Glen Tullman, Livongo — Founder Q&A

Threshold Ventures
Threshold Ventures
Published in
9 min readMar 10, 2018


At Livongo, we’re helping to make an important difference in people’s lives every day. And that’s something I’m passionate about.

Glen Tullman had just accepted a consulting position in Boston when he had a George Bailey moment that changed his life forever.

Tullman, who had been studying social anthropology in Oxford, England, was home in New Jersey when his mother said he was overdue to visit his brother in Chicago, a successful businessman, and entrepreneur.

His mother wasn’t taking no for an answer and so Tullman, ever the dutiful son, made the trip. He also never took that job in Boston. And like the Jimmy Stewart character in the Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” his storyline wound up with a very happy ending.

Tullman stayed in Chicago where he went to work at Certified Collateral Corporation, a company his brother had founded a few years earlier. Eventually, Tullman grew the company to over $100 million in revenue. It marked the start of a multifaceted business career as an entrepreneur and investor in 20 companies, many of which use technology to solve challenges in healthcare and education — including digital health startup Livongo, where Tullman is Executive Chairman.

Livongo helps diabetes patients better manage their disease with a connected blood glucose monitor, unlimited free strips to check their blood sugar and a team of coaches who are available around the clock to provide support whenever someone’s readings fall outside of normal bounds. Livongo contacts people with diabetes within 90 seconds when a reading comes through that is dangerously high or low, acting as the OnStar for people.

“I’m not sure I would have been great at consulting or very happy with it,” said Tullman. “At Livongo, we’re helping to make an important difference in people’s lives every day. And that’s something I’m passionate about.”

Q: Where did you grow up?
I was born in Illinois but moved to New Jersey in the fourth grade when my father got a job promotion. That’s where I grew up.

Q: When you were younger, what did you think you’d be doing later in life?
I was fortunate that my mother was someone who never said no. She encouraged lots of exploration and experimentation. So when I was a kid, I started a number of small, fun businesses. When I was about 12 years old, I had a leather business where I made handmade belts, bags, and watch bands. My mother let me travel alone to New York City to try and sell them to stores. I think today a parent would probably get arrested if their kid went into the city by themselves to do that. But she let me do it. We didn’t know any different.

Q: And you also became a pretty good magician. How did that happen?
Well, my oldest brother used to do magic. One day, I found some of his old stuff around the house, so I decided to try it. I found there was nothing like entertaining and fascinating people. Pretty soon, I was traveling into New York to hang out in the magic shops and watch the famous magicians who would frequent the stores. I got to really love it.

Q: Good training for later life?
Great training for business — as well as for dealing with investors (laughing).

Q: You also came to know and work with David Copperfield. How did that partnership come about?
Yes. We actually put together a plan for a themed restaurant near Times Square in New York City called Late Night Magic. Unfortunately, it never ended up launching. But we still had a lot of fun with it. David remains a friend of mine to this day.

Q: You grew up well before the PC revolution. Did you have any great interest in technology back then?
Not particularly. Technology is simply a tool that allows you to do something better than before . . . to save time, create value, or change business processes. If our customers are talking about technology, then we have done something wrong.

Q: So where does technology fit into how you approach business?
I’m a social anthropologist by training and my interest was studying how people and cultures change. If you think about cultural change nowadays, the biggest change agents are things like Facebook and the iPhone. Above my desk there’s a quote that reads, “Technology, perfectly applied, is indistinguishable from magic.” Think about what magic does. It makes something happen that you can’t believe. When someone has diabetes and their glucose number goes dangerously high or low, and they can get a phone call within 60 or 90 seconds, they say something like, ‘What perfect timing! You called at just the right moment. It’s like magic!’ Of course, we knew what was happening because their meters were transmitting to a board that lights up and one of our certified diabetes educators was then able to call at that same moment.

Q: You have quite a different pedigree from the typical tech entrepreneur. You got your undergraduate degree in economics and psychology from Bucknell University, and then you went off to St. Antony’s College at the University of Oxford in England to study social anthropology. Do you think that having a liberal arts background has been a help or a hindrance as a tech CEO?
The idea behind liberal arts is about cultivating a broad interest in order to learn — in this case, about innovations in other areas that might be relevant to my own business and then applying the right lessons to solve problems. And so it has helped me in a variety of ways. First, liberal arts is associated with curiosity and I try to think every day about which new technology processes might come along to upend us. If you think about it, though, the reality is that technology is becoming a commodity. Anybody can use Amazon Web Services today and pay $39 a month to set up a website. The important thing is the bigger business idea.

