Sean Eldridge, "Transforming Lives"

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Running a landscaping business while in grade school gave Sean Eldridge a taste for entrepreneurship. Years later, after a successful career in large corporations, he decided to start a business, Gain Life, building software to change people’s lives. Big players in the insurance business are betting that Gain Life will help their bottom line.

Click here to read episode transcript.

 

Here are some things that came up during the interview of Sean Eldridge:

  • “…these individuals had… transformative experiences through either medical or surgical weight loss… They became a different person. They had an identity shift.”

  • “…you sort of became a missionary for mind change around health.”

  • “Yeah. I think it probably all started back when I was probably in sixth grade. I started a lawn mowing business…”

  • “…I loved… being able to marshal resources that weren't under my own control, to be able to help individuals and make some money while doing it.”

  • In College, Sean Dreamed of Starting a Sports Publication on the Web – Instead, He Became Hooked on Healthcare during an Internship

  • “I think there's something about starting out in a landscaping and going on to become very successful entrepreneurs and assassinating a few plantings along the way.”

  • “At Gain Life, we build digital behavior change programs…to empower individuals to achieve their best life.”

  • “…right now, we have part of our business that's growing really fast around helping individuals actually return to work from temporary disability…”

  • There Is Evidence that Digital Intervention Gets People Back to Work Faster

  • Most People Out on Disability Want to Return to Work – Gain Life Helps Them Deal with The Loss of Income and Connection That Comes from Being Out of Work & Gets Them Back to Work Faster

  • Sean Loved His Jobs in Corporate America but Wanted to Apply that Experience to Helping People Transform their Lives

  • Gain Life Was Founded by Three Alumni of Procter & Gamble’s Future Works Division Who Enjoyed Working Together

  • Gain Life Re-purposes Behavioral Science Used to Sell Consumer Packaged Goods for Helping People Make Changes in Their Lives

  • “Huge Study of People Who Lose Weight Successfully Points to Identity Shift”

  • Gain Life Pivoted Away from Weight Loss to Disability – From Selling a Vitamin to Selling a Painkiller

  • Sean’s Extracurricular Activities at Harvard Business School Primed Him for Entrepreneurship

  • Three Big Trends that Help Gain Life

  • Behavioral Sciences Are Transforming Big Consumer Companies

  • Chat Bots Are Relieving Insurance Employees of Mundane Tasks

  • Algorithms Are Starting to Have an Economic Impact in the Insurance Industry – Lemonade Inc.

  • “Boston is like the greatest city on Earth.”

  • “…venues like this that talk about a founder's journey are so helpful, not just for founders who are going through it and sometimes feel isolated, but for individuals who are even considering entrepreneurship as a potential journey.”

  • “People think that this podcast is about technology. It's about human nature, really, as it confronts technology, as it confronts markets, and so this is why it is an endlessly fascinating subject…”


Transcript of “Transforming Lives”

GUEST: FOUNDER & CEO OF GAIN LIFE, SEAN ELDRIDGE

Sean Eldridge Transcript

SAL DAHER: Welcome to Angel Invest Boston, conversations with Boston's most interesting angels and founders. Today, we are very lucky to have in studio with us, Sean Eldridge, Founder/CEO of Gain Life. Welcome, Sean.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Thank you, Sal, and pleasure to be here.

SAL DAHER: It's tremendous. Sean is a young founder, very energetic, of a company that is set to do an unbelievable amount of good in the world. Sean will be telling us more about this company, but first, it is a tradition in this podcast, Sean. The standing question is, tell us about the moment that you discovered what it is that you were meant to be doing in this life.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Yeah, that's a great question, and it's one that I always love hearing on the podcast. For me, I think it was a long journey there, but there was one point in my career pretty early in my days at Johnson & Johnson where I was working on founding, or co-founding, their metabolic consulting business, so working with medical and surgical weight loss practices. In doing so, we were out in Scottsdale, Arizona, one of the busier practices in the country, and I had an opportunity to talk to many hundreds of patients while there. One of the things that struck me is that Johnson & Johnson, who at the time was building many of the devices that were used in bariatric surgery, had a keen interest in helping these practices flourish because it would eventually help their business. But, to try to understand what's actually happening in the practice, we had to start truly talking to the individuals who are going through these medical and surgical weight loss programs.

“…these individuals had these transformative experiences through either medical or surgical weight loss… They became a different person. They had an identity shift.”

