
There’s no way around it, CGMs are currently a big investment. The Levels team hopes to make the tech more mainstream so that they can quickly bring prices down.
With CGMs, they’re so inaccessible from a price point right now, because the hardware is so expensive. Call a spade a spade, $400 a month is a very expensive monthly subscription. And so how does that come down? Well, volume and scale…What we want to do is change the business model where we say, how can we make it so it feels more like Prime or Costco where you don’t actually think of canceling your subscription ever because it’s something that you control how much benefit you get out of it. And so that’s the way we’ve been thinking about Levels is, how can we get it where if you want to use a CGM once a year for two weeks, it doesn’t bother us, if you want to use it 26 weeks of the year, we got you. So yeah, it’s expensive now. And the goal is, the more that we can work with the hardware manufacturers to get volume, the more we can get down to a price point that’s like, “Oh, this is very much a commoditized good.”
A new funding mindset
Levels CEO Sam Corcos is a fan of network effects. The result is a group of investors that are extremely diverse compared to typical fundraising.
Typical fundraising is done through degree centrality. Marc Andreessen is going to know Gary Tan. They’ll have done a deal or talked or they might even text. We don’t know. But that’s just degree centrality. And so Sam was like, “What does it look like if…” He sort of designed it in his head. He’s like, what does it look like if you have a scientist, a baseball player, or rock star, maybe somebody who’s into fundraising in tech, and like an actor, and all these people who probably have never crossed paths before, and you just put them in your cap table? How many people do they know that need, like health and wellness products. And so he ran this process, and that’s why we have Marc Randolph is one of our investors. We’ve got Lenny, we’ve got a16z, we’ve got Founder Collective, we’ve got Matthew Dellavedova, who’s in the NBA, he’s got all these unrelated people, and they all come together. And they’re part of this Levels family, which is pretty neat.
The benefits of podcast marketing
Levels decided early on that they didn’t want to compete for three seconds of attention with product ads. Instead, their awareness campaign is centered on educating prospective users via podcasts.
Podcasts alone, were this huge part of our strategy where we’re like, hey, I think that like based on early traction, based on that inflection point, that’s a signal that we’re landing in a place where we’re getting people’s attention. And it’s sustained. And they want to hear about this thing. Sometimes Matthew McConaughey does a book tour. And he goes on Rogan, and Maron and Bertcast, name a podcast. All the main podcasts. They do this tour. And it’s like people might check out after a while, but because health and what we’re doing in health, like there’s tech, there’s health, there’s all these unrelated things. We could spread across all these different shows that had some overlap in audience, and some had none at all. And in doing so, that gave us a ton of traction as far as like a brand awareness exercise. So where people might have paid a million bucks in like Facebook advertising exposure, where they said, we’re going to run an awareness play on Facebook, just to get our name out there, we’re not even going to worry about conversions just got to get known. We ran it as a podcast process. And it cost money to do that. But it’s also beneficial because you’re like, “Oh, we didn’t compete for three seconds of attention, we educated people for 45 minutes or an hour on this thing.”
The trouble with a big waitlist
The waitlist for Levels is enormous, which means that the team is slowly trying to get new beta users on board without making other customers feel like they’ve been forgotten.
That’s something that we’re challenged with. We’ve been trying to drip some people in. We don’t have a good process. To be totally honest, we don’t have a good process. We’re very aware that we have to do better. It’s one of those things where it’s kind of like, we’ve got the tiger by the tail, and you’re like, “Oh, geez, how do we address this?” Do you take it accounting? Do you do like FIFO principles. What is the right move? Are the people who were first in still engaged? Or are they a bit resentful because they signed up in January of ’20? And they’re like, “Man, I’m not in yet. What are you goofballs doing?” That’s something we think about, I think about daily because that very much falls under growth. But the caveat to all of this is, we’re only letting in a maximum of 1,000 people per month into the beta…We’re trying to do these small drip things. And that’s not going to make a dent in 100,000 plus, it’s not scalable. It’s not going to make a dent in that waitlist. But it’s better than zero. And so we just every day, every week, we’re trying to be one step better than we were the day before. But it’s a really difficult thing to have. Is like how do you make people feel that they’re valued, they’re part of this thing that feels like this exclusive insider’s club to the tech world.
Ian Sefferman: On this episode we speak with Ben Grynol on the head of growth at Levels Health. Levels is a metabolic health company. It’s under two years old and was founded in June of ‘2019. It closed a massive $12 million seed led by Andreessen Horowitz in November 2020. They currently have a waitlist of over 100,000 people looking to use their product. Throughout our conversation, we learned from Ben how Levels got started, what an MVP looks like in digital health, their unique approach to fundraising using network theory, and how they hacked their way to quick feedback cycles by approaching the consumer first, let’s dive in.
Ian Sefferman: So we have Ben here with us, Ben is head of growth at Levels. Levels is, I think, one of the most interesting digital health companies in the world today. Ben, do you want to just give like a 30 seconds, one minute summary of who the heck you are, who the heck Levels is and what you guys are up to?
Ben Grynol: Yeah, so lead growth with the team at Levels. And we’re building tech in the metabolic health space. And so what that means is we’ve got these things are called continuous glucose monitors. And they’re pieces of hardware that are made by other… Excuse the box noise. Other manufacturers, there’s a little one so people can see for reference. But what it does is it measures your glucose levels in real time.
Ben Grynol: So we’re building a software layer on top of that so that people can get deeper insight about what their glucose levels are doing in real time, like a lot of people don’t know, the implications of eating a sandwich, like they don’t understand, “Oh, if I feel sleepy in the afternoon, and I need another coffee.” Or so that is the thought process, it’s actually very likely due to a spike in your glucose levels where your body’s producing a ton of insulin to try to bring those back down. And the byproduct is that when you’re hyperglycaemic, high blood sugar, you start to feel pretty groggy.
Ben Grynol: And so by giving people insight into what their Levels are doing in real time, it helps people to not only get more energy and feel better, but their overall health, like the implications of poor metabolic health are so drastic. It’s the largest epidemic in the world that no one’s talking about. And so we’re trying to shed light on it and really go upstream, say what happens when you can start to mitigate things at the source. And really hard problem to solve, because it affects billions of people around the world. But really interesting in the fact that it is sort of this wild west open landscape to see where we can take things. So yeah, very interesting.
Ian Sefferman: And when was the company founded? And how was it founded?
Ben Grynol: Yeah, so pretty interesting story. So 2017 Josh Clemente had started working on a thing called, let’s see, it was called… He called it Maple Biometrics. One day, he sort of had this insight that he read a paper by Dom D’Agostino, who’s actually one of our advisors now, and it was when he was at SpaceX, he was looking into… He was running the life support systems for people going into space.
