The path to Levels
Ben Grynol: What you’re making me think is that we need a podcast on Count Chocula, Reese’s Puffs, Lucky Charms, Frosted Flakes.
Josh Mohrer: Yeah.
Ben Grynol: It’s absurd.
Josh Mohrer: I hate to say it because I love business. I love capitalism and I love the United States. But I think it’s honestly a product of business going a little bit sideways, trying to sell more cereal, I really do.
Ben Grynol: I’m Ben Grynol part of the early startup team here at Levels. We’re building tech that helps people to understand their metabolic health, and this is your front row seat to everything we do. This is a Whole New Level.
Ben Grynol: It’s not often that people have the opportunity to work on global technology projects, to be part of companies that operate at a global scale. But for Josh Mohrer, JM, as he’s known internally being one of the two Josh’s that are part of the Level’s team, well JM, he was part of the early team at Uber. He helped to build out Uber, New York, one of the largest markets for Uber in the world. And there were a lot of learnings. JM saw the market grow from a small handful of rides every week to millions that were done. And he saw the way that technology scaled. He saw the way that you could grow the pie by changing the lens on what it actually meant to create technology that served a purpose.
Ben Grynol: And so JM joined the Level’s team in March of 2021. He brought a lot of his experience from Uber, a lot of this grit and rolling up the sleeves to get things done. After Uber, he’d become an investor. And as an investor, he spent a lot of time funding companies, but he realized that his heart was in building. He wanted to get back into building. And when he saw Levels, he had that same feeling that he did with the early days of Uber. He felt like there was something special. And JM had been using a CGM, a Continuous Glucose Monitor for years. He had his own challenges in trying to get one. And so he had this innate connection with Levels, he really wanted to be part of something that had changed his life.
Ben Grynol: And so we talked about what it means to bring technology to the world, frontier tech that is, how we’re going to do it and how we’re going to scale, and what are some of the challenges that will come in doing so. JM has had a very storied career. He has an interesting background and we spent a lot of time riffing on it, digging into all these different avenues and experiences that he’s had. It was a great conversation. And we learned more about his path to Levels, where things are at now and where things are headed.
Ben Grynol: Okay. So the path to building Levels, you’ve had this really interesting experience in building tech at scale, that is addressing a large global problem and doing it from the ground up. And so when thinking about this, where were you before Levels and what was your path in?
Josh Mohrer: Sure. So I’ve always been a startup guy. I started an e-commerce business in college and one thing led to another, and I worked at a bunch of different startups at the early stage and eventually found my way to Uber at the end of 2011, shortly after they launched the New York market. The company was about 30 people at that point, spread all over the world, mostly in San Francisco. New York was actually the first city that they launched after SF. And when I came on we’re doing a couple dozen rides a day, trying to make this thing work. I’m from New York originally, I’ve been here actually my entire life, including school. And so I was excited to turn on a new transportation network in the city that I love so much. And now I was one of three people in the New York office.
Josh Mohrer: And over about five and a half years, we grew it to be Uber’s largest city, doing something like 3 million rides a week by my last day, I think it’s quite a bit higher now. And that was an amazing opportunity. I tended to join startups in that series A, series B timeframe, when there’s a product on the ground, people like it, small team. But when I learned about Uber, I got a feeling that this was something special, even as my family were confused about it. “It sounds like a taxi service and we have really good taxis here.” But actually the truth was the taxis in New York are good sometimes for some people, but they’re not good for most people most of the time, particularly when it’s raining or busy, and there’s a bunch of reasons for that. But I saw a big opportunity with Uber and actually, I hadn’t felt that way again until I learned about Levels last summer.
Ben Grynol: When you had joined Uber, this was when… were Travis and Garrett working with the company? Or is that when Ryan was overseeing things still?
Josh Mohrer: It’s a good question. This is after Travis returned. He basically came back as CEO, Travis, when they raised the series A, and so I joined right around the series B. So he had already been back in the seat for about 18 months, when I joined. I met him at my interview. I did a bunch of things in New York and then flew out to San Francisco to meet him and the team and get the final stamp. But I didn’t know much about him at the time, I just really thought Uber was cool. You push a button, a car shows up. At that time when the app store had just been opened up, the iPhone had existed for only a couple of years, Apple had just opened up the app store to third parties. And the idea of taking a digital action and having an analog result was amazing, it felt really magical.