When doing that, what I found was that these individuals had these transformative experiences through either medical or surgical weight loss, and it was something that, really, it was truly between the ears. It wasn't so much the procedure, or it wasn't so much the program, itself. Yes, those were tools along their journey, but it was truly something changed in their mind. They became a different person. They had an identity shift. For me, at that point in time, I was probably 24, 25-years-old, much too young to be doing what I was doing, but had this kind of epiphany of, like, wow, how can't we help more people win this battle between the ears? It was that, for me, that was kind of the game changer in terms of, this is what I'm gonna focus my life's work on, and my future decisions were really based off of that.

“…you sort of became a missionary for mind change around health.”

SAL DAHER: That is tremendous. So, you sort of became a missionary for mind change around health.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Exactly. I know it sounds squishy because when you talk about this stuff, everyone thinks about all the softer sciences and the like, but it's one of the things that the behavioral sciences, I think they flourished over the last decade. I think there's becoming more recognition of the kind of rigor that goes into it, and I think as you see individuals in just your everyday life that truly have experienced these transformative-type experiences, whatever it is, losing weight, beating cancer, whatever the heck it is, it's an amazing kind of journey that that person went through, and I think they're a different person on the other end of it. To be able to see that, and feel it, and know it, I think, is a really special thing and a belief that stuff works, and now how do we actually turn it into a more consistent process to be able to do in a not a way that traditionally looks like a black box?

SAL DAHER: Right, right. It is not a secret that I have struggled with my weight my entire life. I've been in many weight loss programs. I remember being in one and being really struck by a woman who was about 5'4 and weighed about 300 pounds. She struggled with walking from her car in the parking lot to the office where the classes were held. She had to sit down halfway through. Within three months, [probably more like ten months] that woman had lost about 130 pounds, 140 pounds, and she was in great shape. She was working out on one of these cross-country trainers, NordicTrack, and her life had changed completely. She was off diabetes medication, and it was a mind shift. She had sort of gotten trapped in a low point in her life, and she didn't find a way out, and so what you're describing here, I saw that. She was a different person, the same personality and so forth, but she had a different mindset. I think you are doing an extremely rewarding thing, great good to the world. There's a huge demand for this out there.

SAL DAHER: So, hugely successful person, we're gonna get to the founding of Gain Life and so forth, but I want to go back and think back even to your childhood, and give me a couple of glimpses on moments that made a difference in your becoming an entrepreneur.

“Yeah. I think it probably all started back when I was probably in sixth grade. I started a lawn mowing business…”

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Yeah. I think it probably all started back when I was probably in sixth grade. I started a lawn mowing business, and so that's something that ... Picking up your first lawn, to your second lawn, to your third lawn, doing good work around the neighborhood, and now all of a sudden, you're doing landscaping work, and nobody in eighth grade should probably be doing landscaping work for anybody with real homes, but I was, and that was a really cool experience to be able to earn real money and feel like I had ownership of all the things that, at a young age, that I could purchase with this money that I was making, and same thing growing up in Upstate New York. We have some pretty long and pretty hard winters, and so turning that kind of initial grass-cutting business into a shoveling business and trying to enlist my friends to help me in the winter so that we could get through as many driveways as possible. I mean, this is when you're in seventh grade and you're making $300 a day. It's a pretty awesome experience, and it kind of hooks you on this idea of what entrepreneurship could be, and I don't think at the time I even knew what that term meant, but I think I loved the idea of, wow, being able to marshal resources that weren't under my own control, to be able to help individuals and make some money while doing it.

“…I loved…to be able to help individuals and make some money while doing it.”

SAL DAHER: Marshal resources that were under your control or not under your control?

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Not under my control. Yeah, so trying to enlist the help of my friends that probably wanted to sleep in or go sledding on days that the snow came. I said, "Come on, we can earn some money."

SAL DAHER: Shades of Howard Stevenson, huh? The definition of entrepreneurship is ...

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Exactly, yeah, marshaling resources that are not under your control.

SAL DAHER: Yeah, building an enterprise with resources you don't yet control.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Yep.

SAL DAHER: It pops up here because it's so apt.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: He's a smart man.

SAL DAHER: Please continue.

In College, Sean Dreamed of Starting a Sports Publication on the Web – Instead, He Became Hooked on Healthcare during an Internship

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Yeah. At that point, I knew I kind of fell in love with it, but it wasn't until probably during college. I actually went to college, Rochester Institute of Technology. I thought I wanted to publish a version of Sports Illustrated that really talked about the athletes' lives. At the time, I was fascinated with that idea, but this was back in 1997, and as the folks who were around back then saw, the printing business was starting to take a turn for the worse, and computers and electronic media were starting to be on the upturn. And so in college, I started to kind of see the writing on the wall, and so wanted to start to take some more computer classes, and so started taking a bunch of stuff that probably isn't even tangible today, like COBOL, and Visual Basic, and ColdFusion, but some of the basics around C++ and the like, and really loved computers, and so had an opportunity to work in Merck's Advanced Technology group as a summer intern and just fell in love with the idea of healthcare. It was like, wow, not only can I do some pretty cool stuff in terms of the work, but we're making a difference in people's lives.

