Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. Let’s skip the usual intro. I’m wearing something. Anytime people see it, they want it. I’ve never Sam worn, anything that people want to wear. You wouldn’t call a wearing SIM.
Andrew: this is in my arm. I actually talked about it with a guest that I interviewed just before Sam, uh, John Lee, the founder of pic Fu at the end of the interview.
So you’re talking to the founder of levels. Can you please tell him I’m on the wait list? Can you please put a note? Can you ask me him to get me through? How long is your wait list now? Sam
Sam: We’re we’re back-ordered uh, I think the wait list is 37,000 people, so we’re, we’re, we’re trying to work through it as quickly as we
Andrew: people want the thing that’s in my arm right now. And I don’t doubt it based on the feedback that I’ve been getting from people who heard that I have it, uh, Sam, this is the founder of levels. It tracks your glucose and your glucose in real time. So you can maximize your diet and exercise. I want to find out what that exactly means in practical terms for my business.
I want to know what he did to get people to even know that level’s exists. It’s not an end market. Really? How does, how does he get all this demand? And then I want to ask about his previous company car dash, which, uh, went through Y Combinator raised some money and sold, and we’re going to find out all of that.
Thanks to, and frankly, I just want to know specifically, what am I going to do with levels to improve my health or to improve my energy. I don’t even care about overall health. I just care about energy and weight. Sam’s nodding. I guess I’m not the only one to say this. We can do a thanks to two phenomenal sponsors.
The first is LinkedIn, you know, LinkedIn, but you don’t know how good it could be. I’ll tell you about it. And the second is HostGator. The company that hosts my website, sound good to have a year.
Sam: Likewise. Good to be here.
Andrew: Um, do you feel that things are changing now that people are, are getting all psyched about levels?
Sam: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the big changes in design Geist is that. It’s becoming much clearer that metabolic dysfunction broadly is the underlying condition of a lot of lifestyle and longterm health problems.
Andrew: See you lost me already metabolic dysfunction. I don’t even know what that means.
Sam: Yeah. It’s it is, uh, you’ll, you’ll be hearing terms a lot more about metabolic fitness, insulin resistance.
Um, uh, the problems caused by poor diets, uh, lack of exercise or poor sleep. Um, underlying conditions. Like we often treat things like obesity and diabetes as if they’re completely independent conditions. Um, one of the terms you may have heard that’s been popularized recently is diabesity, which is, uh, we’re, we’re starting to see that.
Uh, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. A lot of, uh, in fact, if you were in medical school, now they would teach you that Alzheimer’s is type three diabetes. Uh, it’s becoming that’s all right. You can, you can look up with the term. Uh, we, uh, it
Andrew: me ask you this. So I’ve got this in my arm. You guys have this beautiful logo on my arm. So of course, everyone wants to know what it is. The L looks like it’s a bar graph. That’s going up. I have your app, which is, which is beautifully elegant. Every time I eat something, I could log it in the app.
And then I could see a chart at the top that shows me what my food is doing to what my blood sugar level. Right.
Andrew: Let’s take a practical example. I start my day with coffee and then a few hours later, I have a bagel. If you look here at York, I mean the chart on your app. We should talk about business at some point, but I’m fascinated by your company.
This is the company everyone’s talking about. And I I’m one of the lucky few who has it. Um, the chart goes up. What does that mean? Does that mean I have more energy for a limited time? Does, is that a bad thing?
Sam: For sure. Yeah. Glycaemic variability is the, is the term, uh, it’s uh, I think there are two ways to think about it. One is your energy levels and how you feel and how you think throughout the day. Um, spikes and crashes and glucose are not, if you’re, if you’re not a diabetic. It’s, it’s not a life threatening issue, but you’re going to feel kind of weird.
If your numbers go really high, you might feel hot and sweaty. Uh, and when they crash, you might feel, I can give you an example of how I sort of got into all of this, because I, uh, I started wearing these just really as a novelty on the recommendation of a friend, uh, who now co-founder Josh, um, started wearing a continuous glucose monitor.
Um, and this was really just novelty for me. Somebody told me this is the first, this is the first bio wearable. It’s, uh, it’s the first time you can see the concentration of molecules in your body. Um, and I had my, my normal healthy breakfast, which for me has always been steel cut oats. Uh, my, my mother beat that into me as the healthiest possible breakfast.
And I noticed a few hours later, my hands were shaky. And I was tired and I couldn’t focus. And in my head I was thinking, Oh man, I did have three cups of coffee this morning. And I didn’t sleep super well, so I need to switch to tea or something. This is caffeine things, really just getting out of control.
I checked my levels. My blood sugar had spiked past what the ADA would consider the diabetic threshold. I was, I was up at 215 milligrams per day. And seeing your numbers like you’re, you’re, you’re going up to one 41 5,215 is a number that if you’re healthy, you really shouldn’t see. And I had crashed into the fifties, which is hypoglycemia.
And when I looked up the definition of hypoglycemia, yeah. It’s just like, wow, all of these symptoms, I was experiencing all of these lifestyle problems that I was having were really just caused by diet. And it never even occurred to me that the, the healthy things that I was doing were actually the source of these problems.
Andrew: And so when you finished your steel cut oats, what was it about? What was it about them that was making you shake and sweat.
Sam: Yeah. So the physiological mechanism is, uh, your it’s a, it’s an insulin response to what it is. So, uh, when you’re, when the, when your body compensates for high glucose, it pumps out insulin to pull that glucose out of your blood and stored as fat. Um, when. Uh, when your body overcompensates, it’s a postprandial crash.
When your body overcompensates, you end up in hypoglycemia, which is low glucose. And it’s like I said, if you’re not a diabetic, this isn’t a life threatening thing, but you feel pretty weird. Uh, when you, you, you hear people where they feel faint. A lot of these things are caused by diet, and there’s never been a way to measure that and to really be able to directly attribute cause and effect.