Ben Grynol: Yeah. It’s funny too, because you were overseeing arguably, and this might actually be objective, but arguably the most controversial Uber market in the world from a transportation standpoint. So any talk in the news or media always had to do with New York. And part of it was because New York is synonymous with taxis and New York also has a very interesting, so we’re talking New York, the state and New York city as in Manhattan and surrounding areas. But the way that the taxi system worked there from a macro economic perspective, where you basically have these legacy, what do they call them? Not tickets, legacy-
Josh Mohrer: Medallions.
Ben Grynol: Medallions, that’s the name of them. Legacy medallions, and so people would have these small pools of like five to 100, depending on the size of their fleet. Five to 100 medallions that all had some economic value, as they would get traded and passed down from generation to generation. And so the barrier to entry in starting a taxi fleet was so high in New York and Uber was seen as this massively disruptive, we’ll call it a service or product, to the entire transportation ecosystem, which generated a lot of jobs and a lot of people’s livelihood. And I think people were looking at the problem in the wrong way where it’s like, “Oh, you’re actually creating more value,” but it was really hard to get alignment, so-
Josh Mohrer: Ben, you’re coming with a little deeper Uber knowledge than I expected here. These are pretty a well-informed things that you’re saying. So, yes, I have a big smile on my face if you are in the room, I really like that all that stuff. But yes, so taxis operate on a medallion system and New York city is definitely the most regulated city in the country. It’s partially because of how crowded and busy it is here, it’s also just the politics of the place. But so if you fast forward a bit, Uber, New York is the only American city that doesn’t have Uber’s rideshare product. And so when I say rideshare, I mean like Airbnb for rides. That is, you push a button and a car comes and that car is just driven by me or you, it’s just a regular Joe or Jane. And they get insured by Uber, but by and large you’re not a commercial driver, they’re just doing this to make a few extra bucks, like an Airbnb host would.
Josh Mohrer: In New York, the market is heavily regulated and actually that’s not the product we run here. In New York, Uber latched onto the black car and limousine regulations, which are different than taxis in that you can’t wave your arm and flag one down, you have to prearrange them. And before apps, what a prearrangement was is basically a phone call. So you’d call a dispatcher and say, “Hey, I’m going to the airport, can you please pick me up at 5:00 AM?” And they’d be waiting for you. And the rate was set in advance, it’s not on a meter. You just know, “Okay, it’s going to be 60 bucks to get to the airport.”
Josh Mohrer: And I think the big kind of, at least in New York, the regulatory rub was that we believe pushing a button on the app is more similar to calling up a dispatcher and requesting a car, than it is waving your hand in the air. And so what Uber did is it tucked into these black car and limousine regulations, fairly in my view, and that is not a supply constrained system, or at least it wasn’t at the time. And so you said earlier how the medallions limited supply, and there’s about 13,000 of them, and that number hasn’t materially changed in like 100 years. The system was initially created to not flood the market, I think everybody loses if there’s unlimited cars. The drivers potentially won’t make enough money, there’s a lot more traffic, things like this. But it was clear when we launched that the 13,000 taxis and the roughly 40,000 limousines and black cars and livery cars, were not enough to serve the city, particularly parts of the city that are not well serviced by public transportation.
Josh Mohrer: So I grew up in Queens in the outer boroughs, if you’re familiar with the city, and yellow taxes are just not something that I ever experienced, saw, rode in, et cetera, they just weren’t a thing. I did ride the subway a lot. I lived in a part of Queens that had very good subway access, but the majority of the square mileage of New York city are not near transportation options, there’s just not a lot. They might be near a bus kind of, they’re probably not close to a subway. The subway system is expansive, but it doesn’t reach everybody. And there are times where you just need a ride home. Like it’s very late at night or you’re going somewhere weird or whatever, or you going to the airport at an odd time.
Josh Mohrer: My first interaction with Uber was for an airport trip in 2011, and it was really, really early in the morning, it was like 4:00 AM. And I requested the car and they couldn’t get me one, which was a bummer. But later that day, I got an email from someone at the company saying, “Hey, we saw you tried to order a car, and we couldn’t serve one, here’s five bucks off the next ride.” And again, at this point I had never been in an Uber, but I found that interaction so compelling, that I opened the app and tried to use it. And because of their analytics and the way they were operating, they knew that I tried and failed to get a car and they acknowledged it, and they reached out and they turned potentially a bad experience into a really cool one. And I think, that interaction might seem more normal now, in 2010 to 2011, it felt unique, it felt special.