And so at that point, I knew I wanted to do healthcare, and that led me to Johnson & Johnson after school, and then started on the journey from Johnson & Johnson, where I was there for six years, then to graduate school where I was able to really study kind of behavior change around the health sciences. Then from there, on to Procter & Gamble, and then lastly, Weight Watchers before starting Gain Life, and so have been on this journey of kind of trying to do intrapreneurship within these large companies where at J&J, I was lucky enough to co-found their metabolic consulting business. At P&G, we were trying to build out their healthcare business with a small crack team at a group called Future Works, and so it felt very entrepreneurial. Even at Weight Watchers, we were trying to break new ground there in terms of their strategy and business development group around building out their healthcare strategy, and I was lucky enough to lead a team that built the first version of the personal coaching business, Weight Watchers for diabetes, and so had these intrapreneurial experiences that were just super rewarding, like being able to work with just people who are smarter than you on a daily basis to build something that really matters in people's lives-

SAL DAHER: That's the secret of my podcast. I have all these brilliant and amazingly talented people who are far more talented than I am, and that's what makes the podcast successful.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: It's a great feeling.

SAL DAHER: Yeah, it's awesome. I learn so much from them, but no, no. I understand that. That is tremendous. By the way, you're telling about your landscaping business, and it brought to mind these brothers who used to have a landscaping business, and delightful kids, and they had a landscaping business together. You say eighth graders and landscaping doesn't mix, because my sister hired them, and they assassinated one of her prized plants and couldn't tell what it was, a planting or not.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: I'm sure I've been there.

SAL DAHER: Yes. Those guys, in the end, they became very successful entrepreneurs.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Oh, wow.

“I think there's something about starting out in a landscaping and going on to become very successful entrepreneurs and assassinating a few plantings along the way.”

SAL DAHER: Often and doing amazing stuff. I think there's something about starting out in a landscaping and going on to become very successful entrepreneurs and assassinating a few plantings along the way.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: It's funny how that works.

SAL DAHER: Yeah, very good. Tell us about what Gain Life does.

“At Gain Life, we build digital behavior change programs…to empower individuals to achieve their best life.”

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Yeah.  At Gain Life, we build digital behavior change programs to be able to empower individuals to achieve their best life. And so, what that looks like, for example, is right now, we have part of our business that's growing really fast around helping individuals actually return to work from temporary disability, and so this includes things like short-term disability, long-term disability, workers' compensation where almost overnight, an individual's life gets turned upside down. They are dealing with this acute injury and/or illness, be it mental or physical, and they're now trying to navigate this insurance maze that's unfamiliar to them, and they're doing this while actually only making 60% of what they made before getting injured, and so it's a God awful problem that right now, we're building software to be able to essentially serve as a concierge to get people back faster and easier.

“…right now, we have part of our business that's growing really fast around helping individuals actually return to work from temporary disability…”

Why that matters is because most of these individuals who go out on temporary disability want to get back to work. Their identity is tied to work in some way, shape, or form. 49% of these individuals will experience major depression while out of work.

SAL DAHER: Wow.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: And so, it's just a really tough experience, and so our software that comes to life through web and mobile applications allows them to be able to understand their condition, understand what's expected of them throughout the process so that they can actually get a clear view of what's about to happen over the next week to month to potentially year. Then beyond that, helping with things like physical therapy, and helping with things like financial savings, and helping with things around staving off or preventing depression, things like cognitive behavioral therapy, and positive psychology, and wrapping that all up into one simple tool that these individuals can use as kind of their support structure as they get through this process.

SAL DAHER: Outstanding. What do you say to people who say, "Oh, this is just long hair stuff. This stuff doesn't work." What evidence do you have that these things work?

SEAN ELDRIDGE: There's actually pretty strong evidence, at least within the return to work space, for example, that would show that these tools, these resources can get individuals back to work faster. There's an interesting study that came out many of years ago where individuals ... This was overseas in Scandinavia where they took women who had undergone a hysterectomy, which you'd think, how are you gonna get somebody back faster from undergoing a hysterectomy? Well, what they found is by helping through online cognitive behavioral therapy, you could actually get these women back to work faster, and not trying to push them back to work in a way that was unhealthy in any way, shape, or form.

SAL DAHER: Yes.