Andrew: Okay. All right. So now I can, now I can see how the food I’m eating. Is impacting my energy level and no twins, I should probably avoid and which ones I should have. And I’ve been seeing people do that on Twitter. Uh, Marc Seuster, the venture capitalist has posted some photos of the food that’s bothering him or said, this is the food that he shouldn’t be eating.
My friend, Matt Galligan just did this long Twitter storm saying here’s the food that I ate and here’s the impact that it had on my body. And, um, and that’s the goal of. Of levels, it starting out with a continuous blood sugar monitor, and I’m imagining you guys are going to do more than that, but on an ongoing basis measure what’s going on in our body and give it to us in a presentable, actionable way in the app.
Sam: That’s right. Yeah. I think I see this as the, the first step in a new wave of buyer wearables, uh, the, the ability to measure and quantify things in your body in real time and, uh, to, for the first time really associate cause and effect, uh, it, we, we wrote a blog post, the, the levels theory of behavior change, which touches on a lot of the way that we think about closed loop versus open loop systems.
And how that leads to long term behavior change. Um, right now in the closed beta, we were, we’re implementing a lot of new features in Q four and Q1 about event detection and prompting you and being more proactive in the education aspect of it, where, uh, when they’re there should never be a question of when your numbers go high, we should, you should know what that means.
And so that’s, that’s a big focus for the next couple of quarters, uh, as we get out of beta.
Andrew: Yeah, what does it mean? And what do I do about it? And I have seen that, that monitoring my health this way in some cases is incredibly helpful. In other cases it’s not big example is, um, I sleep with an old Apple watch on my wrist and it tells me how much I slept. And I used to really feel guilty if I slept for less than eight hours, it turns out I actually do really well with seven.
If I go longer than seven. I just don’t have a great day. And I only knew that because I could see that yeah. On an ongoing basis, seven is a good number. If I even get six, it’s not bad. And if I’m not feeling great, I can see in the middle of the night, I woke up and for how long anyway. So that’s that type of thing has been incredibly helpful.
The other thing that was helpful is how many times I run. I never used to keep track of it. Cause I’m not the type of person who would put it in a notebook. You have your Apple watch on, you go for a run. It just logs it and you know, Hey, let’s find out about how you got here. Your first big startup was car dash, right? What was the idea behind car dash?
Sam: The car dash was a, the original concept was my, from my friend and cofounder. Um, he had a personal experience trying to get his Jeep fixed. He had a think he’s on the roof and took him months and thousands of dollars to get it fixed. And it still wasn’t fixed. And. Realizing just the, how large the car repair market is and how broken it is.
The, the fact that it’s, uh, the two major, uh, leverage points were in convenience and transparency. Um, you have to take a day off of work to get your car fixed. It’s incredibly inconvenient and. You non went to multiple different repair shops and got wildly different prices, like orders of magnitude difference.
Like, yeah, that’ll be $200. Yeah. That’ll be $2,500 for the exact same thing. And so, um, He, uh, he and I, we met and he mentioned he was looking for a technical cofounder. Um, I actually grew up my, my, my parent’s house in Sacramento. We actually have a car garage with a lift in our house. My father, his hobby is rebuilding old cars.
So we’ve built, I don’t know, a dozen antique cars in the house, so I kinda grew up around that stuff. Um, and so we. That was the core concept is how do you bring transparency and convenience to what is, I think a, roughly a hundred billion dollar industry.
Andrew: And so is the first step you took to, was it to create that spreadsheet that you told me about
Sam: Yeah. Yeah. The first step was really good for this, which I think is, I think it’s the approach that. That’s a, the people don’t take enough. They they’re so obsessed with building the product because that’s, what’s fun that they, they often overlook how important it is to see, well, do people even want this to begin with?
So, uh, we, we put together a Google form. Uh, we, uh, branded it and made it purple and we got, I think, 12 customers to actually pay us money and give us their keys to get their car service, uh, which is a really strong signal.
Andrew: How did you get those 12 customers Craigslist?
Sam: Um, how did we get them? I think a lot of them are in network. We were hustling our friends and, uh, we, I think did some Google ads as well. So just like getting initial, getting initial customers was, uh, I’m trying to remember where they all source from, but I think Google ads was a big one. Uh, we, we source people from there.
Andrew: They came to your site, filled out a form. They said, here’s the problem with my car? Come pick it up. You, you went and picked up the car
Andrew: and drove. Was it, you was driving it over. You’d personally went because you know what you’re talking about, considering your family background, you took it to a service station, got a quote, and then went back to the customer and said, here’s how much it would cost you.
And I actually believe that this is the right thing to do.
Sam: Actually we, the, the core concept was in bringing convenience and transparency. So the transparency aspect was upfront pricing. So we would get the price. And when they said, I want this done, we would tell them, alright, that’ll be $230. And we would be responsible for finding the shop that could do it for $230.
Um, because one of the things that’s so frustrating about this process is that, um, you get different prices for all these different shops and then immediately they try to upsell you. And there’s this information asymmetry where you’re like, do I really need these things? I really don’t trust this person.
Um, and. I can tell you having seen under the hood in this industry, uh, it’s, it’s pretty messy and pretty ugly. Uh, they, there are a lot of things that are constantly pushed on people that are really, uh, that are really not necessary just in order to get more revenue out of them. Okay. Uh, so one is just that pricing really is largely arbitrary.
Um, the things I think a Harvard business review did a study about how, uh, Uh, on average women pay more for car repair than men do. And this is just people being taken advantage of for lack of knowledge. Um, The, uh, the other is upsells on like, Oh, you need, you need all these fluids changed. When in reality, you don’t for another 20, 30, 40,000 miles.
