Written by Christopher Kelly
Dec. 27, 2018
Christopher: Well, Kevin, thank you so much for having us here today in Portland. We're very excited to be with you.
Kevin: Yeah. Thanks for making it happen. You got up at 3:00 a.m. this morning, you said. That's insanity.
Tommy: I tried to get up a little bit later and take the train. Then I sat for an hour and a half as the train was delayed to come into Portland.
Christopher: "Record more in-person interviews," they said. "It would be fun," they said. No, it is. It's good for me to get out of the shed and off of Skype and record some more interviews in person.
Kevin: Get to meet Toaster, which is great.
Christopher: We got to meet Toaster.
Tommy: Toaster is awesome.
Christopher: He is great. He's a good boy.
Well, Kevin, I've been following your work for quite some time now. Well, maybe I'll describe how you would describe yourself. I think you're a husband, a father, a creator of things, a lover of watches, dogs. You've kind of migrated into this health and fitness space, which is why I wanted to get you on the podcast today, which I think is very exciting.
Can you tell us a little bit about what created you as a creator of things? Do you think there's something special about your time growing up? I know you spent some time in Vegas and San Francisco and all these cool cities in the US. Do you think that was important for shaping you into what you are today?
Kevin: Certainly, Las Vegas taught me where I don't want to be. I knew to get out of there pretty quickly. I would say, honestly, I would have to go back to just my upbringing with my father, just watching him be an entrepreneur. Then also my mom being an entrepreneur and just going out. She had a gift basket business. My father originally sold insurance, and then he became a kind of an accountant from home. I didn't even know as a kid. You see your dad working from home one day and you're like, "Wait, you can work from home? That sounds awesome." Just seeing him go after and build these little businesses. He had a business where he would actually make garage installations, so a cabinetry for garages. Seeing that he could go out and hire people and start something like that on his own was what got me pretty excited about just wanting to go and build my own businesses.
Getting out to the Bay Area and obviously being in tech and getting excited about computers and technology where everything was going during the first Web 1.0, the whole boom that was happening back in 2000. Reading about that is what got me excited to leave Las Vegas and come out to the Bay Area and just pretty much get any job I could just so I could be in the mix of it all.
Christopher: How did you get into computer science before that? Obviously, your parents weren't.
Kevin: Yeah. Well, I mean, this is way back in the dial-up modem days and like, you know.
Christopher: Yeah, I remember that.
Kevin: I was definitely in Dawson, I was coding. It was QBasic at the time. Then later on I went to a technical high school and studied programming there and then ended up going and studying in college as well. It was just one of those things where I thought it was fascinating that you could just write software and make the computer do anything you wanted to do.
It was modifying a lot of other people's projects and just having fun with that. Really just tweaking and modifying little games and getting around Shareware registration notices. I would kind of like make it so that they would bypass them and little things like that were a lot of fun. That got me excited about coming out to the Bay.
Christopher: What did you do? Did you go working for someone? Did you go straight into entrepreneurship?
Kevin: No. I ended up working for someone. I was working at a CMGI-funded company. They were a big venture capital firm back in the first Web 1.0 world. We were selling office furniture online, which was a really difficult thing to do, considering how heavy it is to ship all this furniture. That one did not last, but it was definitely what got me involved in working more on the marketing side of things and understanding how to properly market and buy ads. I took all the DoubleClick DART certifications and all the things to kind of like get in the mixture of that piece of it.
Now I had a little bit of marketing experience and had a little bit of programming experience. It was kind of combining those things. Then eventually, going and joining TechTV. Then I was working behind the scenes on TechTV. Then eventually, as a television host there on a show called The Screen Savers. Then in 2004, during the first beginnings of Web 2.0 is when I decided to go off in and start this idea that I had which was to kind of democratize news and to see what the wisdom of crowds would generate. That's when I created Digg and that was back in the early part of 2004.
Christopher: That's when I first became aware of your work. How did you have the idea for Digg? I understand that it's not dig as in, "I dig this." It's dig as in, "I dug this up."