There Is Evidence that Digital Intervention Gets People Back to Work Faster

SEAN ELDRIDGE: But truly helping them just recover in a way that was the best way for them to actually get back to work. That was a 20% improvement in terms of recovery time with just these electronic-based tools to help these women understand what's kind of the physical rehab that they need to do, and what's kind of that mental rehab that they need to do? The list goes on and on in terms of the literature view that we've done around what tools and resources are efficacious at getting people back to work, and so, yes, it may sound squishy, potentially how we do it when you actually start to see the tools and the action. It's really the blocking and tackling of all the things that you would need and want to know, I'll try and recover from one of these horrible injuries or illnesses.

SAL DAHER: Yes. I suppose the other evidence you can give is, these big insurance companies don't throw money at stuff that doesn't have a bottom line impact.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: That's correct. Yeah, and so it's one of those things where you could not have more aligned incentives in that the actual consumer, which is called a claimant in the insurance industry, obviously wants to get back to work fast, and yes, there's some individuals that-

SAL DAHER: …to 100% of earnings and to having a sense of meaning and purpose in their life instead of just being someone who is on a disability.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Exactly. I think that there's a bias, 'cause I know that even it probably existed with some of the folks on our team of understanding, well, is it that people want to sit home and watch Netflix and kind of not game the system, but enjoy their time off? It's actually quite rare. People's identity truly is tied to their work in a significant way, and so they truly do want to get back to work as fast as possible. Probably 90+% of those individuals just want to get back to where they were, back to normal, and so trying to be able to empower individuals to do that is kind of the first line incentive.

Most People Out on Disability Want to Return to Work – Gain Life Helps Them Deal With The Loss of Income and Connection That Comes from Being Out of Work & Gets Them Back to Work Faster

The second is the carriers. These insurance companies want to be able to get people back as fast as possible, as well, because it saves them money. While doing so, if you can actually start to segment through predictive analytics of who is going to be high touch versus low touch in terms of their needs, for what care coordination is going to be required to get them back to work, we can start to actually put the right resources in the right place, which also saves money, and so it's perfect alignment with the actual disability carrier.

Then third, our alignment is that we only make money, really, if it's a success here. Yes, we get paid a per participant per month fee to use the software, but I think the real economics of our business is really around helping individuals get back to work faster, and then share in that upside of those savings.

SAL DAHER: Excellent. Sean, tell me what prompted you after over a decade of large corporate life and great success in really fine corporations, fine large corporations. What prompted you to go out and start a company? Were your parents entrepreneurs? Anybody or?

Sean Loved His Jobs in Corporate America but Wanted to Apply that Experience to Helping People Transform their Lives

SEAN ELDRIDGE: No, my parents weren't. We actually don't have, really, any entrepreneurs in the entire family. I think what it was for me was a realization that I've been really blessed to have some pretty awesome jobs in terms of finding these niches in these large companies where sometimes you can feel like kind of a cog in the greater wheel. For me, I really have lucked out in having careers that ... If a 10 out of 10 is like you absolutely adore every day that you're at work, I've felt like I've always been at least a 9 out of 10, and so having kind of that lucky streak of jobs that I loved, it was really difficult to make that decision to kind of leave the comfort of Corporate America, all of my friends, all that I knew, kind of the trajectory that I thought that I was on, but for me, it was one of those things that probably tied back to the grass-cutting and shoveling business of, wow, that feeling of doing something on your own and be able to bring folks around the table that otherwise wouldn't be there to do something that's gonna make a difference in the world, and I'll be it in seventh and eighth grade. You're talking about just driveways and lawns, and so ...

SAL DAHER: Right.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Now, with this kind of evolution of thinking of like, how do we help change people's lives in terms of shifting individual's mindsets? Then it really came to a point of, do I think I could do more innovative work with people smarter than me in a business that is truly going to change the world in a tangible way? That was the point for me where I said, I need to give up kind of the comforts of Corporate America, and actually take the leap, and try to assemble a crew with me to be able to do that where I feel like we've got a really good chance of success.

SAL DAHER: Very interesting, very interesting. Do you want to go into the founding story of Gain Life?

Gain Life Was Founded by Three Alumni of Procter & Gamble’s Future Works Division Who Enjoyed Working Together

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Sure. It was actually three of us at Procter & Gamble in their Future Works Division who decided after we all kind of parted ways after leaving P&G that we wanted to get the band back together, and so one of us with a scientist. My co-founder, John, he's actually one of the most published metabolism and kind of behavior change, I guess, experts in the world. His day job after leaving P&G was a professor of medicine and Head of Innovation and Strategy at the University of Colorado. Another co-founder, Majid, who was a senior brand manager at P&G, and so really had just a deep, deep, deep understanding of belief around consumer insights and what that could do for actually kind of melding a business into something great, and then myself who had done some consulting work at Johnson & Johnson, some marketing work at Procter & Gamble, and then some strategy and business development work at Weight Watchers.

