Josh Clemente has an impressive resume: Tesla intern, SpaceX engineer, and early hire at Hyperloop. So how did a homeschooled kid go from building machines in his backyard to working with tech’s top names? Pure grit. And it’s Josh’s trademark determination that led him to the successful launch of Levels Health. Inspired by his own experience with metabolic instability, he created Levels to interpret data from continuous glucose monitoring for better decision-making. On this episode of The Mentors Podcast, John talks to Sergei and Vadim about getting his company off the ground, scaling responsibly, and the first checks the start-up ever got.
3:07 – How to DIY education
Josh’s homeschooling background gave him the tools for independent learning and an out-of-the-box approach to entrepreneurship.
“What my mom had to do is go about teaching us to teach ourselves. So here’s the textbook. Here are the goals. Here are my metrics on tracking on you and you have to hit these otherwise you’re failing and you can’t do fun stuff And that was the first step towards becoming willing, I think, to just pick up a subject, whatever it was, whether it was educational material or a new industry that was outside of my purview, and try to learn the first principles of it. Figure out, reverse-engineer, what’s going on in the space and try to see where are the edges you can grab onto and do something interesting with. And that really helped in college as well. I, embarrassingly, rarely went to class. I basically would take the textbook and I would volunteer to help with other people’s homework, which allowed me to get more subject matter, more problems, to work on. And that’s how I learned. I would basically hack out the answer to the problems and then do that a couple of times. And then I figured out the underlying technique and that’s really the quickest way I think to understand a problem space.”
12:50 – SpaceX team’s launching power
Josh’s high-stakes experience at SpaceX taught him to hire great minds and inspire them with a sky-high mission.
“What we were trying to do, which is space access to colonize another planet, that seems impossible. But you didn’t break it down even further, it’s just trying to get into orbit with this raw material that’s coming into the factory also seems impossible. And so it’s just layers of impossibility. And so you just go in, you put your head down and you bite off small chunks and just churn. And after a while, you start to see incredible things happening. And so I would say that experience just going through the motions of a truly life-or-death from the inside and realizing that at the end, the success of SpaceX is built on the shoulders of an absolutely stellar team, no pun intended. My greatest friends, many of my greatest friends are from SpaceX and the smartest people I know for sure are working on that problem. And it really drilled home for me that, if you want to achieve great things, you have to bring together big minds and unleash them to do the work. And that requires many things, but primarily I think it requires inspiration. People are not going to work for something that they don’t feel inspired by. Ultimately it also gave me the realization that big missions – big dreams – are achievable actually more so maybe than smaller ones, because you can inspire people with them.”
18:07 – The first cracks in success
Struggling with fatigue and unstable moods, Josh – a CrossFit trainer – began to look towards blood testing.
“While I was at SpaceX, I was a trainer working out pretty hard, and yet I was feeling just incredible fatigue and it was getting worse rapidly. And my day-to-day experience was coupling and making me think that it was burnout, but it was making my workdays just unbearable. I was really struggling to get to work in the morning, struggling to make it through the day and then maintaining my mood and energy to solve problems and work long hours was really challenging. And so this fatigue thing was really tough. And it actually, I expected that when I got my fresh air and took my three month sabbatical and started at Hyperloop, things would be different, but it actually continued exactly the same. And so while working on the mission degraded technologies project, I had some extra time, not really, but I was at least not working in an office environment. I worked from home. And so I started to experiment with blood testing.”
20:57 – Houston, we’re on to something
After using a CGM to successfully optimize his diet, Josh realized that blood sugar data should be accessible to a larger population.
“So I started to think about this and realize, okay, first of all, this technology was really interesting. It showed me there’s a problem where even that fingerprint monitor couldn’t and secondly, it’s telling me why I’m feeling all of these symptoms. Irritability and fatigue and mental cloudiness are directly correlated with hypoglycemia and especially a glucose instability. And so I then went about using the monitor to change my diet in a way that allowed me to maintain controlled blood sugar levels. And that was actually way easier than I expected. I just cut out these meals that I was very sensitive to and were causing huge blood sugar elevations and then crashes. And so I would just remove some ingredients to test that, and I ended up being able to, in a matter of weeks, develop a diet that kept my blood sugar pretty flat and almost immediately saw a change. Like I just pulled coffee out of my diet to see how my energy levels are now. And it was night and day.”
23:50 – No info means no choices
Lack of real-time glucose data means that people are stuck in a pattern of unhealthy choices – with no useful feedback to break them.
“The number one cause of amputations, blindness, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s – all of this is connected with glycaemic dysfunction. The fact that we have a sort of limited approach to personal biometric information – we don’t let people make daily choices based on it – in my opinion, is the cause of this entire thing. People don’t want to be unhealthy. They’re not actively trying to undermine their own futures. It’s that we’re operating with an open loop where each day you sit down to eat lunch and you have no information telling you what you should eat and why. And so what we need to do is just like we do in engineering, you want to close the loop, right? Which means you take the outcome of a decision and you use it to make the next decision. So you want to be educating yourself on what has worked in the past and has not worked in the past and then make new choices. But we’re not doing any of that in our day-to-day lives. So that was the realization because we have no information in the modern world where a lot of us are very sedentary and there’s a lot of processed food available is critical. We need this info to understand how our daily choices are affecting us. And there’s an opportunity here to really empower people, to make better choices based on their own data. In real time.”
30:08 – Talking your way to success
Josh and his team worked their network to find the investors and early buyers that gave Levels a financial head start.
“We immediately started talking to people who are in our networks or adjacent to our networks who were angels, and just trying to whip up some interest in what we were up to. So Sam, on the network thing, he has this concept of the strength of weak ties, which is basically you have to curate relationships. They don’t happen overnight. And you never know when you’re going to have an interesting overlap with someone, and myself and Sam are a prime example. And so he does a very good job of keeping interesting people in his life, having conversations with them as consistently as possible, like you had just mentioned. And so he had a strong network having come right out of an exit from a startup. He had a strong network in the investment world, and we were able to tap into that and start to get some interest going. And I would say it took a few months before we started to get checks in, but that’s how we started as is with angels and small checks.”
33:23 – Taking existing tech further
Levels isn’t reinventing the wheel. Their software is simply putting diabetic CGM devices to a broader, more valuable use for everyone.
“The interesting thing with this product is that we’re building on hardware that already exists. The technology was developed for the management of diabetes and it gives you a raw data stream. It tells you what your blood sugar is right now. But what it doesn’t do is tell you how to get better. And there’s a huge accessibility issue. So what we’re solving with Levels is the accessibility and actionability of the data that comes from continuous glucose monitoring. We’re building a platform on a technology that exists – similar to, you know, there were heart rate sensors, right? There were optical heart rate sensors, but then there was Fitbit and Whoop and Oura. And those companies took a technology that had existed for some time in an allowed environment or in the medical world and turned it into a wearable device that people can use in their daily lives to get healthier. And that’s what we’re doing with Levels.”
35:50 – Data is the best evidence
To make their first sales, the Levels team relied on their own data-backed experiences with the software to prove their life-changing concept.
“There were some tough conversations where people wanted evidence. ‘How do I know that this is going to be, do anything for me?’ And to some extent, luckily I think, I had my own experience, which showed with data that my entire sort of risk profile towards these long-term chronic illnesses had changed as a result of just using my own data from CGM. And so I was patient zero, so to speak. I had the fact that I had personal experience doing this, and then every other person on the team within the first few months of using their own CGMs had similar experiences. Not to the same extent, I don’t think anyone was quote-unquote pre-diabetic when they started. But they all had life-changing experiences where they realize the things they were doing every day, potentially even things that they were doing to be healthier, for example, eating oatmeal every morning, were causing them to have a very non-optimal blood sugar response that could over time lead to metabolic breakdown, or at least cause weight gain or cognitive dysfunction. These are the types of realizations that we could all lean on. We were using the product in real time. And giving that to our potential customers. And that really helped close.”
