Ask A Digital Health CEO: How Has Coronavirus Changed The Wellness Industry?
For many people, the coronavirus pandemic has changed their nutrition and exercise habits. One app helping people track their food and lose weight is called Lifesum. The company has scaled rapidly to 45 million users and boasts partnerships with Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and Nike (NYSE:NKE).
Fool.com’s Healthcare and Cannabis Bureau Chief Corinne Cardina chatted with Lifesum’s CEO Henrik Torstensson about the digital health and wellness space.
Corinne Cardina: Hello, Henrik, how are you?
Henrik Torstensson: Hi, I’m good. How are you?
Cardina: I’m so good. I am Corinne Cardina. I’m the Bureau Chief of Healthcare and Cannabis on fool.com. Fools, I’ve got with me today Henrik Torstensson, CEO of Lifesum, a digital health service. Henrik, did I say your name right?
Torstensson: It’s Henrik, it’s good.
Cardina: Great. We are going to talk about Lifesum today, but we’re also going to talk about investing in the digital health space and what investors should know about the intersection of technology and wellness. I do want to let our viewers know that we’re testing out a Q&A service called Slido. We use it at The Fool internally, we think you’ll really like it. You can open up Slido in your browser or the app and the code is MFlive. You can submit questions, upvote other people’s questions that you want to see us answer. Let’s start out with learning about Lifesum. Henrik, could you give us a brief history of how you co-founded this company, what it is, what inspired you to start Lifesum and what stage of growth your company is in today?
Torstensson: Absolutely. Thank you for having me. We got started back in 2013. For us, digital health has been a couple of years and always exploding this year. What we do is that our mission is to improve lives through better eating. We help people eat better and manage their weight, and we have 45 million members. The U.S. is our biggest market, and we help people manage their weight and eat better by providing a digital service in apps for iPhone, Android phones, Amazon Halo, and other mass-market digital services.
Cardina: Great. We’ll talk a little bit more about Amazon Halo later, a very exciting development there. But for our investors who are familiar with the digital health industry, I’d love to put Lifesum in context with some of the names that we are familiar with. There’s traditional weight loss companies like Weight Watchers, and we like to give the takers when we’re talking about public companies. I’m just going to put that in the chat. There’s Weight Watchers, it used to be people would show up to the clinic. There was definitely an in-person social component. They’ve certainly pivoted more digitally in recent times, now it’s called WW International (NASDAQ:WW). Then there are digital-first psychology based weight loss apps, and I think Lifesum falls more on this side of things. The one I’m familiar with was Noom. I’d love to hear what is unique about Lifesum and where does it fit in the digital health, and specifically the weight loss side of things?
Torstensson: What we’ve built is something that’s popular both in Europe and the U.S., which is quite unique, 45 million members, and what we built is a service that allows our users to take a personalized approach to how they eat, so that might be that you want to eat a balanced diet, you want to have a high protein diet, you want to do intermittent fasting. We think that’s really key to attract the millennial and Generation Z audiences where we do care No. 1, and so what we’ve done, we’ve built a service with great design, a brand that has built a lot of trust and destigmatized actually changing how you literally eat better and healthier. That’s one of the things with millennials and Generation Z, it’s not the weight watchers of 20 years ago, it’s really about eating better, and the drivers of that are many.
Cardina: Yeah, that’s so true. How has the health and wellness industry evolved over the last couple of decades, and more recently, how has the coronavirus pandemic impacted how people view their health and the role of technology?
Torstensson: Healthcare and wellness is obviously an enormous part of the economy. It’s $2 trillion in the U.S. alone. It’s probably maybe the biggest market we have. In digital, it’s been ramping up, but it’s been a fairly slow start because it’s a complex system. You have individuals, you have insurance companies, you have state governments, federal governments that all have interests. It was picking up speed. This year with COVID and Corona, that really the same way we all ended up on Zoom for most of the year, and that really made having virtual meetings really a default way of operating. Healthcare is coming in the same way that it’s really taking a step from, OK, this is happening a little bit at the edges, to becoming this central thrust of healthcare and the overall market.
Cardina: Yeah, great point. We’ve seen digital health disrupting a lot of historical industries like pharmaceuticals and health insurers. What do you think investors should know about traditional healthcare companies as they invest for the future?
Torstensson: I think investors should think that this is an enormous market, digital is really happening now, it’s picking up speed, and it’s growing quite fast, especially for such an important — and for good reasons — regulated industry. You have telemedicine, you have online pharmacies, you have across-the-board, really, digitalization coming both on the traditional aspects and doing things that couldn’t be done before technology, that if you were a doctor 10-15 years ago, you would probably pinch yourself that do I actually have access to this type of data that consumer products like Apple Watch or Amazon Halo has today? If you look at other industries, media, commerce, they were far further along, obviously they also got a bump this year from COVID with the lockdowns, but it’s the same thing happening to healthcare and wellness, and it’s just an enormous industry. I think that’s the big thing to think about.