We had these three kind of diverse folks that we, at first, didn't even try to start a company as much as we just tried to say, could we take what P&G does best, which is kind of marketing science of understanding in a psychographic way how to segment consumers and do something differentiated for them to really make a difference in their life with the best of the behavioral sciences because I think that was an element that from my background in healthcare, and even John's background as leading much of P&G's work over the years around their health sciences businesses, that we believed that there was a huge kind of unmet opportunity here to be able to take the best of what happens in CPG and bring it to healthcare.

Gain Life Re-purposes Behavioral Science Used to Sell Consumer Packaged Goods for Helping People Make Changes in Their Lives

And so, that was kind of the three of us saying, hey, for the next 18 months, let's get ourselves locked in a room, and let's start thinking about how we could create something differentiated. Where we actually picked as a place to start was weight management because it was really easy to measure, but it was very difficult to show long-term outcomes, and so we started building these programs that were personalized by gender, and by mindset, and by lifestyle. What we found in doing so, and granted, we put this together with kind of bubblegum, and Band-Aids, and shoestring-

SAL DAHER: You say that and I'm tucking in my gut.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: What we found is that we could actually build these programs that could get more individuals involved from day one because the gender-specific part got guys off the sideline for the first time because typically these weight management programs are about 80% women. The mindset portion, which actually came from much of John's work earlier in life with individuals in the National Weight Control Registry, which is a group of 10,000 unicorns who have lost 70 pounds, on average, and have kept it off for seven years and counting.

“Huge Study of People Who Lose Weight Successfully Points to Identity Shift”

SAL DAHER: Wow.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: This identity shift was the core element that most programs were missing, but if you could truly unlock that piece, you can start to more consistently deliver great results, and so what we found is that our programs could get twice as many people in the door and actually deliver 2X the traditional results of even best in class programs, and so we were getting 12% weight loss for women one year and 14% for men, and so we said, wow, we got something. Then, along the way, I think Majid actually got married and had a baby, and so his entrepreneurial life had to hit the pause button, but we realized that to actually scale this business and this idea of combining marketing science and behavioral science, we were going to have to be a technology company at our heart, and so we did a network search, and were lucky enough to find Jonathan, who is our CTO now who was previously building complex systems for NASA and the Department of Defense.

And so, now all of a sudden, it was John, the scientist, me, the business guy, Jonathan, the technologist. We said, how do we start to make this so that it can actually scale? That evolution really brought us to where we are today of actually building out a team of human-centered design-focused kind of software that actually makes a difference in people's lives, and so starting with weight management, then kind of broadening in to more healthy living, realizing that wellness and prevention is an interesting market, but it's one that you're selling a vitamin, not a painkiller, and now finding uses for our software in areas like disability insurance where you're now selling a painkiller, not a vitamin.

Gain Life Pivoted Away from Weight Loss to Disability – From Selling a Vitamin to Selling a Painkiller

SAL DAHER: Yeah, yeah.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: That's been a really interesting shift in our business model.

SAL DAHER: Something that people have to have, instead of something that's-

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Exactly.

SAL DAHER: Nice to have, yeah.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Yep.

SAL DAHER: Yeah, that's tremendous. Do you want to go into those challenges and opportunities that you have at Gain Life at the moment?

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Yeah, surely. I think the challenges that we have fall into a couple of buckets. With the consumer, I think our biggest challenge there is building software that actually shifts an individual's mindset, where traditionally, folks would use coaches to do this, where it would be a lot of kind of like therapy, like interventions. And so, how do we use software to be able to do that in a consistent way? We've been able to show that works for weight management, and now we're actually proving that out for disability, and so that's definitely a challenge of, how do we take kind of the best of the marketing science and behavioral science, put them together in a way that comes to life on your phone that actually truly shifts consumer behavior? That would be one. The second would be innovating in an industry that's probably not all that well-known for innovation, which would be insurance.

SAL DAHER: Right.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: And so, yes, InsureTech has been kind of all the rage over the last couple of years, but it's still early days in terms of these companies truly adopting these technologies and trying to infiltrate them to their businesses at large. And so, luckily, these companies are very open to it, but they haven't had a historical track record of a lot of innovative successes. And so, I'd say those are probably the two biggest challenges for us at this point.

SAL DAHER: Tremendous, tremendous. Sean, let's get a little bit more general here. Tell us ... You went Rochester Institute of Technology.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Yep.

SAL DAHER: And then you went to work for some years, and then you went to Harvard Business School.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Yes.

SAL DAHER: What did you get out of Harvard Business School? I mean, different people get different things out of Harvard Business School.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Yeah. HBS was an amazing experience for me. I had probably worked for a couple of more years than most of my classmates, so I was at J&J for six years before that.

