Digital therapeutics companies are taking root in health care as companies like Omada Health establish a track record – and clinical data – demonstrating their benefits on patient health. CEO and Co-Founder Sean Duffy explains why he left Med School to help create a new class of health care company.
Sean Duffy is the co-founder and CEO of Omada Health, one of Fast Company’s “50 Most Innovative Companies in the World.” Omada Health is a digital health company dedicated to inspiring and empowering people everywhere to live free of chronic disease.
Tom Salemi: Hi, everyone, this is Tom Salemi of Healthegy. Welcome back to the Breaking Health Podcast. I’m here with our host, Steve Krupa. Steve, good morning.
Steve Krupa: Good morning, Tom, how are you?
TS: Doing great. So you’ve had a great conversation with Sean Duffy. I got to meet him at the Digital Health Innovation Summit. And just a nice guy. And as you point out at the beginning of the conversation, he really represents the sort of new generation of talent coming into digital health. Not the kind of people that we’ve seen move into healthcare necessarily in the past.
SK: Yeah, yeah. I mean I think a lot of the people that have done healthcare startups in the past have come from the healthcare business firstly. And it’s sort of unusual to see somebody come out of school, or leave school to do a startup in healthcare, which is what Sean did. But I think it’s indicative of where things are headed. The younger generation has an interest in healthcare and applying digital technologies to healthcare. And I think we’re seeing probably the beginning of what I would call a generational change in healthcare, where the newer generations, the ones younger than you and I, are entering into this sphere with a sort of common knowledge reliance on technology, as opposed to our generation, who was sort of around as the technology infrastructure was being built up. And I think there’s a big difference. And they’re bringing that sensibility to the healthcare space and essentially saying technology should be everywhere like it is in most other industries. And they’re starting companies to force that issue.
TS: I’m starting to miss being part of the younger generation reference. I’m not arguing with you, but it’s –
SK: Hey, listen, I spent a long time being the youngest guy in the room, and those days are over.
TS: And as you mentioned, Sean left Harvard.
TS: And you want to create an index fund, is that –
SK: Yeah, we’ll do just a venture fund and basically invest in people that leave Harvard, and see how we do. All we have to do is find a Bill Gates, right, and a –
TS: Same thing. You need one in ten. You need the home run to carry the fund, and you’ll be all set.
SK: Yeah. Gates and a Zuckerberg will make the fund.
TS: And Omada is going after obviously a large area: weight loss. Talk a bit about their model and how they hope to help people lose weight and get healthier.
SK: Well, yeah. I think they’re using one of the unique natures of the Internet is the ability to sort of have a community, get people started, get people to feed off of each other’s success. That is a key component to their model. But I really think what their model derives from is this idea of a digital therapeutic. And what that really means is a therapeutic can be a drug; a therapeutic can be something more natural or behavioral that improves your health condition. And a digital therapeutic is the idea of organizing people and a process around behavioral change therapeutics. And this is the Omada model around weight loss. Most people, or many people could lose a few pounds for sure, especially as they get in their 30s and 40s. And there are certainly people that have gotten so heavy to where they’re on the cusp of becoming chronically ill with potentially type 2 diabetes. And Sean’s model is to capture those people and get them to volunteer into a group to pursue lifestyle and behavioral change together. And there’s certainly a lot to be said for that approach.
TS: Great. That’s a great story and another great interview, and let’s get started.
SK: Welcome, Sean.
Sean Duffy: Hi, thank you very much. Happy to be here.
SK: Yeah. So you’re my first interview of a what I would call “left Harvard guy,” like you decide to go to Harvard, go to medical school and business school at the same time, and you leave. And I’ve made this joke at parties before, that maybe we ought to start a fund of all the guys that leave Harvard because some of them that we know of have done pretty well, right?
SD: There you go. I think it’s a good – a fun thesis. What’s probably often forgotten, the ones who left where it didn’t pan out. So you should take that into consideration as well.
