July 28, 2020

#41: Josh Clemente, Founder of Levels

Today we’re joined by Josh Clemente, the Founder of Levels — a metabolic fitness company.

We talk about continuous glucose monitoring and using Levels to unlock real-time feedback on lifestyle choices, like what you eat, how you exercise, and the quality of your sleep.

We also discussed Josh’s plan to make metabolic fitness mainstream in hopes of tackling diabetes, obesity, and chronic ailments.

Check out an overview of the conversation below or listen to the entire episode for more.

What is Levels and how did you get started?

JC: Levels is the first metabolic fitness company. We close the loop between daily actions and the metabolic reactions that people are experiencing by using technology to access and learn from your personal health data in real time.

Everyone has their own struggles or performance goals. Personally, to keep my energy levels intact. I’m a CrossFit trainer and always thought I was up to speed on how my diet should be tailored for optimal energy, yet I was dragging and needed caffeine to get through the day. I realized by using continuous glucose monitoring, that my diet explicitly was causing extreme variations in my blood sugar. 

It was obvious what I needed to change, but it took me about 14 months of studying the literature in order to understand what levers to pull on. With Levels, we’ve built the system that takes all that overhead away so you don’t need a PhD to know what specific changes to make. 

How does the system work?

JC: The hardware itself was originally developed for the management of diabetes. The device is a small patch that corresponds the glucose in your skin to your blood glucose levels. You wear it continuously for about two weeks and it can communicate wirelessly with any new smartphone. In essence, it’s a bio wearable. Similar to how you’d wear an Apple Watch, you can now wear a device that is giving you a much deeper metric than your step count or your heart rate.

While all this hardware development has been critical, it didn’t come with a corresponding improvement in the actionability of the data itself. So, you can get a raw data stream from this technology, but how do you know what to do with it? That is Level’s core competency—the data science, the analytics, and the accessibility of the hardware to give people an access pathway to this clinical grade hardware.

How does the software piece work?

JC: The biggest thing we do is bring in and analyze inputs, or choices around diet, exercise, and sleep for example. We use integrations for any wearables that you might already be using and then we bring in your food logging. 

Individuals log their lifestyle choice and the Levels’ algorithm follows along as your glucose responds, then analyzes that response and provides you with a grade or rating. For example, eating a pizza then lying on the couch versus eating the same pizza and going for a walk will yield different metabolic responses. What Levels does is it passively pulls that information in, understands, and shows you the impact of your choices so you can modify your behavior.

Another one is sleep. You can see how you respond to a day’s dietary choices on five and a half hours of sleep and compare that to nine hours of sleep to see the impact of acute insulin resistance. We can show you that less sleep has a meaningful impact on your body’s ability to process the foods you eat, and you can modulate that by making better sleep decisions. 

Who is the target audience? 

JC: The primary user group right now, is what we’re calling the health seekers, or people who are currently interested in making better choices daily. That’s where we’re starting, but one interesting thing is we’re learning that the weight loss crowd in particular is already interested in exactly the same information. So the features that we’ve developed are applying to more than just the biohacker or the technologists. It’s already applicable to the people on the opposite end of the scale.

The ultimate goal is to make a meaningful dent in metabolic health outcomes around the world. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an elite athlete or someone who has been struggling with lifelong chronic health issues, the information you need is currently available in your body, you just need to tap into it and use it. 

Although we’re entering the market in a premium lifestyle space, we will eventually be the metabolic fitness organization that people come to to optimize their choices daily, no matter what they’re struggling with or focusing on.

Can you make metabolic fitness mainstream?

JC: One of our primary focuses is on the educational component here to get information into the hands of people who need it. Traditionally, it’s been thought that metabolic health is just something you either have or you don’t have and that has to change. Our focus is developing and distributing content so people realize that metabolic health is something that every person has a responsibility to optimize and can optimize. 

