Taking your wellness coach on the road, via your cell phone
Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal - by Lisa Sibley
What if your coach or personal trainer could always be with you?
They'd remind you, even nag you, to go to the gym and keep you inspired with motivational messages. They'd ask if you'd eaten healthy food or consumed enough water. They'd help you find a gym and resources in your area or while traveling, and log your progress so that friends and family could check up on and support you. You'd even be rewarded with prizes for your progress.
Now, thanks to a San Mateo company, it's possible.
Wellsphere Inc. has designed a free mobile platform that turns anything from a BlackBerry to your average cell phone, or Wellphone, into your new coach. Wellphone sends text message reminders and motivational tips to help you actually stick to your New Year's resolutions, and lets you update a journal and log your personal progress from your cell phone.
Wellsphere co-founder and CEO Ron Gutman says the company's employees learned through a Web site the company runs -- where people can connect, inspire and educate each other about healthier living -- that they wouldn't stick to it since they weren't always at a computer.
So, he says, Wellsphere employees asked, "What's the computing device people have with them all the time?" The answer: a cell phone.
The target market is anyone from the non-athlete determined to become healthier to those already focused on healthy eating, stress reduction and exercise.
The angel investor- and VC-backed company hosts its public site for consumers at www.wellsphere.com and creates proprietary communities for large organizations, such as BeWell@Stanford at Stanford University.
"It's a lifetime commitment," Gutman says. "It's not one thing you need to do and you're done."
Gutman and co-founder and CFO Dave Kashen are both Stanford M.B.A.s. They say they started the company based on a vision of helping to solve the nationwide health crisis, with a personal passion for improving people's well-being.
Larger employers like Stanford pay for the service on a per-member, per-month basis, Gutman says, although he wouldn't disclose Wellsphere's 2007 revenue or how much Stanford pays.
Wellsphere was initially backed by $3.8 million from investors, including Dr. Woodrow "Woody" Myers, formerly WellPoint Inc.'s executive vice president and chief medical officer. He's also the founder of Myers Ventures LLC and has most recently been running for Congress as a Democrat in Indianapolis, Ind.
"These guys have found the sweet spot and I think they are onto something," says Myers, who earned his undergraduate and business degrees at Stanford. He describes what they do as the YouTube/MySpace.com generation meets health care.
Gutman says the better off people are, the better off companies are. The correlation to cost, he says, is that most companies are self-insured, incurring annual health costs cresting above $9,000 per employee.
"That's a huge competitive disadvantage," Gutman says. "We want to do something about that."
Wellsphere executives say they plan to incorporate their services into diet and exercise programs and health and life coaching. They also hope to link to other universities and bigger channel partners, including large providers of health programs and health insurance companies.
The customized BeWell@Stanford site is already being used pretty spectacularly, primarily by Stanford's faculty and staff, says Eric Stein, senior associate athletic director of physical education, recreation and wellness at Stanford. It has more than 8,800 users.
"It's an interactive site. The majority of sites out there are static," Stein says. "This is so you can list a goal, interact with people, bring up articles; it spread the ability to communicate across channels that don't exist anywhere else."
And for Gutman, who is tracking his own Wellsphere goals, it means that if he reaches them, his wife will bring him breakfast in bed.
Lisa Sibley can be reached at (408) 299-1841 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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