Ben Grynol: And so he read this paper that said, people who are… Or people, sorry it was mice. Mice who are in a ketogenic state actually have different outcome, like different metabolic health, it gives them… There’s a higher probability of survival. That they’re not going to crash and burn. So anyways, he read this paper, and it sort of opened his eyes and he’s like, wow what is happening with my metabolic health and started digging into it. And so he was able to finally through a lot of pain points and challenges with doctors and physicians who just denied him of getting a CGM, he was able to get one.
Ben Grynol: And then he started recording his data in the most MVP way, which was in a spreadsheet. He was just tracking all this data. And he’s saying, what is it doing? Because there wasn’t a layer. To just have this thing give you data. That’s the problem with it right now is it just gives you data. But what does that mean? So he started tracking this in a spreadsheet and trying to run regressions and do all the great things one would do.
Ben Grynol: And he finally, one day said, I’m going to start a company called Maple Biometrics. And that ended up turning into Frontier Biometrics, and he did it for a couple years till 2019. And he was about to give up, so it’s not even been two years that Levels has existed. He was about to give up and out of the blue Sam Corcos, who’s one of the co-founders and now CEO. He called Josh and he said, “Hey…” Like he was looking for advice for a friend about something totally unrelated, and he’s like, “What are you up to?”
Ben Grynol: And they were both working independently on things. And so, again, Josh is about to give up. And that conversation led to, we should probably meet up in the next couple weeks, and they met up. And from there, it was just like wildfire. It went from being this company that was almost folded to two months later, they had Levels incorporated as a company, and it’s just been sort of full blast from there. So yeah, pretty long winded history, but really interesting. Looking at it from a founders journey perspective Levels might not have been if Sam didn’t call Josh.
Ian Sefferman: That’s super cool. And then like, I think I know the answer to all of this, but you guys raised a massive seed round, at least what I think is a massive seed round. Was there financing before that into the business? And what did that seed round look like?
Ben Grynol: Yeah, so what we’ll do is let’s rewind back to… So June 2019. June 24, actually, 2019 is when the incorporation date happened for Levels. And in that period, when Josh and Sam met up between, we’ll call it May and June, they had met in New York. And Sam’s pretty well connected in the tech and startup ecosystem. So he started having conversations, or the two of them had conversations with different angels.
Ben Grynol: Everyone was pretty interested in what they were doing. But it was still early. This is pre-product. This is based on vision. This is based on Josh showing up and anecdotally wearing a CGM and saying, “Hey, this is improving my life.” It’s a great anecdote, but until you actually see data or product, it’s harder to get behind. But there were some people that wrote some checks. And so there was a very modest amount of funding.
Ben Grynol: Initially, it was around $500,000. And it worked out to I think it was like around a million bucks had been raised by December of ’19, January of ’20. And so they thought, there’s this process that will start running, we’re starting to ship orders, like at this point, they’re starting to ship orders. And actually, one caveat to all of this. Levels is an entirely remote company, has been since day one. So there isn’t a COVID factor here where it’s like, oh, let’s just be remote. It was just always a remote company.
Ben Grynol: So in January of ’20, Sam started reaching out to investors, and he said, “This, what we’re doing, we’d love to have conversations about doing proper seed round, which was going to be or is planned for the spring.” And a lot of people were just adverse to funding a remote company, they’re like, “I don’t think you can make it work.” There wasn’t a ton of traction at that time, either. A few thousand bucks or… I think would have been, let’s say, it was like $10,000 MRR, like very low revenue, for doing a larger seed raise of $3 million or $4 million.
Ben Grynol: And so it was an uphill battle. And then that, let’s say that was like for six weeks. And then, of course, March 1, like we’ll call it like, March 7 was the day that the world closed. Where everybody said, we’re not going to conferences, and Facebook and Twitter and everybody pulled the plug on offices. Investors went silent, like completely silent. And so they were at this interesting point, because by then they thought they would be pretty close to closing around. And they’re going, “Uh oh, are we going to have cashflow problems?” What do we have to do.
Ben Grynol: And so they doubled down on everything and buttoned up any type of burn and just said, “Let’s be really smart. And let’s execute the shit out of this and see what happens.” And they came out of it in June in July, when investors started… I mean, everybody who would know funding knows that like the funding landscape just dried up between March and June. So investors weren’t returning emails and June, July rolls around and people start replying to the initial emails, “Well, hey anything going on.” And through that period, they got some pretty good growth.
Ben Grynol: And so up until the fall, like growth kept accelerating. And there was this inflection point in July when the waitlist just went… Like that. You can see that’s where exponential growth really began. And so it was just this perfect storm of all these factors were the compounding of traction with growth through COVID, with being pretty smart about existing cash flow led to Sam running this really interesting fundraising process of doing stack notes.
Ben Grynol: He just kept stacking them and stacking them. So there was like… I mean, if you look at the cap table, we’ve got over 150 investors with all different applications, but it led to this, like pretty significant seed round where Levels went from not having any leverage to having a ton of leverage and being able to dictate, loosely, loosely dictate the terms and say like, “Here’s what we want for dilution.” And so yeah, it was really neat. So October is when the round actually closed. And it was objectively, it was one of the biggest seed rounds of ‘2020. So it was pretty cool.
Ian Sefferman: How much was it again?
Ben Grynol: 12.
Ian Sefferman: Led by?
Ben Grynol: Jeff Jordan and Vijay Pande from Andreessen Horowitz. So they’ve been an awesome partner.
Ian Sefferman: That’s super cool. So just playing it back a little bit. Let me make sure I totally understand it. So May, June, they start talking to each other. June 24, they incorporate the company. They really didn’t have anything at that point. There wasn’t a real product. It was just basically an Excel spreadsheet.
Ben Grynol: Literally that. I mean, so Josh was working on, like one pagers and business plans. But that was it. There wasn’t like this product that was out there where Josh was shipping that. It was, I’m wearing this thing, and I’m trying to convince other people of the huge benefits and the upside that I’ve seen in my life over the years. Over the past two years, I’ve drastically changed my life and my diet, and I feel better. So it was all anecdotal. And so Sam was saying, “Okay, we have to start shipping units, we got to get people excited. How are we going to do that?” And so that’s what it was at that point in June?
Ian Sefferman: And then by the time you get to the end of the year, you raised something like close to $1 million. And you already had thousands of dollars in MRR at that point.
