Tag Archives: founder interview

Kishan Shah: 200 Pounds Lost, the President of Downsize Fitness Continues to Inspire

I met Kishan Shah in 2007, when we both interned on the trading floor at UBS Investment Bank. While he might describe himself as heavy set back then, I remember his inquisitive personality and warm smile. In truth, he was halfway through his weight loss journey, which started in 2005 when he hit 400 pounds. In 2007 he was down to 250 pounds. Kishan hit 230 pounds when he was leaving Dubai, where he had worked at consulting firm, Oliver Wyman, after spending time at a mixed martial arts training camp in Thailand for a month (he dreamed of training like Rocky when he was a kid). Although Kishan hit a small roadblock, gaining 40 pounds while working at an investment bank in Chicago, he moved to New York to work at Goldman Sachs and got down to 195 pounds a year and a half ago using their onsite gym. He’s been at 195 pounds ever since.

Kishan surprised me this past spring with a call to discuss healthcare technology and fitness. Although he had worked in finance his entire career, he wanted to focus more on his passion – bringing his personal experience of losing over 200 pounds through diet and exercise to others. Kishan soon after joined Downsize Fitness as President and has been a public health advocate ever since, even speaking with First Lady Michelle Obama about his experience.

I asked Kishan to share some of his experiences and expertise with us:

When did you first realize there was something wrong with your weight, and when did you start to do something about it?

Taken from my article on Greatist:  In 2005, I hit my turning point. It wasn’t the impending amputation of my right foot from diabetic complications that provoked me to change my health routines — it was the embarrassment of shopping for a suit. I was at a store for large men when the tailor’s five-foot tape measure could not fit around my 62-inch waist. I saw the pity in his eyes, the tears in mine, and I promptly exited the store, determined to turn things around.

Many people yo-yo diet when they are trying to lose weight, how did you keep yourself motivated at first, and how do you continue to motivate yourself?

I spent my first 19 years yo-yo dieting and was generally unsure of how the human body worked.  I believe changing one’s own environment is the single most important factor towards successful, sustainable weight loss.  That’s why at Downsize, our secret sauce is community.  We make sure to provide all of the tools for people to live happy, healthier lives – whether that means fitness training, nutritional advice, support groups, events with affiliates and partners, a kickball league, you-name-it.  We don’t advocate supplements/magic-pills/or any sort of quick fixes.

Today, it’s less about my own weight and more about helping others.  I personally receive at least 10 emails a week about how my story has inspired others.  It’s the greatest feeling in the world.

Do you use any health apps or devices?

I have used a Nike FuelBand in the past.  We use a quantified-self device called MYZONE to track our members’ heart rates and calorie burn in real-time at our gyms.  We also use an Inbody Scale to provide a detailed body composition analysis to our members at Downsize.

While I love these devices and enjoy using them, I personally weigh myself once a quarter – I judge my progress based upon how I feel and how my clothes fit.  As a former Wall-Streeter, I am intensely analytical and appreciate data.  However, I have come to the realization that my fitness and nutrition program’s ultimate output is to make me happier and healthier.  I try not to be bogged down in the numbers and instead focus on a deeper level of awareness to understand what my body and mind are actually telling me.

You have extensive experience working at some of the world’s most well-known financial institutions. What made you make the switch to be President at Downsize Fitness?

Downsize provided me with an opportunity to do the following:

  1. Focus on a population segment that I care deeply about.  From my personal experience, being overweight, I felt society ridiculed and ostracized me.  The traditional fitness industry has ignored this population and the medical community has provided minimal support.
  2. Create human-level impact.  Our members love coming to Downsize, no company has made sustainable weight loss fun – it’s a drill sergeant bringing you to tears in the gym or a juice cleanse which makes you starve.  We’ve had members kick their insulin injection.  We’re literally saving lives and making people happier on a daily basis.
  3. Be an operator.  Growing an organization and mentoring talent excite me.  I absolutely love what I do – I see a relationship between my effort and the number of lives I can touch.  There’s nothing more impactful than that.

What are your passions?

Other than Downsize:

  1. Teaching.  I want to help others in an educational setting – whether that means entrepreneurship, business lessons, or general career advice.  I’ve taught at Columbia and my alma mater University of Michigan and have designed my own course at General Assembly – I hope to teach at more schools and through different online platforms in 2014.
  2. Hip hop music.  It represents the hustle and ability to connect with people from all walks of life.  Check out my interview with The Phat Startup bridging hip hop and business.