Ben Grynol: That was your path in? That was sort of the…
Josh Mohrer: That was my first touchpoint. Yeah. I talked to a community manager there who pinged me and was like, “Hey, sorry, it didn’t work out.” And I tucked that away, I didn’t end up joining for another eight months. But that was like, “Oh, this is interesting. You try to get a car and you can’t get one, and then they reach out to you and say, sorry, and try and get you one the next time.”
Ben Grynol: Yeah, that’s wild. Because on demand, that’s par for the course now, everybody not only expects it, but also expects it within like.
Josh Mohrer: Yeah. Expectations go up over time. I have a memo that I’m working on now, but it’s one of the points that I make is that, expectations go up with time. I think for Levels, the magic moment right now is that, you eat something and numbers on your phone start to change, and that’s amazing. And I think in the future, that will be less amazing, but right now it is amazing. I eat this bagel and then the number starts to go up on my phone.
Ben Grynol: No-
Josh Mohrer: That’s it.
Ben Grynol: Bagel that’s does that to you?
Josh Mohrer: I mean, or a piece of bread or… Oh, I couldn’t hear the sarcasm over your beautiful Canadian accent, but-
Ben Grynol: Oh right.
Josh Mohrer: Right. Or I go for a run and it does this. I take an action in the physical world and something digitally happens, it’s almost the opposite of Uber, where I take a digital action and something happens in the real world. And so that is really cool. But over time expectations go up. “Oh, a car arrived. Oh, it didn’t come in five minutes? Oh, it wasn’t clean? Oh, it wasn’t cheap? The guy didn’t know where he was going?” Expectations go up over time. And so where that magic moment in 2011 was what it was, over time expectations go up and it becomes less magical.
Ben Grynol: And so then what was your path to Levels? When did you have this similar magic moment? Where did you first hear of Levels? And then what was that touch point that made you feel… Because when you and I have chatted offline, it seems like you saw the twinkle in Levels that you saw in Uber at that time, and there’s something that is very, I don’t like to use the word sacred, but it’s very special. You realize when you see it, you’re like, “Oh, this is not the same as everything else.”
Josh Mohrer: Yeah. There are a few things. One is that I had taken up metabolic health as a focus during the back half of my time at Uber, as I was trying to lose weight. And I was reading a bunch of people about fasting and time restricted feeding and the more modern research happening around metabolic health. For me, it was about weight loss, but also just about pushing my body to maybe live in a way that it was designed to, or push the limits of what I think is possible. There was definitely a time in the last 10 years where I assumed if I didn’t eat food for three days, I would die. And it turns out I don’t need food for three days, I feel amazing. And it’s a nice thing that I now do once every few months.
Josh Mohrer: And I started listening to really smart researchers about this, and I should add that my family are almost all doctors. My father, my brother, my uncles, my mom works in a medical office, I’m surrounded. And so this has been on my radar, but this was a new approach to weight loss and health, and I got really interested in it. And I was aware of what CGM was, I kind of casually asked some doctors for it, who all thought that was crazy. They didn’t really get why I’d want this device that it’s designed for diabetics, why I would want that not being a diabetic. And I guess for the time between Levels and Uber, I tried on the investor hat in a few different settings and nothing really stuck for me, but it was with that hat on that I met Levels.
Josh Mohrer: I think I was introduced or I was in a fund that got involved and it sort of got on my radar. And all of a sudden on Twitter, this was like summer of 2020, I’m seeing all these pictures of people with this cool L patch on the back of their arm, with a CGM underneath and this new app called Levels that adds an insight layer on top of it and also helps you get the CGM, and I thought that was amazing. And so I remember sending a frantic DM to Josh, founder, Josh, and saying, “Hey, I really want to get involved.” And actually that was more just like, “I want to try it, get me one of these.” At this point, the wait list was very long and I think absent a connection to the folks at the company, it was going to be hard to get one.