Um, just like constantly trying to find ways of getting more revenue out of them. So it was part of it is because it’s so fragmented. Uh, it’s something like 89% of car repair shops are independently owned. So there’s a, it’s a really fragmented industry which allows for a lot of this to happen.
Andrew: I see the Harvard business review article. Uh, they say women should just ask auto repair shops for discounts. That’s one of the things I noticed I’m on the phone. I ask a question if I just say, wow, that sounds like a lot. They’ll start to negotiate with themselves.
Andrew: Which then makes me feel less comfortable getting their price, because if that already was, was just them trying to highball me.
Is that the word
Sam: That’s exactly
Andrew: What’s next? All right. So you had this understanding, what did you do with this, with the concept and with the little bit of an indication that there was a market need?
Sam: Yeah, we, we started, uh, we, I was on the technical side. We started building out the software, build out the different interfaces, build out the operational layer to make all of this possible, to connect the drivers with the people’s cars. So we can manage the, uh, we call it the, the service advisor dashboard.
We built a lot of tooling around it and. Yeah, we, we scaled it up. We went through Y Combinator. Um, we raised
Andrew: into Y Combinator with how much of a product was there when you went. I see,
Sam: so we, we, uh, the first time we applied for YC, we were, we did not get in and this was like concept, but pre-product, um, we got into YC, right? As we started to see traction,
Andrew: With the actual product,
Sam: Uh, with yeah. A form of a product
Andrew: it? What did it look like? What did it do?
Sam: it’s. So we, we, we took lean startup about as far as you can possibly go. I think our, our run rate was like, I think $600,000 and our entire backend infrastructure was Google sheets, API.
Uh, it was like full on wizard of Oz, uh, uh, full on wizard of Oz, uh, technical infrastructure.
Andrew: Google sheets, a run rate of 600,000. That’s why 50,000 a month. And so 50,000 a month, that’s a lot of repairs who’s doing it.
Sam: Yeah. So a lot of them were through, um, it’s a lot of Silicon Valley people. So, uh, they, they tended to be people who, um, they work during the day. And they don’t want to have to take a day off work. So a lot of them are employees at Google or Facebook or some of these big campuses where we can pick up their car from the parking lot.
And we can service it same day and bring it back to them before they leave work. So that’s where the convenience aspect comes in.
Andrew: And then when you say we could pick it up, who is picking it up, I imagine at that point, it wasn’t you going over to the service station anymore,
Sam: Yeah, not, yeah. Sometimes, sometimes we would have this huge influx of customers and I’d have to leave my desk and go drive a car that happened a few times. But yeah, we had a, we had a team of drivers that we we’d scaled up pretty quickly to handle the demand.
Andrew: And was that all self-funded at that
Sam: No, we. Uh, up until YC, we’d raise a little bit of capital from friends and family.
Um, but not, not very much. Um, and then we went through YC and then we raised, uh, I think maybe another 6 million, mostly from index and Felicis.
Andrew: Okay. And so imagine at that point you’re actually buying ads. It seems like it’s Google ads, right. That you’re using to bring people in. Bay area. There are a lot of people who have way more money even time. And so of course it’s a natural fit and they’re willing to experiment by trying somebody new and they’re not put off by a form.
And so that is one of the nice things about the Bay area. When I first moved to San Francisco. I remember going into restaurants and even mom and pops would have like six different forms of payments, each one connected to some other startups approach, right? Like you could use this QR code and get a bunch of stars that are equivalent to some coffee somewhere else.
Right. And they’re willing to experiment with it. And so people who work our work here are the same way. Um, the ads, I see how the whole thing was working. When you went into Y Combinator, why do you think they liked you? What was it about your business that they liked?
Sam: I think why you see the thing they care most about is team a team and market. I think those are the two things that they really look for. And. I think one of the statistics then is, is not well understood. I think the statistic is something like 40% of YC company. These were denied on their first apply application.
Um, I think that applying early, yeah, applying really, and then showing real traction and progress. So when we applied again, four months later after being denied and they saw just how much progress we’ve made in four months, it’s a real indicator of, uh, Of success. They, they saw that we, we work really well together as a team where we’re iterating very quickly, we’re learning about our customers.
Um, I think that was probably the thing that, uh, that got us in was being transparent with our information and really just showing progress over time.
Andrew: All right. Let me take a moment to talk about my first sponsor and then we’ll get right back into the story. I want to know what you did at Y Combinator and how that impacted your business. But. My sponsor is LinkedIn. Can you imagine LinkedIn is buying, is buying an ad to promote the fact that they have ads.
I think too many of us are not realizing. I think that LinkedIn is a fantastic platform for both content and for advertising. Are you guys buying any ad Sam? As far as you know, on LinkedIn?
Sam: We’re not buying any ads yet, but we will pretty soon for sure.
Andrew: Like, imagine if what you could do is say, is there a type of customer that’s especially helpful? I know that you’re looking for people who are, who care about their health, but are you seeing that there’s a person in a specific spot in a company that’s especially useful?
Sam: Yeah, for sure. I mean the Peloton users are a big one for us, for sure.
Andrew: Really? Oh, that makes
Sam: Oh yeah.
Andrew: I can imagine what you might even say is, you know what, the further up the ladder somebody is, the more the stress they might be under, the more they might be willing to invest in their own health. We are really killer with content and you guys are even your freaking Twitter content is great.
Yeah, you guys do sponsored posts on Twitter. You’re one of two people who do it. Well, at least as far as I could see in my, in my Twitter stream, who’s doing that for you guys.
Sam: That’s to me.
Andrew: It’s you personally buying those Twitter ads.
Andrew: It’s like a boosting Twitter. I shouldn’t be doing an ad for Twitter while I’m doing one for LinkedIn, but yeah, you guys are damn good at it.