SK: Yeah, well, we don’t know those guys. We only know the other ones.
SD: Yeah, yeah.
SK: But it’s interesting to me. One of the trends that I think you’ve noticed and I’ve noticed is that this digital health world is pulling some pretty cool people into it. People that might have spent their time 5, 6, 7 years ago building a digital media business, or building enterprise software businesses, they’re being pulled into this healthcare world. And you were clearly pulled in as well to leave a great institution like Harvard to start a company. So tell me, what was it that got you here, and is it was you expected?
SD: Yeah, happy to. I think your point’s spot on. If I had to say – if I had to say, if I had to use one thing that I’m most excited about in regard to the transformation that’s happening in healthcare via software, it’s a new type of talent. And I think to some extent my background is representative of it. But there are many, many others like me, and these are folks who really do exemplify a blend. I mean I grew up essentially a computer nerd. I loved computers, loved building circuit kits and just hacking around. Just loved that. My mom happened to be a nurse. I always thought it was a really honorable and good place to build a career if you are in healthcare. And so I ended up going – I studied neuroscience in undergrad at Columbia, took all my premed recs, graduated in 2006 at a point where Silicon Valley was absolutely on fire. And I found myself just reading tech blogs all the time. And got a little bit cold feet about applying to medical school, to be honest, because I was just so drawn to this amazing world of technology in this moment that humanity was in. So I worked at Google for a couple years, realized that you could probably pursue both, and that’s when I went to Harvard. They have an MD/MBA program. And I went in with the intention of maybe someday blending both worlds. And the Omada in some sense kind of happened by accident during that. And it’s been kind of a blast, an incredible serendipitous accident with a lot of hard work, and really kind of a fun ride so far.
SK: Very cool. You know, when I was a kid, and I’m older than you, I can tell you just from the graduation date, significantly older than you, but the computer nerd was sort of a different dude, right? He was different than everybody else because computers were very, very new. Is it the case now that computers are a foundation for your generation and those that are following, that it’s sort of you’re a computer nerd sort of anyway?
SD: Oh, yeah.
SK: And then you decide that you’re going to be like the super nerd and that sort of differentiation as you start to enter the industry?
SD: Well, yeah. And I think what’s cool in my perspective is the way that it’s evolving is software is becoming a foreign language in the same way that in high school you’re expected to take Spanish or French or Italian. I think that it’s just becoming something that people took at. And you’re getting – it’s so interesting. So there’s the whole wave of entrepreneurship that Harvard Medical School kicked off by the Dean, Jeff Flier, and I’ve been somewhat privy to it as an informal advisor. And the candidates that are in medical school right now that have basic 101 coding chops are such a larger percentage of the student base than when I was there, and that’s having dramatic impact on how people view the potential of software to impact clinical and medical care.
SK: Yeah. I worry about it a little bit as a father because I like the analog world, you know, I like vinyl, you know, I like the book.
SD: Sure, sure.
SK: But you know, I was that guy. So I was the guy who ended up being an engineer and computer guy. And to be fair, we’d better get into your company here. And I love what you’re doing. We described it in the opening as being a company focused on behavioral change, particularly as it related to people managing their weight and their diet with an intent to prevent diabetes. But you’ve really hitched onto this idea of digital therapeutics, right? I mean that’s really a new sort of word that has new implications. And I bet you a lot of people would describe it differently. How do you describe it from the context of your company?
SD: It’s interesting. The how we started using that. Really, from the course of history of medical innovation, people have been researching and trying to figure out things that improve patient outcomes, and ideally can be amazingly reproducible, scalable, delivered at a click with your prescription or through a procedure. And we started to think about what our ambitions were and what our program prevent which talk about the stuff we really aim to achieve. And it is that. I mean it’s delivering a meaningful clinical outcome based on strong existing evidence-based. And it really felt like from a mental model standpoint that what we were trying to achieve is more of a therapeutic outcome than anything. And we started to use it, and the term has taken on in various areas. I think it fits into the mental model of how the enterprise healthcare system and medical director community tends to think about medical innovation. And it just kind of caught on a life of its own. But literally, the way that I think about it and the way that I describe it is conceptually a digital experience, a digital program, something that can be given scalably, effectively reproducibly to a person, where there’s a demonstrated clinical impact. And I think that that’s the most crystalline definition for the term.