In a perfect world, from a health perspective, what would you like to see?

The AMA finally recognized obesity as a disease which is a great first step to engage the medical community.  At Downsize, we hired our Chief Medical Advisor who has helped his patients lose 80,000 pounds.  We are working closely with providers to generate happier and healthier communities.

What tips or recommendations would you give readers who are in the process of losing weight?

  1. Execute.  Even on my weekends, I wake up at 6AM and I am in the gym by 7AM.  It’s extremely satisfying to have woken up, get in a great workout, eat breakfast, catch up with friends over Skype in Europe and the Middle East all before noon.  It may sound like a chore to do this, but your body adapts to being more active.
  2. Read.  While I may have lost a few pounds, I am continually learning about healthy foods, new exercises and additional spiritual techniques to de-stress and focus.  I love the concept of growing stronger and smarter every day.
  3. Listen.  Play therapist and listen to your family, friends and peers about their views on food habits and exercise routines.  I love hearing different perspectives and constantly tinker with my own personal (and Downsize’s) approach to keep things interesting.
  4. Rest.   I hope that everyone takes time to rest during the weekend.  As an introvert, I look forward to that special time each week that I can spend alone, away from our increasingly connected world to simply unwind.  It recharges my emotional batteries, rests my muscles from my workouts, clears my mind and restores my ambition for the coming week.
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Founder Interview: Nirinjan Yee, President and Founder of BreathResearch

Nirinjan Yee, President and Founder of BreathResearch started her company after a series of experiences dating back to 25 years ago. An active outdoor enthusiast, Nirinjan was diagnosed with late stage lime disease. For a couple of years, she became partially paralyzed and her joints were swollen to the point where she couldn’t walk. A blood test showed that she had one of the worst cases of lime disease in Northern California. While being treated with IV antibiotics, unable to move and being told by the medical community that it was too late for her to fully recover, she discovered the art and science of breathing. After practicing for 3-4 hours a day, Nirinjan started to get better, feel less pain and finally was able to fully move again.

Now Nirinjan is back to being super active, hiking, dancing and cycling. She wants to show other people that while breathing is very personal and subjective, it is undeniably linked to your physiology and anatomy. She began a 10 year study on respiratory health, using audio to record and study breathing. Nirinjan found the right engineers to work with and they mapped out a way to turn the quiet sound of breathing into data and metrics, turning their work into the downloadable MyBreath app.

She is now creating a BreathAcoustics All-in-One Headset that combines her current research and development with a new, more exact breath training headset. I asked Nirinjan a few questions about her newest venture.

How does barometric pressure and altitude help form a picture of health?

“Our breath changes with altitude and it is important to measure our environment. People with chronic illnesses will say it is a ‘low pressure day,’ or they’re depressed or achy based on the weather. Breathing and heart rate is connected to our physical and emotional health as well.”

Who do you see using this? Do you have a target audience in mind?

“The goal of the headset is to bring breathing, stress reduction, and the ability to optimize our fitness all in one place. The headset is targeted to consumers who want to incrementally improve their health and fitness, de-stress, and get the most out of their exercise. The headset is also targeted towards athletes who are taking their health and fitness to the next level in their training. The headset can track breathing and heart rate to determine training zones and create customized exercise plans. The headset will be first available for consumer use, while we conduct further studies to take it to the FDA.”

When will the first roll out be?

While it could be sooner, Nirinjan is focused on making the best product possible. The release is targeted for the end of 2014.

What would you like people to know about your vision and the product?

Nirinjan is a designer at heart. She has a strong aesthetic desire to create a company that makes devices that are truly wearable. Her goal is to make products that not only look and feel good, but are high tech and performance driven. As Nirinjan states, “We take breathing for granted, you are either okay or you are not okay. I want to bring all the information that can be mined from regular, daily breathing and make it accessible and easy to understand for people. Breathing is at the very center of our physical and mental health.”

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Founder Interview: Akhila Satish, Founder and CEO of CyberDoctor

Akhila Satish, founder and CEO of CyberDoctor, believes in behavioral change through reflection. CyberDoctor just released their newest product, an app called PatientPartner. Fascinated by the connection between communication and science, Akhila wanted to bridge the communication gap between consumers and doctors. In her words, “We are all patients and we are all continuously patients. PatientPartner is not just an application you use when you are unhealthy, in fact we urge you to use it when you are healthy, so that you can strengthen your health awareness skill set.”