Imagine if you brought that intelligence to LinkedIn and you said, you know what, going gonna go after people who are C level, we’re going to go after people who are VP marketing, we’re going to go up to certain groups of people. We’re going to write an article about how their health impacts the way that they work.
And then we’re going to. We’re going to do a sponsored content where we buy an ad and we see we buy ads to boost it. Or maybe you do text ads, which you might be a little bit more familiar with their InMail ads, which is, you know, stuff that we get when we’re, when we’re checking in, um, checking messages from our connections on LinkedIn.
Anyway, all that’s available on LinkedIn, most people are not going to try it. And here’s what LinkedIn is going to offer. They’re saying Andrew. Give your people a hundred dollars credit so they can go and see this because once Sam starts to play with this and brings his intelligence into LinkedIn, he’s going to be bought in forever because he’s going to see that the LinkedIn customer is someone who has.
Has money, someone who’s worth going after and someone who mournful has influenced within a company. Alright, they’re listening to me. And you want this offer that I’m pitching who’s Sam exclusive. LinkedIn basically paid me to pitch to you, but if you’re out there, listen to me and you want to give this a shot.
I urge you to go check out LinkedIn. In.com/mixergy. They will give everyone who’s listening to me right now, a hundred dollars ad credit. And you better lock that in because I think this is the last of their ad run with me. So go check them firstname.lastname@example.org slash mixer. Do you get that? I see they’re offering other people $50.
I love that. They’re giving me a hundred dollars to get my own things. Go get that a hundred dollar offer right now from LinkedIn. You will thank me in fact, seriously, thank me. I want to know that it’s working for you, email@example.com. Alright. I used to say, come to the office. I’m not in the office. Are you in the office right now?
Sam: I’m in the zoom virtual office.
Andrew: Is that
Sam: I’m actually sitting in the couch.
Andrew: at home?
Andrew: I hate working from home. How do you like working from home?
Andrew: Are you, are you into working from home?
Sam: I I’ve been remote for a long time, so I, it doesn’t bother me one bit.
Andrew: I’m terrible at it. Partially because working from home means snacking all day from home. I hate it.
Sam: Yeah, for
Andrew: That’s a problem for me.
Andrew: What did you learn at Y Combinator and how did it change your, your previous business car dash?
Sam: I think one of the most helpful things, just in the way that Y Combinator frames approaching problems is, uh, is in thinking much more short term. Which is, um, thinking about growth as like get 10% week over week. How do you get 10% more this week? And you think, Oh, well we need to build all this infrastructure.
We need to do all these things. Like this is something that we took into levels, which was, um, we, uh, When we started thinking about, all right, how do we get customers? I pitched the question to the, to the team, or let’s get 10 customers. And for like, all right, well, how do we like set up growth infrastructure and how do we run ads?
I was like, Nope, let’s just call people. This is literally call them on the phone and interview them and see if they want this. And we just like called all of our friends and we talked to them about it. And some of them went well, some of them didn’t and we take pretty rigorous notes. We use notion we have a meeting notes.
A database that every call that we have, we just take notes on it. And we were able to learn from those experiences on what are the jobs to be done? Uh, what, what is their willingness to pay? What do they hope to gain from this? What, what sort of, what is their, what is their information flow? Where do, where do people learn about health and how do we get in front of that?
Andrew: Try to get 10 new customers on your own by making phone calls. And that’s not a waste of time instead of learning to call up your friends and hear their feedback. It’s not better to learn how to improve your Twitter ads or whatever else you’re doing.
Sam: I don’t think so. I think that people, people really under appreciate how important it is to understand your customer and what motivates them. I think I’ve personally interviewed at least 600 people from our waitlist. Um, I think that
Andrew: learn at levels because of that?
Sam: yeah, I. The biggest one is, is who, who are the people that are interested in this and why are they interested?
Um, most of our inbound has come from just organic word of mouth from existing customers. We ran some ads doing message testing, and that’s where we got some of the initial people that we interviewed. Like who, who are you, why are you interested in this? What do you hope this product will achieve
Andrew: So, what did you get out of that? Who are they? What do they hope? It’ll give them.
Sam: Yeah, on the, so on the marketing side, one of the things that became very clear, we always ask people, you know, what are you, where do you get your information from on health? And a lot of these people listen to podcasts and a lot of them follow influencers on Instagram or different mediums. So they really trust the opinions of these people.
And a lot of them also do a lot of Googling. So the conclusion from hundreds of interviews was all right. Content strategy is going to be really important because people are looking for the stuff and they’re not finding what they’re looking for. Uh, getting on podcasts, specific podcasts. We have a whole list of every podcast that every person we’ve interviewed, thousands of people, every podcast that these people have said, I listened to this person for my health and wellness information, uh, and figuring out how to get in front of that.
Andrew: Is there someone who you can think of I’m imagining Tim Ferriss seems like the
Sam: Oh yeah.
Andrew: he, you hear that a lot? I imagine.
Sam: Yep. Peter a T is probably the number one that we hear. Um, and the people that we, uh, that we interview Peter T is a big one. Rhonda Patrick is a big one. Um, Tim Ferriss is big. Uh, Joe Rogan is another one who’s actually interviewed Rhonda Patrick and, uh, and Peter . Um, the, uh, I th I think some of the other aspects that you learned from this are a willingness to pay, um, Thinking about what people mentally anchor on and understanding why they anchor on those things.
Andrew: do you mean by anchor?
Sam: so when people, when, when you say. What do you think something like this should cost and they say, I think it’s your cost a thousand dollars and then say, okay, why, why do you think it should cost a thousand dollars? And they said, well, I just did my bespoke blood work. And that was $1,500. So I expect it will be something around there, but just understanding where, where their ma, where their mind goes on, uh, how they view this as like a proxy.
Andrew: Okay. And then what’s the benefit that you’ve noticed.