Cardina: Absolutely. Do you think we’re just starting to see how technology can disrupt the healthcare industry? Are we in the early stages?
Torstensson: I think we are in the early stages. Obviously, how technology is used within healthcare is probably still going to be regulated even if it feels disruptive, maybe for many participants. But it’s also that the technology that was only available for hospitals 10-15 years ago in a reasonable user-friendly way is moving out to our phones and to our watches and blood oxygen levels, etc., that you’re actually getting for very standard home electronics or smartphone devices.
Cardina: Yeah, absolutely. Your company has scaled incredibly fast; you said 45 million users. I think in the recent months, you guys saw 700,000 downloads. What is your guiding philosophy about leading a rapidly growing start-up?
Torstensson: It’s really to start building a great product for users, because the thing that really drives any start-up in any companies is that you’re serving customers; but with that as a focus, hire great people, trust them to do great work, and then find out great partners to really give an extra boost to the growth and reaching out to consumers.
Cardina: Yeah, definitely. Partnership has been a big strategy for Lifesum. The company has developed some really impressive partnerships with big tech companies, notably Amazon recently. Can you tell us more about Amazon Halo?
Torstensson: I’m very happy to be one of the nine launch partners for Amazon Halo, which is Amazon’s new health device and program that is coming this fall. They’re really interested in taking a very holistic approach to health and we are their nutrition partner on the lab side.
Cardina: Great. What does that mean? How does that work in practice?
Torstensson: With Amazon Halo, when you want to change your approach to nutrition and food, they have a part of the service called labs where we’ve made the content and the program that the subscribers and users of Amazon Halo are using to actually go on and change how they eat.
Cardina: Okay. It’s an education component?
Torstensson: It’s an interactive education component. You pick something you want to do and then there’s this daily guidance to actually help you do that.
Cardina: Awesome. That’s super exciting for you all. The Amazon Halo, it harnesses artificial intelligence to inform what we know about our bodies. What excites you about artificial intelligence in the healthcare space?
Torstensson: What I think is so fascinating and really promising is that there’s this great amounts of data, and we collect hundreds of millions of data points every month from our 45 million users, and with artificial intelligence we are able to personalize the experience for individuals and actually dig out what we will learn from others to actually make it easier for everyone to live healthier lives.
Torstensson: Get sick or get really on the preventive side, which is probably the best thing if you get it right.
Cardina: Yeah, absolutely. What might you say to folks who are skeptical that tech companies will protect their most private data, their biometrics, their health information?
Torstensson: I can only speak for Lifesum and we always start with users’ rights and privacy. We collect the data that the user gives us to actually provide a service, and if they want us to share that with other services to make their lives better, we think that’s fine, but it’s not for us to go and share that data without user consent.
Cardina: Great, very important. I enjoyed looking around that Lifesum social media. It looks like social media is an important component of your strategy, really educating folks on some timely wellness trends, education. I saw an explainer on intermittent fasting, which is something I’ve been really interested in recently as well. What do you think about social media and the role it’s playing in Lifesum’s success?
Torstensson: To us, it’s a digital service, and as eight years old, as a digital-native company with the millennial generation, it’s obviously a core part of what we do and how we interact with our membership. It’s important, but there are our partnerships as we discussed before. So it’s really the mix of finding a great product, great social media, great partnerships, to make the magic source.
Cardina: Absolutely. How do you envision the future of digital health? What trends do you think will continue to gain momentum once the coronavirus pandemic subsides?
Torstensson: I think one thing that I’m really excited about, what we’re doing is actually one of the AI-driven products, it’s predictive tracking. By looking at everyone else that’s used Lifesum and what you have done before as an individual user, we can actually predict what you’re going to eat and that really creates this magical fluent experience. That level of being a daily part of a user’s life is really exciting. I think that one segment of digital health that really got this pushed, which I think will stay with us and continue to grow is really telemedicine. I think that’s going to stay with us because it’s just more convenient for a lot of interactions with our doctors.
Cardina: Yeah, absolutely. Lifesum is all about eating, right? Eating is a big part of our lives. When you’re ready to make a big change in your life for your health, food has a really big part of that. How does Lifesum help users change their way of living for the better as it pertains to food, nutrition, and eating?
Torstensson: We’re all about food and nutrition and what we’re saying is we want to improve lives through better eating; nutrition is the numbers aspect, but it’s really about emotions and actually how we were brought up, our culture that impacts what and how we eat. What we do is we help users and we say it’s really about the user. It’s about being personalized, which way actually works for each individual. It might be intermittent fasting that you’re interested in, that is something that you want to go down that road. Then we bring in the best knowledge, build a great experience, actually make that really, really easy.
