The human body is incredibly complex, and every person is different. So when it comes to metabolic health, an individualistic approach is required. You need to take your body and its unique needs into account if you want to make real, lasting changes to your metabolic health. In this episode of the Women in Tech podcast, Espree Devora interviewed Lauren Kelley-Chew, a physician and Head of Clinical Product at Levels. Lauren delved into improving your metabolic health, why simple solutions are sometimes the most effective, and how you can make better decisions for your health.
04:53 – Straddling the line between traditional and alternative healthcare
Lauren said her goal at Levels is to find a balance between the role of traditional healthcare and the desire to do something different.
I am the head of clinical product, and the overall goal for me is just figuring out how Levels interfaces with the healthcare ecosystem, or to what extent it might not interface with the traditional system. And it’s interesting. I joined Levels in the fall, still getting my foundation at the company, but I think there’s a really interesting dichotomy between the desire to speak the language of traditional healthcare, like the language of disease is in treatments and physicians and all of those things. And also, the desire to do something really different that makes sense because the traditional healthcare system, I think everyone would say, is pretty broken. So my job really is to figure out where within that spectrum we can have the most impact and help the most number of people.
12:17 – A window into your health
The Levels patch gives you a glimpse into the day-to-day glucose levels of your body so you can make better decisions moving forward.
In terms of glucose and insulin, really what the patch is trying to measure is just a window into all of those really complicated balancing activities that your body tries to do as it processes the food you eat to create fuel for all of the cells, which have all these biochemical processes happening in any given moment. And interestingly, the hormones that regulate appetite and weight gain or weight loss are also connected to other hormone systems in the body, for example, cortisol and the stress hormones, or the sex hormones. So really blood sugar, I think, is just the very beginning of how helping people to understand everything that’s happening in their body.
12:59 – Find tools that will help you make better decisions
The human body is extremely complex, so if you can find a tool that will help you make good decisions for your health, you should use it.
I really believe the body is so elegant and intricate that it is an endless mystery in some ways. But the goal is to have tools that let us make decisions like you’re describing. And I would add to what you said, which is not only is it that every person’s body is really different. It’s also that our bodies are different at any given moment or chapter in our lives. So the way pizza affects you today may or may not be the same as tomorrow. And of course there’s some themes there, but there’s a lot of nuance too.
16:06 – Making your biochemical processes more efficient
If you want to get to better metabolic health, you need to make it as easy as possible for your body to convert food into energy.
Metabolic health is really just thinking about all those biochemical processes that I was describing, and really trying to make them as efficient and with as least work as possible for the body. And so it’s really just about how efficiently and easily is your body able to convert the food that you eat into energy? And unfortunately what happens a lot for Americans and I struggled with this myself, so I’m not immune to this, is that depending on what we eat and how our bodies are, oftentimes we’re constantly in this up and down of blood sugar, where the blood sugar’s spiking, then our insulin is starting to bring it back down. Then it’s going up. And our bodies are always working hard to try to keep blood sugar in the optimal range. And over time that creates a whole bunch of effects. I’m not sure if you’ve heard this, but I’ve recently heard Alzheimer’s being referred to by some people as diabetes type three, but I think that reflects just how far-reaching this can be.
18:55 – What you can do to improve your metabolic health
Your metabolic health is impacted by the way you eat, sleep, exercise, and deal with stress. If you want to optimize your metabolic health, you need to focus on all of these things.
In an ideal world, it would start in the way that you described, which is having some information about how your body’s reacting to the food that you’re eating. And it’s not just food. It’s also the way that you’re sleeping, the way that you’re exercising, the levels of stress you have can really impact your are your metabolic health. So if the person has access to Levels and hopefully Levels would be accessible to much larger groups soon, we’re currently beta testing. But I think that is such a powerful tool as a jumpstart. That said, you can start without it also. And I think that there’s a few low-hanging fruit, simple things that people can do. So for example, and we were chatting about this a little bit earlier, but being conscious of moving your body after you eat. That alone has such a massive effect on blood sugar. And the Levels team actually did an experiment on this with drinking Coke and either moving or not moving after they drink it, and simply going for a walk after you drink that has a really significant effect on the impact on your body. So that’s something easy you can do without a sensor. You don’t need a sensor to know that it’s going to help. Likewise, being conscious of the amount of sugar in the things that you’re eating. It seems so straightforward, but it is amazing how hidden sugar is in so much of our food.
24:58 – The perks of asynchronous communication
Asynchronous communication can help people explore thoughts and ideas more thoroughly, resulting in more well-reasoned and transparent communication.
I think there’s something about being asynchronous and for example, using long-form memos or Threads to convey thoughts that there’s just a level of thoughtfulness in the way that people communicate their ideas. And so for me, at least I’m really able, I think, to better understand the nuance in their thinking. And especially if it’s in a function that is really different from my area of expertise, I’m much better able to learn from it almost like you would from a book, which sounds kind of strange. And it’s all there for everyone to read. We’re a very, very transparent company. So whether it’s a memo written by someone in leadership or a memo written by someone more junior, it’s all there, and it’s accessible for everyone to learn from.
29:45 – Simple is better
While metabolic health is a complex subject, working toward better metabolic health shouldn’t feel overwhelming and complicated.
A piece of advice that I’ve really incorporated into my whole life is what they would say is simple pictures are best. And this was actually based on a children’s story about a family trying to take a portrait, and they keep trying to complicate it by putting like different costumes and bringing the animals in and all these things. And in the end, of course, every time it gets ruined, because something happens. And in the end, the simple picture is the best picture. And I think I’ve really applied that to everything. When I was really into math, I think often the answer that’s the simplest ends up being the best one. That’s certainly true in medicine in healthcare, and I think ultimately even links to metabolic health. It’s really about kind of connecting the basics of what you eat to what’s happening in your body. And I think that’s one of the great challenges for me and my role is, how do we take something that is so incredibly complex and make it feel simple?