Ben Grynol: Yeah, I think it would have been again, we’re pretty transparent with numbers. So we’ve got a ton of people on our investor updates, and we’re going to start publishing them retro actively 12 months out. So even on our weekly, all hands meetings, we talk about down to the dollar, how much cash we have in the bank. And it’s not anything that we keep too close to our chest. But I think we would have been at… January of ’20, might have been $10,000. December might have been like seven or eight. Again, I’d have to look at the numbers. But yeah, it was pretty low.
Ian Sefferman: So how did you get the product built and get traction that quickly? That feels pretty fast. That’s six months to product and traction.
Ben Grynol: You got it. So that was the interesting thing. And that’s what actually makes this whole thing really neat is that… We’re trying to hold this value really close internally is we call it pork tacos. And there’s a story behind it, which I’ll get to. But I think sometimes teams will think too long and hard about perfecting things. Even perfecting what seems like an MVP.
Ben Grynol: So they’ll get to a point where they’re afraid to ship something because it’s not good enough for market or I’ll be judged on it. Or who knows what arbitrary signal it is. But when they’re thinking like, what is the real MVP to seeing if people will actually value this thing. It was Josh has the most expertise in CGMs. So he can technically answer questions for you when you’re wearing one. If we ship somebody this box, it was literally these. So these are Habit Libre sensors.
Ben Grynol: So they would ship those in these cardboard boxes. And that was it. They would show up on people’s doorstep after months of ordering. They’d be like, “What is this? I don’t remember.” But what people would do is they’d apply them, and they’d wear them. And then they had the ability to text. That was a product. It was being able to text Josh directly. My blood sugar is that this? What does that mean? And so if you think about it, it’s like, does that work for everything? Probably not. Because it seems like you should build a more technical product for something health related and something that’s new.
Ben Grynol: In some markets like that might not work, depends on the category of product you’re building. People will be like, “Man, texting is… There’s much better ways of doing it.” But the challenge was that this was such a new technology that was the most basic level of insight people needed. They just needed to know… They needed to be able to text Josh, “I ate a sandwich and I’m seeing pretty high numbers. Is that a bad thing or a good thing?” And Josh could respond and be like, “It’s not that bad. Don’t worry about it.” It was probably like, “What did you have in the sandwich?” They can ask questions. And that dialog was the product.
Ben Grynol: And so then how did that scale? Like, what’s the v2? Well, the v2 seems like, okay, go build product. But v2 is actually scaling that scrappy approach, which was, how do we get… Instead of one how do we have two? How do we have four? Like, how do we have multiple people being able to text these early members. So then that became the execution, and until we could figure out what the need was, which was, I need insight around like, whether or not this number is good or bad. Is my blood sugar high or low. That’s the point where you go, oh, cool, we can actually build an app.
Ben Grynol: Back to pork tacos, how this came about was the very first version of the app allowed you to input your meal. And your meal can only… The tag that was associated with it, no matter what it was, was pork tacos. So you would go to input, like you’d take a picture of something, you couldn’t change the text. So every meal you had was pork tacos, and everyone was okay was shipping it. It was just, well, it’s not perfect, but it’s something. And so we sort of have this pork tacos, mentality that it takes a lot to really frustrate people. There’s a lot of wiggle room in early days where, when you’re at a mature level of the company, sure you have to be a little more buttoned up. But we’ve got a ton of wiggle room, and we’ve taken that opportunity as being something graceful that we can use to our benefit right now.
Ian Sefferman: Pork tacos, I really enjoy that. And what was the price point at that point?
Ben Grynol: Yeah, so it’s always been $399. This is one of the challenges with CGMs right now and any new tech. And I think this is what’s interesting to apply to… Extrapolate it to other industries. When the DVD player came out, it was, whatever, $20,000, just something absurd. And that wasn’t accessible to a ton of people. And the ecosystem for DVDs couldn’t build around that until there were enough people, you just needed the network effect.
Ben Grynol: And so with CGMs, they’re so inaccessible from a price point right now, because the hardware is so expensive. So it’s not… Call a spade a spade, $400 a month is a very expensive monthly subscription. And so how does that come down? Well, volume and scale. And so you need to take these stepping stones to go cool. In order for a lot of people in the world to benefit from this tech, you need to start tapping into the networks of people who are willing to pay or who can pay for the price point at $400 for the first month. And then from there, it’s like right now it’s $400, and we move down to $199 once their account is set up, and they can change the cadence of their subscription accordingly.
Ben Grynol: Even then $200 a month is an expensive subscription. So we’re trying to get it to the point where… And again, these are conversations we’re having around our business model too. What’s a reasonable business model to have? Do we want to be incentivized on selling hardware? Where we say, “Hey, Ian, hey, Patrick. It’s been two months since your last hardware… Since we fulfilled the last hardware order for you.” Sending marketing emails and whatever it is product nudges, notifications.
Ben Grynol: That’s not a good incentive for us to have if we’re actually incentivized to help people get healthier. What we want to do is change the business model where we say, how can we make it so it feels more like Prime or Costco where you don’t actually think of canceling your subscription ever because it’s something that you control how much benefit you get out of it. And so that’s the way we’ve been thinking about Levels is, how can we get it where if you want to use a CGM once a year for two weeks, it doesn’t bother us, if you want to use it 26 weeks of the year, we got you. So yeah, it’s expensive now. And the goal is, the more that we can work with the hardware manufacturers to get volume, the more we can get down to a price point that’s like, “Oh, this is very much a commoditized good.”
Patrick Haig: And maybe on that point, early days, so between this May, June and end of 2019 I think it was where MRR climbed up to like eight to 10k, were those early customers through network?
Ben Grynol: Yeah, so like the earliest were the investors. So people would put down… You’re going to put down 10 grand, some nominal amount of money. I should probably try this thing. Very few people who invest in products, maybe some will take… Like 50% Just give the check in, they’ll never try a product. 50% want to try it. And because they were unsure of like, what’s this going to be like? What’s this new experience? Plus it has to do with health.
Ben Grynol: I think everybody wants to maintain some level of health. It’s not… Health is not a feature, health is something that we all want to maintain at the highest level of our own health journey. Highest level we can possible. So yeah, the earliest customers were investors like. They were people who’d put in checks and then friends of investors, and how it transpired, like how it went from, let’s say there were five checks in. How it goes from five to having 200 orders, like that’s a pretty big spread. It’s that those investors’ friends, and those investors or anyone who had tried the product started posting on Twitter. They started posting UGC about it. And as soon as that happens, everyone goes, “What’s this latest thing?” And that just turned into this… It really became this nice loop for growth that it was a bit of a flywheel that happened naturally and it’s carried on to this day.
Ian Sefferman: And can you pinpoint that to like, was there one or two people that really made 90% of the referrals. They had a massive following on Twitter. Was it all 100 of these firsts users had a couple 1000 followers and they all talked about it. And they all got one more person.