PatientPartner is composed of a series of short narrative games that take a user through another person’s life and asks them how that character would handle certain tasks and situations. Then the app asks the user to answer those same questions regarding their own actions. The app takes all these answers and analyzes the users’ selections to give personalized feedback on how the user can improve his/her health.

In recent clinical trials, patients with diabetes who used PatientPartner improved their medication management, exercise habits and eating habits. The app is not disease specific, as Akhila states, “Everything in the app is universal – we are teaching people how to think about general habits. Questions in the app can also be linked to topics beyond health, such as money and spending habits.” I asked Akhila why they decided to do clinical tests – an intensive approach that many app makers skip. She responded, “There are 40,000 apps in the app store, so to differentiate, we have to show that we are an app that is not just fun to play with, but also clinically proven to change behavior – clinically proven to work. We are measuring biological responses and running a trial makes it easier to see if users adhere to medication intake and diet changes, becoming healthier overall.”

What does Akhila hope for? “We want to get PatientPartner out to millions of people. When we looked at the clinical trial data, we actually thought it would be ethically wrong if we did not release it to the public because we want everyone to have access to it.” PatientPartner gives you two scenarios for free. Then, for the price of a latte, you can unlock additional scenarios and features, including access to a prescription drug coupon (up to 45% off on medications), and earn points redeemable for gift cards and other prizes.

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Interview: Dr. Mike Tsai, Chairman and CEO of Salutron, Maker of LifeTrak

The LifeTrak Move C300 is a wrist wearable fitness and activity tracker that automatically tracks steps taken, distance traveled and calories burned. The device fits comfortably on my wrist and with one push of a button I can see my heart rate, calories burned and weekly workout progress among other things.

Wearable fitness monitors have dominated the quantified-self market these past several years and trackers are starting to differentiate themselves. I spoke with Dr. Mike Tsai, Chairman and CEO of Salutron and Dr. Jin Lee, Chief Technology Officer and SVP of Engineering, to learn more about what sets the company apart from the rest. After Mike’s first company went public, a close friend of his suffered a fatal heart attack while playing basketball, which made Mike wonder about what he could do to prevent this occurrence from happening to other people.

Salutron has been in the fitness and ECG space for almost two decades and last year merged with Linea Research. The partnership with Linea Research is an important one – Linea is a leading research facility, focused on sensor integration and signal processing solutions specifically for health and wellness technologies. Through their past (and ongoing) research with NASA, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security, Linea has improved the way body monitoring is measured for astronauts and soldiers and has brought that technology to the everyday consumer through Salutron.

So what exactly makes the Move, backed with NASA and DOD research, so powerful? When asked which key features stood above the rest, Mike noted, “the Move has an extensive ECG hardware component to it. It has the capability to accurately measure your heart rate, unlike other competitors in the market, which is also essential in calculating your real calories burned.”

Additionally, the device runs on low power, which means that the battery won’t need to be recharged for a year, after which it can be replaced like a watch battery. Users can wirelessly sync their Move data to an assortment of apps, more of which are developed each day using the system’s open API. The Move is waterproof and swim friendly, and the price point of $59.99 makes it much more affordable than other trackers. “We’ve been at this since 2005 and we are able to offer a more reasonable price through our very efficient supply chain,” states Dr. Tsai. The company has also white-labeled their devices to partners like New Balance to reach more athletes.

Salutron is targeting the launch of its next device, the Fit, by the end of the year. In addition to all the specs of the Move, the Fit will also have a sleep monitoring piece that will automatically recognize when the user falls asleep and when he or she wakes up, which hasn’t been perfected by any other wearable device in the market. I certainly look forward to the Fit but for now, all I need is the Move to get me moving.

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Interview: Dr. David Albert, AliveCor Founder and Chief Medical Officer

If I had to pick one word to describe Dr. David Albert, Founder and Chief Medical Officer at AliveCor, I would use passionate – passionate about improving the healthcare system and people’s lives. Having worked in the medical device industry for over 25 years and a serial entrepreneur, Dr. Albert has always been focused on improving the status quo, especially in medical technologies. As he recalls, “In 2008, I saw the smartphone as a major disruptive technology and immediately knew that it would soon become ubiquitous. Smartphones represented a platform where I could deliver affordable cardiac care.”