We start that process with metabolic awareness, which is closing the loop between an action and a reaction. We also want to have an exciting and interesting lifestyle brand and community that people want to be a part of so we can better understand how to evolve the product and technology for our customers.

Once we get to the point where we are truly mainstream, which is going to require some advances in the hardware technology to bring prices down and accessibility up, I think we’ll be seeing a real shift where people are, by default, concerned with their health information the way that they were once concerned with their finance information, for example. That requires us to start right now with a strong education approach.

What’s the customer journey like?

JC: There is a prescription requirement, so we have a direct to consumer experience using physicians for onboarding to ensure the technology is a good fit for you. If approved, you receive a Levels kit with two 14 day continuous glucose monitors. 

You then download the app and onboard into the Levels ecosystem where you have full time engagement with the team and start by just measuring your glucose responses to the decisions you’re making daily to learn what your baseline is. Through the second and third weeks, you start to explore how you’re responding to certain factors, and then ultimately in the fourth week, you shoot for optimization using the features like zone scores and our metabolic fitness score.

It’s built as a 28 day program right now, so you can learn a huge amount in that single month and you can carry that onto your life going forward. We also offer ongoing subscription options after that first month. 

What would users continue using the product? 

JC: Studies show that two people can eat the exact same two foods and experience an equal and opposite response. That tells us there’s no one size fits all solution, so the nuance between how you will respond to the same meal is so widespread.

It’s so deep that it’s hard to even describe how many lessons can be learned. For example, I’ve been wearing this for two years and I am using this technology in the same way as I was at the beginning but with the added benefit of accountability. The lessons I’ve already learned are being reinforced daily, but the ongoing benefit is that when I’m wearing the technology, it’s like having a trainer in the room with you 24/7. 

You know that you’re going to have to face the music if you make that choice that goes against your goals because you’re going to see the data and the scoring. When goal oriented people see their body telling them they’re working against their goals, it’s a non-decision. You just don’t do it. And that’s what our users are telling us.

Where does Levels fit in the wearables landscape?

JC: Most of what we’ve seen thus far is what I call superficial metrics and aren’t super useful for the average person to understand. Getting 10,000 steps and closing your rings is valuable, but understanding your biological data is what really underlies your long term health.

Zooming out, we have a straight up metabolic health epidemic. 88% of the country is metabolically unhealthy. We’ve got metabolic breakdown associated with seven of the top ten causes of death here in the U.S. There are 90 million people in the United States that have pre-type two diabetes and 90% of those do not know they have that condition.

To have access to real time metabolic information and to be able to optimize around that is entirely new and in a different category—the biowearable category—than what we’ve seen from other wearables. It’s a truly transformational step in the right direction for people to be able to make choices that are associated with better long term outcomes. You do that enough times and that compounds into social scale change. 

There’s certainly plenty of questioning of whether all the wrist watches are helping people be healthier, but I would argue that this is not super comparable there for those reasons.

What’s next for Levels?

JC: Right now we’re in beta. We’re getting strong signals that the product is meeting the requirement, which is that behavior change is easy and obvious. As a result, we’re starting to prep for our launch, which will be likely in the early or mid-fall sometime. We’ll probably release some pre-orders first then ultimately, our full launch again around the holiday time. 

I highly recommend signing up for our wait list and we send a lot of great information that way which is a really meaningful way of understanding why this is relevant. 

**Note: Josh’s answers have been edited for brevity and cohesion.

About Josh Clemente: 

Josh, Founder of Levels, is a mechanical engineer and CrossFit-L2 trainer. At SpaceX, he led a team to develop life support systems that sustained astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on their May 2020 trip to the International Space Station aboard Dragon Endeavor: the first new crew-carrying spacecraft since 1980. Josh has also spent time designing and building Hyperloop technology and leading engineering for a company providing vehicle-based rescue systems for emergency response teams. Josh enjoys the outdoors, functional fitness training, technology, coffee, and restoring motorcycles.

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