Ben Grynol: So it was a combination of both. We didn’t have the Oprah effect, where it was like very clear that whomever, Justin Bieber tweeted about it. Somebody who’s like active on Twitter, and everyone’s like, “We have to follow.” We had a lot of benefit from… Lenny was tweeting about it. I’m trying to think of people who have engaged audiences. So I don’t know what Lenny’s following’s at. But let’s say it’s at 50,000. Right now on Twitter. He’s got a pretty engaged following. And so people take stock in what he says.
Ben Grynol: We had enough of those moments. And if you look back to January of ’20, I think, I’d have to double check the number, but I’m pretty sure it was… I was looking at it a couple months ago, it was like, we put out two tweets or something. And there were 2,500 impressions for the Levels account. And this month, what are we… Sorry, last month, April of 2021 so a year and change later, we had 1.85 million impressions through mentions. And that’s through Twitter, that’s not every platform combined. So it’s been this amalgamation of people with enough profile, but also enough engagement. And then all of the other long tail 10 likes and two retweets compounded where it’s just like, you hear enough noise, eventually you’re going to be like, I should probably check this thing out.
Ian Sefferman: Was their intention around who those initial investors should be? Was there any sort of we’re going to target these folks that have some sort of following in health. Or was it like, “Man, we just need some money in the door, let’s just get some money in the door.”
Ben Grynol: Initial money in the door. Later strategy, Sam ran this really interesting process. Which this whole fundraising process is an entirely interesting conversation on its own. But the high level of it is that Sam… So Sam co-founded a company in, I think it was 2016, 2017, called CarDash. He went through YC. They went through the acquisition, and then he took some time off. And when he took time off, like Sam is very curious as a person, he’s very interested in things. And so he just spent months studying network theory, just because it was fun.
Ben Grynol: And so he sort of had this like, lightbulb moment when they were doing fundraising. And he was thinking back about, oh there’s this… If you think about networks, as far as eigenvector centrality versus degree centrality, how does that apply to fundraising? And so he used model in his head, where, if you think about fundraising… So eigenvector centrality is like how much of a network your network has. And degree centrality is like, if I know you and you’re close to Patrick, like we’re… We all live in the Midwest the likelihood of knowing each other, and then like, kind of the same people is pretty high.
Ben Grynol: Eigenvector is like somebody in India, somebody in Russia and somebody in Canada and somebody… You know all these people that are unrelated. And Patrick has the same thing where we’re talking Italy, we’re talking the UK, you name all of these other countries, and you put all these networks together, and that’s eigenvector centrality, where it’s like, that network is actually it’s so interconnected, because it’s so much wider. And then who those people in those other countries know, is also like two degrees away from you, and so they become part of your network.
Ben Grynol: And so he was like, typical fundraising is done through degree centrality. Marc Andreessen is going to know Gary Tan. They’ll have done a deal or talked or they might even text. We don’t know. But that’s just degree centrality. And so Sam was like, “What does it look like if…” He sort of designed it in his head. He’s like, what does it look like if you have a scientist, a baseball player, or rock star, maybe somebody who’s into fundraising in tech, and like an actor, and all these people who probably have never crossed paths before, and you just put them in your cap table?
Ben Grynol: How many people do they know that need, like health and wellness products. And so he ran this process, and that’s why we have Marc Randolph is one of our investors. We’ve got Lenny, we’ve got a16z, we’ve got Founder Collective, we’ve got Matthew Dellavedova, who’s in the NBA, he’s got all these unrelated people, and they all come together. And they’re part of this Levels family, which is pretty neat.
Ben Grynol: The advantage of it is like it’s such an open network, and everyone’s willing to help, maybe because of the product, probably also, because Sam’s very open with the relationships. But you can email any of them and be like, “Hey, Matt, wanted to get your insight on how we might get into the NBA.” And he’s like, “Sure, let’s set up a call.” It’s pretty neat.
Ian Sefferman: That’s really cool.
Ben Grynol: Really neat way of going about fundraising, which is counterintuitive to the advice everybody gives you, which is small cap table, make sure everybody knows each other and is friends.
Ian Sefferman: Do you think was harder to raise that way or easier to raise that way?
Ben Grynol: Harder and easier. I think harder because that’s a lot of relationships to manage. Easier, because you might not be tapping the same well, and sometimes… Sam could speak to it more directly, but sometimes when, if you’re trying to do a deal with anyone. The two of you’re trying to do a deal with somebody and you find out that like Jonathan Trieste is like in on the deal, too, or has already vetted the deal and didn’t do it. That might change your opinion of it. So it’s like that degree centrality.
Ben Grynol: Sort of like Midwest investors. It would maybe change your outlook. I was thinking the seal is good but if like Jonathan’s not into it, like those guys don’t like it. I don’t know, maybe they see something we don’t so we think they’re pretty good investors. So that’s one thing that we know does happen in the fundraising world where like, word can spread pretty quickly if somebody doesn’t believe in a deal that’s going around and that can change the past drastically.
Ian Sefferman: The deals can go stale in degrees centrality, that maybe doesn’t happen in eigenvector centrality.
Ben Grynol: You got it. Yeah.
Ian Sefferman: Super fascinating. Okay, so back to the timeline then. You said it was somewhere in like June of 2020 when the like you can see the exponential curve takeoff. Is that right?
Ben Grynol: Yeah, like July.
Ian Sefferman: July. Okay. Do you guys have any idea what drove that?
Ben Grynol: That was just a lot of… Again, it was a perfect storm of the world had sort of started coming out of COVID. Not coming out of it but I think there were a lot of signals where people said, “It’s okay to go and visit people now.” We’d come out of like shelter in place and all of these thoughts around that. People started maybe getting more active on social again, there’s just this like perfect storm of things that happen and the waitlist really started to grow.
Ben Grynol: There were a lot more member calls that were being done where it’s like, “Cool, let’s like talk with the members and invite them in the beta.” Josh and Casey started appearing on podcasts. Before July that wasn’t really happening. And in July that was like this thing that happened. A little bit of awareness in the media, like some stories started coming out. And so all of these things compounded to like, you can see the line and you’re like, interesting. We went from 20 grand to like 150 a month. And that’s just carried on. It’s pretty neat.
Ian Sefferman: Amazing. So from the outside perspective, media has become central strategy for you guys. I see you in podcasts I see you in the news articles. Is that intentional? Or is that like, you’ve been really lucky and or how’s that worked? Have you hired a PR agency? Or you’ve done it all internally? How have you guys been managing that?