SK: Right. And when you think about therapeutics, your first thought is to think of drugs or something of that nature. But really, you’re promoting this idea of behavioral change, and behavior modification, or adopting a new way of acting. And if I’m right, you’re doing it at a point in someone’s life, on average, where they’ve got some pretty ingrained habits. Is that right?
SD: That’s right, yeah. We have a program called Prevent, which is the high touch, intensive behavioral counseling and lifestyle program for people that we call at the tipping point, where like you said, it’s really your weight’s caught up to you where it’s actually causing cardio-metabolic problems. And there’s vast consensus in the clinical community that there are high touch interventions and things that can be done to help people with behaviors that mostly have been conducted face to face, that actually do move the needle. They do reduce risk from cardiovascular perspective, they do reduce risk of diabetes. And that’s the population that our program is suitable for, and that clinical guidelines that are being put out from folks like the US Preventive Services Task Force suggest should be indicated for.
SK: Cool. So as a jumping off point, give me the description of the service and the product and how it gets deployed.
SD: Absolutely. So fundamentally, if you study what works in a face to face setting in lifestyle change/behavior change, what you quickly realize is there’s no silver bullet. You really, really need a heavy instrument. You read the method papers behind some of these trials and you realize how intense they were. When you unpack it, social interactions tend to drive a lot of the outcomes: feeling like you’re supported, feeling like there’s another person, you know, people in your life tend to be what people report as being effective for them, not necessarily the content alone. No surprise. We’re creatures of social kind of comparison and influence. So the way that Prevent works, it’s very socially driven program. We match individuals into small groups based on demographics. So all of a sudden you’d find that you’re in a group of 12 other people that are somewhat like you. We set you up with a remote health coach, and then we kick you off after mailing you a welcome kit that contains a digital scale with a cellular chip, so it’s pre-paired to your private profile on the platform. We kick you off on a 16-week foundational curriculum, where you’re with a group of others with a health coach, with tools, going through a curriculum. And week by week we unlock lessons while we mail people packages that tie into the lessons. So it’s a relatively operationally complex experience in that very few software experiences out there have timelines built in. But everyone in Omada – I mean we start our groups on Sundays. We just kicked off a thousand people last Sunday. And then they’re off to the races. And you’re having a shared experience. And a shared experience on a timeline with similar goals and normalized metrics against them tend to be super important in the behavioral science world. So our goal is to replicate that digitally and do it scalably as best as we can.
SK: Interesting, interesting. So if I think about it clearly, you’ve got the big picture, which is diabetes, right, and of course diet and exercise and BMI and all that stuff is pretty well documented that when you get into certain regions, you have a higher risk for diabetes. So you’re identifying patients that I assume are at high risk for diabetes and your purpose is to bring them into a program and teach them, I guess, how to lose weight and leave them with the capability of keeping that weight off. Is that the overall goal?
SD: Yeah, that is on the front end and who we select. More recent guidances have suggested this approach for even folks with other risk factors additionally to diabetes or pre-diabetes. So there’s some clinical wins in favor of deploying this for folks who, again, like I said before, their weight’s caught up to them to where they’re at a tipping point of chronic diseases like diabetes. That’s when we want to – but you’re right, it’s the – you can’t – every control arm of every study on earth shows that yes, we all know we need to eat better and exercise. But if you just hand people the pamphlets instructing them to do it, or tell them to do it, it never works. So it’s about the psychology of enacting that. In fact, if you look at the best approaches here, and this is entirely true of ours, you do start with some foundational knowledge on health eating. But everything else is psychology. And the idea is reframing the way you think about food, right? The lessons that are at the halfway point on in our program are about things like how to cope with stress, how to forgive yourself from slips, how to think about social cues. And those are the elements that tend to be the most important in these programs, which you look to emphasize. But you do really need to work to help people think about their behaviors in their lifestyles. And then once they start adopting healthier approaches and behaviors, that does tend to result in weight loss, which is the most important thing clinically.