Josh Mohrer: And so I banged down the door, I got my hands on one, I thought it was amazing, I actually invested in the company. And then around Christmas time, later that year, and at this point I was running an investment firm that I founded and did a fundraise for, and I just was really not having fun, I just wasn’t really enjoying myself. And I think the main reason for that is I’m naturally a builder, and as an investor, you’re focused on a thousand different things and you’re one step removed from the building. And I wanted to build personally with my own hands, I’m a startup guy and that works. I think there’s a trend where people who do the operating thing for a while and have some success, flip over to the investor side. I know a lot of people who do that and it’s a common trend.
Josh Mohrer: And so I just assumed that’s what I should do, but that was wrong. And I think in some ways I was just waiting to be wowed again in the same way that I was with Uber, and I just didn’t know if that was ever going to come, but it did. And so I was like, tried the product, got to know the team, particularly Josh and Sam, and understood how they operated. And then honestly, the weekly forum videos, they just really remind me of the early days of Uber, they really do. Really cool and interesting things happening every week, everyone is really engaged, you can just feel that vibe.
Ben Grynol: Yeah, you can feel it, you can feel that vibe through those videos
Josh Mohrer: It’s incredibly effective sending those around. And so I said, “Oh my gosh, this feels just like…” Look, I was at Uber for five and a half years. I’d say the first three were super fun, and then the back half was running a big company that was often mired in scandal. And so the beginning part was the really fun part, and this felt like that, that’s what I imagined. And I met people and actually a good friend of mine who I worked with at Uber, Miz, I suggested that he take a close look at Levels because they were looking for a head of ops, and he’d worked on something similar to Levels minus the CGM and that did not work out. And so I made an introduction and he joined and had only the most positive things to say.
Josh Mohrer: And so around Christmas time, last year, this is like December of 2020, I was like, “Maybe it’s just talk to these guys, see what they say, if I’m like, ‘Hey, hire me.’” So I filled out the job form, because they already knew me, I was an investor, but I didn’t want to just ping them randomly. So I went through the process. I’m like, “Let me fill out this type form and tell them that I want to work there.” And so that’s what I did. And then Josh reached out, he’s like, “Whoa, serious.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I think so. You only live once, man. And I’m not passionate about what I’m working on right now, and I can’t stop thinking about this, and I think this is going to be a huge deal. So let’s talk.” And then one thing led to another.
Ben Grynol: It’s really funny because you’re… So we’re going to refer to you as JM.
Josh Mohrer: Yes. My Levels friends call me JM.
Ben Grynol: And then we’ve got Josh Clemente, whom people who have listened to the pod are familiar with by now, either through listening to other podcasts or this one. Josh Clemente, founder of Levels. So Josh and in 20, we’ll call it like 2017 was really when his journey with CGM started. But he had this similar challenge that you had where you both became interested in metabolic health, and went to go get a CGM and realize, the process of getting one prescribed had so much friction to it because of subjectivity and bias towards use cases for the device. And when I say this, I mean with physicians. Like if you went to a doctor and said like, “Hey, can I get one of these prescribed?” People laughed at you. And you experienced that with your own family where people were like, “Man, what are you talking about? You are actually losing your mind.” And you’re like, “No, no, I want more insight on the data behind my metabolic health.” I want to understand my blood glucose.
Josh Mohrer: It’s more broad than that. I would watch my dad, who’s an internist, and just think about the process I’m like, “Okay, so people come in once a year and you take their blood and you look at what it says in it, and then that’s what’s going on with them.” But what if that day is weird? What if they didn’t sleep well the night before? What if, before the blood test, what if they took a long walk on the way to your office? And I just don’t think that taking a test, for most tests, having it be one spot and then that’s it for the year, that’s not how we would manage our car. It’s not how we would manage our computer or our home, or really anything. Just like, “How’s it going? Okay, good. See you in a year.”
Josh Mohrer: And we have… If you think about the tooling on a car, the sensors that come in modern cars or on an airplane or any of these things, the hundreds of sensors to tell you exactly how everything is doing. And it just seemed to me intuitively that that’s the direction we’re likely going to go in for personal health. So many outcomes are driven by when an underlying issue is discovered. Like someone dies if they don’t find something soon enough, or they’re fine if they find it soon enough. So the only difference is the serendipity of when they go and have a test, that’s whack, that’s crazy.