Q: Can you give me an example of how that worked out in practice?
Think about Livongo. Before us, everybody was paying for strips to check their blood sugar and we thought, Well, what if we just made them free? People said you can’t do that. There’s an entire industry with billions of dollars based around selling these devices that use expensive strips. But we decided to make them free because we wanted people to use them. And we also asked ourselves what if we could be there whenever people needed us, rather than force them to wait for two weeks to see a doctor. So, we built a system where 24/7, 365 days a year, anywhere in the world, people will have somebody to talk to within 90 seconds to answer their questions. That changed the entire diabetes management system and it demonstrated how to use technology to make things easier for our members. You have to understand what technology can do but first comes the idea. The challenge then is whether you can act on that idea and build a culture of committed people who are going to be able to execute with precision.

Q: What do you most enjoy about being an entrepreneur?
If you get lucky in life, you get to do what you love and you’re surrounded by people who are also just as committed. I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy some success, primarily because I’ve been able to build great teams with great people. We have that here at Livongo.

Q: What have you learned about yourself along the way? Do you think the attributes of being a successful entrepreneur have changed dramatically from what they were when you first started out?
I think the best entrepreneurs were always curious and always had a customer focus and so, no, I don’t think that has necessarily changed. But there’s no doubt that the speed needed to process multiple inputs has changed. In the old days, you could be one-dimensional. For instance, if you worked in a car business, you only had to know how to manufacture. But we have seen the impact that a completely unrelated industry called Uber has had on car manufacturing. Or, if you publish newspapers, well, that industry has also changed dramatically. There’s almost no industry that hasn’t been touched by technology. Software is eating the world, as the saying goes.

Q: You have argued that healthcare doesn’t need innovation; it needs transformation. How receptive do you expect the industry will be to that sort of change? Where do you think the industry is ripest for a big change?
It’s almost across the board. The reality is that most of us aren’t particularly pleased with our healthcare experience. In any other industry today we wait for things to break and then we go fix them. So, you drive your car, something breaks and then you have to get your car towed to the repair shop. Increasingly, I think we will see predictive and preventive systems in every sector of what we do and that will include healthcare as well.

Q: Tell me something that your employees would be totally surprised to learn about you?
I think it’s going to be a mixed bag. Healthcare is an industry that does not absorb change well, but change is largely going to be driven from outside of the industry rather than from the inside. Take a look at CVS acquiring Aetna. Behind that transaction is the belief by CVS that you can do a lot more healthcare inside the pharmacy and that hospitals represent not just the largest cost in healthcare today but also some of the quality issues. And so, CVS is making a big bet that they can do lots of testing and patient care in the pharmacy and reduce customers’ need to go to the hospital.

Q: Do you have a favorite book?
There is a concept in Judaism called Tikkun Olam that is part of my sense of social responsibility. When I was young, my mother drummed into me the idea that I have been given a lot of gifts and had a responsibility to make the world better. And I take that very seriously. Probably the only thing I ever get upset about is when I see business people not acting responsibly, whether that’s to their own people or to the community or the environment. I just believe that anybody who is lucky enough to be in a position like I am has a responsibility to help make things better. It’s not just about profits. We should measure business people not by how much they make but by how much they give. That’s why Bill Gates will always be higher in my book that Steve Jobs. Look at the good he’s done across the world.

Q: One movie that you’d pick to watch over all the others?
I think they know a lot about me . . . I love ice cream, I don’t sleep a lot, and I’m incredibly proud of my three children who are amazing.

Q: Do you have a motto that you try to live by?
A favorite book? That is an impossible question to answer but here are a few: “Predictably Irrational” by Dan Ariely; “Lovemarks” by Kevin Roberts, “The Everything Store” by Brad Stone, about Jeff Bezos and Amazon; “No Room for Small Dreams” by Shimon Peres, former Prime Minister of Israel; and Joe Biden’s book, “Promise Me, Dad.”

Q: Is there one individual who you most admire?
The Sting or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or Sleeper. Yes, that is more than one. Entrepreneurs don’t follow rules very well.

“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious,” a quote by Albert Einstein. It really defines my interest in pretty much everything and everyone.

I’ve been blessed with great mentors throughout my life who have taken a special interest in teaching and helping me. I’ve also had some partners for years and while I don’t know why they’ve put up with me, they have, and they’ve been the people behind the curtain most responsible for my success. And then each of my children, who have all overcome various challenges with grace and perseverance that will serve them well in their lives. I try to learn from everyone.

Originally published on March 10, 2018, updated on July 13, 2020.



Threshold Ventures
Threshold Ventures