39:20 – Why CGM data gets clicks
Levels’ data is visual, individualized, and often surprising – which makes it engaging to share on social media among users and potential users.
“We have a negligible marketing spend. It is almost entirely organic. And the beauty of the product is that here is both a hardware and software component, but then also these magic moments that people want to share, which are both positive and negative. So you learn that something you were doing every day to be healthier, like eating oatmeal is actually causing a pre-diabetic range, blood sugar spike for you. And by 11:00 AM, when you’re going into your first meeting, you’re crashing, your blood sugar is crashing. You’re feeling groggy and hungry. And those types of things that people always had emotion around and feelings and sensation, but they never had quantitative objective data to tell them what was going on. So people are seeing that and they immediately share it, or there’s positive things. Like you find out that actually, maybe that green smoothie that you were drinking instead of that protein bar or whatever is causing quite a significant spike. You also find out that cheesecake might not be as bad as you would expect it. And then also just the power of taking simple walks after meals. And so people are having these breakthroughs daily.”
40:37 – Skip the fluff bits
Levels uses smart content strategies to educate and engage their audience about a relatively new idea.
“We lean really hard on education. So people don’t think about metabolic health today, not the way physical fitness or mental health are. And so we had to try and break through that wall that I don’t think is deliberate. People just don’t think about it because it hasn’t been a subject matter that has been well discussed in popular conversation. And so we’ve developed these concepts, metabolic fitness and metabolic awareness, which explain what we’re doing. Metabolic awareness is closing the loop between the actions you take and the reactions, your body experiences, and metabolic fitness is the focus, effort and repetition that ultimately leads to metabolic health…Casey is managing our content as a medical doctor, very familiar with the subject matter and fantastic at it. She’s a journal editor as well. And so we were able to lean heavily on our original content. And our blog has been a fantastic source of leads because people want to learn – they haven’t really seen anything quite like this, where you wear a device on your arm that is measuring molecules in your body. It feels a little bit maybe like snake oil at first. You’re like, there’s no way this is real. It’s gotta be fake. And then you go to the blog and you read about all of the science around it.”
44:38 – Crafting a product brand
Josh wants to toss out the stigma of wearing a CGM device – so he’s focused on creating a product that looks good and feels good.
“We’re still iterating. I think we’ve got three out there in the wild right now that we’re testing and we’re optimizing for wearability. And what we really want is to remove the stigma of the concept that this is a medical device. It’s not a medical device. It’s an access pathway to your own body to let your body speak back to you about the quality of your choices. It’s really important that these look good and feel good and are easy to use. And the experience is elegant and you should forget that you have this on and you should want to show it off. If you do remember that you’ve got it on you want to show it off and share it with people. And so that’s the performance cover development project.”
45:52 – Scaling smarter, not bigger
Levels is holding off on scaling until they have a close understanding of product-market fit, repeatable sales channels, and an audience they connect with.
“We’re focused on scaling. So we’ve really gotten very close to product-market fit. We’re still in beta, which means that we’re very interested in just raw feedback. We want everyone to put our product through its paces and tell us what’s great, what sucks and just be very candid with us. We want basically our beta users to feel as though they’re joining the team and they’re a product consultant. I’m trying to break this thing from their perspective. So once we get to the point, which we’re quite close to, that we’re ready to really open the doors in a big way. We also need to have repeatable channels. We need to understand our audience, what’s resonating and where, and how can we replicate this? So you don’t want to scale too early and have a large spike and then a fall off because you don’t actually understand your market and where they’re coming from. Although it’s fantastic to have 25,000 people on our waitlist and we really love the organic interest.”
51:20 – Toasting to success
Josh makes time for the team to share weekly successes to build momentum and keep all aspects of the company in sync.
“So the Friday Forum is where we share recent accomplishments. We help everyone to get up to speed in sync on what the other teams are doing. And you can imagine that on a small team, especially a remote one, one group can be accomplishing massive things daily. And so these groups, they’re not really focused on looking sideways and seeing what everyone else is doing. They’re just forging ahead fast. And it can be actually very easy to miss some really big developments at the company. And so sharing the pace of progress and the opportunities the company has sort of rolling out is a huge thing for us. And for building this understanding that we are achieving something really big and sharing the testimonials and feedback we’re getting from users and just helping everyone to resonate with where we’re going and keep them all on the same page about both pace and trajectory. Where we’re heading, any big changes in the company, sort of decision-making processes, all will be trickled through that Friday Forum. And that’s something I would highly recommend to anyone who’s working on a startup right now. Just make sure you make that time to share the achievements and get the team excited about what they’re working on and keep them excited, because I know what it’s like to work for a year or two at a time, but without a milestone.”
Vadim Revzin: [00:00:00] Welcome back to The Mentors. This is Vadim and Sergei. You’re listening to a show where we tell stories of ordinary people that became extraordinary entrepreneurs despite lack of experience, money, or connections And today on the show we have Josh Clemente who is the Founder of Levels which is a really quickly growing health tech company and Levels Lets you track your blood glucose in real time so you can maximize your diet and exercise But of course before that Josh was a mechanical engineer at SpaceX and Hyperloop And what we’re going to do today is we’re going to talk through primarily the origin story of levels and how you became an entrepreneur But I do want to take a step back because most entrepreneurs are not born well I’ll actually correct that I think most of us have entrepreneurial genes in us We like to be creators And sometimes that gene gets, for better words beat out of us through the education system and the like I could talk hours about that, but the background and what you’re exposed to early on in your life is actually pretty important And so I did a little bit of research about you Josh and I want to talk through this really quickly before asking our first question but you had a pretty unique upbringing Your father was maybe is an FBI agent and I’m assuming that’s why you grew up outside of DC
Josh Clemente: [00:01:23] Partially, yeah.
Vadim Revzin: [00:01:24] And your mom , before your parents were married was a high school teacher and that your parents decided to homeschool you and your siblings all the way through high school But I guess your dad had a certain mentality which is, the best way to stay out of trouble is to stay busy . So that meant you were itching your scratch, if you will, building because you were excited about building things And I guess you became a welder in your dad’s garage in high school.
But I’m curious. How would you say your upbringing early on defined how you spent your time in college? Because we believe that college is actually a really important time because you have a lot of freedom as well, and it can shape what you do after college as well. So talk about how that shaped what you did when you entered college after being homeschooled.
Josh Clemente: [00:02:04] First of all, thanks for having me on this event. I’m super excited and this is exactly the type of thing that I think is going to be beneficial and I wish I had, when I was first getting started in business generally. I appreciate you setting this up.
To the question, I did. I had a very unique upbringing and I think in many ways it set me up to do crazy things, like jump off the ledge of switching industries in real time and taking on founding in a world that I, on paper, know nothing about
So my mom she homeschooled myself and my eight siblings all the way through high school . So the first time we stepped into a classroom, typically, was in college And what I think that did to set me up for founding and for entrepreneurship is, it taught me how to teach myself My mom having eight kids at various levels of education is pretty challenging and it certainly is not easy to manage curriculum for basically the entire K through 12 school system essentially is what you’re trying to do. Even if there’s one kid in the class, you still have to manage that curriculum. So what my mom had to do is go about teaching us to teach ourselves. Here’s the textbook. Here are the goals. Here are my metrics I’m tracking on you and you have to hit these otherwise you’re failing and you can’t do fun stuff.
And so that was the first, I think, step towards becoming willing, I think, to could just pick up a subject, whatever it was, whether it was educational material or a new industry that was outside my purview and try to learn the first principles of it, figure out, reverse engineer what’s going on in the space and try to see where are the edges you can grab onto and do something interesting with. And that really helped in college as well. I, embarrassingly, rarely went to class. I basically would take the textbook and I would volunteer to help with other people’s homework, which allowed me to get more subject matter, more problem sets to work on and that’s how I learned. I would basically back out the answer to the problems and then do that a couple of times and then I figured out the underlying technique and that’s really the quickest way, I think, to understand a problem space is to look at what the solved answers. So that actually opened up a lot of opportunity for me to do extracurricular things.