Ben Grynol: Yeah, so both. We thought it was a core part of the strategy. Started with podcasts where we would reach out to different podcasts. We’d identify some, reach out and say “Hey, be cool to connect and do a show together.” That led to okay, what’s like the v2 of it? How do you run a process. And so we outsourced the networking of it and the connections to actually like, close the deal for every single show, to a podcast agency that just ran that process.
Ben Grynol: Because when you start to talk about doing hundreds of podcasts and outreach like that, a lot of it’s based on relationship. And then a lot of it’s based on just opportunity cost and time. So we did that. And then we actually have a PR agency that we work with who again, press is really interesting, because it can be impossible to break into. And super easy. So it’s like impossible if you don’t have the connections, but you have a great story. And it’s super easy if you have an okay story, and the connections. And luckily, like we’ve got subjectively, I’ll say, I think we’ve got like a pretty interesting story. We’re trying to solve a big problem. It’s frontier tech. There are all these reasons why people want to talk about it.
Ben Grynol: And we now have this Press Agency we’re working with it has the connections, which is great. They’ve been incredible. Podcasts alone, were this huge part of our strategy where we’re like, hey, I think that like based on early traction, based on that inflection point, that’s a signal that we’re landing in a place where we’re getting people’s attention. And it’s sustained. And they want to hear about this thing. Sometimes Matthew McConaughey does a book tour. And he goes on Rogan, and Maron and Bertcast, name a podcast. All the main podcasts. They do this tour. And it’s like people might check out after a while, but because health and what we’re doing in health, like there’s tech, there’s health, there’s all these unrelated things.
Ben Grynol: We could spread across all these different shows that had some overlap in audience, and some had none at all. And in doing so, that gave us a ton of traction as far as like a brand awareness exercise. So where people might have paid a million bucks in like Facebook advertising exposure, where they said, we’re going to run an awareness play on Facebook, just to get our name out there, we’re not even going to worry about conversions just got to get known. We ran it as a podcast process. And it cost money to do that. But it’s also beneficial because you’re like, “Oh, we didn’t compete for three seconds of attention, we educated people for 45 minutes or an hour on this thing.”
Ben Grynol: And it doesn’t become a product marketing exercise, it literally becomes an education initiative for content, which is back to our core strategy. We said, from a growth lens, we’re never going to compete for three seconds of attention. It’s something we’ve agreed on. Will we do paid? Likely, but we’re not going to be trying to push the product. Because we know we’ve got a pull product at this point. The wait list is at 110 plus thousand people. So like the product is a pull product. And we’re not taking that for granted. But we’re saying… We’re not concerned about ever selling anybody on a CGM.
Ben Grynol: What we want to do is educate the world about the metabolic health crisis and how they can take hold of their own health. What the implications of it are. And if they choose to use Levels like if that is something they decide, happy days. If not, hopefully they have a takeaway from like our blog or some piece of content that we’re on that they think twice about, like reaching for the coke or the Doritos. That’s like our goal to really make a dent in the epidemic.
Ian Sefferman: Really, really cool.
Patrick Haig: I’m kind of curious because of the size, the magnitude of your waitlist is insane. And like maybe roughly like, what’s your rate of chipping away at that waitlist?
Ben Grynol: That’s something that we’re challenged with. We’ve been trying to drip some people in. We don’t have a good process. To be totally honest, we don’t have a good process. We’re very aware that we have to do better. It’s one of those things where it’s kind of like, we’ve got the tiger by the tail, and you’re like, “Oh, geez, how do we address this?” Do you take it accounting? Do you do like FIFO principles. What is the right move? Are the people who were first in still engaged? Or are they a bit resentful because they signed up in January of ’20? And they’re like, “Man, I’m not in yet. What are you goofballs doing?”
Ben Grynol: That’s something we think about, I think about daily because that very much falls under growth. But the caveat to all of this is, we’re only letting in a maximum of 1,000 people per month into the beta. And where some of these things come from is if the UFC, if the NBA. Name something that is… And it’s not that profile warrants, people to come into the beta over somebody who just signed up on their own. It’s more of like moving the chess piece on the board, where if the UFC says, “Hey, can you get us 20 kits?” And we’re like, well, strategically, what do you do?
Ben Grynol: Do you drip in the person who signed up in January? Or do you do that? And it doesn’t take many UFCs or NBAs or name it. Or people who signed up through, we do have some affiliates that are very beneficial for us. So thought leaders in the health and wellness space, like Dr. Mark Hyman, Dom D’Agostino, Kelly LeVeque. If they do an Instagram post, and they’ve got their affiliate link, and somebody uses it, they skipped line into the beta, because it’s like double opting in.
Ben Grynol: And so it gets really difficult when you start to go, “Wow, those 1,000 spots filled up like that.” It’s not that you don’t have room, it’s just that our infrastructure can only handle that right now. So we’re very much, we’re trying to control growth, like we don’t want it to become a forest fire. Because things will break, it just will. So we’re being careful. But it’s something that I think we all feel this sort of like inherent, call it responsibility. Somebody has showed that they care to try our product, and we feel responsible to make sure that they’re engaged and that they will be able to get into… We don’t we just don’t want health to feel like this exclusive club. It shouldn’t. It’s difficult. It’s a very hard challenge.
Patrick Haig: I mean, to kind of like… Not to pile on you, but to pile on this question is, it feels like at the end of this, you become world class at keeping a waitlist engaged. And I’m curious who you look up to for that, or what have you learned about keeping a waitlist of this size engaged?
Ben Grynol: Yeah, so the honest answer is we haven’t come across anybody that has done it yet. It’s kind of like if anybody knows anybody that’s… We would love to learn too. Because it’s also like, we’re a small team, we’ve got just over, what are we at, 21, 22 people now. And like that includes, let’s say, half the team is technical. So we’re talking about very limited capacity as far as being able to do everything that we’re trying to do. There’s not a right answer.
Ben Grynol: I mean, what’s the right answer is we’re… I guess the short answer is we’re inviting people for waitlist calls. Every week, we’re starting to do waitlist calls where we invite five… We email, let’s say it’s… What are we doing? I think we’re doing 20 or 30 people at a time, and we say the first like, five to 10 people to sign up, we’ll talk to you. We just want to understand what gets you excited about Levels? How did you hear us? My name is Ben, nice to meet you. You’re welcome to come into the beta.
Ben Grynol: We’re trying to do these small drip things. And that’s not going to make a dent in 100,000 plus, it’s not scalable. It’s not going to make a dent in that waitlist. But it’s better than zero. And so we just every day, every week, we’re trying to be one step better than we were the day before. But it’s a really difficult thing to have. Is like how do you make people feel that they’re valued, they’re part of this thing that feels like this exclusive insider’s club to the tech world.