SAL DAHER: Okay.

Sean’s Extracurricular Activities at Harvard Business School Primed Him for Entrepreneurship

SEAN ELDRIDGE: I was probably on the… a little bit older side than most of the folks that I was at school with, but I think that allowed me to really understand at a much deeper level much of the stuff that were talked about in our case discussions because I just sat through a lot more of these experiences in Corporate America. I think that allowed a lot of the stuff that we had learned in the classroom to really sink in in a very deep way, and beyond that, the ability to really make your education your own, which HBS, I think, does a really good job at. My second year, I was able to work with Doug Levenson, who was a partner at Flagship Ventures who was just getting off the ground, a startup called Seventh Sense, and so ...

SAL DAHER: Okay.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Spent the year working at a venture-backed startup, which was an awesome experience, spent part of the year working with Harvard Medical School on building out a program called Exercise Is Medicine. Dr. Eddie Phillips is just an awesome individual. If you ever get a chance to meet him, I'd definitely suggest you spend time with him and picking his brain.

SAL DAHER: Is he a founder?

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Eddie was one of the, yep, founders and, I guess, technically executive director of that Exercise Is Medicine program [crosstalk 00:23:32].

SAL DAHER: I would appreciate an introduction and maybe I can have him on the podcast.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Of course. He's a, yeah, colorful individual.

SAL DAHER: Okay.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: And then helping get Tough Mudder off the ground, and so there was three of us at the time in business school. I decided to enter the business plan competition and started to take this idea that was, hey, adventure racing. What could it be in the US? At the time, there was really only Muddy Buddy, and so a couple of us had started to build out the evolution of Tough Mudder before getting out of business school, and so having the chance to go through that new venture competition, having the chance to work with academics around Harvard Medical School around behavior change and health, and then having that chance to work at a venture-backed startup during school just made those two years wildly fulfilling for me.

SAL DAHER: This is really tremendous. This helps for people who are going to go to Harvard Business School, or any business school, to understand the sort of things you can get out of them. I think back, my friend and guest on the podcast, Joe Caruso, when he went to Harvard Business School, he was an engineer. He had this engineering mindset. He thought like an academic. He was there to study, instead of doing all these other things of connecting with people, and having these experiences, and so forth. He said, "So I spent two years just hitting the books."

SEAN ELDRIDGE: That's great.

SAL DAHER: And completely missed out on ... He's had a tremendously successful life ...

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Yep.

SAL DAHER: Since. He really benefited from Harvard Business School in many ways, but I chuckle.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: That's fantastic.

SAL DAHER: That’s excellent advice for someone who is thinking of going through business school, any business school. Try to have this variety of experiences.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: For sure.

SAL DAHER: Try to get in after quite a few years of working, which I think is really good.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Yeah, I think that made a big difference for me. Yeah, Joe Caruso probably found out after a couple years getting involved outside of the classroom is what makes all the difference. I mean ...

SAL DAHER: Oh, yeah.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Even just extracurriculars. While I was there, I played on the rugby team, which I had never played before. It was just an awesome experience to meet a ton of people that you otherwise wouldn't meet in your section or maybe even other sections and just, yeah. How do you explore and create these connections that you just otherwise wouldn't have? It's a really awesome kind of Petri dish of kind of collaboration and almost innovation in terms of everyone talking about all these different ways that they're gonna take their life, and so yeah. I wouldn't take it back for anything.

SAL DAHER: Get out of the library and do stuff.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Exactly.

SAL DAHER: Do you know Joe?

SEAN ELDRIDGE: I believe I've met Joe at a Mass Challenge event before, but yeah, that's about it. I think he's famed in terms of, yeah, like-

SAL DAHER: Remarkable, remarkable character.

What broad trends do you discern in the market that could be helpful or could be dangerous to your company?

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Great question. There's a couple. The first would probably be the fact that for the first time, the behavioral sciences are starting to be taken very seriously in terms of the actionable insights that they can provide, like these industry.

SAL DAHER: Yes.

Three Big Trends that Help Gain Life

SEAN ELDRIDGE: I think previously, it was just kind of these academic-like experiences, but now, big companies, probably starting with tech, 'cause they were probably more open to that innovation, all the way down to kind of the Blue Chip kind of CPG firms out there really trying to understand at a very deep level how the behavioral sciences-

SAL DAHER: CPG consumer package goods.

Behavioral Sciences Are Transforming Big Consumer Companies

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Yes, how the behavioral sciences can truly transform their businesses. I think that really helps us because much of the work that we've been doing over the years is trying to understand what best in class looks like from that and how we can start to build these standards of excellence across our software that allows us to do a bunch of different things in some pretty creative ways, so that would be one.