And so I was a contractor in college. I would put in floors on weekends. I’d make about a thousand dollars a weekend putting in a hardwood floor, a laminate floor for someone’s kitchen or bathroom. That’s basically how I paid my way through – I paid for my rent and some of my classes and was able to buy a parking pass for my school campus.
Yeah. That was another lesson learned. Being able to put myself through school or at least pay for and afford trips on the side due to my small business, I guess you could call it. It was really a great learning experience. It opened up a ton of opportunities I otherwise wouldn’t have had.
Vadim Revzin: [00:04:34] And now I’m curious because I didn’t actually realize that this was essentially your own business. How are you getting customers for your own small business?
Josh Clemente: [00:04:41] Craigslist. It was all Craigslist. If you undercut the competition on Craigslist and post a picture of a floor that you’ve accomplished before, you will get a thousand calls, 999 of them will be spam and one of them will be a customer who is willing to give you some money. I learned that many times over and it was worth my time because I had a cell phone and I had time and I needed money.
Vadim Revzin: [00:05:01] I can see now how that started to shape your entrepreneurial gene, because you were not afraid to get down and dirty and do all the work, from sharing customers to actually putting down the floors. A lot of people think and – Because starting a company is not glamorous in the early days. You’re doing everything and a lot of times you’re doing stuff that sucks. And you have to be willing to do it to get to the next step.
Josh Clemente: [00:05:21] Absolutely.
Vadim Revzin: [00:05:22] Okay. So then I’m curious how that defined what you ended up doing after college. Did you know that you wanted to either get a full-time job or do your own thing? Because you were – A thousand bucks a week is already pretty substantial. Why even get a job?
Josh Clemente: [00:05:35] Most of that ended up going into school and into rent. So I lived off campus. I think my expenses were about $750 a month, $600. That was probably rent. I really left school with barely any savings, even though I was, like I said, working pretty consistently. It’s just the nature of the game. Again, my parents would definitely optimize for us paying for most of the things that we wanted in life and that included school.
So after school, I jumped right into work. I had a very specific goal and that was to work for either Tesla or SpaceX. So right after school, I had not yet locked that down and I chose not to take any of the job offers I had, which included primarily HPAC work and general construction, contract engineering, for example, industrial projects and I decided I’m going to hold off. I’m going to hold out and keep working whatever angles I can to get that job I wanted. And so that meant that after school I was selling used cars. So I went to CarMax and for three months I was out on the hot lot, just yeah, selling late model SUV’s and that was another great experience.
It was my first exposure to – As a contractor I had to get sales, but it’s a lot easier when people are coming to you on Craigslist, whereas with used car sales, it’s just a classic sales problem where you – I think it’s just – I don’t really know why, but it’s become this industry where people just by default don’t trust you. And so you have to work to educate and gain the customer’s trust.
And so that was a really great experience for me, actually. It was short-lived, but in the three months I was there, I became, I think, salesperson of the month on my last month. And like I said, kept working the angles to get that position I wanted and SpaceX ultimately called me back. I actually landed an internship at Tesla first and they got their lifesaving DOE, department of energy, loan I think the month after I secured the – I might be getting my timeline mixed up, but anyway, they got a big loan and they were going to relocate their design offices. And so that actually threw my internship into disarray. So I wasn’t able to come in and work at Tesla and they put in a good word for me over at SpaceX, where I also had an application. And that was ultimately the last straw. I had applied probably 50 times at that point.
Sergei Revzin: [00:07:35] Wow, 50 times to different roles or?
Josh Clemente: [00:07:37] Different roles. Yeah. Everything I could get my hands on.
Sergei Revzin: [00:07:40] Huh? Do you have any knowledge or understanding of why they, on that 50th time, or whatever that number was, ended up bringing you onto the team. How did you convince them to hire you after holding out for all that time?
Josh Clemente: [00:07:50] I also had a couple of personal connections through there. So I was making sure that anyone who knew anyone who was there and my uncle had a connection at SpaceX as well. And so anyone who knew anyone was saying my name. And so ultimately, I think what ended up happening is just someone finally took a look at my resume and saw that I could actually build things. And I think that’s what – At the time space X was very much a startup. They were scrappy and they needed to figure out how to build rockets. At the time that I was applying they had not yet gotten into orbit, which is the key criteria for an orbital launch company. Because of that, they weren’t on the radar of the really exceptional aerospace schools and I wasn’t actually competing against PhDs from MIT. I was competing against people who were building Formula SAE cars for their school project and I had built this crazy contraption for my mechanical engineering project that won me the most outstanding, I think, mechanical engineering prize or something like that for my graduating class and that project, which I welded myself and basically designed and built in my spare time at school ended up being my pitch to SpaceX as to why they should bring me in as I can actually turn wrenches and weld things and design them. And so I think I caught their attention in that respect. I had hands-on experience.
Sergei Revzin: [00:09:00] I love that. Two big things stand out for me that you did that I hope that everybody takes away that’s listening to this live or listening to this podcast actually tries to implement, which is you don’t, you didn’t leave things to chance. You made sure that you not only applied a bunch of times, but you got in front of people, whatever way you could. And it doesn’t have to be your uncle or a close friend. It could be an acquaintance. It could be somebody you met last week or someone you reached out to, called on LinkedIn. But getting your name in front of people is so important.
And then the other thing is really focusing on the thing that they cared about most, which is you could build things and focusing on actually that was a side project for you that you did in college. And I think people sometimes don’t put enough weight on the things that they do on the side and why that might be attractive to an employer. So I love that you did that.
Vadim Revzin: [00:09:46] Yeah. The third thing that I’ll add to what Sergei said is you clearly had a highly targeted approach. You weren’t spraying praying, if you will, applying to a bunch of different jobs. SpaceX and Tesla, that’s it. That’s where you wanted to be. And eventually somebody will notice if you knock on that door now. So I think that’s another key takeaway here.
Josh Clemente: [00:10:04] Yeah. I agree. Once I was at SpaceX for several years and I was doing hiring of my own, I kept that experience in mind and was looking for those people that were looking to break through. It’s tough in the modern world with internet applications. You can just get tens of thousands from everywhere and everyone’s spraying and praying. And so it’s almost like we’re reverting back to network theory where actually the person that you have the most connections with is the one that, it’s the highest signal. And so now it’s almost like we use the internet as a tool for applications for a long time and now it’s been overwhelmed by the pure volume and you have to revert back to other signals.
Sergei Revzin: [00:10:35] Yeah. It makes a lot of sense and we definitely believe that. It’s something that Vadim and, I teach to almost any student we ever interact with, whether it’s at School 16 or NYU.
So you did spend a pretty substantial amount of time at SpaceX, about five and a half years and it sounds like you got a ton of experience there. You ended up becoming a lead engineer of life support systems there, which is mind boggling. I can’t even imagine the level of responsibility and weight that you must feel every single day Can you talk a little bit about your experience in working there in particular from the lens of an entrepreneur now what you think in that experience really prepared you to be an entrepreneur.