Ben Grynol: And you never want people to feel resentment, like the way some platforms can. Early days of Clubhouse have felt like this, I’m not part of the cool club and even Superhuman felt like that. And again, these are great companies. But there is a reason why these companies could only lead in so many people is like the infrastructure couldn’t handle it, and there’s not a good… There’s just not really a good way of managing massive demand for something. Not that I’ve discovered in Not that I have found case studies that people have discovered. But yeah.
Ian Sefferman: I just want to talk a little bit about, again, rolling the clock back to when you first started shipping units, call it Jan 2020. You guys, still, you needed a physician to prescribe the CGM. How did you make that happen? And did you guys need a partnership with Abbott at that point, or no?
Ben Grynol: Yeah, so let’s rewind, back to Maple Biometrics. So Josh, when he was working on this, he identified these, let’s say there were like five line items. And line items being go, no go line items. Where it’s like, unless all five are checked, then like this is not going to move forward. And one of them was regulation. Which was the regulation in the US is different than Canada. So for anybody who is going to see this or listening, I’m based out of Canada, very different approach where I can walk into the pharmacy buy the CGM off the shelf, no problem.
Ben Grynol: In the US, you need a prescription for it, which is… And the regulations change around the world, depending on the country. And so Josh recognized that, hey, we need this physician network to be able to prescribe. Or we need like one doctor that will like write these prescriptions manually. And he had all these meetings, and he could not convince anyone that like A, this was a real problem and B, this was worth their time, even considering it.
Ben Grynol: And so that was where he got frustrated is like back up to April 2019, when he was about to give up. And then he and Sam started working together. One of those things that they needed was building this physician network. And so that in itself is very difficult, because you go cool, if we’re going to scale this across the country, how do we do that? Well, you need a network of physicians. How do you get that? You need access to infrastructure, like Truepill, where they have the network of physicians in these cloud based pharmacies to actually fulfill orders. And so that was hard, like he was trying to get in touch with Truepill for a long time. And then I think it was December of ’19 was… Pretty sure it was December. November, December, is where he finally got a meeting with Truepill. They’re like, “Yeah, let’s do it. Done.” So that was like, “Oh, we can start shipping.” It would have been November, I think, because November is when the very first order shipped.
Ian Sefferman: So Truepill actually has the physicians, they have a network of physicians.
Ben Grynol: You got it.
Ian Sefferman: And you fill out the questionnaire on Levels, Levels sends that to Truepill, you may have a doctor interaction at that point, or no, is that always Yes?
Ben Grynol: Yeah. It’s all… You don’t have to do a phone call. You just have to answer a questionnaire. So it says things like, are you type one or type two diabetic? And if somebody answers yes, then they can’t use Levels because even though we’re the software portion of it, we’re the insight layer. If we give the poor insight based on what the CGM is doing, that’s not good. And so we don’t have FDA approval for our product to be used within the diabetic community yet. Other questions are like, “Are you pregnant?” Because again, that’s not a segment that we’re allowed to provide the software to yet. So you fill out the questionnaire, you get approved or not approved to move forward. And then from there, you get your prescription and it gets fulfilled.
Ian Sefferman: Cool. That’s really cool. Man, I knew you would be a wealth of knowledge and a really cool conversation Ben. But this is like… I could go on for so long for so long right now.
Ben Grynol: Nice, nice. I’m glad it’s helpful.
Ian Sefferman: Yeah, really helpful. I think really interesting. I mean, I think a lot of people will be interested in this. I guess we’ll find out. But I-
Patrick Haig: I also love that you’ve become like a historian of Levels. It’s just like crazy and valuable.
Ben Grynol: It’s fun, man. It’s super fun. Yeah it’s really fun.
Ian Sefferman: Thank you so much, Ben, for joining us. Now let’s spend a few minutes dissecting what we’ve learned. Here’s Patrick and my candid conversation immediately following speaking with Ben, where we think through all the lessons we just heard and how they could be applicable to other businesses. Enjoy.
Patrick Haig: Okay, well, first thing was like the fundraising process was super interesting. How we more or less did eigenvector centrality, which I sound like a nerd saying that but… Well, we are nerds. But yeah, we did that for fundraising with a couple [crosstalk 00:45:27].
Ian Sefferman: Yeah, we kind of did it, though. I mean, you even did the spreadsheet on it.
Patrick Haig: Well, we did a combination.
Ian Sefferman: It wasn’t so desperate, like a lot of people definitely led to a lot of other people.
Patrick Haig: Well, I think you do. That’s why they’re best done in tandem, which is, you do the eigenvector centrality approach first, because you want breadth and you want spread. And then what everyone always says, which is ask your committed investors for intros, is the degree centrality.
Ian Sefferman: Yeah, that’s right.
Patrick Haig: And that’s exactly what you do. And I honestly feels like that’s what you do with customers, which I know nothing about network theory. But is this network theory? Like you just start with eigenvector and you go with degree centrality? Because if you start with degree centrality, your pool is smaller?
Ian Sefferman: Yeah, it would be much smaller, it’d be tighter, but it’d be much smaller. So that’s like a really interesting thing from a product perspective as well. If you are building something with network effects, you kind of want to start with degree centrality.
Patrick Haig: Right, which is when he got into funnels. I was like, this is interesting, because you have to always balance, with that kind of a waitlist with I get the resentment. I think you saw that play out on Twitter with superhuman early on. Not even that early on, call it 2018 when we started using it, people being like, “Where’s my fucking invite? Can I get on?” You balance the top of the funnel with mid to bottom of the funnel.
Patrick Haig: But you have someone like UFC come on, and you’re like, “Wait, hold on, this is an eigen play. Because we could just tap a whole nother pool.” Which yeah, it’ll increase top of funnel, it might frustrate more people, but it’ll just give us much more access to the universe. The customers who we would otherwise not reach. So I get that strategic call. Just, I also get the friction of the call.
Ian Sefferman: Yeah, yeah. And then if you think about superhuman. Superhuman very much took the degree centrality approach to managing their waitlist. It was like, yeah, you’re going on a waitlist if you don’t know anybody, and like you’re never getting off that waitlist. But if you know one person who uses superhuman who will [crosstalk 00:47:36]-
Patrick Haig: Immediate onboarding.
Ian Sefferman: Immediate onboarding.
Patrick Haig: But I guess they also took the same approach, which was insiders first.
Ian Sefferman: Yeah.
Patrick Haig: A lot of investors.
Ian Sefferman: Yep.
Patrick Haig: Perhaps investors are just way too active on Twitter.
