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

11/2/11Follow @wroush

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we want to go a step further and give more analysis behind it. People may be saying good things about what you have eaten, or they may show you that you were a little weaker this week.

X: With your rating system, you’re relying on people to guess at how healthy their own meals or other people’s meals are. That seems pretty unscientific. Say there’s someone who thinks microwave popcorn is actually a healthy snack, when it’s usually covered with butter and salt. How would you correct for that?

SK: There are two goals for us. One is that we want people’s ratings to be trending upward [meaning they're eating more healthily]. At the same time we want them to be getting better [at accurately rating their food]. There will be people who have ratings all over the place, but the magic behind the scenes will be figuring out what the ratings ought to be and gently nudging them toward that. For example, we joke around the office about the amount of Red Bull and caffeine I consume from week to week. It’s a non-trivial amount. I’m like, “This is healthy, it’s just caffeine” and everyone at the office has a much different view. So I get this weekly analysis that says, “Here are your worst meals.” You may believe that Red Bull is good for you, but maybe you’re not right.

X: In the Twitter world, tweeting about what you’re having for breakfast is almost the cliché, textbook definition of oversharing. What makes you think that people want to share pictures of every meal they eat?

SK: When you use the Twitter example, you are talking about a wide-open platform where I can say anything I want, profound or inane, and why would you care about my inane remarks? But if I am trying to eat healthier and I want my friends to help me—if I am 25 pounds overweight and I say, “Wade, I would love it if you could keep me honest and you have full rights to heckle me if I don’t eat better and support me if I do”—you will probably want to help. The funny thing is, we see people chiding one another about what they are eating even on the first day that the app is out.

X: There are other apps like Foodspotting that prompt people to photograph their food. Do you think that’s a natural thing to do? Are people getting used to the idea of pulling out their phones and taking a picture of every meal before they eat?

SK: If you look at normal people, they don’t do that—if they’re at dinner at a nice restaurant with a beautiful meal they won’t pull out a phone and take a picture. I think people are just fine not using any apps, so if the question is whether there is contention for that space, I don’t think so. But the other question you raise that’s interesting is, is there a social barrier to pulling out your phone at a meal? One of the things we’re proud of is that our app launches even faster than the native camera app in the iPhone. We’re going to get you right in there, take a picture, have it rated, and get the phone back in your pocket in five seconds. We set that target because we realized that unless it’s really fast it’s going to be kind of awkward.

X: Will you look for ways to make money on The Eatery, and if not, where do the revenue opportunities lie for Massive Health?

SK: We are not looking to monetize “Experiment 01.” It’s definitely just getting started, and some crazy stuff is going to drop in the next few weeks that we are really excited about. Next after that, we are building some great software for people with diabetes, and we are going to ship some other experiments, and we are going to build some great software across a range of cases.

In terms of the revenue model for the company, right now we think there are a couple of interesting things happening. We think that among insurers and employers and national healthcare systems and all of the folks who have ended up having to foot the bill for healthcare there is a lot of interest in a system that can effectively reduce those costs. Not a week goes by that we don’t have a phone call from someone in pharma or insurance who wants to talk to us. Even more interestingly, people are being incentivized in their own wallets to take care of their own health as well. In the next three to five years, I think there is going to be a really interesting play in the consumer space, about products that are helpful and meaningful and delightful. We think the hard part isn’t revenue, the hard part is really building those experiences that people are going to love.

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

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