Ben Grynol: It is.
Josh Mohrer: So continuous monitoring… And glucose I think is a great first step. Obviously, we think about a broader range of things we should be looking at.
Josh Mohrer: I actually typically use the scale as an example. Like I’m going to weigh myself once a year and you’re going to tell me how I’m doing based on that? That is even more like… Did I go to the bathroom this morning is going to impact that one, and it’s just all so crazy. And so I think tracking stuff generally, looking at metrics and recording data and seeing the bigger picture rather than just one moment in time, just intuitively feels right to me. And so yeah, I was like, “Yeah, this CGM thing sounds pretty cool.” So I was testing my own blood with a finger stick and ketones as well. So I would try to eat like only fat and protein and then check for ketones and see how I’m doing. And the ketone strips were like $5 each.
Josh Mohrer: And so, in 2015 I emailed [Abbott 00:22:48] and was like, “Hey, can I buy 10,000 of these? Because I think there’s an opportunity and you’re charging too much and people want this, and this is the thing.” And the email response was close to a corporate, “Ha ha you’re out of your mind, please go away,” as you would get from them. So I also intuitively felt there was an opportunity to expand this stuff and push it further.
Ben Grynol: Yeah. Like personalized data and insight about one’s own metabolic health, one’s own health in general. And it’s interesting that you started down this similar path of saying, “I feel there’s an opportunity here.” And then fast forward to, we’ll say January of ’21. So December of ’20, you reach out to the team, you’re already familiar with them. And I think you and I first connected in early January, and we had this conversation where it was pretty clear that, you could feel it based on what you were saying and the way you were communicating it, but that you just felt this innate sense to build, to really build and it was something that you missed. I always refer to it as like shoveling dirt. Digging dirt in the early stages where you just wanted to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty, because that’s the stage that we’re at right now as a company. And there are many, many hard problems to solve being in beta right now, knowing that we haven’t launched, and we’re still finding product market fit.
Josh Mohrer: Yeah. I even love that approach. It’s not even my natural sensibility to like, “We’re not in growth, we’re going to just try to figure this out. We’re not trying to maximize XYZ.” That is actually not a natural state for me, I’m like, “Let’s go. Grow it as fast as we can.” But actually, it makes perfect sense and I think it is literally the correct answer, the way that we’re doing it here. Just being very methodical and trying to understand how people value this and what else we can bring to them that they’ll value and what the future looks like. And sort of reading… I think part of the process of me joining was the folks, like Sam and Josh just sending me tons of documents that they had written over a year of all their thinking.
Josh Mohrer: “Here’s how I think about regulation. Here’s how I think about the future. Here’s how…” It’s all so well-documented. And I’d be remiss not to mention my views on remote work and async work. I think when I first talked to Josh, he was the first person I spoke to at Levels and he told me that it was fully remote. I remember thinking, “Oh, that’s too bad. Like there should be a Levels that’s not remote because that’ll be better.” And it turns out, I completely flipped on that, that is wrong. Remote actually is perfect for this. It enables just a much wider geography of people, you’re not limited to one city or one country. And our team is now about 25% international, that is not in the US, so you get better folks.
Josh Mohrer: And I don’t know that I would be able to do an office right now. I got a couple of kids. There are parts of my life that just… This was easier for me to do as a remote job. And I think cutting out the fat of a commute and office ritual, just lets me do way more and focus on the things that I should be working on. Rather than, come in to the office and having a cup of coffee and going to lunch and seeing everybody like, that’s all wonderful, but we’re like just down to business here. And I really like that.
Ben Grynol: Yeah, you can really push it. And so you came on board. I don’t remember the exact date.
Josh Mohrer: March 1st 2021. Exactly, three months ago today.
Ben Grynol: Look at that. So you came on board and what role did you come into?
Josh Mohrer: Global head of ops. Which I think the global there is that international launch, is something that we’re thinking about. Once we nail US, or at least once we get to a point in the US where we feel like it’s ready to go, we can launch in Canada and other English speaking countries in Europe, and there’s some sort of aspirations beyond that. And so the first high level task really that was told to me before I started, before I got the offer was like, “Yeah, we’re thinking about international. We have to duplicate everything we do, taking into consideration regs and market and norms and supplier availability. And like Dexcom has a different API for other countries.” Basically every little detail needs to be thought through. And so they thought that that would be a good one for me.