Chat Bots Are Relieving Insurance Employees of Mundane Tasks

The other would be in the insurance industry, in particular, the use of chat bots and the openness to it, and so there's some fantastic companies out there today that are actually doing some pretty cool stuff with chat bots to be able to alleviate what would traditionally be done by an individual and not trying to put that individual out of a job in any way, but really try to understand how that individual can focus on the more empathetic kind of aspects of their job, which software can alleviate some of the maybe more mundane tasks that they have to do.

SAL DAHER: Right.

Algorithms Are Starting to Have an Economic Impact in the Insurance Industry – Lemonade Inc.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: And so, that openness definitely helps us, as our software has elements of conversational AI that can actually assist in kind of moving some of those more mundane questions and answers off of an individual's plate so they can focus on what really matters. Then the third would probably be the use of algorithms and really the understanding of how they can power different things. And so, again, in the insurance industry, there's a company called Lemonade, for example, well-funded startup, I believe out of New York City, that they've created the ability to understand if they should pay somebody's claim in just a matter of seconds. And so, they can run it through 17 different points in an algorithm and understand that just with a text message whether or not you're going to be filing a fraudulent claim or if it's a real claim.

SAL DAHER: Right.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: I think that the insurance industry understanding of the power of what algorithms can do when you combine, whether it's psychometric data or other behavioral data, just the power of that, and so I think those three broad trends really help us, and I think are gonna help the industry at large.

SAL DAHER: Very interesting, very interesting. The first trend that you mentioned, all this development in the science of the mind of understanding people's behavior calls to mind a company, Qstream.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Yep.

SAL DAHER: We've talked about this in the podcast before. Are you familiar with Qstream?

SEAN ELDRIDGE: I am.

SAL DAHER: Yeah.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: They're Boston-based, correct?

SAL DAHER: Boston-based company.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Yep, out of Harvard Medical School originally.

SAL DAHER: Harvard Medical School originally. They have technology that ... They discovered the studies that there are things you can do to help people retain the information they learned, and basically they're being used in corporate training, for salespeople and so forth, to help them retain material longer. It has a real bottom line impact, so this is not just kind of like airy fairy crazy stuff. This is stuff that companies pay for.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Yep.

SAL DAHER: Serious enterprises pay for because it has a real advantage, so we're learning. We're understanding the human mind and how it makes it work better, but you talked about the collaboration sort of enhancing human understanding, emotional understanding, and then putting a layer of these interactive bots brings to mind the episode we just aired before this. This one was launched before this one with Kevin Lyman, a company called Enlitic. They are using artificial intelligence deep learning engine to understand imaging of the human body, medical imaging, but that's not being done just without a technician that's actually enhancing the work of the ... Or not technician, but a radiographer, you know, radiologist. Radiologists perform much better using Enlitic's approach than they do on their own, and so we're kind of like giving superpowers to human beings. This is what you point to here, and of course, these algorithms just being so much better and so much more available, and kind of, you can use them in a black box kind of way, extremely promising.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Agreed.

SAL DAHER: An interview coming up, this is with somebody, has done a very impressive raise, for his company. It's a later stage company than yours, and he was saying that in doing his raise, he was always thinking about, number one, market size, number two, why us, and number three, why now? Then answering those questions. Those are really compelling answers on Gain Life. It's an enormous market. Can you imagine if you can make it through? I think back to the woman who had this weight problem who went from 300 pounds to, I don't know, 170 pounds or whatever and how it changed her life. I cannot imagine the economic impact of that. The rest of her life, she'll be much healthier. She'll have a long productive life and happy life, just because of that intervention, which is going back to what you said, between the ears, changing people's minds about things.

SAL DAHER: How do you find Boston as a location for starting a company? Are you able to get the talent that you need and so forth?

“Boston is like the greatest city on Earth.”

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Boston is like the greatest city on Earth. I think I've heard you, yeah, maybe say something to that extent when you were-

SAL DAHER: Well, it's at the Harvard University, the old Yankees used to say hub. It was the center of Boston. Everything was measured from the hub of Boston.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: And they considered it the center of the universe, yes.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: You can't spit on the street without hitting somebody exceptional, and so I think that for us, as a young startup here in Boston, we have been so, so lucky in the exceptional talent that we've been able to pull in. I mean, yeah, the team that we're able to get, whether it's individuals who are early in their career or later in their career, and even the advisors that surround us here who are local, has been just tremendous, and beyond that, access to exceptional operators turned angels or investors turned angels that are right here in our backyard. And so for us, there's not another city that we'd want to be in to access talent and to be able to access the capital that we need to grow our business, and so yeah. I'm a huge fan of Boston, even despite being from Upstate New York and having more of an affinity, I think, towards yeah, some of their sports teams as opposed to-

SAL DAHER: You miss the weather up there and the sports teams.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Definitely.