32:38 – Trust in your own voice
When you’re navigating an unconventional career, other people will doubt the path you take, so you need to be able to trust your instincts and tune out the opinions of others.
One thing that has been a challenge for me throughout, I think is just navigating a somewhat unconventional career, where moving from investing to clinical medicine to health tech and looking back now, it feels connected. But in the moment, at every stage and within each stage, people often senior men, but senior folks share that if I left X and maybe X was the company or the industry or the role, that essentially I would never be successful because of this reason or that reason. And as a young person, I think those voices are really powerful when you’re still just trying to find your way. And over time, I think… And I think we were chatting about this a little bit, or which is just trusting in your own voice the most, and letting that be the guiding thing. That has been the biggest source of overcoming the doubt, I guess. And I think this has been echoed in many of your episodes, which I so appreciate because it’s a universal experience, I think, of basically trying to figure out the waiting of other people’s voices versus your own and where the right balance is.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (00:00):
We were chatting about this a little bit before, which is just trusting in your own voice the most and letting that be the guiding thing, that has been the biggest source of kind of overcoming the doubt, I guess.
Espree Devora (00:15):
3, 2, 1. My name is Espree Devora. Host of the Women In Tech show. The show means a lot to me. The reason why I wanted to create the Women In Tech show is I wanted to create a positive piece of content, something where people can listen and say, “If she can do it, so can I.”
Joe Peterson (00:38):
Hi, this is Joe Peterson. I’m the vice president Cloud And Security out in security with Clarify 360. I’ve been listening to the Women In Tech podcast for about a year, and I was drawn in by the energy and enthusiasm of the Women In Tech podcast. Espree does a really great job in sharing stories of women in tech so that young female listeners can put themselves in the shoes of these women speaking. See, I strongly believe that if we don’t show young women the way forward in tech by sharing our stories, then they won’t know what’s possible. The stories are what creates the value and inspiration. Great job guys.
Espree Devora (01:20):
Today’s personal spot is just about how strange it is that we’re focused on grinding and hustling, and encouraged to sacrifice friends and family in any free time when… Because when we succeed or when we go through really lows, what does the world expects from us? That we’re just going to be alone in all of it? It’s just kind of crazy. I’m driving to my mom’s house right now. You could probably hear the car. And I’m just thinking about how lucky I am that I get to drive to my mom’s house. And that’s an opportunity to spend time with my family, and just that we’re so encouraged to sacrifice all of that in order to build, build, build, and beat at our computer.
Espree Devora (02:08):
The more that I understand the value and importance of life, of what happens in life, the more I just think that’s so foolish. And I know when I first became an entrepreneur, it was everything. I sacrificed everything becoming an entrepreneur, and now I think that’s just not the way to become “successful.” Anyway, let me know what you think. Reach out to me on email or on social @epreedevora and enjoy the next episode. Bye. Welcome back to the Women In Tech podcast, celebrating women in tech around the world. So excited for our next guest. Welcome to the show, Lauren, coming at us from Bay Area today.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (03:01):
Thank you for having me. I am so excited to be chatting with you.
Espree Devora (03:05):
I’m so excited too. Okay, Lauren, the most basic question. So we have listeners around the world. They all think they have to move to the Bay Area to succeed. Is the only place to be successful in tech the Bay Area, or is it possible to be successful in other places?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (03:23):
It is possible. And I would say it’s almost even easier potentially. I’m from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, so very different city than the Bay Area. And really, I think it’s such a special city, so I definitely have a soft spot for all the cities, even the ones that are often overlooked. So I would say anywhere in the world that you are, you can do it.
Espree Devora (03:42):
And I agree. I’ve traveled to over 100 countries interviewing women in tech. I do not think you need to move to Silicon valley to San Francisco, to San Jose, all these things in order to succeed in the tech industry, just start building where you are, jump on Twitter. It seems like all of the tech community is on Twitter, and start saying hello to random people by following hashtags. But that’s just my little side note of the day. Lauren, I’m so excited to have you on the show because you are part of a company that is most legitimately changing my life. It’s the most obscure, terrifying, wonderful insight into my body ever. Levels Health, so excited. Tell us a little bit about Levels.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (04:27):
Yeah, no, I’m so happy to hear that it’s changing your life, and quite honestly, it’s changing mine as well. Levels helps you see how food affects your health at its core. It uses biosensors like continuous glucose monitors to help you see in real time how the food that you eat and the way that you live impacts your metabolic health. And the goal really is just to create a window into seeing how your body works so that you can connect what you’re doing with what is happening. I am the head of clinical product, and the overall goal for me is just figuring out how Levels interfaces with the healthcare ecosystem, or to what extent it might not interface with the traditional system.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (05:07):
And it’s kind of interesting. I joined Levels in the fall, still kind of getting my foundation at the company, but I think there’s a really interesting dichotomy between the desire to speak the language of traditional healthcare, right? Like the language of disease in is in treatments and physicians and all of those things. And also, the desire to do something really different that makes sense because the traditional healthcare system, I think everyone would say, is pretty broken. So my job really is to figure out where within that spectrum we can have the most impact and help the most number of people.
Espree Devora (05:38):
100%. And tell us, before we get into Levels and everything that comes with the company, I really want to know about your journey. What were you doing before you discovered levels? When did your interest in technology first begin?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (05:51):
Yeah. So I’ll start with the second question. I actually, hadn’t given that much thought to when my journey with technology started, but knowing that I was coming to chat with you, I gave it some thought and I actually think my first kind of magic moment, if you can call it that, with tech happened when I was about 12. I was very into math, very nerdy. Well, let’s not call it nerdy. A very curious kid.
