Finding Wealth in Health

Why the next great consumer company will be a health-focused platform

Obvious |
Illustration by Eleni Debo

My Christmas List in 2009: Apple Bottom jeans and boots with the fur (UGGs)

My Christmas List in 2019: Apple Watch and biome testing kit (Viome)

Might my move from North Carolina to Northern California have played a role in this evolution? Perhaps. However, the more powerful force behind this shift was my increasingly holistic approach to health.

We have always known that while health journeys frequently begin with doctor’s orders, they extend far beyond the physician’s office. For years I viewed my healthcare and health habits as existing in independent orbits, centered around me but with infrequent overlap. Recently, though, I’ve rejected this previously held assumption—and the results have been life-changing. I’ve become a more alert, engaged, adaptable, and optimistic human. While this might sound like a luxury, it shouldn’t be. Digitally-enabled platforms have already transformed previously aspirational pillars of our daily lives, ranging from grocery delivery to private transportation.

Why not our health?

Over the past decade, we’ve seen groundbreaking developments across emerging spheres of healthcare ranging from AI-powered drug discovery to protein therapy. Over the next decade, I hope to see similar advancements and an expansion in accessibility across the complimentary sphere of holistic health.

What Must Change

The ongoing pandemic has exposed cracks in society’s approach to health. Today’s healthcare system is one-size-fits-all, acute in care, siloed in scope, and unpleasant for patients and providers alike. This has, unfortunately, led to suboptimal outcomes, higher costs, and low adherence to recommended protocols. Is this result inevitable?

We believe that charting a new course is not only possible, but imperative. Moving forward, we see a future where society’s approach to health is personalized, preventative, integrated, and fulfilling. So, what must change? We foresee a transition from clinician-controlled care to unified collaboration between clinicians and consumers. Will breakthrough cures and specialized providers still play an important role in our healthcare system? Absolutely. But will they exclusively determine outcomes? No. Armed with insights and exposed to the widening range of conditions, consumers have never had greater motivation—or ability—to invest in their own wellbeing. As millions increasingly adopt such a mindset, I believe that the next great consumer company will be a health-focused platform.

The Holistic Health Halos

Skeptics argue that while clinicians believe in science, consumers believe in marketing. We believe that the two need not be mutually exclusive in the future of health.

Historically, consumers have been trained to reactively consult clinicians for care when sick. Moving forward, digital applications, diagnostic platforms, and biometric devices will enable the same individuals to proactively manage their own health profiles, cutting broader system costs while improving both experiences and the associated outcomes. While the consumerization of healthcare has long been heralded by the VC community, this time—marked by greater technological potential, increasing availability of data, directed consumer awareness, and a global pandemic—is different. Accordingly, we’re excited about five fundamental frontiers of consumer-directed health:

1. Metabolic Health
Metabolic health expands far beyond how quickly we can burn off a Beyond Burger to measures like blood sugar, triglycerides, cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference. Our metabolism modulates our sleep, weight, appetite, and energy levels and directly relates to our risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Plagued by years of bad decisions and misinformation, just 1 in 8 American adults meet the baseline standard for metabolic health today. Pioneered by innovators like Calibrate (metabolic reset program) and Levels (metabolic monitoring device), we foresee metabolic health to be an area of increasing interest moving forward for both individuals struggling with weight-related challenges and those simply seeking to optimize their overall wellness. In reaching for this reality, will access to information be enough to drive healthier decisions or will therapeutic interventions be necessary in resetting baseline behaviors? Might a few broadly applicable regimens meet the needs of many, or are personalized approaches required to effectively boost the metabolic health of most?

2. Mind Body Balance
Our emerging understanding of the mind-body connection reveals that our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes can positively and negatively affect our biological functioning, while the converse is also true. Because of the brain’s integral role in producing substances like endorphins (natural painkillers) and gamma globulin (an immunity booster), our emotions frequently impact our physical experience, underscoring society’s need for greater mental health support. In the U.S. alone, 46% of people will experience some form of mental illness over the course of their lifetime. This is driving our nation to spend $238 billion annually on mental health treatment and services, up more than 100% from 2005 levels. Democratized by providers like Modern Health (employee wellbeing platform), Real (digital therapy membership), and Octave (online/offline therapy, coaching, and workshops), we hope that mental health management can become as mainstream as morning workouts. Looking ahead, how can we further enhance access to and destigmatize mental health interventions across populations? What emerging approaches, ranging from psychedelic support to hypnotherapy, hold the greatest potential to improve the experiences of the millions suffering today?

3. Microbiome Monitoring
Our microbiome is comprised of trillions of microbes (bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses) living on and in our bodies. It plays a wide range of roles from regulating digestion to supporting our immune system. While few statistics exist surrounding the microbiome today, scientists agree that the microbiome affects virtually all aspects of human health. Demystified by platforms like Seed (synbiotic supplement) and Thryve (personalized probiotics / food recommendations), we believe that the microbiome will be increasingly measured and managed as a fundamental factor in dietary protocols. In the near future, will microbiome management become mainstream? And will the next wave of consumer-facing companies remain dependent on yet-to-be-discovered scientific breakthroughs to turn the tide?

4. Systematized Sleep
As arguably the most influential factor on human performance and experience, sleep is when our greatest processing, restoration, and strengthening occurs. We as humans require long periods of high-quality sleep to consolidate memories, rejuvenate our minds, grow muscle, repair tissue, and synthesize hormones. With 50–70 million Americans suffering from sleep disorders, estimates suggest that our lack of sleep is costing the U.S. over $400 billion annually. Following the examples of startups like Oura (sleep tracking ring) and Beam (performance-focused CBD), we’re optimistic that society is waking up to the transformative power of sleep, following years of incorrect information surrounding humans’ ability to hack this habit. Moving forward, could improvements in quality of sleep, driven by interventions ranging from blue light blocking to supplements, begin to help compensate for quantity? What roles will meditation and mindfulness play in our routines surrounding slumber?

5. Focused Fitness
While fitness is broadly defined as being physically fit and healthy, at a more granular level it entails engaging in consistent physical activity to promote optimal physical and emotional wellbeing. Not only does physical activity promote strong muscles and bones, it also improves cardiovascular, respiratory, and mental health. Currently, less than 5% of adults in the U.S. participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day and only 1 in 3 adults receive the recommended amount of physical activity each week. As witnessed with companies like Mirror (guided at-home workout device) and Future (digitally-enabled personal trainer), we believe that the future of fitness will invite consumers currently on the sidelines to enjoyably engage in physical activities in ways that they’ve never envisioned before. Coming out of shelter-in-place, will we see a reversal in the sedentary tendencies of the past several months? How can we increase accessibility to fitness-focused solutions while boosting both excitement and engagement for diverse demographics?

By focusing on establishing effective habits instead of overemphasizing outcomes, we can manage our own wellbeing in a world where so much feels beyond our control. While the most recent chapter of consumer drove us from prioritizing possessions (purchasing physical goods) to emphasizing experiences (spending on events and travel), I believe that the next leg will lead us from emphasizing experiences to treasuring transformation (buying into a better version of ourselves).

We’re witnessing the early innings of this generational shift with the rise of consumer platforms ranging from Calm to Coursera. Moving forward, I expect to see an expansion into health as we open our minds to new modalities of change. A journey more than a destination, I’m excited to see what the path forward looks like for the many citizen scientists around us and the many millions beyond.

If you’re as excited about the potential for a data-driven and delightful suite of solutions to empower consumers far and wide to regain control of their health outcomes, we’d love to hear from you.