SK: What constitutes clinically, what constitutes a significant amount of weight loss? Is it a percentage? Is it pounds?
SD: Usually people think about percentages. And guidelines kind of differ across the country and globe. Typically it’s a 3% mark, people’s ears tend to perk up. But reliably, the 4 to 6% mark is what most studies and translational efforts look at as success. There is a linear relationship between more percent loss and a greater percent risk reduction. So with some caveats, more tends to be better. But it becomes very clinically beneficial at about the 3% mark.
SK: That’s interesting. So I don’t know what the average weight of the average person is. Is it 170 pounds? 175 pounds, maybe?
SD: You know, that’s funny, I don’t – our average BMI is about 33, 34. So I’d wager north of that. I don’t have the current stats. But what you’re getting at is true. It’s not a whole lot of weight. It’s still hard to get people to even monitor weight loss at a population health level. That’s a really tricky challenge. But it eases your body’s physiology. Like if you’re able to lose 5 to 10% and you’re at risk for diabetes and you keep it there, you’ve done – your body will be just celebrating that.
SK: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
SD: It’s not about beach bodies. I mean this is by no means is it Omada’s ambition to give everybody, you know, like to bring everybody to a beach party. This is about health. It’s about the right amount, an attainable weight loss through the right approach.
SK: Cool. No, I would imagine it would be. I’m just thinking my sense is 5 to 10 pounds, 5 probably for a small woman, 10 pounds for a larger size man. That’s going to really make a big difference.
SD: It does, it does. It does make a big difference.
SK: And I would imagine – so what’s the average age of the people that you’re –
SD: 55 right now.
SK: So it’s not easy to lose weight when you’re 55.
SD: Oh, no. I mean it’s not easy for anybody at any age, but you’re right. It is not.
SK: Well, I can tell you when you catch up to me, my experience was when I was in my 30s I could just go for a couple of jogs and lose 5 pounds. Now that I’m in my 50s, it’s sort of like I don’t even know how to do it.
TS: We’re going to take this quick break with this conversation with Sean Duffy to remind you to go to the Digital Healthcare Innovation Summit website. That’s digitalhealthcaresummit.com for a long list of offering of videos, interviews, both individual interviews conducted by myself with some of the leaders from the conference, but also we’ll have videos of the panel presentations in case you want to revisit some of the high points of the day. Now back to this conversation.
SK: The good news is when you started this up, I mean weight loss programs, particularly in the corporate environment, right, have been around forever. And I would say that it’s always good to launch a new product into a market where there’s existing demand and an enormous amount of dissatisfaction with the products that are in the market there, right?
SK: And I would say weight loss programs, broadly speaking, have been something that employers and individuals and everybody have been wanting to deliver to their employees, and individuals wanting to participate in. But there’s a very slim group that actually succeeds. So when you talk to a customer, what is your value proposition and how do you convince them that what you’re doing from a business model and from a program model is going to meet their needs?
SD: Yeah. And this relates to this explosion of technology because fundamentally there are successful approaches. They’ve just been in large part face to face, you know, to help people with lifestyle change.
SK: Right. So it’s like scalable successful approaches and this is sort of -.