Cardina: Excellent. What does the interface of Lifesum look like? Is it planned menus? Is it for people to track what they’re eating and look at calories and the macro breakdown? I’d love to just hear about it from a user perspective.
Torstensson: It’s a mix of that. We have a food tracker and you can search, you can use our barcode scanners or our image recognition to actually take a photo of what you’re eating to pick that up, and then we’ll give you individual feedback on that. That feedback differs depending on what your goal is, if you’re trying to lose some weight or if you’re trying to eat healthier or if you’re trying to build muscle or gain weight, depending on if you’re on intermittent fasting or high-protein or a balanced diet, actually what you want is very different feedback and that’s what we built with our food rating algorithms. Then we also have recipes. We have plans that tell someone gets going. What we know is that if we look at 30 days of using Lifesum, you really moved. Even if you start out with very little understanding of nutrition and food and how what you eat impacts your health, after 30 days, you have taken an enormous step in understanding that.
Cardina: Yeah. I love looking at the data on all of my different wellness apps. When I go for a run, I love to see, did I go a little bit longer, a little bit faster than the last time? I think that touch point probably makes the product really sticky so your users continue to use the app for a long period of time. They don’t just forget about it and move on. Is that right?
Torstensson: Yeah, absolutely. We have very loyal users. Sometimes people use it for a while. They use it to understand. We’re nutrition partners of Nike, and as an example, really, if you’re going to run a marathon or longer race, understanding what you eat and how you eat and how that impacts your performance is really critical.
Cardina: Yeah, absolutely. Are there any other partnerships beyond Amazon Halo that Lifesum has created that you’d like to talk about?
Torstensson: We’re very proud and happy of being the nutrition partner of Nike, which we’ve been now for a little bit more than a year and obviously, an iconic company, then we are very happy with more of maybe relationships and partnerships with Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) (NASDAQ:GOOG), and where we were part of the presentation on the WWDC Developers Conference this summer with our new widget which is part of the latest iOS.
Cardina: Awesome. We did get a question in from Andy pertaining to how the app works. What is the technology used to build menus for participants and the database of foods? It sounds really cool. You take a picture of food and the app recognizes what it is. How does that work technologically?
Torstensson: When you take a picture, then you’re using actually artificial intelligence to do image recognition, and there are a few different ones depending on the platform, what you use; then, on menus, etc. that you find in the app, we have our in-house staff of nutritionists and a chef that helps us build that out so it’s both healthy and delicious.
Cardina: Awesome. We have a user named Jayful who said, “I haven’t heard of Lifesum. How do people first find you?” You said it’s available on iOS.
Torstensson: iPhone and Android, you just go to the App Store and search for Lifesum and download us. Most people hear about us through word-of-mouth. For the U.S. market, we just got started four years ago and we’ve been operating for eight, but it’s already our biggest market, so we’re still in a growth phase in the U.S.
Cardina: Awesome. I’d like to talk a little bit more about the U.S. market in digital health. On Fool.com, we’re investors, so we love to look at some of the public companies and the digital health companies, particularly in telehealth, that’s been a big buzzword this year, we have been on a pretty wild ride since the pandemic began. The telehealth pioneer, Teladoc (NYSE:TDOC), is at more than 200% since the start of March, reflecting its record setting number of telehealth visits. There’s Veeva Systems (NYSE:VEEV), which sells cloud software for life sciences companies, that’s up 300% since March. Primary care chain One Medical, their parent company, 1Life Health (NASDAQ:ONEM), IPO’d earlier this year, it’s up 30%. So, I’m loving all of your insight on the digital health industry and I would love to know, what do you think about these types of stocks? Are they overhyped? Are they fairly valued? Or do you think we’re just seeing the beginning and so they’re really trading at a bargain still?
Torstensson: I think that’s obviously the million-dollar question. I can look at it as an operator. The healthcare market is enormous in itself. Digital is really happening. As with any market, when you have those two combinations and through demand from users and consumers, payers, there’s going to be winners and losers. So then, you need to go in and look at individual companies. I have spent 110% of my time on operating Lifesum so I can’t go in and say, this is going to be the winner, this is not going to be the winner. But I’d be extremely surprised if there aren’t multiple winners in this sector.
Cardina: Absolutely. One question is, this is from Mike Migliore, “How does your technology compare to the tech used by Fitbit?” This viewer says that they seem similar on the face.
Torstensson: What are you saying, developed for Android or iOS? I can’t really speak on exactly how Fitbit’s technology is built.
