Massive Health Builds an App for Healthy Eating; Think Foodspotting Meets FitnessKeeper

11/2/11Follow @wroush

Do phones, food, photos, and fitness mix? Massive Health is hoping they do. The San Francisco mobile health startup, which debuted last spring with $2.25 million in seed funding from Felicis Ventures, Greylock, Andreessen Horowitz, Charles River Ventures, and Mohr Davidow Ventures, has come out with its first consumer app. It’s called The Eatery, and it’s designed to get iPhone owners to think more carefully about how they stuff their faces.

Introduced yesterday, The Eatery invites you to use your iPhone’s camera to take a picture of your meal—before you eat it, ideally—and then to rate it from “Fat” to “Fit” on an 11-star scale. The app will track your entries, and on a daily and weekly basis it will send you summaries intended to help you discover patterns and make healthier eating choices. There’s also a social element: you can connect with Facebook friends who also use The Eatery, and they’ll rate your meal photos too, providing a sort of reality check on your own ratings.

It’s all wrapped up inside a user interface that’s on the far slick-and-elegant end of the design spectrum. Noticeably absent: any way of quantifying what you’re eating, in terms of ounces, calories, or fat or carbohydrate content. “There are a bunch of apps in the App Store that are more about recording what you ate rather than helping you eat better,” says Massive Health CEO Sutha Kamal. “They are asking the wrong question. What you really should care about is how you are eating day to day or month to month.” The idea, Kamal says, is that simply paying more attention to what you’re eating and getting feedback from friends will prompt you to start eating better.

When Massive Health came out of stealth mode back in February, the team of ex-Mozilla, ex-Linden Lab, ex-gaming entrepreneurs declared that they wanted to bring great user-centered interaction design to the healthcare sector. They said they intended to build mobile apps that used crowdsourcing, game mechanics, social networking, and data analytics to help people deal with chronic health conditions.

True to that promise, Kamal says the startup is developing a diabetes app that’s still in alpha testing. But the company decided to bring out The Eatery first, as a way to get something into consumers’ hands faster and start testing its thesis that health apps will have more uptake and impact if they deliver what Kamal calls “delightful experiences.” With some pride, he describes The Eatery as “the most beautiful app in the Health part of the App Store…you don’t feel like there is a lot of work being done on your part, but a huge amount of value is being delivered.”

The startup isn’t planning to make any money on The Eatery, Kamal says. In fact, it’s presenting the app as “Massive Health Experiment 01″ rather than a full-fledged product. “This is a place where we are expecting to learn a lot,” Kamal says. The revenue opportunities will come down the road, when MassiveHealth introduces apps that help employers, insurers, and patients lower healthcare costs, he says.

In a phone chat yesterday with Kamal, I asked where the idea for The Eatery came from, how he thinks it will fit with existing social and mobile usage patterns, and where MassiveHealth is going from here. A summary of our conversation follows.

Xconomy: What’s the big idea behind The Eatery?

Sutha Kamal: If you step back and think about Massive Health as a macro thing, what we’re trying to do is build a lot of enduring value around helping people change their lives and stay healthy. We have another alpha [product] going in the diabetes space, and we have concluded that if you are thinking about getting and staying healthy, you care about four things: diet, exercise, medication adherence, and lastly … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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