Dr. Gil Blander is internationally recognised for his research in the basic biology of ageing and translating research discoveries into new ways of detecting and preventing age-related conditions. He leads a team of biology, nutrition & exercise physiology experts, and computer scientists at InsideTracker, and has been featured in CNN Money, The New York Times, Forbes, Financial times and The Boston Globe.
Dr. Gil Blander received a Ph.D. in biology from the Weizmann Institute of Science and completed his Post Doctoral fellowship at MIT, before going on to found InsideTracker. The InsideTracker platform analyses key biochemical and physiological markers and applies algorithms and large scientific databases to determine optimal zones for each marker. The system then provides nutrition and lifestyle interventions that empower people to optimise their markers, increasing vitality, improving athletic performance and extending life.
As more and more fitness companies attempt to build a consumer platform, they are learning that their single biggest challenge is ensuring regular customer engagement. We met with Gil to learn how they are tackling this challenge and maximising interaction between their customers and the product.
The Fitness Network
Your background is in academia, so how did InsideTracker come about?
I had always been fascinated by the ageing process and improving people’s quality of life, but over time I realised that I could contribute more by starting my own company than by continuing as an academic.
My primary interest was in systems biology as it allowed me to observe the entire body rather than just one component. In particular I was fascinated by caloric restriction, which showed that if we cut the intake of calories for rats, mice, and even monkeys by up to 50% then they would not only live 30-50% longer but be generally healthier and less likely to suffer from ageing related disease. We looked at lots of data and found that around 20 different processes were being affected by caloric restriction, such as a reduction in inflammation. The only problem was that we knew reducing calories so drastically in humans would be no fun and cause other problems such as being cold all the time, and losing sex drive and fertility, so we wanted to find a way to access the benefits without experiencing the negative side effects.
It was at this stage that we started to develop InsideTracker. We identified 40 major biomarkers related to health, wellness and performance, such as Vitamin D, Cortisol and Testosterone, that could all be modified and optimised through food and exercise. For example, if you have low vitamin B12 then we can tell you to eat a certain kind of B12 fortified cereal, beef, or take a supplement.
Finally, we developed a vast database of healthy people against which we could compare a person’s biomarkers and algorithmically identify an optimal zone for those biomarkers, those areas where the person was either excessive or deficient, allowing us to provide bespoke interventions through our online platform.
“If we cut the intake of calories … then they would not only live 30-50% longer but be generally healthier and less likely to suffer from ageing related disease”
The Fitness Network
How important is it in your opinion to drive regular engagement with the platform?
It’s the most important thing. Companies will often focus on acquiring new customers but for a product like this you need to ensure it’s actually being used effectively and making a real difference to their health and lifestyle.
The Fitness Network
How hard has that been?
Really hard. We have an extremely complex product trying to solve an extremely complex problem, so ensuring it also offers an optimal user experience is a huge challenge. We know we can still improve our engagement levels considerably, but we have definitely made huge progress over the last couple of years.
The Fitness Network
So what are some of the things you have done to drive this engagement?
1. Ensure they upload as much data as possible from the outset
We have consistently seen that the more data the user uploads, the more they will engage with the platform on an ongoing basis. This is partly because the data helps them get more bespoke experience from the platform, but it may also be because they have more time and effort invested and are therefore more determined to use it successfully. Either way, it tells us that we need to do all we can to encourage users to upload as much data as possible when they first begin.
2. Make it easy
This is an obvious one but it’s so important. The only way a product will be engaged is to keep it simple and intuitive. We have found this a real challenge as our product is extremely complex and as scientists we are uncomfortable with watering that down. However, if the product isn’t easy to use then people won’t give it a chance, so we are always asking ourselves how we can simplify the user experience without compromising the science behind it.
3. Focus on goals
A lot of online platforms focus on their features, but you have to remember that the thing that drives people to perform an action is the goal they are striving for. Therefore the user experience must be designed around these goals, whether that be to lose weight, increase muscle, or just to get fit and healthy.
4. Show people what the future will look like
When people begin engaging with your product you need to remind them why they are doing so. What will they look and feel like in 6 months that they wouldn’t have if they weren’t engaging with the product? This is essential if they are to maintain momentum in those early stages.
5. Choose an audience that is motivated
A lot of brands go after a mainstream audience as that represents the largest market. However, most people lack the motivation to engage with a product like ours, so instead we have intentionally targeted people that we know are willing to invest the time and effort in using the product properly.
6. Gamify everything you can
Gamification is the process of incentivising and rewarding people to perform actions that increase their engagement with the product. Even something as simple as giving someone a badge for completing their profile can have a significant impact on their behaviour.
7. Get the product right before worrying about marketing
This is definitely the most important factor in building a successful online platform. Lots of companies worry about taking their product to market before it’s ready. They claim all sorts of things but when you scratch the surface you realise there is not much underneath. On the other hand, we have kept our claims modest but ensured we can always deliver on them.
If you focus on the product, the marketing will take care of itself. The lifetime value of each client will be so much higher and as advocates of the brand they will do most of your future marketing for you.
“If you focus on the product, the marketing will take care of itself.”