SD: Yeah, exactly. Which is a problem. And to date, we’re the only company who’s still operationalized this model where you can get people in groups and kick them off at the same timeline and get them in coaching. I mean there’s not enough that exists on that. And so you’re taking what’s been shown to work face to face and you’re doing your best to recreate it digitally. When we talk to our customers, which are employers and health plans, the pitch is, if you will, is Look, a lot of your efforts that you’ve done to date are actually spot on from an intention standpoint. I mean you want to help your work force; you’ve deployed programs hoping toward that end. That’s great. Welcome to a new world in technology and design that enable those intentions to be measurable. So actually, when we work with customers, we don’t charge anything unless we get people in. And we don’t make profit until we get people to lose meaningful amounts of weight. So some customers are very taken aback by that approach, but we see the data, and it aligns our product team to deliver better and better results and getting to motivate continuous improvement. And that message, along with the fact that clinically, academics and policymakers across the country know that something has to happen here, and know that these approaches work, and they really support them, create a lot of interest in what we’re doing, which is great to see.
SK: Yeah. So give me a sense of the business model. You’re sending a scale out, so that’s got some cost associated with it, there’s enrollment costs. How do you pick the people? First of all, how do you pick the people? Because honestly, there’s lots of people out there that need to lose weight. The question is who wants to lose weight, right? Who’s determined to lose the weight? Do you have a selection process for the people that get them into the program?
SD: Well, so the first step is always a person, and that they have to do well and at least give it a go and poke at it. You know, what’s interesting is if you – and all the randomized studies have shown this – if you take 1000 people that have raised their hand, and said, Yeah, I really – I want to make some lifestyle changes here; you know, it would be great to lose a little bit of weight – you take 1000 people that have raised their hand, you give half of them really intensive, structured around it, and the others you hand some information to, the people who just get the information, they won’t do it. There will be no outcome. So it’s the first step to working to get people interested in this concept. But you still have to follow up with something quite intensive to get an outcome. So when we deploy campaigns, our feeling is that the interest is malleable. Some people, I think, in a bit of a misguided way assume that someone either is in a mode of wanting to lose weight and make a change or not, and that that’s a fixed thing that cannot be changed. The reality is if you paint a really product and show that this delivers value on a consumer level, and you share with the person that this is now a brand new benefit, that if they were knocking the doors out of pocket, it would be an expensive thing to go through, and their employer is sponsoring it on their behalf, it really just ups the consumer value. People get interested. And then it’s our job, once we get them in, to work our best to make them successful. And because we don’t make money until we get people in and get them success, we’re pretty aligned with our clients to reach more people and get more people in. And we’re not charging for the ones who aren’t joining or are not successful.
SK: Right. The pricing structure from what I know has been more of a member, per employee type of a model, right?
SD: That’s right.
SK: And now so you’re actually saying a little bit of an upfront cost, because I’ve got costs, so you’ve got costs, the business. And then what do you get paid? Per pound? Percent?
SD: Per percent.
SD: Yeah, exactly.
SK: So how are you doing? Are people losing weight?
SD: Yeah, no, it’s been great. We reliably get populations to their targets, you know, 4 to 6 percentage is where you typically want to strive. And it’s fascinating. We’re at the point where we’ll enroll 30,000 enrollees this year, and we set targets for next year far beyond that. And we’ve built a team around to achieve them. We’ve got 3 million data points of weight readings from our participants. I think it’s quickly becoming the largest, best structured database as it relates to digital lifestyle intervention that exists. And what’s been so fascinating and neat about it is we’re entering this mode where every participate who joins helps us create a better experience for the next because we can look at detailed correlations on at what point people complete lessons; how does that correlate with other engagement factors. You can look at differences in demographics, and all this really, really rich inside data that you would actually never have in a face to face program, we can use to try to make the program better for the next person who joins. So we’ve been really thrilled to seek them out and we’ve peer reviewed publications out to 2 years now.
SK: Awesome. So are you going to – when you say peer review, you’re going to pursue the medical literature for what you’re doing?