Josh Mohrer: And then Dexcom just generally as a relationship, I lead for now. And so I think it was there’s a lot going on at Levels, where we’re doing a lot of stuff. We are running basically a flat org, but there’s no shortage of work. So, “Here’s a bunch of things.” And that’s what I’m doing now.
Ben Grynol: And this is where the analog comes in of Uber experience to Levels. And part of it is building tech at scale, part of it is the regulatory environment, part of it is logistics space. And although the logistics and KPIs are completely different, there’s still carry over and experience that’s transferable. But as we’re starting to think about some of the challenges that we’ll face, what are things that you’re thinking about with international? How are we going to solve this extremely hard problem globally? Not just from a logistics perspective, but from a mission perspective, which is to solve the metabolic health crisis.
Josh Mohrer: Yeah. I think one thing at Uber that was surprising, but I guess maybe intuitive if you think about it is that transportation is a very personal thing. When you get into the back of a car and go somewhere, it’s very personal and sensitive. It has some locations attached to it, you’re going somewhere. Maybe you’re stressed because you got to get to work on time or you’re going on a date and you’re nervous or whatever, or you’re going to the airport and you’re afraid you might miss your flight, but it’s not just timing. There’s something about the experience of transportation that is very personal and really strikes a nerve with a lot of people. And I think similarly with Levels, we’re giving people this opportunity to probably for the first time wear an invasive sensor on their bodies and sort of, I think I said this earlier, but it’s a bit kind of the opposite of Uber where you take a digital action and something happens in the analog world. Here, something happening in the analog world via the sensor is going to start to appear on your phone.
Josh Mohrer: So you eat a bagel and the numbers go up and there’s something similarly magical and sensitive about that. Healthcare data obviously is probably one of the most sensitive things we could be handling. And so when it comes to international launch and rebuilding our infrastructure in each country, there are regulations we consider, for example, how is CGM sold, in many places it’s over the counter, but there’s still regs on how to ship it, how to store it. Folks who are able to do logistics for you, different currency issues, different support. If we’re launching in Europe, we might want to have support folks who are online at their daytime, which for us is the middle of the night sometimes. And so there are sort of… it’s really you have to map the full surface area of our business here in the United States and figure out what the analog is in each place. And so I don’t think it’s going to be particularly difficult it’s just, there’s a lot there.
Ben Grynol: Yeah. And I think that there are certain things that come with the territory of building in exciting, new, we’ll call them frontier spaces. So you experienced this with Uber, where in 2010, 2011, early days of Uber, it was new technology. And with new technology and excitement, and we’ll call it the media hype cycle and everything that happens through social, which has gone up exponentially as a side note, in the past 10 years, you get certain things that we will experience globally, we’ll experience it domestically in the US, but globally will experience me too companies. Me too in the sense of, not just competitors-
Josh Mohrer: Copycats.
Ben Grynol: … but full-on copycats where they take your exact platform, they go, “Cool.” They change it to [Jevils 00:30:59], whatever it is and copy it exactly. But-
Josh Mohrer: Jevils.
Ben Grynol: … we’ll experience me too. There are going to be challenges with regulation, challenges with managing press and challenges with things like privacy. So I think there are a lot of analogs that you’ve seen this once… Through the lens of Uber, you saw this once in the full gamut of all these challenges that come with scaling global tech and doing it really fast, to not only create a great product and impact as many people as possible and create a great experience and all these things, but doing so to maintain a position as a market leader, because when it comes down to that part of execution, there is a cadence that comes with maintaining market leadership. Like you can’t be resting on your laurels and have your feet up on the Ottoman and expect that you can maintain a position.
Josh Mohrer: Yeah. Look, I love me a set of Ottoman, everyone should get a chance to put their feet up on an Ottoman sometimes. I think there are broadly two types of competitors in my mind, at least this will probably be the case for us. Competitor type one, and I think we just saw this recently, and I’m not going to say the name, but a business operating in a similar space that just straight up copied our website, emails, photo treatments, like it’s a joke. And there will be some of them… they’re going to do the arm patches too, oh, this is someone else that I’m thinking of. Or just some of the stuff we do, it’s really a carbon copy. And so that’s flattering because it shows that we’re influencing them, and also it validates what we’re doing, I think.