Sam: So it depends a lot on the, on the demographic. Um, this has been actually one of the challenges in our fundraising processes and defining the market. If you have a, a, B to B SAS developer tool for continuous integration, they ask who, who is your target market? And you have a very clear answer. So this one, this one specific person, and for us, it’s like, well, it’s people who eat food.
Uh, which turns out is a lot of people. And among that population, people have very different jobs to be done. Um, so a common one is people who they have this, they feel tight hired in the middle of the day and they don’t really know why, but they have some inkling that it has something to do with diet.
They just don’t really know, like, there’s this plausible deniability that comes along with it where, you know, your mother says, don’t drink soda. It’s bad for you, but you go, yeah. Sure, but is it really that bad when you, when you close the loop on it, they want to know like of the things that I’m doing, are they good or bad?
A common one that we see are very healthy people or at least ostensibly healthy. And they do very healthy things. Like they do a green juice every morning for breakfast and. They discover through this process, that the reason why they feel so tired throughout the day is actually because of the healthy things they’re doing that green juice is like a liquified sugar bomb every morning.
And it is actually the source of a lot of these lifestyle problems that they’re trying to counter.
Andrew: So I had one before this interview started in my, in the pre I think right after the previous interview. So I do see that there’s a spike there happening right
Andrew: And then at some point it’s going to go down quickly and that’s me losing my energy and it’s because the green juice felt good for a moment.
And then later on drags me, that’s what you’re saying.
Sam: Yeah, that’s right. When you, when you crashed into the low numbers, you you’ll notice symptoms like wanting to take a nap or inability to focus your, your mental clarity. Just isn’t there. A lot of these are symptoms of, of a hypoglycemic crash.
Andrew: if I notice that I go below say 75 on this chart. That’s Hey Andrew, there’s a problem. What did you do before? And maybe that led to, this is what I should be asking. So for example, I think when I eat bagels, I feel good about it. When I eat peanuts, I feel bad, but if peanuts aren’t bringing me up and bring me down, then just enjoy the peanuts, not feeling bad and understand that it’s going to keep you feeling full longer and maybe avoid the bagel.
Sam: Yeah, but it’s, it’s also possible. One of the, one of the reasons why we’re looking to incorporate as many things as possible is that it’s also possible you’re allergic to peanuts and we wouldn’t be able to track that through glucose. Um, the problem is these, the human body is so complex and it’s multi-variate so, um, the more pieces of information we can bring in the better.
Andrew: All right. So going back then, to your conversations with customers, when you talk to that many customers, we’re talking hundreds, how do you make sense of it? It becomes such a mess of everybody’s needs that you don’t know what to do next.
Sam: Yeah. I think the biggest one is every once in a while you have to synthesize it. And so I have a. A document of like synthesis of, uh, customer personas. Uh, so I think we have 12 core personas that we’ve synthesized from all these interviews. And what is that person? What do they want done? Where do they get their information?
And then you distribute that we’ve been all remote from day one. And so we have really high standards for documentation. And so we, we circulate information a lot in documentation.
Andrew: So it’s just coming back and saying, all right, I talked to all these different people. Let’s come back to personas. Here are the four that we think is it for how many?
Sam: I think where we have 12 personas, something in that range that we’re tracking.
Andrew: And is it all 12 that you’re going to be sad trying to satisfy in the beginning? Or are you just trying to
Sam: I think, I think there’s really only one or two that we’re really focused on for our beachhead market, but there are a lot of very interesting ones. Um, one of the most interesting ones that sort of organically came up. Is, uh, the adult children of aging parents, uh, a meaningful percentage of our customers within using this for a week or two say, can I please put this on both of my parents?
And can I please share data with them? Because I think we need to have a conversation about their diet.
Andrew: So you can see what they’re doing. Yeah. That makes sense. I didn’t realize, but a lot of people will buy Apple watches just for their parents so that their
Sam: don’t really, I didn’t know
Andrew: fall down, they’re protected. Joanna stern said that she did that for her dad. And then I think for her mom and she really, and then that turned me on to this understanding that there are people buying it for others in their lives.
Like watch them for me. I’m okay. So you’re why do you then if you’re looking for one or two beachhead personas, why do you even spend time with the others considering how limited time you have right now?
Sam: Yeah. I mean, the main reason is that. I I’m only interested in approaching this problem if it has the potential to meaningfully and positively affect the world. Um, we, we wrote out some of this in our, in our secret master plan that we publish on our blog that I, I’m not interested in making a toy for rich people.
Uh, I’m interested in building a product that solves. Uh, what is probably the largest health crisis in the world? Uh, my prediction to you is that within the next five years, we’ll be talking about metabolic health in the same way that we currently talk about the opioid crisis. Uh, it is the underlying cause that’s a seven and leading causes of death in the U S.
Are strongly associated with, uh, metabolic conditions. Uh, so I I’m most interested in figuring out who, who are the demographics. Once we cross the chasm, if this doesn’t have the possibility to reach a mass audience, then I’m honestly not interested in doing this as a company.
Andrew: Got it. If the beachhead is people who can afford Peloton, that sounds great, but that’s a small group of people and that’s not where your passion is. And you want to know where’s the future. Where’s this going? Got it. Alright. Coming back to the car dash, you did that. You talk to customers, you sold, you learn that it’s about selling today, not setting yourself up for some imaginary future.
When you came out of Y Combinator had the company change.
Sam: Um, well, we were in exponential growth phase once we left Y Combinator. So the focus was much more on hiring and onboarding. Um, we, we increased the size of the team very, very quickly. Um, We we hired, I think, eight engineers in just a few short months. Um, we, uh, we started growing the, the driver base, um, and we, we were much more focused on scalability when you, when you’re in Y Combinator.
Paul Graham has the famous essay do things that don’t scale it’s very much about what can you do in the next seven days that will move the ball forward? Um, once we were out of Y Combinator, it was much more focused on alright, now that we have early signs of product market fit, how do we scale that up?