Ian Sefferman: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s definitely VC Twitter is loud.
Patrick Haig: It’s robust.
Ian Sefferman: But that was… I mean, now we’re getting into so that initial product. Which was the text messaging.
Patrick Haig: Oh right. Yeah.
Ian Sefferman: That was wild.
Patrick Haig: Right, then we were talking about is that actually… It’s insane and it’s awesome. And it’s really impressive. And it’s like, why didn’t I think of that? But then for our purposes, it’s like, okay, well, actually how translatable is that. It feels like with consumer there is, as Ben even said, there is a lower level of fidelity required. The threshold for frustration is quite high with consumers. In healthcare, if you’re talking like oh, well, health systems, hell no. Employers, hell no. Consumers, yes. Providers? Probably hell no. Maybe a little bit, because they’re kind of consumery.
Ian Sefferman: Maybe there’s like a large enough swath of them that some of them are innovative and have higher thresholds.
Patrick Haig: Or like indie practices, who can kind of do their own thing. Although the profile of a doctor tends to be different. But yeah that was interesting. It pushed me immediately to be like, wait, okay. How do we think even scrappier validation?
Ian Sefferman: Yeah, it totally did. It also makes me think about like Calm started with consumers and then move to employers. I think Levels is trying to do the same. My understanding is that long term, they want to be built into health plans, they want to be covered, they want to sell into self insured employers. I want to talk to Ben about this more, but that’s my understanding about what they want to do.
Ian Sefferman: But they’re starting with consumers. So I don’t know if that’s because from their perspective, they would start with employers or health plans, but you have to be FDA approved in order to like make that actually worthwhile.
Patrick Haig: [crosstalk 00:49:59].
Ian Sefferman: Yeah, I’m not sure if like what’s driving that. Or if they’re just like, “No, we can build up a massive base and a huge brand name and then we can just shift over.” Which is more of the Calm play.
Patrick Haig: The Calm versus Headspace thing.
Ian Sefferman: Exactly.
Patrick Haig: I think early startups like we know the game, it’s speed the money. It’s speed to traction, because that’s what you need to fundraise if you’re a venture scale, venture backed company. And I think it’d be silly, which is the whole friction we’re running into, which is like if an employer is your end customer okay, you just have to take the punches.
Ian Sefferman: Yep. Yep. If there is no way around, if there’s no way to get to the consumer first, it just won’t play that way. Yeah, you just kind of got to deal with it. It certainly can’t be as crappy as text messages because you got HIPAA to deal with.
Patrick Haig: Right. HIPAA, and then by extension, HR team, a legal team, procurement team. Yeah, so it definitely… I was like, that’s super cool. I don’t think it’s translatable to everything. At the same time, though I also flipped it was like any idea that we come across that is a founder wants to sell to into the enterprise. I’m like, wait, actually, how do we start this with consumer? Is that a stupid idea?
Ian Sefferman: Yeah, exactly. Like that should be the lens for everything. Because we didn’t get into it. But I think, fundamentally, that’s what allows them to shorten their feedback cycle. It shortens their feedback cycle, it shortens their traction cycle.
Patrick Haig: Yeah. Which oh, my God, are we now going to get into this trend of… It was like BYO SAS. Is it going to be like BYO healthcare benefits? Jesus.
Ian Sefferman: You bring your own… Can you imagine like, here’s my network. This is my personal network.
Patrick Haig: Right, I’m going to be really, really start-upy, but it’s like, I use Levels, I use Zero Fast. All these things I use, and I’m like, “Employers, so you’re going to pay for all these, right? Plug it into your benefits ecosystem.”
Ian Sefferman: Which would be really cool, actually.
Patrick Haig: I mean, it’d be super cool.
Ian Sefferman: You almost wonder like is that sort of like the ultimate FSA?
Patrick Haig: Yeah, it’s like reverse FSA.
Ian Sefferman: Yeah, it’s like, your employer gives you a budget like, “Here spend this. You choose what your stack is, but spend it.”
Patrick Haig: I guess that’s more or less an FSA.
Ian Sefferman: It’s an FSA.
Patrick Haig: It’s just FSA but it’s probably a different feel. It’s like your employer is saying, “Cool, you get to use all that. We’re going to cover all that.”
Ian Sefferman: Which, honestly just gives me an idea. Is there a digital health FSA? An FSA that is wholly… There are FSA IDs that will like, you go to Walgreens and you buy toilet paper. I don’t know, toilet paper is not probably covered under the FSA but-
Patrick Haig: Sunscreen is.
Ian Sefferman: Yeah, you buy sunscreen and it’s like cool yep sunscreen at Walgreens is totally covered. Sunscreen at Amazon is not, or however your FSA runs. What if you had the digital FSA which is like yeah, you’ve got Calm is covered.
Patrick Haig: Now you got… So I’m on FSA Feds comm hopefully that’s legitimate website looking at healthcare FSA eligible expenses. And there are a lot. I have no idea. Continuous, continuous. Not continuous glucose monitoring. But anyway, it is interesting. I wonder whether let’s see if digital, digital. Diabetic monitors. That’s the thing.
Ian Sefferman: Yeah, but that may mean that it has to be FDA approved. Oh, well, I mean, I guess the monitor itself is.
Patrick Haig: Oh, I think it’s… If you call it a diabetic monitor, I’m guessing that’s to Ben’s questionnaire point. If you say yes I have type one type two you can’t have it.
Ian Sefferman: Exactly. Yeah.
Patrick Haig: Which was interesting by itself. Plus one again for Canada for be able to walk in and buy that over the counter.
Ian Sefferman: Okay, so then you get to the other thing I think I learned was around the early marketing. So it started with investors that liked the product and told their friends and wrote about it on Twitter and their friends wrote about it on Twitter, cool, interesting. So that’s I think immediately valuable to know. Okay, that’s one place. And then it was podcast plus media. It’s just social, podcast, media.
Patrick Haig: Yep.
Ian Sefferman: Massive growth. Which his point to PR is really easy if you know people and you have an okay story and really hard if you have an unbelievable story and don’t know anybody. From our perspective, man, we need to know people. Which is… I don’t know. Where’s Suneel on this right now?
Patrick Haig: To me it rang true. It hearkened back to our MDHQ days where-
Ian Sefferman: Yeah, we knew Sarah. We knew Sarah [crosstalk 00:55:11]-
Patrick Haig: We knew Satah. And then we had stories that were, I don’t know, interesting to us, but in the grand scheme, perhaps not all that interesting. Which, of course, like this is right up my audience’s alley. So in that regard, it was easy. Today if you asked us, I mean, it’s been [inaudible 00:55:27], let’s go get some press. I don’t know anyone in the employer benefits trades.