Josh Clemente: [00:11:11] The best thing, I would say, is that the company was through and through a startup and a few things that requires is everyone is a co-owner of the company and is responsible for the outcome And that was really very obvious to every employee at every level And so the individual accountability was just huge . When you come in the door there wasn’t any existing bureaucracy or structure that was preventing you from taking on more responsibility and if you wanted to stand out and succeed you would take as much as you could And that meant that some of the engineers who would be called responsible engineers they would own entire programs . And it was almost like a little mini startup inside the company You were responsible for ensuring that resources existed and you are opening up whatever resources your team needed to succeed And this might be a single component of the space vehicle or maybe a research project for future vehicles but you were responsible for ensuring the success through and through, top to bottom. There was no real – Failure just was not an option because the company was at constant risk of failure at the highest level When you’re in the launch business, and people who are familiar with SpaceX might know, that the company failed to reach orbit three times And that was with hundreds of millions of dollars of invested capital Basically the last money in the company was spent on the fourth vehicle which did make it to orbit . And so that saved the company, but then on an ongoing basis we were one launch away from failure And so if any component at the smallest level fails inflight, their job may not be there tomorrow And so the pressure was extremely high We always felt like it was truly a burden that we shared with everyone on the team . We were in this together and I think that sense of unity and also just the unachieved ability of the goal It just felt it always felt impossible what we were trying to do which is – The mission of SpaceX is to colonize other planets That seems impossible but you then break it down even further, it’s just trying to get into orbit with this raw material that’s coming into the factory, also seems impossible And so it’s just layers of impossibility And so you just go in you put your head down and you bite off small chunks and just churn And after a while you start to see incredible things happening And so I would say, that experience of just going through the motions of a truly life or death startup from the inside and realizing that at the end the success of SpaceX is built on the shoulders of an absolutely stellar team . No pun intended
My greatest friends, many of my greatest friends are from SpaceX and the smartest people I know for sure are working on that problem and it really drilled home for me that really if you want to achieve great things you have to bring together big minds and unleash them to do the work . And that requires I think – It requires many things, but primarily I think it requires inspiration. People are not going to work for something that they don’t feel inspired by, ultimately. It also gave me the realization that big missions are, big dreams are achievable actually more so maybe than smaller ones, because you can inspire people with them.
Vadim Revzin: [00:13:52] And that’s pretty clear because I checked out your team on levelshealth.com and clearly you guys are all rock stars. So when you look at the team and your buyers and what you’ve been able to do, even before all of you have been able to do, before starting this company, it’s clear that you are positioned for success.
But I’m curious because right now I do want to get to the story of Levels and how the idea for that came about. But while you were at SpaceX, and I know you spent some time at Virgin Hyperloop as well, did you have an inkling that you wanted to start your own company? Did you have that itch? And I know that after those companies, you were at a company called Mission Integrated Technologies and from what I recall, there was some contract work that you did, I guess it was another semi entrepreneurial or lifestyle business type of a company that you started. Can you talk about that? When did you know, “Okay. You know what? I’m going to want to start my own business ASAP.”
Josh Clemente: [00:14:38] So I made that decision while I was at SpaceX. Again, it’s a very entrepreneurial environment and the people there are always dreaming up really smart ideas that could eventually be concepts of their own. And I think SpaceX will ultimately be the cradle of innovation for many other companies, similar to the way that you talk about the PayPal mafia and everything that came from that venture. So I think there will be a lot coming out of SpaceX, or like I said, once you achieve something and you feel that success of starting from zero and building something interesting, I think that you don’t forget it and I was definitely one of those people.
When I left SpaceX, I had the intention of starting a company right away, and the company was Mission Integrated Technologies. That’s a company that I worked on with my dad, who, as you mentioned earlier, he’s a former FBI SWAT team leader and he had a lot of experience with tactical scenarios, rescue situations, which were very dangerous and ended up with unnecessary lives lost. And one of the main reasons is that getting access to elevated points of interest – So imagine an airplane that’s on the ground and there’s a hostage scenario or a fire or something, it’s really challenging to get people out of that elevated situation while remaining protected, so to speak. So imagine a fast rescue response team getting in there. It’s quite challenging if you’re trying to use a ladder. And so that was the design problem that we were solving and I left SpaceX actually, to work on that and very quickly realized that it was going to take me longer than I had expected and we weren’t prepared from a financial perspective to take that on.
So I had several options from there. I actually took the role at Hyperloop . I got to do some traveling first, which was really exciting and was blowing out some steam after SpaceX. But then I went into Hyperloop and I spent a year there developing the first full scale testing track for a Hyperloop system, which has an evacuated magnetic levitation train system or transportation system. So you basically, you’re moving through a steel tube, levitating on magnets and there’s no air resistance because you’ve pulled a vacuum in the tube. So there’s no air in there. So it’s very efficient, though definitely costly and tech forward transportation system. So I worked on that.
And after about a year there, we had secured some money to build Mission Integrated Technologies. So I left and spent another year developing that tech. And I was basically the only engineer there and built a pretty novel system to solve that rescue problem. And that company is actually still forging ahead. It has some international contracts for primarily defense at airports, for example, and that was a really great experience. It’s a different sales cycle, different concepts. I got a patent pending on that. It was a fun, mechanical engineering problem. Very different than Levels, but ultimately it was while I was working on that product, that the whole Levels founding story played out.
Vadim Revzin: [00:17:12] Cool. So let’s talk about that, because we’re excited to hear about how Levels came about. Because Levels maybe unlike Mission Integrated Technologies, which still maybe has scale potential, Levels pretty quickly I think you realized that you can knock it out of the park and you can grow it very quickly. Which is why probably you prioritized getting the right team together and getting the funding together as well. And it’s only been around for a year, but you guys already have accomplished some incredible milestones. And I know that it came from a personal problem. So talk about how you identified the problem and what you did in the early days to get the company off the ground.
Josh Clemente: [00:17:44] The problem was – So I’m a CrossFit L2 trainer. That’s a side thing which keeps me busy, keeps me focused on fitness. And that’s my way of staying healthy and has been for about six years now.
While I was at SpaceX, I was a trainer working out pretty hard, and yet I was feeling just incredible fatigue and it was getting worse rapidly. And my day to day experience was coupling and making me think that it was burnout, but it was making my workdays just unbearable. I was really struggling to get to work in the morning, struggling to make it through the day and then maintaining mood and maintaining energy to solve problems and work long hours was really challenging. And so this fatigue thing was really tough and it actually – I expected that when I got my fresh air and took my three month sabbatical and started at Hyperloop, things would be different. But it actually continued exactly the same.
And so while working on the Mission Integrated Technologies product, I had some extra time, not really, but I was at least not working in an office environment. I was working from home. And so I started to experiment with blood testing. And first I went to my doctor and got a whole blood panel and had them check out or tell me if there was anything that was abnormal. Everything came back totally fine, according to them. And so then I talked to a buddy of mine who knows something about endocrinology and which is the study of metabolism. And he said, “You know what? You should just check your blood sugar. Go get a finger prick blood sugar monitor From CVS and do that.” So I went, got a blood monitor and started pricking my finger and recording this in an Excel spreadsheet. And I saw that the numbers were all over the place. I couldn’t really make heads or tails of them. I knew nothing about blood glucose whatsoever and since then – It was just a random scatter and I was annoyed by this and also had to prick my finger a lot and I had black and blue fingertips from it. I started doing some research and discovered this concept of continuous glucose monitoring, which is used for the management of diabetes. So I went to my doctor. These devices are hard to get. They’re very new. Went to my doctor, asked for a prescription. They denied me and said, that’s for sick people. And I asked actually three other doctors via telemedicine (this is all happening over the course of weeks and months) and I asked a few other doctors, they all denied me.
Ultimately, I got a CGM from Australia actually, when a buddy was visiting there and I put it on and within week one, just based on American Diabetes Association ranges, I found out that I was pre-diabetic. And that was like the last thing I was expecting to see. My blood sugar was staying elevated for hours after meals at very high levels and then it was crashing consistently down into the low sixties, which is (those that are monitoring their own sugar) that’s hypoglycemic and that was causing just a ton of fatigue issues and general irritability and hunger and this roller coaster of sensations that I was finally seeing some numbers that made sense.
There were several other things that were out of whack, like my fasting glucose. I’d wake up in the morning, my blood sugar would be elevated, which is a really bad sign. And that hit me like a freight train, just the realization that, “Wait. There’s something actually wrong here!” And none of this was found during my checkup, which is like taking a single point measurement and telling you whether you’re healthy or not from it.