Andrew: Uh, got it. So in Y Combinator, it was talk to customers, close your sales personally, after Y Combinator it’s we understand who our customers are. We’ve got enough money now to go and get more of them. We’re going to do that. You told me before the interview started, it worked, but then growth, stalled. Why did growth stall after all that?
Sam: Yeah, I think one of the big reasons I remember we had a meeting where we were discussing, like, why did growth stall? The challenge that we ran into was that, um, we spent almost nothing on marketing at car dash and all of our sales. When we interviewed customers, where did you come from? It was almost all organic.
It was referrals from friends and, um, that’s great. Uh, but it also. It’s a double edged sword, because it also means that if growth stalls, you don’t know what levers to pull, because you don’t know what levers there were to begin with. So, uh, it, it was a, it was a lesson in that. Uh, I think somebody wrote an essay on this that unless you’re a Google where everyone does use, you uses you as a verb, unless you’re a Google, you need to understand your channels.
And we really did not understand our channels. Everything was just coming in organically and it was growing very, very quickly. And we ended up scaling scaling earlier than we should have. We should have, I think in retrospect, better understood our channels before we really put fuel on the fire.
Andrew: Got it. Alright. And then you left. Why did you leave?
Sam: I left because the. Um, my role had really changed a lot. Um, I, I came in as the technical cofounder really focused on building the code base and I had switched to more of a, a management role. I think in retrospect, I took a year off work after car dash and, uh, it was an, a useful time of reflection. And one of the, one of the biggest learnings for myself personally was that I really underestimated the emotional cost of context, switching.
Um, I think a lot of people learn this the hard way for me, it was, I was still spending half of my time writing code, but my productivity was down like 90%. Because I would go to a meeting, I would try to code for 30 minutes and then I would take a phone call and then I’d interview somebody and then just write a code for 30 minutes and it just didn’t work.
And it was really, really taxing. And I didn’t even recognize us at the time, but it was really difficult to manage that. So, um, That was a personal reflection of myself of do I, I either need to pick the manager or the maker schedule. I think that’s another Paul Graham essay. Um, so that was a really helpful learning.
Andrew: did you have a hard time taking a year off? I was going to do that this year. I have a hard time doing very little. I said, let’s just do interviews and nothing else. And I can’t.
Sam: Yeah, I would say it was probably the single most productive year I’ve ever taken. Um,
Andrew: What’d you do?
Sam: I well, so I spent the first three months deeply studying theology.
Sam: Yeah. But I grew up, my father is Jewish and secular and my mother is also secular. Um, and so I grew up not really understanding religion. And so my mom, my mom is not, no, she’s more like a Richard Dawkins style atheist.
Andrew: Okay. And so you wanted to find your own religion, your own path to spirituality, or to understand what.
Sam: It was more I wanted to, it was, it was one of these realizations that I’ve had at some point in my life. That religion is something that I just fundamentally do not understand. And a lot of my smartest friends, people who I know to be much smarter than I am, are deeply religious. And that it’s much more likely that there’s something that I’m missing.
Then all of these people that I know are smarter than me are missing something obvious. So, uh, it was really just a, an exploration and understanding and empathy. Uh, and it was a, it was a surprisingly fruitful exploration. Um, and, uh, I spent about three months on it.
Andrew: You know what Sam, I noticed that in my interviews in the early years of someone would bring up religion at all. I’d go, that’s out of context, who cares and move on. And then my audience would say, the guy just told you that he was in a crash. And then because of the car crash, he found spirituality and you totally cut him off and said, come back to how you got customers.
And, and then I started reading as it does come up a lot. So then where did you fall at the end of this? What did, what’s your relationship with God or spirituality?
Sam: yeah. I ended up with a pretty convoluted understanding of it, but I, I found that, um, The philosophical school of the American pragmatists, um, William James being one, his book varieties of religious experience is largely a summary of where I ended up at the end of this exploration. It was actually a funny moment because I, I host in the pre COVID era.
I used to host weekly salon dinners with like eight to 10 of my intellectual friends. And I hosted one on my conclusions from this exploration. Uh, of theology and, uh, I was telling everyone all what I thought were these unique observations. And then a friend of mine said, Oh, have you read the varieties of religious experience by William James?
Which I had not. And then I read it and it was like, everything that I had just said was in this book, that it was written more than a hundred years ago. And it’s like, I should’ve just started there and I would have been a lot easier, but it was a, it was a really fruitful exploration. And certainly.
Certainly lend to a much better understanding and empathy for people that have different views than I have
Andrew: Not this. One of the things that I’ve discovered in asking people is there’s some people who, because they have a direct connection to God or belief in God, they then feel supercharged in their lives. Like Austin from Lambda school, I got into it with him in the interview. He feels it. And because of that, he feels like he.
He works harder with more belief that, do you feel that too, now that you’ve found your spirituality.
Sam: I think the, one of the big conclusions that I had from the exploration is that it is, this is like a philosophical first principles of it. Uh, you need to believe. In a meta narrative of history in order to have purpose, purpose is something that’s very hard. I hosted a salon dinner on purpose, uh, on, on purpose and meaning.
And, um, I was surprised to discover how many of my friends are nihilists. And when you don’t believe in any, any narrative that. Matters beyond your lifetime. It’s very hard to commit yourself to doing anything meaningful. So I think that’s, I think that’s like the first principal’s understanding of, of what leads people to do.
It’s like Elon Musk task believes in this meta narrative of the human race of getting multiplanetary. This is not even going to happen in his lifetime, but that’s, that’s not important to him. It’s about the longterm. And I think that was one of the big understandings that I took from, from this exploration.
Andrew: I thought it would be more like if you believe that there’s some greater being that wants you to do well, that needs you to do well, because you’re going to help all these other beings, then all these people. Then you have to get up and work. You have to put in the hours, you have to give all of yourself.