Cardina: Yeah, I hear you. Fitbit seems like it’s more in the exercise side of things, and Lifesum is more about the nutrition. It sounds like together they could be excellent tools for someone who is trying to really take charge of their health and have better outcomes.
Torstensson: We support Fitbit integration within Lifesum. So, I think that’s correct that they are more on the exercise movement side and we’re 100% focused on delivering a really great experience, some food and nutrition.
Cardina: Awesome. So, I’m curious to hear about your personal nutrition journey. Is there any type of food that you love to eat that keeps you healthy? I’m a big foodie and home chef myself, so I love to hear ideas.
Torstensson: So my problem, and that’s part of why I got involved with Lifesum, is I really love food, great food. So I probably eat a little bit too much. But I think it really goes back to finding a daily rhythm for at least most of the week for me to stay healthy, and it’s about being a little bit smarter through breakfast, lunch, dinner, especially during the week. I have a sweet tooth as well, bread is my weakness, so for me, it’s a lot about moderating that side to become a little bit healthier.
Cardina: Yes, absolutely. No one says you can’t have bread, but maybe not bread with every meal every day.
Torstensson: No, but I think, and that’s a lot around health and food, that it’s actually not these enormous changes or crash diet approach, which is actually very hard to sustain. It’s about finding a balance that’s healthier than the one you have now if you’re unhappy with your current health status.
Cardina: Right. A lot of the progress really happens on the margins if you can just get 10% better in a lot of ways, it can have an outsized impact. That’s what I’ve found in my own health journey as well.
Torstensson: It will be a little bit like investing, that you have these compounding returns. You find the right balance and then it just builds.
Cardina: I love that connection, that’s so true. So, to get back to investing a little bit, what is one thing our viewers should know about their own wellness in light of the pandemic? Do you have any favorite takeaways to share, whether it’s about work-life balance, self love and acceptance, education, or even just that it’s OK to have cake every once in a while? What do you think?
Torstensson: I think one of the takeaways from the pandemic specifically is actually that being overweight or obese actually seems to be one of the clear risk factors of getting a worse COVID experience. It’s actually a good thing to think about, what am I eating, how is that impacting my health? Because that’s one of the things we actually can impact seemingly when it comes to the pandemic.
Cardina: Yeah, that’s so true. I think for a lot of us, the pandemic has made us feel very out of control. What I love about digital health apps as it pertains to exercise or nutrition is it can really make you feel in control and really give you your power back in a very stressful situation.
Torstensson: I fully agree.
Cardina: Awesome. So, are there any exciting developments coming up for Lifesum that you would like to talk about, maybe new partnerships, anything along those lines?
Torstensson: So for us, it’s two months to the New Year, so we’re heads down building the new version of Lifesum and working on new things. But I spent 20 years in digital, learnt that you should not pre-announce before you’re actually done. I think that’s a hard-learned lesson from before. So we’re looking very much forward to continue to serve our users and add way more than 700,000 users per month over the next couple of months.
Cardina: Awesome. What is your marketing strategy behind that? Do you do most of the marketing on social media? Any thoughts there?
Torstensson: We always start with the product. I think for any digital product, that’s where you really need to start because word-of-mouth, especially online, is so powerful. But we use social media, we use paid advertising, we use partnerships and we think that actually doing all of them well is one of the things that have driven us to, soon, 50 million users.
Cardina: Yeah, absolutely. When something works, you want to tell everybody about it. You said you spent a lot of time in digital. What were you doing before Lifesum?
Torstensson: So, just before Lifesum I headed the consumer subscription business at Spotify. So, almost 10 years ago now, just when Spotify was starting out. So I ran that for three years, and before that, I was with the company called Stardoll that was the biggest gaming in community website for teen and tween girls globally.
Cardina: Cool. I feel like, with a lot of apps like Lifesum, there is a gaming component. Do you think you learned a lot there that you’ve brought to Lifesum?
Torstensson: Absolutely. I think there are a few key learnings that we brought from entertainment into digital health. One is that it’s about what the thumb wants to do, it needs to be fun. Also, it’s really about giving good feedback, which gaming is about; you do something and you get the feedback, that is fun and you want to do more, and that’s really part of great digital product design, health, wellness, gaming, whatever you’re trying to build.
Cardina: Right, it really activates that reward pathway. I eat a salad, Lifesum tells me great job, I feel better than if I had a cheeseburger, and you repeat the process. Does that sound right?
Torstensson: That sounds about right.
Cardina: Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Henrik. Is there any last thing you want to say?
Torstensson: Thank you for having me. If anyone that’s listening hasn’t downloaded Lifesum, please do so.
Cardina: Absolutely. I know I’m going to enjoy using it. Thank you so much. Well, have a great afternoon.