So I started to think on this and realized, okay, first of all, this technology was really interesting. It showed me there’s a problem where even that fingerprick monitor couldn’t. And secondly, it’s telling me why I’m feeling the way I’m feeling all of these symptoms of irritability and fatigue and mental cloudiness are directly correlated with hypoglycemia and especially glucose instability
And so I then went about using the monitor to change my diet in a way that allowed me to maintain controlled blood sugar levels. And that was actually way easier than I expected. I just cut out these meals that I was very sensitive to and were causing huge blood sugar elevations and then crashes. And so I would just remove some ingredients test that, and I ended up being able to, in a matter of weeks, develop a diet that kept my blood sugar pretty flat and almost immediately saw a change. Like I just pulled coffee out of my diet to see, “How are my energy levels now?” And it was night and day. It was a total – Now I won’t say that I had superhuman energy at the time, but it was just like a complete consistency where there was none previously. And so it hit me right off the bat. There’s an accessibility issue with this technology that completely renovated my lifestyle in three weeks. Why is that the case? It’s my blood sugar information. Should I not be able to have access to this? And what are the possibilities here? I’ve never heard of someone using glucose in this way, but it’s so intimately connected with our qualitative experience day to day. This should be a thing.
And the next 14 months of my life were spent finishing up that project on the tactical systems, winding down there, and then dedicating myself fully to this metabolic research and trying to understand how big is the problem here? What sorts of problems can be addressed? And I found way more than I ever expected, ultimately.
Sergei Revzin: [00:22:20] You did really experience the personal problem, which is how a lot of great entrepreneurs get started, but then you also dove deep and figured out how to solve it being the engineering mind that you are.
So then tell us, once you got the benefit of the context of doing all of that research, what was the first step you took to actually making this real, making this a company, making this a product?
Josh Clemente: [00:22:40] So while I was still working on that other startup, I just formed an LLC so that I could start tracking expenses on this other project I was going to spend time on and I dove deep into the research. I started reading everything I could get my hands on about glucose monitoring, especially for people who do not have diabetes, and just keeping track of my thoughts.
And the realization was very quick. It was that this problem is massive. It’s an epidemic. So metabolic dysfunction in this country, some quick numbers, about 90 million people in the United States alone have pre-diabetes and 90% of them don’t know it, and that’s a CDC figure, 35 million people have Type 2 diabetes, which is a preventable chronic illness associated with lifestyle choices. These numbers are increasing at an increasing rate and they’re increasing globally. Everywhere that there is development, there is increasing metabolic dysfunction. The number one cause of amputations, blindness, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, all of this is connected with glycemic dysfunction and the fact that we have a limited approach to personal biometric information, we don’t let people make daily choices based on it is, in my opinion, the cause of this entire thing. People don’t want to be unhealthy. They’re not actively trying to undermine their own futures. It’s that we’re operating with an open loop where each day you sit down to eat lunch and you have no information telling you what you should eat and why. And so what we need to do is, just like we do in engineering, you want to close the loop, which means you take the outcome of a decision and you use it to make the next decision. So you want to be educating yourself on what has worked in the past and has not worked in the past and then make new choices. But we’re not doing any of that in our day-to-day lives. So that was the realization, is that we have no information, the information in the modern world where a lot of us are very sedentary and there’s a lot of processed food available is critical. We need this info to understand how our daily choices are affecting us. And there’s an opportunity here to really empower people to make better choices based on their own data in real time.
Vadim Revzin: [00:24:36] Got it. And so clearly you saw, it was pretty clear that this is a big market opportunity, I think for you. So you formed that LLC, but then in terms of actually getting the product to market, building the team, getting customers and test subjects, actually fill up, just ask where your CrossFit, gym members, your first test subjects. And actually that’s a valid, very valid question because the first customers usually are people that are in your network. But talk about that process. How did it become real?
Josh Clemente: [00:24:58] I did this all wrong for about 14 months, 12 months. So I formed an LLC and I did all the research, which was great, and I wrote a really long white paper that basically laid out the concept here and why it’s worth pursuing.
But then I tried to bootstrap something and bootstrapping is an exceptional way to go about starting a business. But I had laid out that this is a massive epidemic scale problem with a time window associated with it, meaning I think that there’s a window of opportunity to be the metabolic fitness company and basically renovate the way that we look at metabolism and bring it into the mainstream. And the lesson that I had learned at SpaceX about the value of an exceptional team, I forgot temporarily and I figured I could do all this myself and I tried to – I actually tried to teach myself a little HTML and CSS, which I did successfully to build a website. I was spending time on this nitty-gritty stuff when in reality, I’m realizing this is a massive opportunity. I want to take on metabolic dysfunction in the world. And so my approach did not match the opportunity, I think, and I wanted to build something that was world changing and yet I was getting caught up in these micro problems that were ultimately, not a waste of time, but it was just a lesson learned that what I needed to do and we will see in the timeline that what I ultimately did was find a really great team of partners to collaborate with. And that’s when things completely changed.
So I spent about a year, again, not making much progress, really understanding metabolism, physiology, which was great, but not getting any sales, not testing the concept out. And it wasn’t until I teamed up with Sam Corcos and David Flinner, Andrew Conner and Casey Means where are my co-founders that we really turned this thing into a company that is moving at the speed that it is. And so basically the prior company, which was called Frontier Biometric is no longer operating and we reincorporated as Levels and immediately started making tactical moves, like getting our first sales.
Sergei Revzin: [00:26:47] So then talk about now, first of all, I guess I’m curious, how did you meet those co-founders because that’s a big black box for a lot of people. How did you meet? Was it four full founders?
Josh Clemente: [00:26:56] Well, there’s five of us total. So four besides me.
Sergei Revzin: [00:26:58] Yeah. So how did you find four great people to work with?
Josh Clemente: [00:27:00] Yeah. This is the beauty and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from this entire experience is just the value of networks and meeting and collaborating with people who you’re interested in and who share interests with you and just having deep conversations, because that’s how Sam and I met and also David. So we met through a professional network that my dad was actually connected to and he met Sam’s brother, who worked at SpaceX. So we connected and just had lunch at some point and we just had a great conversation and started to stay in touch. Sam does these dinner conversations pretty consistently, and he has just some beautiful ideas about network theory. And so he and I became quite close and this was now about six years ago, but we had known each other for going on four years when I was working on this problem. And so essentially we had this serendipitous timing situation where he was exiting another startup and basically called me up to see what I was up to. He actually thought I was still working on the tactical equipment and I told him, “No. I’ve left. I’ve been working on this now for a few months.” And he was instantly intrigued because of basically my personal story. Probably a bit skeptical, to be frank, but intrigued. He and the other four co-founders that I ultimately teamed up with were all about one degree of separation from each other.
So I knew him and David and then Andrew was a friend of Sam’s and Casey was a friend through David. Sam was the first one. I basically pitched him on what I was doing and told him my story and showed him the device I was using and the potential for where this could go. He was basically sold immediately . It was like a 24 hour turnaround time. He was like, this is what I want to do now. This is it. And then similar with David. He had been working at Google. Sam texted him. He was basically coming through town, stopped by. I told him about the problem. It turns out David had been researching CGMs that day and he said, “Yep, I want to join up. Please let me join.” And that was awesome. We actually need someone exceptional at product and David’s been just stellar in that role. And then Andrew was basically similar. He was acquired into Google. He had been looking for something new. And then Casey, who is a functional medicine doctor, former Stanford trained surgeon. She, as a doctor, has seen the effects, the consequences of metabolic dysfunction on her patients and she was looking for a way to make, I think, more than an individual contributor dent in this problem. And we came along and she jumped right aboard. So that was how things went. It was basically straightforward once the first person came on. We doubled the efforts.