SD: Absolutely. Yeah. We publish our studies in from the beginning, in large part because, funny enough, I mean that’s kind of why we started Omada. I was looking at the state of digital health back in 2011, and imagining my colleagues in medical school getting excited by some of the things. And there just wasn’t the evidence to support it. So we published our one-year data, we published our two-year data. Our one-year data really helped the CDC get comfortable with including digital programs as part of this National Diabetes Prevention Program that they’re hoping to drive. So that’s – we do that as mandatory, and we have a really aggressive publication agenda for next year as well.
SK: This is sort of an off the topic question. Have you considered a retail model or is that not in the cards?
SD: You know, it’s interesting. You can sign up on your own. But it’s just not – it’s such a minority on purpose. The reason that we even allow it at all, the retail model, is let’s say you work for Costco, which is a customer of Omada, and you’re in week 12 and you switch jobs. We don’t want to kick you out. So we’ve orchestrated the ability for people to self-pay. And sometimes someone will be on a benefits design where their significant other isn’t on the same as theirs, and they’ll want to join, so we wanted to allow for that. But we’ve never put like significant muscle behind it. It’s always been our ambition to make sure that the program’s accessible to the vast majority of the country where anything above $50, $100 becomes a check that they have to really reflect on. These are individuals that tend to even carry a higher chronic disease burden than those who are more well off.
SK: Got you. So last question on the product. So I imagine if you’ve got 3 million data points, you’ve got a pretty good sense for how your program design operates, and you probably have the capability to identify weak spots in the program where people may be either lose interest or drop off, or don’t sort of comply. Is it getting down to that point where you can really track each individual through each step of the process and improve the steps that are – where you may be losing some people?
SD: Yeah. You know, absolutely. We are so there it’s amazing. We’re doing – we have a publication agenda outside of Omada. We’re conducting what you can think of as randomized, controlled trials inside our product. We have about like 10 of these sprout up right now that test different dimensions and to look at what additional lifts you get form it. Things like varying group size, looking to add interactivity to the lessons, creating adaptable and personalized goals around activity, other aspects. And so those are – we have a constant experimental engine going which is needed because no – if anyone gets on the line on a podcast here and says that they can get – that you can build a perfect behavior change program, they’re lying to you. There’s no such thing as perfection in this space. There constant iteration and evolution towards great. And great can make an incredible impact on someone’s health. So there’s – this will never be a product where you can put it in the oven, turn on a timer, hear a ding and say Great, let’s pop the champagne, it’s done. We’ll – five years from now, we’ll still be progressing this thing.
SK: Is there a level of personalization, or is it more programmatic and trying to get the people to follow a specific road map?
SD: There’s a lot of personalization that comes in, in different ways. And that’s actually the next era for our program. So right now there’s a coach helps personalize. There are certain areas of the curriculum that can completely change based on who you are. What we’re entering is an era where we’ll get to know you well enough up front that we can pattern recognize other people like you on a whole host of dimensions that have gone through and been successful, and know what was right and what needed to be crafted in a different way for them. And so that’ll be based on a whole host of factors. And our ambition is you could imagine a user in Prevent being in a group and just feeling like, Wow, this is really fascinating. It just feels like this program was built for me. I can’t quite explain why, but it just feels like it’s working for me. And they’ll have one group that feels that, and they’ll have another group right next to them that’s completely different, that’s saying the same thing.
SK: That’s cool. That’s very good. I notice that a lot with some of these online programs that you have to escape out of just guiding someone through something that’s the same for everybody and be able to iterate into something that works for them. Obviously you can’t create an infinite number of options, but the more options you can find, the better, the better off I think you’re going to be in terms of getting people to do it. Let’s talk about competition. There’s no free lunch out there from the standpoint of everybody’s going to recognize you’re doing something smart. And of course I think there’s been this gap that’s existed between the intentions and the outcomes in diabetes and weight management for decades now. So what do you think on a going forward basis are really the parameters for competition in your business?