Espree Devora (06:15):
Nerd is fine. I’m a proud nerd.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (06:17):
Nerd. Yeah, right. And I wanted to learn some things in math that weren’t available at my school. And so I enrolled in what was called then a distance learning program. It was offered by John’s Hopkins. And it was basically the most, I guess, rudimentary version of online learning. It was these animated online courses with modules and there were professors. And if you wanted to talk to the professor, you had to call them on the phone on a landline on a designated time to do this. It was the world of dial up. So you had to have a phone line that could be occupied for hours without anyone interrupting.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (06:52):
And at my elementary school, the only place to do this was in a little furnace room. And so I would go in there with a super clunky, heavy laptop and unplug the landline in the furnace room and plug it into this thing and do the online learning course. And I just remember sweating, it was so hot, but this whole other world was open to me of things to learn. And I was so amazed by it that I could knowledge really from somewhere that was so distant from where I was in that little furnace room. And I think that was the first moment for me that got me hooked on the power of it.
Espree Devora (07:27):
I think it’s so funny when I first started podcasting, I’d sit in my cars to get the best audio quality, and not have the AC on, on a hot 90 degree day, just sweating profusely just to get the best audio.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (07:43):
Totally. No, it’s like you do whatever works.
Espree Devora (07:47):
To go from that experience when you were 12 years old into pursuing technology professionally, when did that transition start to happen?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (07:55):
Yeah, it’s definitely not been a super straight forward path. I actually started in finance in private equity investing, and that included technology companies. But I wouldn’t say that it was as much into the core of tech as I am now, but from there I actually went to medical school and was very involved with clinical medicine. And so when I really entered tech, I think kind of full on, was coming out of clinical medicine and really pursuing health tech and first doing so through co-founding a startup of my own and then working for Verly and more recently joining Levels.
Espree Devora (08:33):
Okay. A few things. One I want to ask when you… What attracted you to Levels, but a question that is interesting even before that is so many people are like, “How do I attract more amazing talent to work with my company?” And especially for women, it’s all in the job description. So what did you see when you saw the opportunity at Levels that made you think, “This is the culture I want to be a part of?”
Lauren Kelley-Chew (09:00):
Yeah. So actually, I was introduced to Levels by a med school classmate of mine who later became an investor in Levels through A16Z. So actually, I was at Verly, I wasn’t actively looking for a job. And he was like, “There’s a role at Levels that seems like it was basically written for you. Would you take a chat?” And so I met Sam for coffee. And to answer your question I think in terms of what appealed to me at that point, it was really relatively simple, which was, I was in a situation where I had seen various parts of the healthcare system and felt that it was really, really broken and basically nothing made sense.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (09:38):
And when I talked to Sam, essentially to me, the mission of the company was to do things that make sense. And that was such a refreshing thing for me and so different. I was immediately hooked. And then of course there were all these other aspects of the role itself and kind of how different the company was, and how strong the team was. But really, it was just the simple thing of, this is a group of people trying to make a difference by doing what makes sense versus what is typical.
Espree Devora (10:05):
Let’s walk through what Levels is from a very kind of auditory visual place, so people really get it. So you have a patch that you put on your arm, it looks a little bit like a needle, but I’ve been told it’s not a needle. Full transparency, it still freaks me out, but not because it’s freaky, just because I’m a scaredy cat. It 100%, 100% does not hurt and it’s totally fine. So it’s just me being a scaredy cat. And then it’s also incredibly worth it because I feel like I transform into an Android and I can scan myself at any time to optimize my health from how my workouts are affecting me, how my moods are affecting me, how certain foods are affecting me.
Espree Devora (10:53):
So let’s say maybe pizza doesn’t affect me that much, it doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t affect my best friend because each one of our bodies is entirely different. And so we’re told like, “Oh, you can’t eat that amount of carbs or you can’t this and this and that.” But you don’t really know what’s right for your body unless you know your body. And so Levels really makes it that we actually get to know our bodies. A friend of mine was telling me, we usually think sushi’s pretty healthy, and he had sushi at one of the airports and it spiked his glucose level. I think it’s glucose or insulin. Lauren can correct me, but it spiked that thing for a couple days or a day and a half after eating that, which was wild to me.
Espree Devora (11:38):
And it really educated me that, “Man, I could eat something like the chocolate chip cookies I had for lunch today. And then potentially the chocolate chip cookies could affect me into tomorrow or maybe even the day after.” And if I don’t use Levels, there’s no way of me really knowing that, or maybe they don’t really affect me. Maybe I eat the cookies, but then I go for a run and it was fine. And so it’s a really interesting, tangible way to see what’s going on. So Lauren, explain to us what did I miss and what is glucose and insulin and why should we care and all that stuff.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (12:13):
I think that’s a really good summary that you did. In terms of glucose and insulin, really what the patch is trying to measure is just a window into all of those really complicated balancing activities that your body tries to do as it processes the food you eat to create fuel for all of the cells, which have all these biochemical processes happening in any given moment. And interestingly, the hormones that regulate appetite and weight gain or weight loss are also connected to other hormone systems in the body, for example, cortisol and the stress hormones, or the sex hormones. So really blood sugar, I think, is just the very beginning of how helping people to understand everything that’s happening in their body.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (12:57):
And of course, we’ll never get to the point where we understand, I really believe the body is so elegant and intricate that it is an endless mystery in some ways. But the goal is to have tools that let us make decisions like you’re describing. And I would add to what you said, which is not only is it that every person’s body is really different. It’s also that our bodies are different at any given moment or chapter in our lives. So the way pizza affects you today may or may not be the same as tomorrow. And of course there’s some themes there, but there’s a lot of nuance too.