Josh Mohrer: If there are other folks trying to do it too, it shows that we’re not actually that crazy that there is something here. And then the second category is ones that are more vaguely competing with us that are maybe doing something adjacent and could eventually overlap with us. I think ultimately our high level goal is to build a durable and defensible business at Levels. And if we do that, the competition stuff will take care of itself. But yeah I think broadly speaking competitors validate what you do, it shows that there is broad interest in something, and I think that’s a good thing.
Ben Grynol: I haven’t seen it too much. Sam’s heard more of it, I think, in the tech and startup ecosystem, but you saw it with Uber, which is, we are Uber for-
Josh Mohrer: Levels for X.
Ben Grynol: X. Yeah. And so we’ll start to see Levels for X. Where it’s, you see it with certain companies, we are superhuman for X, we are Slack for X. We are Uber for X.
Josh Mohrer: I think there’s no examples of successful companies that are something for something. Are there any examples that come to mind that are successful companies that started as, Uber for blank or anything for anything?
Ben Grynol: There are like, I’d push back on it. I think that there are, and what happens is you start to find, especially… and this is fun to talk about and digress too, is the nerdiness of un-bundling marketplaces or un-bundling SaaS products, where the legacy players… So let’s take a marketplace, verticalization of a marketplace like shark X.
Josh Mohrer: Sure. eBay for shoes.
Ben Grynol: They unbundled… Exactly. They unbundled eBay for shoes. Same thing with Reverb, eBay for guitars. And-
Josh Mohrer: Sure. Oh, I didn’t know about that one, I got to check that out. That’s cool.
Ben Grynol: Great platform to find vintage gear it’s StockX, but for guitars. So it’s verified vintage guitars and you can buy it like all years. But I think what happens is when new companies come into a space and they start to unpack, like we are superhuman for X or whatever platform for Y, it’s harder to get to meaningful scale. Like StockX, they might have really engaged users and great LTV, that might be true, I don’t know. But it’s harder to get to the same scale that like Uber would have got to because Uber became a wider suite of products.
Josh Mohrer: Right. If you’re more general, there’s maybe a big opportunity, but I don’t know with shoes… And I think it is sort of blank for blank, in some ways though it’s like an un-bundling. Like, “Okay, eBay is going to be everything, and so StockX is going to be shoes.” And I think there are definitely some examples of businesses that have tried to do everything and then solely new entrance come and snipe that individual… things because frankly, a marketplace designed around shoes and only does shoes is probably going to do a better job with shoes than an eBay.
Ben Grynol: Exactly.
Josh Mohrer: Like Concert tickets, the Stub Hubs of the world are better at that than eBay, there’s a structured data component. I use StockX buy specific running shoe that I just can’t get my hands on here, and it’s great. And they do the authenticity thing, there’s just more to it. I think of that more as an un-bundling than a blank for blank, but I definitely hear your point. And I think in some ways you could view Levels a bit as un-bundling healthcare. I think in a certain age demographic, people aren’t getting to the doctor every year, but the decisions they make now will definitely have long-term impact, some of which wouldn’t really even show up if they did go to the doctor regularly.
Josh Mohrer: And so we’re promoting a newish view on medicine and health, like metabolic health as a focus, as it’s the center of everything. Someone said, “We don’t know what our food does to us.” That’s a genius line, because we don’t. We’re living in this part of our evolution where there’s abundance of everything. We sleep in heated rooms and we have unlimited food. And as Josh likes to say, “We might encounter in one day more carbohydrates than our ancestors did in a lifetime.” And I’m talking about going back a little further than just the last couple of hundred years. And those changes in humanity have let all sorts of new diseases that didn’t exist before, a lot of it seems kind of self-inflicted.
Ben Grynol: Yeah. And I think that is right to say that we’re taking a one specific part of understanding, will call it, health and wellness of understanding one’s own data behind their metabolic health, we’re taking that small part… It’s almost, and I don’t want to compare us to Amazon, but the stage we’re at, we’re at the Amazon book stage, or we’ll call it the Tesla Roadster stage. Where we’re really focusing on one specific thing right now to find product market fit, to un-bundle this one aspect of this very, very massive ecosystem. And from there, we can start to build out to make it a much better experience across a gamut of products and services and all these things that make people, A, give them an incredible experience, but also give them better insight and personalization to things that shouldn’t be… Like health should just be you’re right. Health is not a privilege. It should not be a privilege, it should be everybody right.