SD: Yeah. The first comment is that this is the crisis of our generation. I mean there’s so many people that are in need. So it’s good that Omada is attacking this. It’s good that other companies are as well. What I would say is in terms of what makes Omada unique is a lot of what I’ve described, where there’s never – I guess the secret sauce, if you will, at Omada includes thousands of tiny ingredients. And a lot of those you can’t really see if you’re a competitor looking to work to mimic what we’ve done. A lot of them are under the covers.
SK: Those are the ones I want you to tell me about, Sean.
SD: There we go. We’re constantly working to prove them. And the other thing is the clinical world showed and is holding the companies to a high level of standards around evidence generation. I mean it’s tough to convince a medical director that this is the right thing to do without publishing some studies on your effects. And so that should be the bar that’s held, that people are held to. And so we’ll continue to publish more and more, and then continuously improve the product. But again, the core sentiment here, at least in my mind, is that almost all areas where there’s been value delivered to the market involves multiple players. That’s wonderful. It’s of course our ambition to be the best and constantly tread new territory. But I think it’s directionally a good thing that more folks are coming around.
SK: Yeah, I have to say just from my experience doing this, the best thing that happens to a young company is when somebody copies what they do and competes with them. Or not copies, but pursues similar –
SD: Yeah, totally.
SK: – processes and ideas. Because all of a sudden now, the amplification in the marketplace becomes extraordinary.
SD: That’s exactly right.
SK: In terms of the customers’ knowledge of the new way of thinking about tings.
SD: Yep. That’s totally right.
SK: So sort of as a way of jumping off, I want to talk a little bit about running a company and managing a company. I like this part of any conversation –
SK: – best, and I’ll say it sort of like this. Did you leave Harvard after the first year or after the first semester? Did you get to the MBA courses at all?
SD: No, none. Yeah, after the first year –
SK: You got out.
SD: Yeah. Well, it happened by accident. We were – funnily enough, I was at an internship during that summer between first and second at IDIO where the idea behind Omada was conceived. And it’s been just an amazing amount of personal growth for me. I hadn’t had a single report ever, didn’t even know the right words to use as it relates to enterprise contracts. Or I didn’t know what a venture capitalist was. They don’t teach you these things in your first year of medical school. So –
SK: Try to explain that to somebody at a party, right?
SD: Exactly, exactly. So it’s been just an extraordinary personal journey, and it relied on a lot of mentors and a lot of people, and frankly, a lot of Omada’s talent to educate me on various aspects of business. But there’s no better way to learn than doing, which I’ve always felt.
SK: Yeah. I mean you’ll look back on this thing in five years from now and you’ll be like, God, I’m so much better than I was 5 years ago.
SD: Exactly. That obviously will be the goal. I mean I think – I love it when I’m – in fact, if I’m not embarrassed by myself 6 months ago, I kind of think that something’s probably wrong. And every company should feel this. I look at like our seed decks, and you just feel so lucky and amazed that anybody gave you money, right?
SK: Yeah, no, no, it’s terrific. So what is it? I mean look, you’ve been very successful. My data says you’ve raised about $77 million or so.
SK: And Horowitz and Norwest, Rock Health, US Venture Partners. I mean these are great people to have in your deal, right? So obviously you’ve been able to persuade some pretty smart people that despite the fact that you’re learning some of the management skills on the job, that you’ve got the chops to make this happen. Where do you go for inspiration? Do you have a place where you draw your ideas about management from? Or do you sort of just pull from your own common sense?
SD: You know, you read a lot of books. You have to rely on a lot of common sense. And mostly it’s fine. I’ve always – well, and just looking at mentors. And there’s been some really just formative people that I’ve always watched in action along the way, where they just wake you up to a certain dimensional reality. And the first thing that I think is most important for anyone looking to found a company is just embrace who you are. There’s no – as you can’t – it’s fruitless to imagine a quote-unquote style of leadership that doesn’t map onto your authentic self. And I remember while I was at IDEO, a mentor and close personal friend in David Webster at that point was running Global Health for IDEO. I mean I would see him in conversations with C-level executives at enterprise healthcare organizations, shifting him, like joking around, just a really like charismatic, like loving, funny guy. And there was just no different. And so that’s what I’ve always tried to hold true to, and almost not overthink it and just make sure that I’m communicating a ton, being myself, everybody at the company as best as I can kinda should know what they’re supposed to do because that makes everyone’s jobs easier. And then communicating the vision. Then it’s literally all about hiring. I mean it’s hiring people that are way better than you and hiring yourself out of everything you can where – and I look at the folks at Omada. I actually couldn’t do any of their jobs. But and that’s totally awesome, and I love that.
