Wearables, in general, and the understanding of what that they can do for our body, obscure the bigger potential of the Quantified Self movement to do so much more for us than simple tracking and analyzing of basic body metrics like heart rate and body temperature.
We’re still only in “inning two” when it comes to what we can measure and understand about ourselves. Each of us is a panoply of states and signals — physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual – and the business potential of using tech to interpret and understand the readings of our entire being is vast and still relatively untouched. But that is changing.
If the 1980s were about bringing physical fitness to the forefront of the American public (thanks, Jane Fonda and Arnold Schwarzenegger!), and the ‘90s brought the explosion of gyms and commercialized workout routines, then I would argue that the 2000s and ‘10s are about extending the fitness and wellness movement into the realms of the brain and beyond.
We’re already in the midst of a mental fitness trend, seen in the rising popularity of mindfulness and meditation, as well as the success of brain training businesses like Lumosity. I believe that emotional and even spiritual fitness will soon be broadly accepted as critical dimensions of one’s overall health, with new sensor technology combined with ancient wisdoms leading the way.
Technology and the human dynamic
There’s every reason to expect tech to impact other areas of individual well-being in the same way as what has happened with physical fitness. Sensors that were once prohibitively expensive and only found in the medical realm are now accessible by DIY makers and body hackers, giving everyone access to signals from our brains – closely tied to our states of attention and emotion.
What sensors and data technologies enable for individual well-being are granular measurements of things never before measureable, behavioral tracking at a level of consistency and accuracy not previously possible, and real-time analysis and feedback to drive personalized insights, predictions, and understanding.
To be clear, the best opportunities here aren’t for technology alone to help us reach peak performance. A common view is that AI will replace all human coaching, but my experience is that the future is about Man + Machine and AI-enhanced Coaching.
The coach + peer group effect via app or messaging provides the same offline social mechanics proven time and time again in Alcoholics Anonymous, Tough Mudder, Weight Watchers, and military boot camps. The social dynamic enables accountability that technology fails to fully provide (no one is afraid of an Apple Watch notification), whereas continuous monitoring and analysis shine light on blind spots and patterns that humans may miss.
Overall, well-being is still governed by the same ancient dynamics that have always bound humans together — and nothing bonds humans together like a shared journey to overcome a common struggle (be it going to war, raising a barn, climbing a mountain, or hitting Burning Man together). We’ve always been tribal beings, seeking experiences that bring us interconnectedness. Although Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and the like are often blamed for people living their lives through screens and disconnected to the present moment around them, I also believe that these mediums are actually providing us a telepathic link to what our friends and families are doing at all times. In the realm of self-improvement, we can use technology to enhance interconnectedness and make us even more human.
The business of well-being
Which brings us to the business opportunities of well-being. I’ve been working in wearables since before the term became a buzzword, as well as a host of quantified self and consumer health and wellness companies (including Basis, Lumosity, HealthTap, Fitmob/Classpass and Lantern). I’ve submitted my own body, mind and soul to a barrage of hacks and improvements, and have personally been on a lifelong quest for self-understanding and improvement.
I’m definitely not alone. For me and others, these services are purchased as a means of empowerment and as a vehicle for behavior change to become our aspirational selves. Once someone believes that a product or service is good for them, he or she will not only feel good about themselves when making the purchase, but are also more likely to remain a paying subscriber rather than admit defeat and quit.
The killer startups and businesses of the future will know how to capitalize on this dynamic. They will also adopt a B2C go-to-market strategy, not waiting for FDA approval or healthcare and insurer channels, and may even position themselves as augmentative technologies to help the masses interested in upgrading themselves, rather than therapeutic or reparative offerings. Consequently, these services don’t require FDA approval, doctor prescriptions, or employer or insurance gatekeepers.
Once strong B2C adoption has been demonstrated, these companies will immediately look to distribute through additional B2B channels, beginning with self-insured employers who are looking to innovate on vetted offerings and benefits for employees, and eventually insurance companies and healthcare institutions, who are more comfortable rolling out new solutions that have demonstrated usage and engagement by consumers.
Early businesses in this space have either been automated web-based and app-based services powered by algorithms and AI, or else human coach-driven. I’m convinced that the best offerings will likely be hybrid services that leverage human coaches and peer group community dynamics (communicating via messaging networks and private group chats), augmented by AI and personal data feeds across more and more dimensions (e.g., multiple wearable sensors + geolocation + calendar data + social interactions). Eventually, next-gen health and wellness companies will become service oriented to the point that gadgets may get bundled in “for free” with a pre-paid coaching or concierge service (Device-as-a-Service, “services eating hardware”).
Some companies may use even lower friction go-to-market paths, where their apps and services are first discovered and downloaded via the web, app stores, or messaging platforms with a free trial and basic functionality, to then upsell users into recurring subscriptions, on-demand services, companion device sales, and marketplace commerce offerings (e.g., supplements, accessories, and other gear).
Expect to see device companies looking to bundle in services and software, and to see service and coaching companies add in wearables and gadgets – all of which increase ARPU and the chances of a prepaid annual package. Savvy companies will also be looking to build user communities out of their customer base, and launch marketplace offerings to their communities.
As we build trust with personalized self-improvement services, we may become more comfortable with outsourcing our personal decisions about what to eat, how to exercise, when to sleep, and where to meditate – all of which unlock unbounded business opportunity for additional on-demand services, outsourced decision making, food delivery, and other upsells and cross-sells (I’m personally excited by the opportunities with next-gen personalized supplements, especially for microbiome diversity as well as nootropics and other smart drugs).
Overall, many of these innovations are nothing more than the natural evolution of the massive self-help industry – think of the rows upon rows filled with books on improving mind, body and soul back in the days of Borders and Barnes & Noble. In this new era, we have a much richer set of tools to help us with our self-actualization journeys than just books, DVDs and seminars, and it’s the combination of cutting-edge science and tech PLUS ancient wisdoms and traditional coaching that will really unlock our inner potential.
In summary, here are my key takeaways:
- 1980s = rise of physical fitness. 2000s = rise of mental fitness. 2020s = emotional and spiritual health & wellness.
- Quantified Self is evolving from sensors for just the body towards Quantified Emotion and Quantified Soul – the ability to measure and optimize everything about you, inside and out.
- Mayfield is looking for early stage startups that continue along the trends we’ve seen from Lumosity, Basis/Intel, fitmob/Classpass, Healthtap, Lantern and others playing in health & wellness;
- We’re looking at these as viable models to build large independent companies:
- Device as a Service business models, not just gadget sales;
- bundled HW + subscriptions and services that focus on personalized coaching and self-development;
- hybrid services that blend AI, machine learning, algorithms with human cohorts and coaching;
- platform potential with community-based network effects, and marketplace offerings for additional services and products.