Josh Mohrer: Yeah, I agree. And I think if you look at the United States, they’re just spending more per citizen on healthcare than any country in the world, but doesn’t have the best healthcare outcomes. In fact, I think outcomes are actually getting worse, life expectancy is going down. We’re the richest country in the world, we’re spending more than anyone. We can do this well, but the system is really borked in a lot of ways. And I think the mission here is probably even stronger than Amazon’s, and Amazon touches my life every day and I hope we can have a 10th of the impact on the world that they have. But the mission is clear, there’s a crisis, people are living less well and less long than they ought to be, than they have in the past. And then you’d think they would for the amount of money we spend on all this stuff.
Josh Mohrer: And a lot of that spend is geared towards later in life. There’s a preventative aspect that I think is often ignored, and that’s where we’re focused. If you can help people understand… I have this memory growing up and I was always a little chubby and that peaked after I had my first kid, and I’ve kind of reign that in through a bunch of things, including focused on metabolic health. I remember as a kid, eating cereal in the morning, which itself is just is… the institution of breakfast I think, deserves a separate podcast with someone smarter than me on that topic, but it’s total nonsense. Like the most important meal of the day, here’s a bowl of carbs, go for it.
Josh Mohrer: I remember, and we’re similar age, you may remember this to, a pyramid in the back of the cereal box. It’s like the food health pyramid sponsored by the American Medical Association, you might not have seen it exactly that way. But the gist of it was that, it’s a pyramid and the base is the stuff you should eat the most, [stubnuts 00:39:45] of course, cereals and carbs and things like that. And at the top of the pyramid is bad things, like oils and fats, don’t eat any of that. Fat is fat, I mean kind of a funny name for the thing. And now like turns out that was exactly backwards. And I don’t think you or I are that old, that the world’s changed so much. We just have been giving people bad information.
Josh Mohrer: And there’s a bunch of reasons, some of them are nefarious, some of them are honest mistakes. Some of them are just, we didn’t know better yet, but boy, oh boy, people just don’t know. The calorie, this sort of 100 plus year old idea that when you burn something, the heat sort of creates the energy that it takes to raise one milliliter of water, or one degree Celsius, like that’s the center of metabolic health, the calorie? Like calories in calories out, a doughnut is the same as a steak? Come on.
Josh Mohrer: So there’s all this stuff out there that’s just wrong. And I forget the question you asked, but I just get so amped up thinking about all the misinformation I was fed my entire life. Like, “Oh, you’re a little fat, you should just try to eat a little less, just eat a little less. Because calories in calories out, 2000 calories is a pound, just eat a little less.” You’re either mesmerized by what I’m saying or I’ve lost the connection. It’s one of those two, maybe neither.
Ben Grynol: No. What you’re making me think is that we need in a podcast on Count Chocula, Reese’s Puffs, Lucky Charms, Frosted Flakes.
Josh Mohrer: Yeah.
Ben Grynol: It’s absurd.
Josh Mohrer: I hate to say it because I love business, I love capitalism and I love the United States. But I think it’s honestly a product of business going a little bit sideways, trying to sell more cereal, I really do. And the sugar industry sponsoring studies, it is very similar unfortunately to like cigarette companies, sponsoring research in the ’50s and ’60s that said, it wasn’t a big deal to smoke. And of course it is, it kills you. And so I think there’s probably a similar thing. I am not a perfect eater, I eat garbage too, but I think what Level’s has helped me do is moderate that and keep a record of it and hold myself accountable.
Josh Mohrer: I’m not the kind of person who’s going to be able to eat clean for my whole life, but you can’t manage what you don’t measure. So Levels has given me a way to really hold myself to account on the things I eat, on the exercise I do, and that has improved my metabolic health.
Josh Mohrer: Tech startups are like the new garage bands. I feel we would have gone and started a little band and wrote some songs to try to do it. And like, but now the kids start companies over and there is a lot of similarities between startups and garage bands.
Ben Grynol: I love it, man.