And so the AliveCor Heart Monitor, an iPhone case-like device was conceived. The company then executed so many clinical trials from top researchers and institutions to validate the device that it only took 75 days to get their 510(k) approval from the FDA – to put this in perspective, on average it usually takes almost twice as long for most devices to go from submission to clearance.

With 1,000 units already sold in the United States this month, AliveCor will soon start selling in Europe in the next 4-6 weeks. Doctors and patients can access the fully secure, HIPAA-compliant online web portal to view all ECG data. AliveCor is working on syncing this data to individual EMRs as well.

Dr. Albert views the device as an instant way for doctors to get status updates on heart health, emphasizing, “We’ve got to figure out how to do things less expensively but maintain if not improve the quality of care.” Just like using a stethoscope or looking into a patient’s mouth, doctors can use the Heart Monitor to do an instant health check and get reimbursed in the process. Doctors can also prescribe the Heart Monitor for their patients to purchase for home use and consistent long-term monitoring.

AliveCor also launched the Heart Monitor for veterinarians in August, and there are currently more than 2,000 units used by vets around the world, on any animal from domesticated pets to endangered species, to racetrack horses.

What can we look forward to in the future from AliveCor? The company is working on making the Heart Monitor available over-the-counter. After introducing the product in the EU, they look to approach more emerging markets. As Dr. Albert notes, “It is not clean water or electricity that is readily available throughout the world – it is cell phones,” and for doctors and clinics that can’t pay thousands for an EKG machine, the AliveCor Heart Monitor is a very good alternative. The company is also preparing to integrate the monitor in medical education and nursing education, to teach the next generation of health practitioners how to use the device.

Dr. Albert’s focus and AliveCor’s goal is to “deliver healthcare more efficiently, at a lower cost, yet still keeping people safe,” and they are off to a great start.

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Interview: Christine Lemke, AchieveMint Co-Founder, Making Healthy Choices Fun and Rewarding

AchieveMint is a multidimensional platform that not only aggregates your data from various health and lifestyle technologies (i.e. steps taken as measured by Fitbit, healthy places visited and checked in through foursquare) but additionally takes that information and uses it to reward users for healthy habits. Simply, do healthy activities tracked on mobile or web applications and earn AchieveMint points which leads to cash rewards for reaching your goals. The Company started when a few co-founders came together to discuss creating a system to track and incentivize healthy behavior as a way to improve their various health goals.

AchieveMint’s Christine Lemke, who focuses on product and operations, explains it as “There are already apps that monitor your weight and steps taken that are widely adopted. The world doesn’t need yet another one of those apps, however we saw that if there was an incentive attached to those apps, users have more loyalty in using them and ultimately improve their health.”

There has been a lot of interest from consumers who want to use AchieveMint but the company is adding users and accepting invites in a controlled and steady manner. They want to make sure that they are providing the best rewards and experience for users.

When I synced my Fitbit to the website, I was delighted to see that it pulled my historical data and gave me credit for my distance covered in early December.

The Company is offering points not only for exercise and weight loss, but also for spreading news about health. For example, soon you can earn points for tweeting and sharing healthy articles on social media websites. AchieveMint wants to work with all types of lifestyle businesses, including recipe sites and forums like Pinterest – giving points to the user for reading and promoting healthy tips.

What else can we expect going forward? Christine acknowledges that they want to make the rewards more comprehensive and not just cash based. This could mean anything from donating your earnings to a favorite charity to getting discounts on fitness gear, a nice meal or a spa day.

The Company is very focused on big data, namely sifting through all the data that is collected on you and analyzing it to get a view on which apps have what type of affect on your lifestyle. From this, AchieveMint will be able to focus on what motivates you most based on your past behavior (i.e. a certain goal or a leaderboard). Taking that knowledge, AchieveMint can create a plan for you, sort of like a “personal trainer in a box,” suggesting which activities or path to take to get back on track if you find yourself in a trough.

I certainly like the company and if you can secure a coveted invite (sign up today!) there is no reason not to use AchieveMint to help track your fitness goals and earn rewards while doing so. As Christine summarized, “At the end of the day, you improve what you can measure and we want to provide that central dashboard to aggregate your physical and social activity. We can then use that data to help people improve their quality of life through healthy living on a daily basis.”