And also you have to believe that you’ll find a way when it seems like there, isn’t a way that’s not what you walked away from it with.
Sam: No, it was, it was a little bit more about like you, you could believe your met a narrative might be. The, uh, the perpetuation of, of, uh, Of Western thought and liberalism broadly. So, uh, freedom might be the propagation of freedom throughout the world and throughout history, that might be the meta narrative that you believe in, or the United States as a country might be your amended narrative gives you care about the country lasting more than your lifetime.
Uh, so it doesn’t really matter what it is as long as it’s something bigger than yourself.
Andrew: Ah, so it’s find your place in the story that exists apart from you. All right. Sorry. You were going to say one of the things I know you’re going to say that you did other things in that year. What’s one other thing that you did to make that year so meaningful for you.
Sam: Um, so another thing was, I spent several months deeply studying network theory. Um, Network in graph theory. Uh, it’s it, the visual is pretty easy, which is like nodes and edges, which are dots and the lines that connect those dots. And as it relates to interpersonal networks. So, um, I’ve noticed that this was one of the reflections that I had was that I just made a list of what are all the best things that have happened to me in my life.
And when I started reflecting on the list, I think I had almost a hundred things written down, uh, all but two of those things came about because of people that I knew, and it was almost never because of something I actually did, which is a weird realization that being a, a high integrity person in the right place at the right time is so much more important than any of the specific work that I actually did.
Uh, And so it was a, it was an attempt to explore what parts of my personal relationships were really adding value to my life in terms of just making me happier. And, uh, that, that was, uh, also a very useful exploration.
Andrew: You mentioned that you do salons or he did salons pre COVID. How does the salon work? I’ve had people over. I love it. I do it often around food or drink, but I’d rather it was around and ideas. How does this alarm work?
Sam: Totally. I’ll send you the list of the topics that we, we have upcoming. Um, the, it started out pretty organically. Um, I would have a dinner with a friend just casually and we would talk about something interesting. We’d talk about philosophy. And then it would come up later on with a different friend.
And he said, Oh man, I really wish I was at that conversation. I said, Oh, well, I mean, we can do that. Yeah. And now at this point, I found that you have to limit the size to roughly eight to 10 people. That’s kind of the maximum that you can have. You have one conversation, um, at the table. Um, I, at this point I have several hundred people on the list that I invite to these things and people who expressed an interest I’ll typically pick the eight to 10, most irrelevant people.
And it depends a lot on the subject. So some of them are experiential. Where it’s a, it’s a question of, uh, uh, we did one on human connection and friendship. And so the people that I brought, uh, also one of the rules that I have is that you can’t talk about work. You can’t say you can’t tell everyone who you are.
We’re not, we’re not there to give your resume to people. Um, I, I seem to have, uh, uh, people who went to HBS still, like consistently violate that role. But, um, outside of that, it’s a. You you say your name and the last book you read that is your introduction. Um, the, uh, the. The goal of the salon is to explore concepts.
So in the human connection of friendship, it was a CEO of a major company and a barista from Starbucks. And it was a conversation about who are your friends? How did those friendships develop? Um, and some of them are much more philosophical. So I, I find friends of mine who are very interested in, uh, a particular philosophical topic and I’ll get them all together and we’ll discuss
Andrew: And are you moderating it? So if the conversation goes. Was off track. You bring it back. You are, you personally are. And then if someone’s not talking, you make sure to include them dinner before or after,
Sam: Dinner during. Yeah. So
Andrew: and eating. Got it.
Sam: yeah, so we, we, it starts at seven and seven to seven 30 is like mingling beforehand, seven 30 or seated for dinner. Um, and that usually goes for about three hours.
Andrew: Wow. That’s a lot of time. I want to do that again. I can’t wait for us to be able to have people over again. I love that. You mentioned books, you read two books a week. I think you said.
Sam: Yeah, that’s right.
Andrew: When do you read, when do you even have time to sit down and do it?
Sam: I actually, it’s mostly walking is when I do it. I, uh,
Andrew: while walking.
Sam: well, I, I do, most of them has audio books these days. And, uh, I, I will block off time in my day to do like a, an hour long walk between meetings. And I’ll just pop in an audio book, go for a walk. And, uh, I have a very hard time staying focused. So when I’m sitting and doing something, I have a very hard time paying attention, but going on a walk or doing something that’s a little bit more, uh, physical really helps me stay focused on it.
Andrew: I’ve been using the Libby app, which is it’s basically the library app where you can just get audio books and texts, you know, Kindle books from your library. Books, never cost that much money. Even when I had no money, I gave myself an infinite budget on books, but the fact that it costs anything, there’s a little bit of friction with the library because it doesn’t cost anything.
I just add it in and I will find myself listening to audio books about topics that I never would care about otherwise, because it’s in there and it’s working anyway, my latest one, it’s another person who was on your wait list. My friend, Brian, uh, Brian Harris. I said, why are you getting levels? He said, the OB the obesity code.
I go what’s that? He goes, read it. You know, it.
Sam: Yeah. That’s a great book.
Andrew: I’m I’m taking my time with it. And what’s interesting. There is, he makes a really good case for why everything I thought about food was stupid. Like I cut back on all my calories. He goes, well, if you cut back on your calories, your body then starts cutting back on what it does.
And did you ever notice that when you cut back, you still don’t lose weight? I go, well, yeah, I did. I want to see what else is he going to destroy? And then what’s, what’s he going to put in place of it?
Sam: Yeah. And that was one of the Jason funks book, Gary towels as well, several other, uh, uh, Ben Beckman’s new book. Why we get sick? Uh, similar weight. The, uh, one of the big conclusions for me was I, two years ago, I was a big believer that it’s just calories in calories out. You want to lose weight, eat less calories.