Espree Devora (13:27):
I even heard, and this isn’t… I haven’t done tons of research to back this up or anything, but I heard that tracking insulin and spikes in insulin, if you have a healthy insulin level, it could improve the reproductive system to have a baby. It could help you lose weight, things that even if you exercise and eat well all the time and you’re like, “Why am I not losing weight?” Potentially it’s because your insulin is really spiked all the time and erratic and that’s why. Can you clarify, Lauren, because I am not… I’m 0% expert.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (14:03):
No, you’re definitely describing it correctly. So basically insulin is the messenger in the body that says to take blood sugar out of the blood and to put it into the muscles for use or to store it as fat for later. And so it’s really what’s responsible for after you eat and your blood sugar has gone up depending on what you eat, insulin is what helps get that blood sugar back into that balanced range that the body likes. What’s difficult to know is basically you see what your blood sugar is, but how do you know how much insulin your body had to produce to get your blood sugar into that range? And unfortunately, tracking insulin isn’t super viable at the moment. There’s ways to do it through blood testing, but there’s not continuous tracking of insulin yet.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (14:48):
But you’re exactly right that essentially that insulin regulation is connected to hormonal regulation for so many other things. And I think what you’re referring to is polycystic ovarian syndrome as one of, kind of a variety of metabolically driven conditions that are related to fertility and women’s health and men’s health too. But in the case of fertility, women’s health, in this case for PCOS. And that getting better insulin control and in many cases, lowering insulin into a much more optimal range will really help to reverse a lot of that metabolic challenge that the body’s been undergoing.
Espree Devora (15:24):
I’m so glad you used that word metabolic because it’s something that was kind of abstract to me when I heard the word and metabolic. Around the internet streets, I would think it means metabolism, and then you hear things for years that it’s like, speed up your metabolism, slow down your metabolism, this and this and that. Metabolic health is so much more than just this generic thing of like, “As you age, your metabolism slows down.” It felt like just a very flat one statement fly by night, kind of metabolism. Can you tell us what, what is metabolic health and why should we care? And what do we do with that?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (16:05):
Yeah. So metabolic health is really just thinking about all those biochemical processes that I was describing, and really trying to make them as efficient and with as least work as possible for the body. And so it’s really just about how efficiently and easily is your body able to convert the food that you eat into energy? And unfortunately what happens a lot for Americans and I struggled with this myself, so I’m not immune to this, is that depending on what we eat and how our bodies are, oftentimes we’re constantly kind of in this up and down of blood sugar, where the blood sugar’s spiking, then our insulin is starting to bring it back down. Then it’s going up. And our bodies are always kind of working hard to try to keep blood sugar in the optimal range. And over time that creates a whole bunch of effects. I’m not sure if you’ve heard this, but I’ve recently heard Alzheimer’s being referred to by some people as diabetes type three, but I think that reflects just how far reaching this can be.
Espree Devora (17:06):
I’m glad you brought that up. Yeah, Alzheimer’s too. I heard that insulin and Alzheimer’s have a relationship. I’m like, what?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (17:14):
Yeah. That’s exactly right. And so-
Espree Devora (17:15):
And dementia too, or is it just-
Lauren Kelley-Chew (17:16):
Espree Devora (17:18):
Okay. Get into that, yeah.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (17:20):
And I think so to answer your question around metabolic health, really what we’re encapsulating is all of this energy and fuel processing, but really it’s the connections of that to the underlying physiology of the body, right? It’s like the core energy system of the body. In my opinion, it’s linked to everything really, that is happening in our body. So I don’t know if that answers the question more clearly, but it certainly expands on it from just you have a fast metabolism or a slow metabolism.
Espree Devora (17:47):
Totally. I think the whole world of med tech is maybe not new for the professionals, but it’s new to the consumers like me with, what’s it called? Not hardware. Not wearables, like health trackers and all of this, Levels is a wearable… Or is it even called a wearable because it’s more a medical device? What’s it classified as?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (18:14):
So Levels itself is an app. And then we integrate the continuous glucose monitors as sensors, but I would call it an app or a platform at this point.
Espree Devora (18:24):
And as we’re becoming exposed to all these things, it can be a little bit daunting. There’s so much. So if someone wanted to start their journey on improving their metabolic health because they want to make sure that they can have a baby when they want to have a baby and they want to prevent Alzheimer’s and dimension as much as possible. And they want to have less body fat, what are the first take? What do we think about, what do we look at? It’s just so overwhelming.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (18:54):
Yeah. So I think in an ideal world, it would start in the way that you described, which is having some information about how your body’s reacting to the food that you’re eating. And it’s not just food. It’s also the way that you’re sleeping, the way that you’re exercising, the levels of stress you have can really impact your are your metabolic health. So if the person has access to Levels and hopefully Levels would be accessible to much larger groups soon, we’re currently beta testing. But I think that is such a powerful tool as a jumpstart. That said, you can start without it also. And I think that there’s a few kind of low hanging fruit, simple things that people can do.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (19:32):
So for example, and we were chatting about this a little bit earlier, but being conscious of moving your body after you eat. That alone has such a massive effect on blood sugar. And the Levels team actually did an experiment on this with drinking Coke and either moving or not moving after they drink it, and simply going for a walk after you drink that has a really significant effect on the impact on your body. So that’s something easy you can do without a sensor. You don’t need a sensor to know that it’s going to help. Likewise, being conscious of the amount of sugar in the things that you’re eating. It seems so straightforward, but it is amazing how hidden sugar is in so much of our food, right?