Vadim Revzin: [00:29:18] Yeah. And take note, folks that are listening. If you are spending time with smart people in your life or you have people in your life that you’re impressed by, think about maybe how in the future they might be partners. And if you have an idea now, that’s clearly an easy way to source co-founders because there’s inherent trust there.
Now the team obviously is very impressive. Some folks had exits. I can imagine you could potentially bootstrap this and work off of savings for a little while, but you guys went out and raised money pretty quickly, right?
Josh Clemente: [00:29:44] We immediately started talking to people who are in our networks or adjacent to our networks who were angels and just trying to whip up some interest in what we were up to.
So Sam, on the network thing, he has this concept of the strength of weak ties, which is basically you have to curate relationships. They don’t happen overnight. You never know when you’re going to have an interesting overlap with someone and myself and Sam are a prime example. And so he does a very good job of keeping interesting people in his life, having conversations with them as consistently as possible, like you had just mentioned. And so he had a strong network having come right out of an exit from a startup. He had a strong network in the investment world, and we were able to tap into that and start to get some interest going. And I would say it took a few months before we started to get checks in, but that’s how we started is with angels and small checks.
Most of us, luckily, we were able to ride on savings for a few months as we started to get things off the ground. And we actually started to sell very quickly, essentially at the exact same time. Once we started the company, we started also calling up friends who we thought would be interested, trying to sell them on a concept that didn’t exist.
I think in the first month, maybe that we were trying to get sales, we had 150 people give us $400 and that was enough for us to start basically making some operational connections and getting access to what we needed to do, which is due diligence on a legal structure for this company to be able to process medical device requests and prescription consultations as a telemedicine company essentially, and getting those early orders. We couldn’t fulfill them, but we at least had interest. We had some money on paper. We could use that to get investors interested, and we could also use that to start to bootstrap the legal requirements and the framework to get the first sales actually processed, which is much more challenging when you’re dealing with prescription medical devices.
Sergei Revzin: [00:31:26] Yeah. And it makes sense to me now, why you were able to raise money from angel investors and others relatively quickly within a matter of a few months, because you were starting to sell at the same time and you could point to that sales traction very quickly. 150 customers, pre-selling, giving you $400. That’s substantial.
How do you sell a product? Even if it’s to your friends initially, but how do you sell a product before it exists? How did you convince people to give you $400 and actually sell it?
Vadim Revzin: [00:31:50] And how did you find these people? Because I’m assuming it wasn’t on Craigslist this time.
Josh Clemente: [00:31:54] Yeah. No. This was, these were all friends. We had, these were all friends in network between the five of us and they definitely were doing us a favor, I would say. Many of them are repeat customers now. Many of them are investors now. And I think that’s a very important, I think, anecdote because there are certain people in my network who I know would not be able to roll the dice on a $400 product that didn’t exist. And so you do have to have an ability to partition out in your mind your network and say, “Okay. Who can I feel comfortable approaching and not put them on the spot?” And it’s very, it’s tough, especially when the company effectively doesn’t exist, to get somebody to believe in you and not, again, put them in a tough spot financially.
So that was a little bit tricky for me at first, in particular. I certainly wanted to have a proof of concept that we were selling before we went about and collected money, but Sam to his credit, was just steadfast. Let’s just – We can get the – We can describe it to them and if they pay us, great, if they don’t, okay, no problem, we’ll move on. And so that was the impetus that got us at first, I think, like I said, close to 150 people.
The interesting thing with this product is that we’re building on hardware that already exists. The technology was developed for the management of diabetes and it gives you a raw data stream. It tells you what your blood sugar is right now.
But what it doesn’t do is tell you how to get better. And there’s a huge accessibility issue. So what we’re solving with Levels is the accessibility and actionability of the data that comes from continuous glucose monitoring. We’re building a platform on a technology that exists similar to – There were heart rate sensors. There were optical heart rate sensors, but then there was Fitbit and whoop and Oura. And those companies took a technology that had existed for some time and allowed in the environment of the medical world and turned it into a wearable device that people can use in their daily lives to get healthier. And that’s what we’re doing with Levels.
So we want people to be able to make concrete behavior change as a result of their own biological information, influenced by the information of many. Meaning we want a large data set, exceptional algorithms driving behavior change. And so we were able to give people a proof of concept experience wherein they tried the hardware, even though the Levels products specifically did not exist. We could mimic it by having engagement with those of us on the team who had good metabolic intuitions or who had read deeply on the science. And so we were able to engage with people as they were using the hardware and essentially mimic the way that the software would ultimately work. Tell them this is where an insight would pop up. This is where we could guide you towards taking a walk after that meal, or we could guide you towards getting better sleep because last night you told us that you were, you took a red eye. And so helping people to understand based on what we had read in the research, the way that the software could function.
That’s a unique opportunity, frankly, the fact that the capital expenditure on developing the hardware was already done and what we were doing is building that layer on top. We were able to simulate it to some extent, which was really nice and allowed us, again, to get those sales even before we had money in the door.
Sergei Revzin: [00:34:33] Yeah. And I do want to dig into this a little bit more. And I know now, obviously you have machine learning algorithms that are trying to give you this analytics and this information. 150 people, even if they’re your friends, it’s going to be tough to convince 150 people to take a chance on you.
Do you remember why many of them, or some of them decided to buy? How did you convince them they actually needed this? And $400, again, it’s not 50 bucks. So it’s pretty substantial.
Josh Clemente: [00:34:56] The price point was based off of – The devices are very expensive today and we, of course, at that time, needed to stay alive and still do and so we had to add margin on top of that. So the devices were driving the cost and then there were some tough conversations where people wanted, they wanted evidence. How do I know that this is going to be, do anything for me? And to some extent, luckily I think quite objectively, I had my own experience, which showed with data that my entire risk profile towards these longterm chronic illnesses had changed as a result of just using my own data from CGM. And so I was patient zero, so to speak. The fact that I had personal experience doing this, and then every other person on the team within the first few months of using their own CGMs had similar experiences. Not to the same extent. I don’t think anyone was quote unquote “pre-diabetic” when they started, but they all had life-changing experiences where they realized the things they were doing every day, potentially even things that they were doing to be healthier, for example eating oatmeal every morning, were causing them to have a very non-optimal blood sugar response that could over time lead to metabolic breakdown, or at least cause weight gain or cognitive dysfunction.
These are the types of realizations that we could all lean on. We were using the product in real time and giving that to our potential customers and that really helped.
Vadim Revzin: [00:36:08] I know you have a hearts up coming up in eight minutes, so we’re definitely going to have to do a part two of this discussion, but I’m curious, how did you move beyond the friends? At what point did it start? I don’t know if you guys had a hockey stick moment yet, but at what point did it start expanding and you realize, wow, there’s actually some organic growth happening from this. What made that happen and how?
Josh Clemente: [00:36:26] So guys, we can continue by the way, I don’t actually have a hard stop anymore. So we can do some Q&A.
The way that we moved past the very early sales – First, we had to deliver on those. And by the way, the selling did not stop. We continued to build a backlog by just tapping the network and trying to get more and more people to give us that $399. The big breakthrough was we were able to establish a partnership with telehealth physicians who would be willing to take prescription consultations. These devices are controlled by the FDA here in the US and these prescription consultations involve basically a patient-physician relationship at the telehealth consultation to ensure that the person that is being prescribed to is a good fit for the technology. And so we had to build a framework for that to happen. We had HIPAA controls, meaning these are privacy controls for data. So we had to build quite a bit before we could process our first order and deliver a product. That took us, I believe, that took us about four months before we were able to ship the first order. And then that was where – Once we were able to ship orders and we had physicians who were intellectually on board with what we were doing and believed in empowering the individual with access to their own data, we could really start to move on sales in a more meaningful way. And although we had not yet shipped the first iteration of the app, we did not stop trying to get people to pay for access to continuous glucose monitoring to better understand at least the raw data.