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Interview: Brent Poole, Mindbloom Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer

Brent Poole is engaging on the phone – no wonder his company, Mindbloom, founded with co-founder Chris Hewett, has taken health engagement to a new level.

Before Mindbloom, Brent and Chris realized that they took the stresses and pressures created at work back home, leading to a decrease in quality of health and lifestyle. With Chris’s knowledge of behavioral sciences from his work with video games and Brent’s focus on finance and operations, the two created Mindbloom, which couples behavioral psychology with social gaming. In Brent’s words, “To really innovate in the healthcare space you need to take a perspective outside of healthcare. When you are talking customer engagement, you should look at gaming.” Last year the company partnered with Aetna to optimize the Mindbloom Life Game experience and released the program to all Aetna members.

Adding a level of personalization (users’ music and media), the Bloom* app helps people think more deeply and become more engaged in their health through focused motivation. “This isn’t about creating another experience for the Quantified Selfers – it’s about getting people who aren’t focused on their health outcomes to become more active by showing them that small decisions can create a healthier lifestyle,” explained Brent. The Bloom* app sends self-directed and preset inspirational reminders and notifications to your mobile device throughout the day, anything from a reminder to drink more water to a reminder to go for a walk. The app currently has 320k downloads.


Mindbloom also recently partnered with Vivacity, a workforce wellness company, to give their users access to various Mindbloom applications. The first of which is Juice, an app that tasks users to track their energy levels during the day based on levels such as sleep and exercise. The app creates awareness on how your behaviors change the way you feel. Launched November 20th, traction has been fantastic with 31k downloads to date with more than a third of users engaging with the app at least 7 days in a row.

What can we look forward to in 2013? The company is working on making all its existing applications cross-platform, not just on iOS. Also, Mindbloom has several apps in the ideation stage and two in production. We should see the first 2013 release in early spring, and another shortly thereafter. Brent wouldn’t release further details, but did say that they aligned with Bloom* and Juice, both linking positive psychology, personal efficacy, and behavioral health. We are certainly excited for what’s to come!

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Interview: Dr. Wayne Guerra, iTriage Co-Founder & Chief Medical Officer

I interviewed iTriage Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Wayne Guerra, and we touched upon how he and Dr. Peter Hudson came up with the idea for iTriage and how the business continues to innovate. Throughout the conversation it was clear how passionate Dr. Guerra feels about the Company’s mission to empower people with their health management.

iTriage’s  patented “Symptom-to-Provider™” pathway provides information on thousands of symptoms, diseases, and medical procedures for people to filter through, and then directs the user to the proper site for treatment (be it the hospital, urgent care facility, physician office, etc.).

What sparked your interest in co-founding this company?

Both founders have extensive experience in emergency medicine and as Dr. Guerra puts it, “We were frustrated with patients not having the information they wanted and needed to make their own decisions.” As the iPhone gained popularity, Wayne and Peter saw a way to make the healthcare delivery system more efficient by giving patients the proper roadmap — leading them to the right place for treatment and follow up. “When patients are actively involved, that’s how you are going to change behavior and keep them healthier.”

By the numbers, Dr. Guerra notes that, “iTriage has one of the highest retention rates in the Android and iPhone market, and we have a user base that is growing quickly.”

Just a few other stats:

  • 19,000 doctors on the platform
  • 7 million downloads, with over 3 million usage sessions a month
  • 60,000 customer reviews
  • 4.5/5 stars in average user ratings on the iTunes App store

Talk about adding Harvard Medical School as a Content Review Partner

Last week, Harvard Medical School completed an extensive review of iTriage’s medical content. Dr. Guerra comments, “It validates what we are doing. People worry because there is so much health information on the web and in terms of trust, it brings us validity and gives our users a peace of mind that all the information has been reviewed by a third party.”

Let’s talk…Expansion!

When asked about new expansion areas, Dr. Guerra responded, “When we add a new feature, we always ask: Is this feature going to help people make a better healthcare decision? That is our mantra.”


Stop by the Health 2.0 Conference in SF next month to watch iTriage debut its new EHR agnostic patient engagement tool, with Mark Bertolini, Chairman, CEO & President of Aetna.

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