Espree Devora (20:11):
Lauren Kelley-Chew (20:11):
Espree Devora (20:12):
Especially in America. Are there a few other examples of findings that you’ve discovered through Levels data that you’re able to share of the walking after. Are there any kind of actionable things that we could apply in our day to day life that will improve our insulin processing?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (20:32):
Yeah. So I think one of them is sleeping well. I don’t think there’s any question at this point, right? That-
Espree Devora (20:37):
Lauren Kelley-Chew (20:37):
Espree Devora (20:37):
I just started prioritizing sleep no more of this like I’ll sleep when I’m dead four hour hustler nonsense. I want my eight hours, and it’s so hard when it’s been years. I need to train my body to sleep that long, but yes, yes.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (20:51):
Yes, no. I empathize with that. I’m coming off of all different kinds of roles and careers where sleep is not valued. And I can see in my own continuous glucose data that when I don’t sleep well, even if I eat really well the next day, my blood sugar will be a little bit out of control. And I should say the reason I came to Levels was because I wanted the product for myself. So in many ways, I-
Espree Devora (21:16):
You’re like, “I don’t want to be on the wait list.”
Lauren Kelley-Chew (21:17):
Yeah, no, that’s exactly right. When I was introduced to Sam, I realized that I had signed up for the wait list nine months before. And so as part of that intro conversation, I said, “Sam, I’d really like to get off the wait list, and have this product.” And he made that happen, but really I’m so thrilled to be at Levels because I’m really everyday building a product that I want and that I want everyone that I love to have.
Espree Devora (21:42):
Yeah. I love Levels. I love it. I’m not the kind of person who wants to cut off an arm and become a robot when they make better arms. But I am the person who loves tracking my organic body and just seeing what I’m capable of and how to live a more full life. And I really, really appreciate that I’ve been introduced to the Levels technology, especially as novice as I am and not understanding anything about metabolic health or insulin or any of this stuff. And I love how accessible Levels makes that information. Lauren, I want to get back into your journey being in tech, what does your day to day look like working at Levels?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (22:21):
Levels has a very progressive and experimental culture. So we are completely remote and completely asynchronous. So that means that in any given week, I have maybe half an hour to an hour of meetings scheduled. Sometimes some are added, but it is really a culture of no meetings, which I think is amazing. And as a result, we’ve learned to use many other tools to communicate with each other and to make efficient kind of operational decisions, and just progress forward. So my typical day really is basically around how I work best. So for example, I usually block off a few hours in the morning when I’m most awake, and kind of alert and ready to work to just think and do the deep work that I really haven’t had the opportunity to do in that protected way for years.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (23:09):
That’s amazing. And then the other part of my job that I love is I get to learn from really incredible people at the company and external to the company who are helping us work towards this very big mission of solving the metabolic health crisis, but really on the day to day saying, “Okay, but really how do we get…” Like you said, how do we help people take that step, right? It’s not about us becoming bionic, people who do everything, right. It’s like, what is the one thing… For example, I got my parents on it. What is the one thing that they can do to really move the needle without having to completely redo their entire lives?
Espree Devora (23:44):
I want to get into your parents on it too, because I’m curious. But before then, you brought up two things. You said that the mentorship culture at Levels was something that you really appreciated. And you also talked about being an async culture, and so not speaking in real time. Can you tell us a little bit about how you all do that? Do you just create loom videos or what’s that look like for other listeners who maybe want to incorporate that into their company? And then how in an async culture are you even able to learn from one another if you’re not meeting in real time?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (24:17):
These are really interesting questions. And honestly, a lot of the reason I love Levels and our culture is because we’re experimenting still. We’re constantly trying new ways of doing this to see what works best. You are correct. We do make and send a lot of looms. Also, we use Threads to have asynchronous conversations. We are very communicative with each other, but in a much more… Maybe this is biased, but I think of it as a much more deliberate way. So we don’t find ourselves in meetings where we’re just brainstorming essentially. In the rare cases that we do have meetings, it’s to make a decision in general. And it’s just with the decision makers. To answer your second question about how we learn from each other, I think there’s something about being asynchronous and for example, using long form memos or Threads to convey thoughts that the there’s just a level of thoughtfulness in the way that people communicate their ideas.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (25:11):
And so for me, at least I’m really able, I think, to better understand the nuance in their thinking. And especially if it’s in a function that is really different from my area of expertise, I’m much better able to learn from it almost like you would from a book, which sounds kind of strange. And it’s all there for everyone to read. We’re a very, very transparent company. So whether it’s a memo written by someone in leadership or a memo written by someone more junior, it’s all there, and it’s accessible for everyone to learn from.
Espree Devora (25:39):
When you say Threads and that they’re like books, is that just slack Threads, or where do you write these Threads if you’re allowed to share?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (25:46):
It’s actually a company called Threads and-
Espree Devora (25:48):
Espree Devora (25:50):
Lauren Kelley-Chew (25:51):
I had no idea. I’m going to be Googling them later.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (25:54):
Yeah. It’s a new tool for me also that I’ve learned to use since joining the company, but it’s really interesting. And we actually work closely with their team as well in terms of providing feedback for how we’re using it and features that we’d like.
Espree Devora (26:07):
Lauren Kelley-Chew (26:14):
Espree Devora (26:15):
Okay. I’m going to check that out later. That’s so cool. I love tools.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (26:19):
It’s a great tool, it’s a great tool.
Espree Devora (26:20):
It’s funny. You talked about, you could read it like reading books and time and time again, it’s funny in this digital age, as we move further away from reading books, if you ask most successful people the one thing that they say made them a success is reading as many books as possible. And I know that your team is so efficient and progressive and meets a lot of milestones faster than other startups. And I wonder if operating the company in this way contributes to the efficiency and the milestones that you’re able reach in that way.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (27:04):
That’s the hope. And like I said, we’re always trying new things. So if something isn’t working, it’s likely we’ll probably fix it or no, let’s not call it fix it. We’ll change it. We’ll try something else. And maybe that new change will be better. So that’s the culture.
