Finding Wisdom in Startup Stories
When you meet Beckland and Schiller you know they are great friends. It’s refreshing, and they are refreshingly honest. They have enthusiasm and a tendency to finish each other’s sentences. If you believe as I do, that management teams and founders tell you a lot about the success of a company, then you will find these two pretty impressive. In 2010, Beckland started an “incentivized weight loss program.” Beckland has had businesses in real estate, finance and food service; Validic is his first tech company. A self-described economics geek by nature, Beckland had read research that showed people were successfully motivated to have significant weight loss based on financial incentive programs. Beckland said to himself “Okay, if we can figure out a way systematically to provide incentives to motivate weight loss, there could be a lot value there.”
Beckland took that thought and organized a community weight loss challenge, complete with cash prizes, in Lawrence, KS. He brought in the hospital system, the health clubs and the nutritionists. All of this was with pen and paper, however, and he knew he needed more. That’s when Beckland called Schiller, his friend from college (University of Iowa). They had known each other since 2001. Schiller graduated with a degree in graphic design and computer science. He chuckled when he said, “This was all before UI, UX was a ‘thing,’ and I guess I got pretty lucky with my background.” He owned a web development and consulting firm right out of college. He admits it was tough going until he figured out his target clients and what they wanted, but then, he was able to make a pretty good living from his efforts. “But I was always looking for something to scale,” he said. Schiller’s wife has celiac disease, and he built and sold a niche dietary site for gluten-free products. When Beckland called him to lead the tech efforts for the wellness business, Schiller thought the idea crossed both worlds. Schiller’s wife, a clinical health psychologist, also helped her husband and Beckland think through a lot of the behavior change elements, and why incentives worked the way they did. The two friends figured working together and bringing tech into the picture was a win-win.
The precursor to Validic was a company called Motivation Science and the program was Healthspire. Schiller built the Healthspire software, and the community weight loss efforts that Beckland had started with became the product they took to employers. Their customers were smaller-sized companies (about 4,000-5,000 employees), and a few larger ones (about 10,000 employees). They soon had 40 programs in place, but the pair realized that in order to attract large employers as customers, they needed something more. The large employers were building wellness strategies and the Healthspire incentive weight loss program was just one small piece. As Beckland described, “We needed a much more robust set of programming options.”
“At first, we built a bunch of tracking tools or what a lot of people do in wellness,” said Beckland. “Drew just kept saying he wasn’t going to able to build a better fitness tracking tool than FitBit, for example, that we just shouldn’t try and compete with all of these consumer products. So, we thought things through and said to ourselves, ‘why don’t we help them integrate into the corporate wellness environment?’”
Originally a health engagement concept, Healthspire was designed to help an employee match to a partner from an API integration platform and then incentivize their engagement over time by monitoring data. Beckland and Schiller took the Healthspire product out to customers in the hopes of attracting some large customer bases.