Ian Sefferman: Exactly. I don’t know anybody in just some more mainstream trade, like a business trade. How would you get the Wall Street Journal to talk about it. I don’t know, I have no freaking clue.
Patrick Haig: Yeah, and then I mean, the compounding it makes sense. The podcast agency was a new thing to me. I did not know that there were agencies that purely helped you get on podcasts, do their own relationships. So it feels like certainly that audience at that price point it makes sense. That was something I now want to look into. What else was there? Oh, I want to hear more about the first year and a half to two years of failure.
Ian Sefferman: Oh yeah, Maple Biometrics.
Patrick Haig: Yeah, Biometrics, yeah. What was he doing? What was he trying to do? Okay, so he’s tracking in a spreadsheet? And then what? Was he trying to sell it? And what were they saying? Was he trying to raise money? What were they saying?
Ian Sefferman: I only know like… So I’m excited to listen to their podcast for sure. I’m going to definitely go deep on that. But I know a little bit of the backstory. Do you know much about him? Like, Josh.
Patrick Haig: No.
Ian Sefferman: Okay, so I’ll give you like the 30 second summary. So he’s like a really cool dude. She graduated college and all he wanted was to work for Elon Musk. He’s like, “I just want to work for Elon.” And he got rejected from Tesla. And he was like, “Nope, I’m going to work for Elon. I’m going to do it.” And so he got a job selling used cars to like hold out, to I give him some amount of money while he was holding out to get a job with Elon.
Ian Sefferman: And he is applying to SpaceX. And because luck is involved in every story, his uncle or something like that, like happened to run into somebody who knew Elon and like a chance encounter. And was like worked very closely with Elon or something like this. I might be getting like slight details wrong but this is the basics. It ends up on Elon’s desk and Elon forwards it on somehow. And somebody reaches out from SpaceX to him and says like, “Hey, like you want to come in for an interview.” He interviews, he gets the job, he works at SpaceX.
Ian Sefferman: He’s very early, he ends up like working his way up. He becomes like one of the lead engineers on the life support system. I think maybe the lead engineer on life support systems for SpaceX. And he had always kind of been interested in his health and fitness and so he became like a crossfitter and he was working out hard and building a lot of muscle. But he never felt right. He never felt super fit. And he started reading like a bunch of papers. Somehow, I can’t remember the exact story but somehow he fell into like learning about metabolic health. And that was like… He was like I’m not working. My productivity at work is not even good because something’s going on. And then he fell into metabolic health he found out about continuous glucose monitors. And that’s
Patrick Haig: And that’s where the story begins.
Ian Sefferman: That’s where it all came together.
Patrick Haig: Yeah, that’s pretty cool. So good founder market fit.
Ian Sefferman: Yeah, totally. Totally. Totally. So I want to go backwards in time on that. What wasn’t working for those first two years as well as the red tape, the feedback cycles, go deeper on that.
Patrick Haig: The feedback cycle one’s like very presumptive of me but if you’re selling to consumers.
Ian Sefferman: I mean I think that’s like the fundamental thing. Yeah, I agree with you. But like-
Patrick Haig: And waitlist calls they do like that helps with top of funnel, marketing, value prop, all of that. It’s testing all that.
Ian Sefferman: The Truepill partnership really interesting actually, like if you ever need physician network to prescribe something.
Patrick Haig: There’s your infrastructure. Yeah. That’s definitely More and more important, I am surprised they could not find one doctor.
Ian Sefferman: Right. And I think we would have done the exact same thing. Like, let’s go find out one doctor is going to do this for us.
Patrick Haig: Literally hit probably PCPs and be like, “Hey, will you just take these questionnaires in. We’ll meter them? I don’t know, five a week.” And just be like okay, I’ll write this prescription.
Ian Sefferman: And we’ll pay you $50.
Patrick Haig: Was it like a malpractice issue? Was it… I guess he said, they did not see the benefit. And that’s wild to me.
Ian Sefferman: Yeah, not a single… I mean, I guess I don’t know what type of Doctor it was. But not a single doc was like, “Oh people knowing their metabolic health is actually… Like their glucose level.”
Patrick Haig: Oh, yeah, it’ll change how they eat food. “Oh, I could see the…” It’s like you’re a doctor. You kidding me?
Ian Sefferman: Yeah, right. Not even one of you is going to take a flyer on that.
Patrick Haig: Right, which I forget… Oh, I forget who it was. Someone recently I forget what medium… We could have been on a call with someone and they said, the attitude in healthcare needs to change, it actually does need to trend a little bit towards startup land, which is dangerous and scary, but it’s a little bit of. We need to just start trying things that are not life threatening. I think it was a doctor that said this of just trying things. Because that’s how we learn the most. You can’t always do the evidence based, backed things that have been studied for years. It’s just try something.
Ian Sefferman: I think one of the most interesting things to me though, is there’s a bunch of studies out there now that if you go to a hospital, basically anybody in a hospital, even if doctors are ordering the evidence based stuff, there’s studies that basically show like doing nothing to somebody in a hospital will often improve outcomes over literally anything
Patrick Haig: Oh just pure placebo?
Ian Sefferman: Literally anything.
Patrick Haig: You’re in the building, you have the gown on, here comes recovery.
Ian Sefferman: Which you can blame on placebo, or you could blame on like, wow, actually doctors really… They’re trying their best. But man, as humans they-
Patrick Haig: They make it worse.
Ian Sefferman: We actually don’t know what we’re doing like.
Patrick Haig: Well, I think that as part of that reasoning, which is number one, there’s slowness there. It’s built into the whole process if you rely only on evidence based stuff. The second is we don’t really know what we’re doing. We’re creating the roadmap as we go. So why not contribute to the roadmap? And a third, the other thing that just strikes me is fundamentally you’re tasked with helping an individual feel better.
Patrick Haig: Like yeah, yeah, yeah population health, but that individual’s in front of you. And that’s where I’m like, if I had someone in front of me saying, “I can’t get a hold of this feeling, or I’m super fit on all these other things, but it’s hard for me to wrap my head around my diet.” Why would you not be like, “Oh, yes, well, this is atypical, but you could monitor your glucose levels.”
Ian Sefferman: We could try it out and see if it gives us anything. Maybe you’re pre-diabetic every time you eat and you just didn’t even know.
Patrick Haig: We know a continuous glucose monitor is not going to kill you. There is a whole thing of might it upset you mentally of, “What does this mean?” And then drive you in that direction, but I think there’s a little coddling there.
Ian Sefferman: Yeah, exactly. That feels like part of a doctor’s job to help out.