Espree Devora (27:17):
You talked about your parents. So just for a heartbeat. So what did your parents do with this new data? Were they like, “What are you getting me into?” What was that like?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (27:28):
It’s interesting. I should probably start by saying they’re both professors. So they’re very academic in their orientation. Initially I think it was a little bit… They weren’t really sure what they were looking at when their blood sugar data first came up. And we had a lot of… This was over the holidays, and this was actually the first time our family was together in two years. So there was a lot going on. So I was there helping them. And we had a lot of conversations about metabolic health and what the various things mean. But in the end, they actually learned really quickly that the goal was to keep their blood sugar in a certain range. And that there were foods that would help them do that. And it was amazing to see how quickly they adapted. They’re now in a phase when they are experimenting, I think is what they’re calling it, where they’re trying to reincorporate some of the foods that they love or working on substitutes. So it’s been fun to see them go through the process.
Espree Devora (28:14):
Do you happen to know either for yourself or your parents one of the bad foods that turned out not to hit their system so bad. It wasn’t as bad as they thought it was.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (28:25):
That’s difficult because in general, the foods that you think are bad end up being bad.
Espree Devora (28:30):
Like which one?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (28:31):
Well, so anything with a lot of sugar in it is going to be bad.
Espree Devora (28:34):
Oh, yes sugar. Yeah.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (28:34):
Right? Like for example, my mom recently experimented with half of a French pastry, and it was just half and she was it was very small and it was almond and it shot her way up. I hope she doesn’t mind me sharing that, but I will say there’s a lot of variation between people. So for example, my dad loves fruit. He also happens to be 6’4″ and is super fit and it ends up he can eat half a banana and it’s fine. I couldn’t do that myself so in that way-
Espree Devora (29:02):
Really? Even half a bananas spikes you?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (29:06):
Definitely. For me, yes. Yeah, unfortunately I have a very low tolerance for carbs of any kind. So I’ll spike on almost anything that has significant carb content.
Espree Devora (29:17):
But see, that’s what’s so interesting is a banana, society viewpoint is a healthy food that is great for you, that you should eat every single day and not have a whole one. This is why I think Levels is just the coolest, because you get to actually know what is healthy for each of our bodies. It’s not speculation. What’s a piece of advice that you’ve gotten in your career that’s really stuck with you?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (29:43):
While we’re on the theme of my parents. I think a piece of advice that I’ve really incorporated into my whole life is what they would say is simple pictures are best. And this was actually based on a children’s story about a family trying to take a portrait, and they keep trying to complicate it by putting like different costumes and bringing the animals in and all these things. And in the end, of course, every time it gets ruined, because something happens. And in the end it’s like the simple picture is the best picture. And I think I’ve really applied that to everything. When I was really in math, I think… Into math, I think often the answer that’s the simplest ends up being the best one. That’s certainly true in medicine in healthcare. And I think ultimately even links to metabolic health. It’s really about kind of connecting the basics of what you eat to what’s happening in your body. And I think that’s one of the great challenges for me and my role is, how do we take something that is so incredibly complex and make it feel simple?
Espree Devora (30:37):
When you do have a challenge and something in your day to day work life that you’re stuck on, like a problem that you’re stuck on, how do you seek support in a way where you don’t feel embarrassed that you don’t know the answer?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (30:57):
Well, I think those are two separate questions. The first one is, what do I do and the second one is to not feel embarrassment? I think the answers are actually connected from me right now, which is I found dance as an adult and spend a lot of time actually studying dance. And often, when I’m stumped on something at work, I will go and dance. And it’s interesting because it ties into the embarrassment question as well, which is, when I first started, I did have quite a bit of embarrassment, right? And I think many people do with dancing, but the more you do it and the more you exhaust all those different ways to feel embarrassed, the less and less it becomes a thing. And at this point, I rarely feel embarrassed about basically anything because when I’m dancing, I’m always new to it. So I’m very used to at this point, the feeling of not knowing. And I should say I’ve had an amazing mentor there, Tiko Morgan, who has really taught me that way of engaging with dance.
Espree Devora (31:51):
You just inspired me to think maybe I should… When there’s a problem, I should just stop everything and even do like a three minute meditation. Just that is my habit. I’m flustered, there’s a problem, three minute meditation.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (32:06):
I think so. And I think there’s something about going into your body, at least for me, that is so powerful and feeling that groundedness and feeling the power of just being connected to yourself that really clears the mind to feel rather than think. And often, I think that is where the solution is, is just, yeah, not thinking as hard. Goes back to simple pictures are best.
Espree Devora (32:31):
And in your career, what’s a huge obstacle that you successfully overcome, and how did you overcome it?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (32:38):
One thing that has been a challenge for me throughout, I think is just navigating a somewhat unconventional career, where moving from investing to clinical medicine to health tech and looking back now, it feels connected. But in the moment, at every stage and within each stage, people often senior men, but senior folks share that if I left X and maybe X was the company or the industry or the role, that essentially I would never be successful because of this reason or that reason. And as a young person, I think those voices are really powerful when you’re still just trying to find your way. And over time, I think… And I think we were chatting about this a little bit, or which is just trusting in your own voice the most, and letting that be the guiding thing. That has been the biggest source of kind of overcoming the doubt, I guess. And I think this has been echoed in many of your episodes, which I so appreciate because it’s a-
Espree Devora (33:33):
Your intuition is your Oracle.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (33:34):
Yeah. And it’s a universal experience, I think, of basically trying to figure out the waiting of other people’s voices versus your own and where the right balance is.