So moving from friends to outside started effectively. I think the first outside sale was in January. We had somebody on Twitter, the CEO of Lambda School actually, he posted about continuous glucose monitoring and one of our friends tagged us and it drew a lot of attention. We had literally just come out of stealth and we had our first website up, which had this web flow form where you can enter your email and we went from like 19 submissions to I think, 300 or something. And that was like just a huge paradigm shift for us. We were like, Oh man, we’re on the map now. And I think several of those initial signups converted and they converted by – We just exchanged emails with them and said, Hey, do you want to be a part of this beta program that we’re running? And that was huge when the first person, obviously who we did not know, paid us. And from there, we were able to develop our first version of the app. And we’ve since, I think, done about 300 iterations since then, and now we have about 25,000 people on the wait list, seven months later.
Vadim Revzin: [00:38:37] Interesting. So how many did you say? 25,000?
Josh Clemente: [00:38:39] Yeah.
Vadim Revzin: [00:38:39] That’s impressive. So did that mostly come from then more organic growth, like earned media? Because that’s a pretty big growth curve.
Josh Clemente: [00:38:46] We have a negligible marketing spend. This is almost entirely organic and the beauty of product is that people – There is both a hardware and software component, but then also these magic moments that people want to share, which are both positive and negative.
So you learn that something you were doing every day to be healthier, like eating oatmeal is actually causing a pre-diabetic range blood sugar spike for you and by 11:00 AM, when you’re going into your first meeting, you’re crashing, your blood sugar is crashing, you’re feeling groggy and hungry. And those types of things that people never – They always had emotion around and feelings and sensation, but they never had quantitative data, objective data to tell them what was going on. So people are seeing that. They immediately share it. Or there’s positive things. You find out that actually, maybe that green smoothie that you were drinking instead of that protein bar or whatever, although that thing is causing quite a significant spike, you also find out that cheesecake might not be as bad as you would expect it. And then also just the power of taking simple walks after meals.
And so people are having these breakthroughs daily and it’s really driving home better habits for them. And so we have just, I think, a really nice social element where people want to share these things with their friends and also share how counterintuitive some of the findings are.
So our organic tractions, especially on Twitter has been really fantastic for us.
Sergei Revzin: [00:39:52] That makes sense. And when you have influencers and people with a lot of following on Twitter sharing, there’s going to be others that are curious. Is there anything else that you or other folks on the team did to drive that growth for that beta list?
Josh Clemente: [00:40:03] We lean really hard on education. So people don’t think about metabolic health today. It’s not discussed the way physical fitness or mental health are. And so we had to try and break through that wall. But I don’t think it’s deliberate. People just don’t quite – They don’t think about it because it hasn’t been a subject matter that has been well discussed in popular conversation.
And so we’ve developed these concepts, metabolic fitness and metabolic awareness, which explain what we’re doing. So metabolic awareness is closing the loop between the actions you take and the reactions your body experiences and metabolic fitness is the focus, effort and repetition that ultimately leads to metabolic health.
So nobody is physically fit just by default. You have to put in the work. You got to go to the gym. You got to put in the reps. Same with metabolic fitness. So to optimize the way your body turns food into energy requires, again, focused effort and repetition. And so by creating content around this, which Casey is managing our content. She’s obviously, as a medical doctor, very familiar with the subject matter and fantastic at it. She’s a journal editor as well. And so we were able to lean heavily on our original content and our blog has been a fantastic source of leads because people, they want to learn, they haven’t really seen anything quite like this, where you wear a device on your arm that is measuring molecules in your body. It feels a little bit, maybe like snake oil at first. You’re like, there’s no way this is real. It’s gotta be fake. And then you go to the blog and you read about all of the science around it. There’s decades of science on blood sugar dysfunction, and the reasons that someone should want to optimize it.
And that has been, I think really fantastic for converting people onto our waitlist instead of bouncing. It took a lot of effort and it still does, but we will continue to do it because the education is huge.
Vadim Revzin: [00:41:35] Yeah. I know.. If you can create great original content and publish it yourself and capture all the value there, that’s huge. I wouldn’t say everybody should start a blog because if you’re going to be talking about the same thing everybody else does, then it might not be that useful. But I did check out your blog and you guys have a lot of really valuable information that I don’t think you could find anywhere else. So at the very least, it’s not as well researched or as distilled as it is on your website. So I can see why that’s working really well for you.
I’m curious though. So January 2020 is when things start to pick up more. But you do have this fundamental problem, as you mentioned earlier, which is you’re not only building a software, which is hard enough as it is, but you’re building an innovative new product, like a physical product, which if you guys check out what the product looks like, it looks really cool and sleek, and I’m actually pretty impressed with how you were able to get to that iteration of the physical product so quickly. So when did this newest version of the product come out because it already looks pretty advanced and how were you able to balance making sure that you’re hitting the milestones on the physical product as well as the software part
Josh Clemente: [00:42:36] The actual sensor technology is developed by another company called Abbott, and we actually can connect with several CGM systems that are on the market.
What we’re building again is the software that integrates that data stream into your lifestyle and allows you to understand what actions you’re taking, what those effects are on you and how to make better ones. And so the sensor technology itself is existing and we are providing an access pathway by arranging that prescription consultation with a physician, and then fulfilling those through our pharmacy partner.
But we have taken on what we call our performance cover development process, which is – The sensors, they’re medical devices. They were developed initially for a different population set, who is maybe a little less active than an athlete, or somebody is who is swimming a lot or outdoors all the time. And so we were having some issues with keeping the sensors retained on the skin. And so we started to develop what you see in the imagery, which is the performance cover, which increases the adhesion path, provides a larger surface area and also gives us a really nice branding opportunity. Developing that we’ve done several iterations. I designed an elastomeric 3D printed version that would be ultimately injection silicon molded. And then we also produced some fabric ones, which are this elastomeric athletic fabric, which is very flexible and also provides great retention. And so that hardware development, it was actually quite a bit more involved than we expected. We’ve tested, I think, 10 or 15 iterations and various versions of the website had different imagery on there and we’re still iterating. I think we’ve got three out there in the wild right now that we’re testing and we’re optimizing for wearability.
And what we really want is to remove the stigma, the concept that this is a medical device. It’s not a medical device, but it is an access pathway to your own body to let your body speak back to you about the quality of your choices. It’s really important that these look good and feel good and are easy to use and the experience is elegant and it’s -You should forget that you have this on and you should want to show it off. If you do remember that you’ve got it on, you should want to show it off and share it with people. And so that’s the performance cover development project. That’s, again, ongoing. We’ve done many iterations and ultimately I think the software and hardware will continue to evolve for the next few years. We’ve got a lot ahead of us on the roadmap to make this technology truly the next big thing in wearables.
Vadim Revzin: [00:44:41] So that’s a great lead in into my next question, but you have obviously a solid team. How many of you folks are there? I know there’s five core founders but –
Josh Clemente: [00:44:48] We’re at 13 now, total.
Vadim Revzin: [00:44:49] Got it. You’re at 13. Can you share how much you’ve raised to date?
Josh Clemente: [00:44:52] We’ve raised close to 4 million.
Vadim Revzin: [00:44:53] Got it. So you raised $4 million. So you’re in a good place, I think, for at least , – You have that 18 to 24 month period where you can continue to hit your milestones. But can you talk about now that you’re getting this traction, that you’re reaching these new milestones and goals, what is the most immediate next step for the company? What are you guys focused on now?
Josh Clemente: [00:45:13] Now we’re focused on scaling. So we’ve really, I think, gotten very close to product market fit. We’re still in beta, which means that we’re very interested in and just raw feedback. We want everyone to put our product through its paces and tell us what’s great, what sucks and just be very candid with us. We want basically our beta users, we want them to feel as though they’re joining the team and they’re a product consultant. I’m trying to break this thing from their perspective. So once we get to the point, which we’re quite close to, that we’re ready to really open the doors in a big way, we also need to have repeatable channels. We need to understand our audience, what’s resonating and where, and how can we replicate this?
