Addicted to your smartphone? Well, it may just save your life.
How a startup founder is using addictive tech for good.
Is addiction really a bad thing? Jane Wang, Founder and CEO of Optimity, a mobile health and medical guardian application thinks not.
“I look at addiction for good: you see what I’m addicted to and what others are, and I obsess about how we can use the same mechanism to make ourselves super-humans. If you can get people to be addicted to the right things, it’ll build powerful habits early and you have just helped our species evolve.”
My most recent interview with Jane was a whirlwind of emotions that ultimately focused on the now to improve our future. The key to how we can keep loved ones and ourselves healthy.
Brett: Jane, thanks for taking out the time today. Our focus for our publication is future technology and the impact on society it will have. What do you think the future will look like?
Jane: So many thoughts here, it’s a hybrid. It’s symbiotic. I agree with Peter Thiel, when he talks a bit about that in Zero to One.
I think the best way to become super-humans, is to get some help from technology.
We as humans are naturally programed to adapt and when we easily adopt new behaviors (habits) they become effortless to us, as we explore new things. However, most of us lack the ability to have high computational power (try to do 1538 x 273 ^1.3 in your head, see what I mean?) and suffer from high margins of human error (for those of us that just did the computation, how many of us got it right?).
And computers are the opposite. They process data fast, accurately, but they cannot create and adapt to new rules by themselves. Think about how long Watson would have to retrain if we just simply change the rule of jeopardy by a little bit. And we as humans in the wild tend to change the rules all the time. Nature does it too, through evolution. Technology doesn’t adapt well. Until they can. Tech needs us to evolve, and we need them to evolve too.
I think the biggest inhibitor of our evolution into a super-species, is that we lack capacity: time to execute. Even if we have all the knowledge in the world, the world is still a race to execute our ideas. To execute, you need time. This quest for extra time capacity can be given by automated tools: SaaS solutions, algorithms, robots…
So the differentiating factor for your success? Your tool-kit.
What do I think the future will look like? It’s going to look similar to Robert Downey’s Iron Man. The tech he built not only keeps him alive, but makes him more than he was unenhanced. His world is tooled with robots, AI, and super-advanced engineering software that allow him to build amazing new inventions with speed: he is uninhibited to execute. However, these tools interact with him like pets, or servants, and function within his rules.
Brett: So we’re all going to be walking cyborgs, or something like that. What are you working on that will get us there?
Jane: Ways to give people more time. I created a tool to help us get more time out of our days. Then I want to build you all your own JARVIS, so you can be your super-self.
My initial focus is on health, because that’s my background and strength. This should give you more productive time on this earth. We, as young people with big ambitions, have a lot of limiting factors, so we are always trading off. Especially on our poor habitual choices (coffee, sugar, fast food, lack of sleep, cocaine for the rockstars) and we don’t associate with their consequences because we are young and invincible. Time eventually catches up. This happens later in life: a stroke, diabetes, cancer: A life-changing event happens, and now you throw all your resources at it, but it’s too late.
I’ve developed a health guardian for high-achievers, who are trying to be the best in whatever career and life they chose. Optimity provides pocket health and life coach that helps you do what you want to do, better. But that’s only half of the story.
It’s also a canary. A guardian. Baymax from Big Hero 6.
This is your health companion that just take care of you when you need it the most. It knows your vitals, never judges you, and is forever loyal. It is also equipped with advanced research data and rules of human physiology to detect any issues, early.
Brett: It’s a hero? How is it only half of the story? What was the spark behind the tech?
Jane: Since 2008, I been working inside the health systems. Eventually I became a health risk data analytics person for pharmaceutical trials. We had a ton of data from blood scans, MRI scans and not a lot of doctors. So it was my job (enhanced by smart algorithms and software) to trudged through groups of sick patients’ data and find the highest risk people, so we can triage them deploying doctors we had to prevent deaths on trials. I never lost a single patient in all my global clinical trial. I was quite proud of that.
One day, while at work, I got a phone call from the Hospital saying my mother was there and she had late stage cancer and need to be hospitalized immediately for treatment.
I laughed, because I couldn’t believe it at first. She sees a GP regularly. But the truth is that they failed to detect her textbook symptoms of Leukemia. When I got the phone call, she was already at stage 3. She went through 3 cycles of chemo, and any other method to delay the disease. She got the best of care, we threw everything we had at it (my dad and I never really left the hospital at all) for 6 months, but it was too little too late. I just sat there and obsessed over why the fuck this was happening. Then, we lost her June 2011.