Espree Devora (33:43):
100%. Lauren, you’re so cool. I know we talked about Threads and having listened to the episodes, I’m super geek about tools and software and apps. Is there another one that comes to mind, one that you can’t live without, or your go-to either an or a website?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (34:00):
So I am a very simplistic person when it comes to apps and tools, which is a little strange. I probably use Google docs just as much as anything else. I love WhatsApp. That’s how simple I am in terms of communication. I highly value communicating with the people that I care about. This links to dance, Shazam for are discovering new music. I think it’s so inspiring. And it connects you to the story of other worlds and other people. Those are two of them. There’s nothing fancy in those, but I use them a lot.
Espree Devora (34:31):
That counts. And a must follow person. It could be a podcast or YouTube or a blogger or an author. Who’s a must follow for you?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (34:39):
I love Esther Perel.
Espree Devora (34:40):
Lauren Kelley-Chew (34:41):
I think her work is so amazing and-
Espree Devora (34:43):
I listened to her and the call her daddy podcast.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (34:46):
Oh, she’s so brilliant. And she’s made me think in such different ways, not just about relationships with other people, but about my relationship with myself. And kind of looping back to your other question about what do I do when I’m stumped or I don’t know something, often it’s doing things like that, listening to someone who’s talking about something totally different and it pushes you to think in a different way. So I love her work, I follow it, and I think she’s amazing.
Espree Devora (35:11):
I just started listening to her podcast. where do you listen or read, or what should I tap into?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (35:18):
Love her podcast, Where Should We Begin? There’s several seasons of it, I think it’s just amazing. And it really reinforces often… So for people who don’t know, essentially these are recorded sessions of her counseling sessions with the permission of the people that she is working with. And what you realize is that at the beginning, the topic of the conversation might seem like something that has no application to your life, but within 10 minutes, you realize this is part of the universal human experience. And it’s something that you probably have experienced or will experience. And so I love that about it and being able to actually hear the audio and the voices of the real people in the physical room or the virtual room with her, it’s really incredible.
Espree Devora (36:00):
Yeah. I agree. I think her podcast is so cool and a book that you recommend we read.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (36:07):
So I’m really into poetry and I love Mary Oliver and she has a compilation called Devotions that I love, I’ve read it for years. And I give it to all my friends for their birthdays even if they don’t want it. And they don’t like poetry. I just continue to give it anyway, because that’s how much I care about it.
Espree Devora (36:24):
I’m going to make a note devotions. You think I should give that as a birthday gift to some friends too?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (36:30):
Read it yourself first and-
Espree Devora (36:31):
And then decide?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (36:32):
… before you go out on a limb on my recommendation. But I think her work is, going back to a kind of simple being powerful, she has a way of connecting the most universal human experiences with words, and I think it can speak to anyone, but I’m very biased. So take that for what it is.
Espree Devora (36:51):
Where can people connect with you?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (36:53):
You can find Levels on Instagram and Twitter @levels. And that is really the best way. I, myself am not super active on social media so-
Espree Devora (37:02):
Oh, it means you live a happy, fulfilled life.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (37:04):
I do. I live a life with more mental quiet, maybe than the other route. It’s honestly not even for that altruistic reason. It’s really just, I have trouble juggling it with everything. So it hasn’t made it in.
Espree Devora (37:18):
Let’s talk about that. I think that’s an important thing to talk about, almost not having social media. How much social media do you have and what is your participation in social media? So two questions. And then the third question is so many people fear that if, “I’m not on social, I’m not relevant. I won’t be able to have a job. I won’t be hired.” So what’s your social media look like? What is your involvement in social? And do you need social media to have business opportunities?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (37:49):
The last question is a difficult question because I’m operating on not having it, so I’m not sure what would happen if I did have it. I have a pretty limited social media engagement or presence. I have an Instagram, I think I have two posts on it. I’m not saying this is the ideal thing that people should follow. This is just my personal… It’s just what’s happened over time. I think that social can be really a powerful connector for people. I have friends who use it to really reflect who they are and I think they do so in a really beautiful way, and they share that with the world around them. And I think that’s an amazing thing. They’re contributing to the overall intelligence and beauty and creativity of the world.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (38:30):
So I admire them for that. I think in terms of being successful in the business world, part of it is just what context you’re working within. I think as you were saying at the beginning, if you’re in a setting where you’re not as connected in the physical world to people, I think it can be amazing. You can connect with people all over the world. I should probably do more of it. So this will be inspiration, but I do think it’s possible to not. And the great thing about not doing it is you have more time, or I’ll speak for myself. I believe I have more time. I’m not sure that’s true. That’s the null hypothesis.
Espree Devora (39:01):
It is true, and I do not want to inspire you to be on social. Please stay off social. Trust me, it’s a better life.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (39:08):
I’ll take your word on that. And at this point, I don’t have a social skill, so I would have to build that, which would probably take even time. So one day.
Espree Devora (39:17):
I don’t know if you know, but I’ve been off social media for two months. So I just returned to social media yesterday. So I have very clear understanding of what life is like without social media and what life is like with. Now, I wasn’t off 100%, but I was off 99.9%. I maybe responded to like a couple messages. It was close to nothing, and it was proactively not posting. And I could get into a whole thing about the psychology of my experience, but from my experience, your life is better overall without social media.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (39:54):
Well, I appreciate that. And I think the experiment you did is so interesting and I’ve done a similar but different experiment where sometimes I just turn off my phone, which is even more extreme, I guess, considering I also don’t have social media. So then I’m really just off the grid, and I love doing that. I love it.