It’s as simple as that, don’t overthink it. Yeah, the reality is that the human body is a complex system. Uh, two people can eat the exact same thing and have totally different responses. And it’s, it’s so much more than calories. Your endocrine system, specifically insulin controls so much of this. Um, the, a couple studies that really blew my mind, they might be in Jason fungus book.
Um, uh, one was a human study and these are about the role of insulin and just how powerful it is. So the role of insulin to make it like the simplified version is it pulls calories out of your metabolism and stores it as fat you can think of it as that is the role of insulin is when you have too much glucose, it pulls, it, stores it as fat.
Um, I really under appreciated how important that specific hormone is. One of these was a human study where they gave different, healthy people with the same Bezos at all. Great. Different doses of insulin over the course of, I think a month. And if you look at the amount of fat, those people gained, it’s like almost an exact one to one correlation.
The more insulin they were given with the same diet, same calories, the more fat they gain and the people who were, who gained the fat felt like tired and lethargic because it’s pulling those calories out of your metabolism. Your metabolism is slower. You got this being pulled into fat. Um, the second one that really blew my mind was a mouse study where similarly, they, they injected these mice with insulin over the course of over a period of time.
Just to give you a sense of how powerful insulin is, uh, these mice ended up dying of starvation while morbidly obese.
Sam: Uh, your, your body would rather prioritize cannibalizing its own internal organs than it would override the pole of insulin into fat. And that was one. It made me realize that if your, if your endocrine system and your hormones are out of balance, it almost doesn’t matter what you’re eating your body is going to prioritize insulin
Andrew: I feel like one of the challenges you’re going to have with levels is what do I do now? Like I said the same thing to Josh from bare metrics. I see finally created the app. I always wished, which is, tell me how much money I’m making every month from subscriptions and what my turn is. He did it. And then all I did was feel bad about my business all the time, because I would see the churn, but not that it was huge, but I wouldn’t know what to do with it.
And so I would just go and feeling terrible and it wasn’t until he and a company editor of her is finally, um, Profit Wells, a competitor finally said, we’re going to help reduce churn by going and messaging people who canceled. Then I said, all right, now we’re onto something. And it’s helpful. The more I know, the, the more interesting it is, but I want to know what to do.
Tell me, stop beating this food. And I do see people on Twitter say, I’m not going to eat this food. I think a Mark’s sister is a great example of that. What do you think of what I just said?
Sam: Yeah. I that’s, that’s the core of what the product is going to do over the next couple of quarters, like a automated event detection. When you see, when something happens, that’s outside of the normal range that maybe you didn’t know about. We want to prompt you and tell you what that means.
And maybe show a short video. And give you guidance on how you can improve behavior. So that is, that is very much a core piece of functionality that we’re, I think we released our first, uh, we did our first internal release of event of automated event detection. About two weeks ago. We’ll be releasing it publicly very soon.
Andrew: does that mean?
Sam: so when, when you see one of these big spikes or you see a crash or something, something that happens, that’s not normal. Um, Oh, not healthy. We want to be able to tell you about it. So like one of the most common things that people ask us about on support is there’s something called the Dawn effect. We have a blog post on it.
The Dawn effect is for some people, when you wake up in the morning, you have a big glucose spike out of nowhere. You didn’t eat anything. You didn’t exercise. You’d have this big spike and it doesn’t make sense why that’s happening. If people will ask, like, is the sensor broken? Why did this happen? The reason is not, it is an indicator of metabolic dysfunction.
If you have a really large effect, it’s a cortisol response where if you, if you have a 40 point Dawn effect, we have this big spike in the morning. Uh, it means that there’s some, um, there’s something else that’s going on. Maybe your sleep quality is very poor. Maybe you ate a bunch of sugar the night before.
Um, something that you’re doing is causing something that is indicative of other problems. So. That’s something that we’d want to be able to surface as it’s happening to nudge you in the direction of, of positive change.
Andrew: The done phenomenon. I think that’s it. Yeah. I see actually a bunch of articles written on that, um, sleep, what you ate and when actually when you ate the night before, do something active after dinner, if you want to avoid that. All right. So that’s one problem. I think you’re going to have the other problem is, um, Everyone’s going to call you levels health, because you got levels, health.com as a domain.
Sam: we’re working on it. Yeah. Well, so we, we just about within the last month we just secured, uh, Twitter and Instagram at levels. Um, so that’s good.
Andrew: And then whoever has levels.com is doing nothing with it.
Sam: Yup. That’s right. Yup. I had a conversation with them, uh, last week and, uh, were that those things are a long negotiation, so we’re gonna have to keep working on them.
Andrew: No it’s standard and Poor’s has it. And the whole thing is like a privacy, like scare site where my, my computer or my app, my iPad won’t even let me go in there until I am okay with the risk.
Andrew: Oh, that’s going to be painful, but I bet it’s because I bet your investors can help. Alright. Thank you so much for doing this interview.
I’ve got so much, I want to ask you, but, um, for now I’m just going to keep using the app and he keeps seeing what my body’s doing. And frankly, here’s another thing I’d like to see from you, Sam. I might just do this on my own. If you guys don’t do it well, let me get in a group with other people who are doing this.
Maybe what I do is Matt and I are going to do an iMessage group, just the two of us, and then we’ll invite other people or anyone out there. If you’re listening to me and you have levels on message me. And we’ll do some kind of a group. I got to talk to other people who are doing this. I can’t just do this alone.
I want to understand what’s going on with them.
Andrew: All right, my man, I didn’t do my second ad. Totally. Uh, sent a message to my team saying, please apologize to the sponsor. We’re obviously not going to charge them. This will just be a LinkedIn sponsored interview. And if you listen to this, go check out linkedin.com/mixergy while that’s still available.
Sam. Thanks so much.