SK: Yeah, absolutely. So the vision that you’re communicating, tell me what that is, and then last question to follow up on that is what is it like to come to work there? How does it feel to work there if you’re not the CEO.
SD: Sure. Well, so the grand vision starts with a problem that – so the first time in global human history, preventable chronic disease is killing more people than infectious disease. You’ll find epidemiologists today talking about obesity as the next smoking. I mean it is the – it’s the crisis of our society right now. So that’s A, this is the next problem. Finally, there’s a digital, a solution that’s scalable. I mean you can’t solve it without a scalable solution. And even Omada can’t solve it. But what’s success for us and the vision I always work to paint for the team and what gets me fired up too is what I want is 15 years from now, 20 years from now is epidemiologists looking at obesity, chronic data, and seeing just a slight bend, a change and have them seeing mathematically and try to figure out what it is. And I want that to have been Omada. And that’s what I want. I want to affect an epi paper 15 years from now. And that relates to your second question on just culture. We’ve got a lot of people who are at Omada to build a legacy. They’ve been extremely successful in previous careers, could probably do whatever they want, but they’re interested in using their talents to make a difference. And we all feel that. We’re huge dreamers. I’m swinging as hard as I possibly can to make this thing a global, game changing business. And we all are. So it’s a mix of – we move really, really fast at Omada. There’s a lot of very creative people. It’s a very – it’s a really – the top bar, I always just get amazed by some of the folks. And we work hard to move fast and have fun along the way.
SK: Cool. I would tell you, and this has come up in other discussions that I’ve had here at the Breaking Health Podcasts is the mistake that you can make, and it just doesn’t feel like you’re even close to making this mistake, by the way, is to lose sight of the mission. If a company is mission driven, and it really sounds like yours is, then the success of building a great company and having that great impact that you describe has a chance. You know, it has a real chance of succeeding. So it’s really great to hear that from you.
SD: Oh, awesome. It’s funny. Any business is really hard to build. I think it’s a very – it’s just hard. Nothing in life that’s worth doing is easy. And you’re always fighting gravity. And what I always tell people who, when they’re asking should I start a company, you’ve gotta find something where you’re so excited by the reality of what the world might turn into if this thing happened, and you realized this company, and get so – find something that fires you up so much about it, and the mission fires you up so much that you just like – you won’t let it not happen. And you have to. I’m so convinced you have to feel that about your business, otherwise it’s just so hard to do it. You need the determination to just kind of keep going and keep plugging away.
SK: Well, it sounds great. I’ve found some inspiration in this interview, frankly.
SK: Really appreciate your time. People might – people like do you need to lose some weight? Anybody, everybody’s got to lose some weight, so maybe I’m inspired now to lose a couple pounds. And I’m definitely –
SD: Don’t forget to check your cardio metabolic measures. If there’s a challenge, we’ll help you out.
SK: Terrific. Well, thanks for joining me and really appreciate your sharing your story here.
SD: Thank you, thank you. I really appreciate being on.
TS: Sean Duffy, thanks for joining us on the Breaking Health Podcast. It was a pleasure to meet you at the Digital Healthcare Innovation Summit in Boston. Hope to connect again with you soon. Steve Krupa, as always, great job leading these conversations, drawing a lot of wonderful insights from the companies that really are making a difference to people’s health and to the healthcare industry. So tune in next week for another tale of innovation. Thanks for listening.