Espree Devora (40:12):
There was one period in my life where I backpacked for four months without a computer of phone, but I find that as each year goes on and our tech companies, et cetera, build us into this world where at one point we could just do our banking and now we have to have our phone to do banking and et cetera, or whatever it may be, it feels more intense to cut it out. And it feels like you’re making so much… It’s like a lot heavier of a life choice to say, “I’m going to turn off my phone or I’m going to not…” It feels like we’re being forced into being more integrated into it. Do you agree or disagree?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (40:56):
I agree. And I’ve especially noticed that working for a remote company where recently my WiFi went out in the building or let’s say, it didn’t go out. I recently moved apartments and I had a little bit of a challenge with Comcast. So I didn’t have WiFi for a while. And it was amazing how little I could do, and how ungrounded I felt in that and disoriented. And it really made me realize just how dependent I am on it. And not just that, but that it’s really connected to my work, my personal life, almost everything. The only thing’s really that I was able to do that are part of my normal routine that I could still do were to move my body. I went out and I went for a walk.
Espree Devora (41:32):
It’s just so important.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (41:33):
It is. So maybe that’s the lesson here is-
Espree Devora (41:36):
Lauren Kelley-Chew (41:37):
Right, exactly. Move and move in as many ways as possible, definitely.
Espree Devora (41:41):
A couple questions that will help me as this podcast creator. I was reading Arlan Hamilton’s book, It’s About Damn Time. And it about how we have so many more advantages dependent on our network. And even in your story, because you went to school with someone who was able to introduce you to someone else, you were able to get a job. And it inspired me to think, how can this Women In Tech podcast be a conduit for people to have more opportunity? How can I share the access I have to give others, to give women around the world more opportunity? It’s kind of like a big question. One thing that came to mind to me is, a lot of people are looking to raise money, so can I connect our listeners to venture capitalists? Does anything kind of intuitively pop into your mind of a way I could use our podcast in order to, I guess, make our listeners lives easier, more connected, share my access with them?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (42:48):
Well, first of all, I so appreciate what your podcast does. And I have had experiences in my life where the mentorship of women in leadership positions has completely changed my entire mindset even if I only interact with them for a summer internship, for example, it has such a huge impact. And I think what you’re doing provides that for people all over the world and I’m so appreciative. So I think, no, it really is, it makes such a difference. So I think you’re all ready doing so much. I want to give this question more thought. One thing that comes to mind, and I don’t know if this is even possible on your podcast, but is translating some of these very inspirational stories into first steps.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (43:28):
So for example, I think a lot of young women, women of any age, including me in certain situations, for example, something as easy as like, “Okay, I’m really interested in finance. How do I get an internship?” And it’s not necessarily like, oh, you prepare whatever, but literally, how do you get that internship? Do you write an application? Do you start sending emails out to your network? Do you go to events? What do you do? And maybe having little like 10 minutes, something with a woman who can say point by point, “This is what I did to get my first internship.” And it spares no detail, and it creates a blueprint for people to follow themselves
Espree Devora (44:08):
That actually does give me an idea. I’ve been thinking about different technologies to use in order to facilitate introductions. And so maybe there’s something there. Definitely mentorship has been a theme even in our community group people bring up how they’re really craving more mentorship. But honestly, Lauren, I just don’t know as this facilitator, how to best facilitate. Whether it be mentorship or introductions to investors, whatever, I don’t know what that looks like yet. But yeah, you’re definitely helping… The step by step, that’s definitely a point in the right direction, so thank you so much. My second question you is this podcast has existed now since I started producing it in 2014 and then launched it in 2015. And our community does not have a name and I’m starting to think we should have a name. Is our name just Women In Tech, because I can’t picture starting the podcast be like, “Hello Women In Techers.” So what is our community name?
Lauren Kelley-Chew (45:16):
That is such a good question. I want to say this is not the name, but I feel like it has the power of just the future leaders of tomorrow. That’s even a redundant.
Espree Devora (45:26):
Hello, future leaders of tomorrow.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (45:28):
It’s so cliche. No, but you know what I mean? What I love about what you do is that it inspires women to go out and lead in their lives, separate from having to be identified as doing so as a woman, right? It’s like basically saying you can do anything and being female or identified as female, and I know you have male listeners too, but that’s an extra powerful thing, and you can use it and you can work with it. But also, you’re just amazing in and of yourself and anything is possible. So I wonder if there’s a name for the community that just reflects that expansiveness of what you’re doing.
Espree Devora (46:07):
On our team call today, I was joking, but now I wonder if it’s not a bad idea, so you’ve got to calm out, Lauren, if this is really just silly. I was joking on our team call this morning. I was like, what if it was hello, fire starters? And I was like, “What is even a fire starter?” I think that’s super cheese.
Lauren Kelley-Chew (46:25):
I love that line of thinking though. It might not be quite right, but no, I love it. I really do it. And maybe for a while, you just use different names every time and eventually one will stick.
Espree Devora (46:37):
Lauren Kelley-Chew (46:37):
One will come out spontaneously that just feels right.
Espree Devora (46:40):
Joe Peterson (46:40):
And you’ll know.
Espree Devora (46:41):
Oh, my gosh, thank you so much, Lauren, for hanging out with the Women In Tech podcast to connect and collaborate with more extraordinary women in tech around the world. Remember to visit our community at womenintechvip.com, womenintechvip.com. Say hello on social @womanintechshow on Twitter, on Instagram, on Facebook. I will see you, well I’ll talk to you soon on the next episode. Bye
Lauren Kelley-Chew (47:04):
Bye. Thank you so much. Hi, this is Lauren Kelly-Chew. I am head of clinical product at Levels. Levels helps you see how food affects your health. I am based in Oakland, California, and you’re listening to Women In Tech.
Espree Devora (47:24):
The Women In Tech podcast is hosted and produced by me as Espree Devora.
With help from Janice [inaudible 00:47:30].
Corey Jennings (47:30):
Edited by Corey Jennings.
Adam Carroll (47:32):
Production and voiceover by Adam Carroll.
Speaker 7 (47:34):
And music from J Huffman live and epidemic sound. The Women In Tech Podcast is at wearetech.fmproduction.