Someone should have known. For 2 years leading up to it, she took a lot of sick days at work. She wasn’t sleeping well. She just brushed off signs of sickness by using aging as a scapegoat. She was too busy professionally to understand that something was seriously wrong here, and our reactive health care system didn’t help to prevent it at all.
I was spending my years guarding sick people. My time could have been spent better guarding her: healthy people who are falling sick. I had a false sense of security because I worked in medical research and I prevented patient deaths. But I knew so little about leukemia. If I could understand the first event. The early onset. If there was a guardian, they would have given her more time. If we knew before it early, would have been curable.
I then realized something. The system had tons of data… but all on sick people. We need baseline data from health people, and track them over time to detect any statistical variance in vitals for early detection. If we only had the same system we use to track sick patient, for people in their 40s and 50s (like my mom) and keep them well, we can do some real good here.
That was six years ago, and the obsession grew into a full time endeavor. I don’t think we’re far off with technology to do that. I think that real solution can be built in the next two years.
The real challenge is designing a UI that attracts and keeps those people who are healthy to subscribe to that style of guardianship.
After my MBA, I got to do more analysis on employer drug spending and research on the rise of stress leave in the work force. My teammate, now my co-founder Nick, just looked at each other as we are both 15lbs heavier than our pre-work selves and stressed out too.
One day after work, I showed him my prevention project and he put the two and two together as a way to create a business to help high-performance employees stay healthy and also as a guardian for their health as they got older.
In May 2014 we started this journey with Optimity. The product went from a free time to passion to a smart, lean, and useful tool. Our company was born. We’re a health and life guardian for all. We help companies better care for their employees. We help you be the best you, and we have your back.
Brett: What are your main influences for your work?
Jane: Candy Crush, messenger platforms, Google Calendar, Facebook. I look at what I’m addicted to. What others are addicted to. If you can get people to build habits early they will give you the baseline data. This helps us help them.
Steven Covey, 7 habits of highly effective people. I’ve been obsessed with high-performance myself. I always want to be the best and the first.
Elon Musk, he pushes the boundaries and is audacious. Steve Jobs for a similar reason. Like him, I want to leave something behind that changes the world.
My mom, losing her sucked. She always told me how special I was. She kind of quasi-tricked me into being so confident. When I immigrated from China to Canada when I was 10, I spoke zero English. In fact I didn’t know my ABCs. But I learned and became fluent in 3 months, because she told me I could. She told me that I’m so special and that I should have no problem. And being as naïve as I am now, I believed her. When I was older, she explained why she did that. She mentioned that she didn’t do so many things because a lack of confidence in herself. So she always put me first, told me I was the best, and this innate belief drove me to believe in myself. When other people doubted me, I always proved them wrong.
Brett: After it’s all done, no matter what the outcome, what do you want to dedicate yourself to?
Jane: I want to give more time to the lives of millions. I want to help them do more things and be their best self. I want to have meaningfully contributed to and added value to the largest masses. I want to write — books are the start to share more ideas. Sharing knowledge and help others execute their visions.
This is where technology will enable us. Habit-changing for good. I’m addicted to change.
With Optimity, I think we are already doing that for thousands of people like myself, who are consistently seeking self-improvement. Consultants, lawyers, tech startups people are all this type of personality I think. So we help their employers fuel this culture of kaizen.
And by the way, if you want to join us on this super-journey we will be opening the Optimity app up to the public this summer, so you can get on a waitlist for our public version here (http://myoptimity.com/b2cbeta).
Brett: Incredible, you’re on a good track. What’s one piece of advice you have for our readers out there?
Jane: Social norms are for suckers, you have the power to convince yourself that you can do incredible things. If you believe you are meant to do something special and push yourself to achieve it, you can do anything. My Mother enabled me to do anything I set my mind to. So believe in yourself, and raise the bar consistently.
Big thanks to Jane for sharing, stories like this are a huge reason that I started this publication.
Editor’s note… i’m in day three of trying to be a bit more on top of my fitness tracker and Optimity will be releasing their consumer side software this Summer. Be sure to follow along and try it out with me, sign up for beta here!