SAL DAHER: That is great. Sean, as we wrap up this interview, is there anything that comes to mind that we haven't touched on that you would like to talk to our audience about?

“…venues like this that talk about a founder's journey are so helpful, not just for founders who are going through it and sometimes feel isolated, but for individuals who are even considering entrepreneurship as a potential journey.”

SEAN ELDRIDGE: I think that what you're doing here, Sal, and this isn't meant to kind of boost your ego, but I think venues like this that talk about a founder's journey are so helpful, not just for founders who are going through it and sometimes feel isolated, but for individuals who are even considering entrepreneurship as a potential journey. I think that from when I was coming out of school to individuals who are coming out of school now, there's probably more an openness and kind of willingness to actually jump right into these entrepreneurial waters, where back when I was coming out of school, very few of my classmates were thinking about that as a potential career, at least not in those days. And so, I think opening up avenues like this that truly kind of peer the window open so that an individual can start to see and understand a little bit more is super helpful because I think that after being at big companies for over a dozen years seeing the amount and the speed of innovation that startups are able to provide.

SAL DAHER: Yes.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: And the value that that can add to an economy, it just excites the heck out of me to think what's possible, and so I think what you're doing, I think what other individuals like you are doing of trying to kind of open up what previously is maybe a black box of what entrepreneurship can be and kind of the more controlled risk that it really entitles where it isn't kind of this wild, wild west type idea that I think some people, like my dad, might've had.

SAL DAHER: Or my dad, I could imagine, yeah.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: And so, I think that's just a really special thing, and so thank you for the work that you're doing because I think it's only gonna benefit the economy, and really, our children to come.

“People think that this podcast is about technology. It's about human nature, really, as it confronts technology, as it confronts markets, and so this is why it is an endlessly fascinating subject…”

SAL DAHER: Well, I am really gratified to hear that from such an accomplished founder and accomplished businessperson, as you are. I think the resources, they just abound. I think it's really important for us to be exposed these things. We tend to follow models. I see it even with my grandson. He's following the models of other kids in the class and things that they like to do. People think that this podcast is about technology. It's about human nature, really, as it confronts technology, as it confronts markets, and so this is why it is an endlessly fascinating subject to me to understand what makes people who they are, what helps them do the great things that they do, and I think that it makes me a better angel investor and a better advisor to companies, having this conversation. Sean, I could not be more grateful for you taking time from your unbelievably busy life that you have to come out to the studio, and sit down, and share your experiences and your wisdom with us. I really wish you all the best.

By the way, I am an investor in Gain Life. We have to make that disclosure. I am a big cheerleader of Gain Life. The reason that I cottoned on to Gain Life in the beginning is that I have a few pounds to lose. When I saw you present, you were talking about weight loss, and I thought it was very engaging. This is actually a subject in which I am an expert. I have studied for my entire life the business, not that I am successful at it, but I do know a few things about weight loss. I've made a few investments in my life in weight loss tech at some other interesting companies. One of them, for example, is Gelesis that has a product that we hope in 2019 will be launched, and so this is sort of a little bit my thesis, is fat tech, you can call it.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: I like it.

SAL DAHER: This is the reason I ... Then, of course, very impressed by you, and your presentation, and your background, I think a combination. You're working at a tremendously important problem, a really, very effective team that you've put together, and I think the time is really right. This is, like, the moment. There's an expression in Brazil, "You have the cheese and the knife in your hand.” It's always about eating with me. “The cheese and the knife, you just cut the cheese.”

SEAN ELDRIDGE: That's great.

SAL DAHER: This is great. I wish you great success at Gain Life.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Thank you, Sal.

SAL DAHER: I hope that our listeners have been as gratified as I have been in listening to Sean's story of this really remarkably successful young man who is poised to do an enormous good for humanity in helping us change our behavior for the better, to change our minds and to just convince us that we can change. We just need to become better people or live life in a better way.

SEAN ELDRIDGE: Really, just achieve the life that you want to live.

SAL DAHER: And it is possible to do with the help of all this amazing science, and these algorithms that are available, and so forth. Thank you very much, and I would also like to invite our listeners, if you've enjoyed this podcast, remember, you can help get the podcast found by leaving a review on iTunes. Thanks a lot. This is Sal Daher.

I'm glad you were able to join us. Our engineer is Raul Rosa. Our theme was composed by John McKusick. Our graphic design is by Katharine Woodman-Maynard. Our host is coached by Grace Daher.