So you don’t want to scale too early and have a large spike and then a fall off because you don’t actually understand your market and where they’re coming from. Although it’s fantastic to have 25,000 people on our wait list and we really love the organic interest, again, we have to be able to not only deliver on that demand, but also do so over and over again and continue to grow from there. So the immediate focus right now is growth and scalability, testing channels and building out operational systems that can allow us to get up to the thousands of concurrent users and then tens of thousands.
Sergei Revzin: [00:46:17] Now actually, Edward Kim had an interesting question here about when do you know that you’re no longer a startup and how does a company change as you grow? And you mentioned how at SpaceX, essentially you were empowered to run a team and be a startup within this company that’s trying to do a huge thing. So I’m curious now, as you were thinking about the next step in Levels and getting to that scale, do you see, how do you think you would change the way that you operate or are you guys putting into place right now certain best practices that will enable you to scale, even as this transitions from startup mode at some point?
Josh Clemente: [00:46:53] Right now with everything that’s happening in the world – L evels was a remote first organization? So we started as a distributed team and we’ve luckily leaned into that even prior to everything shutting down. And it’s definitely a complicated situation right now in the world, trying to adapt to remote work and building a team and a culture, especially from scratch. If you had a pre-existing relationship with your co-workers and then you went remote, it’s very different than bringing people into an environment that is by default remote.
And we love it. We’re having really exceptional results and the opportunities, the networks that we can tap for talent are much wider, obviously. But we’re reaching the point now, at 13 employees and continuing to grow, reaching the point where it’s phase two of the startup. I wouldn’t say that we’re close to no longer being considered a startup, but phase two, where we need to start thinking very seriously about implementing rigorous culture practices that we can carry on into the hundreds of people stage. And so we’re spending a lot of time thinking about that, thinking about ways that we can foster a culture of transparency and values alignment. And transparency is one of the biggest ones, especially if you don’t have that personal connection where you’re sharing the same space every day, learning to trust one another and share information freely is really big. And so from the highest levels, we have really an extremely open culture where all of our documentation – Anyone who’s maybe engaged with us as a potential angel investor will know we share our documentation with everyone because that’s not the problem we’re solving for. We’re not solving for trying to remain secret. We’re trying to solve metabolic dysfunction and what that requires is some serious breakthroughs on the technology and an exceptional team that buys into our vision. That’s one of the big ones that we’re currently focused on as we scale up.
And then I think we, documentation is another big one, just helping everyone get on the same page. It’s not just about openness. It’s also just about how quickly can someone hit the ground running. Do you want to empower people to take on as much of the program as possible, as quickly as possible, especially when you’re at the stage we are where scaling is everything and time is everything. So we spend a lot of our effort, basically like a day per week is at the upper bound of how much time you want to spend documenting. And that’s perfectly okay right now, because it’s much easier to leave a breadcrumb trail that is easy to follow than it is to try and have two people, both unable to do forward work because one’s trying to train up the other. And I would say that’s another really big one is just think about what it would be like to be the person trying to help you. Is it going to be straightforward or is it going to be a really challenging process of piecing together puzzle pieces that don’t fit?
Vadim Revzin: [00:49:18] That’s interesting. And we’re thinking about that a lot because School 16, obviously like every other company, but school 16 as a new company is also fully remote.
So I guess this is going to be our last question and I’m personally curious about this. You talked about, as you’re getting ready to scale, there’s some operational efficiencies you want to put into place. You are deliberately thinking about how to make sure that you have an effective culture, especially because everybody’s remote first. So what are some of these things, aside from documentation, which is actually really important. I think a lot of people missed It sounds simple, but it’s a lot of work but it is really important. Aside from documentation what else are you doing, a) to create that operational efficiency or to ensure that there’s some place when you do grow to 30, 40, 50, and beyond and how you’re creating or maintaining a great culture.
Josh Clemente: [00:49:59] I think one of the, one of the biggest things is putting people first and making sure that there are conversations. Everyone talks to everyone and has some relationship. And we actually set aside time to do these virtual meetups where we spend two nights back to back aand we’ll do this at least quarterly for everyone to just hang out, eat dinner together, just chat and meet each other and play games. we do these lightning rounds where each person shares something they’re interested in for five to seven minutes during these virtual meetups. And that’s really great. It helps people to share something personal they’re interested in, but then when you’ve replicated that on the weekly scale, we have this meeting that we call the Friday Forum, which is where everyone joins and we actually record this and distribute it to some of our key investors and people that we really call allies. So the Friday Forum is where we share recent accomplishments. We help everyone to get up to speed in synced on what the other teams are doing. And you can imagine that on a small team, especially a remote one group can be accomplishing massive things daily. And so these groups, they’re not really focused on looking sideways and seeing what everyone else is doing. They’re just forging ahead fast. And it can be actually very easy to miss some really big developments at the company. And so sharing the pace of progress and the opportunities the company has rolling out before it is a huge thing for us and for building, again, this understanding that we are achieving something really big and sharing the testimonials and feedback we’re getting from users and just helping everyone to resonate with where we’re going and keep them all on the same page about , both pace and trajectory, where we’re heading, any big changes in the company decision-making process, all will be trickled through that Friday Forum. And that’s something I would highly recommend to anyone who’s working on a startup right now is just make sure you make that time to share achievements and get the team excited about what they’re working on and keep them excited, because I know what it’s like to work for a year or two at a time, but without a milestone and it’s pretty important to celebrate what you can when you can.
Sergei Revzin: [00:51:48] It definitely sounds, Josh, like, you’re very deliberate about how you build this company and how you build this team, I think in part, because you’ve been part of some great teams in your career. And Josh, we really appreciate you coming on the show. We actually feel really lucky that we got to have you and representing Levels Health here.
By the way folks, go to levelshealth.com if you want to find out more about the product and check it out and you can request access. There’s actually a button on the top right corner of the website that you can click. But we feel lucky to have you here, an early look into what we think is going to be probably the next SpaceX, except you’re just helping people stay healthy here on earth, at least for now, until we’re all colonizing Mars here.
Vadim Revzin: [00:52:29] That’s what Elon wants us to do.
Sergei Revzin: [00:52:29] That’s what Elon wants us to do.
But Josh Clemente, thank you so much for spending the hour with us here on the podcast and here at School 16. We really appreciate you sharing your story.
Josh Clemente: [00:52:38] Thank you and thanks for everyone who tuned in and I appreciate all the questions and yeah definitely join, tune into the blog and reach out to us on social or through email. We love to communicate about what we’re doing.
Sergei Revzin: [00:52:47] Awesome. Thank you Josh. Thank you everybody that came here today. If you’re listening to this podcast and listening to what we talk about here at School 16 and you wish that you were part of such an amazing team. A company like Levels or a company like SpaceX, that’s what me and Vadim love talking about every single week. So please do come back to this seminar. We run them every Wednesday at 6:00 PM Eastern. Please do sign up for the program if that sounded interesting for you. We have a deadline coming up this Saturday and the program starts on September 14, so we’d love to see you apply if you are interested.
Vadim Revzin: [00:53:18] And one more ask if you want access to this video – Everybody will get the audio but if you want access to the video please give us some feedback and go to school16.co/survey. We would love to hear your thoughts and we do read through every single survey submission and incorporate those on a weekly basis to make sure that we’re continuing to bring you awesome guests like Josh.
Thanks so much for staying late with us here. And now that you’re on the East Coast I know we’re on the same time and it’s 7:12, so hopefully you get some time to yourself today as well but thanks again.
Josh Clemente: [00:53:48] Much appreciated, everyone.
Sergei Revzin: [00:53:49] Thanks folks. We’ll see you all next week . Bye bye.
Vadim Revzin: [00:53:51] Have a good night everybody.
Sergei Revzin: [00:53:56] See you.