Kevin: That's right. Yeah. The idea was that I had seen a lot of -- at the time, social bookmarking was starting to take off, this idea of sharing your bookmarks between users. Bookmarks were typically things that you wanted to return to. It wasn't timely information, so like new stories were not being really bookmarked. It was more great recipes or things like that. My idea was, okay, well, if you create this site that kind of you need to dig and find and look through a bunch of the kind of stuff that isn't yet on the front page and find your favorite things and vote on them, that when that hits a critical mass of users it would then be promoted automatically to the front page for everyone to see.
The idea was that the web had just a ton of great content. Some of it was on mainstream media. Some of it was on obscure blogs. It was all over the place. This was before Twitter and Facebook was just colleges back then. There was no kind of way to go and get access to that kind of real-time cool content that was out there. Yeah. I launched that and that immediately just took off and started growing like crazy.
Tommy: Can I ask just what you think of news now 15 years on? We often discuss how, is the news even worth following anymore? What can you believe? What has been generated by some bot somewhere? There's an increasing worry that you can create sort of animatronic humans reading whatever you want. The guys at University of Washington which basically recreated a Barack Obama speech using those old previous speeches and it said whatever you want really. What do you think about news now? What's going to happen to news? Should we still be reading the news?
Kevin: It's certainly something where I have done a lot more -- I removed myself from a lot of the day-to-day. I find that news can be a trigger for all different types of emotions, mostly negative. I don't want to be completely disconnected. I have little sources and things that I will limit my time to. I'll go to Techmeme for my tech news. I'll go to a couple other bigger mainstream news sites a couple times a week.
But my wife is like fully all-in on politics and all that is there. So I will hear about it at the dinner table regardless. I try to really just get outside and just kind of -- I feel like there's too much coming at us right now, and for me, I'd rather find a little bit more balance in life. I am also very concerned and scared about the future because I know that we're in the very first inning of things like you mentioned where you can take samples of someone's voice and have them say anything you want.
This is going to be really hard to distinguish between that. Someone will take my clip right now five years from now and you'll really get me to say whatever you want. Like that world is something where the average person will not be able to tell nor will they do the additional research required to even see if it is. If there is a way to detect it, it's going to require you to go and seek that out. I mean it's like that saying where they said that they presented people with fake news. I'm going to mess up the exact numbers, but it was something where even if you present someone with fake news and you later tell them it was like incorrect and it was redacted then republished a follow-up, like people will still believe the first thing they read, which is really frightening.
Anyway, yeah, the news game is one that I played for many years. I had a great time at Digg. We built some really cool kind of first generation of a lot of these tools. I'm proud a lot of the early work that we did in this space. But it's something where I kind of got burned out after doing that for eight years or so. It was too much.
Christopher: I wonder if your idea is going to become more important in the future. Perhaps the problem with fake news is that we took the human out the loop. In fact, I was working for Yahoo when they started removing people they called surfers. Surfers were people that just surf the internet and then they put websites into categories that was this handcrafted directory. That was Yahoo. That was their business. Maybe some of the problems that have happened at Facebook have been caused by taking humans out of the loop. You've just got an algorithm deciding whether or not this is news. Maybe your idea at Digg where you've got the wisdom of crowds, people voting on whether this is important or not or whether this is real or not could become more important.
Kevin: Yeah. I mean, I wish it was an easy problem to solve. Having seen behind the scenes and the whole sausage factory behind what we did at Digg, it's like there are millions of people that want to promote an agenda. I think that when you talk about promoting an agenda, people will find and they would create these hidden forms and hidden chat rooms where they would all get together and say, "Let's go push this." That doesn't mean they're trying to push something politically. It can mean that they have an affiliate link for an Amazon thing and they're trying to get more exposure to.
There's a thousand reasons why someone would want to promote something. It's not just all tied to politics. People will go to great lengths to try and game anything that is free clicks. It was a mess. It was an absolute mess behind the scenes. We had humans combating it. We were writing certain tech to automatically detect bots. It was a constant war.
When I see these stories about Facebook and these other companies like Twitter and that they have to build these war rooms and hire these engineers to go and police this stuff, I have a little bit more empathy for those guys than I think the average consumer does because I just know how evil, how many people that are out there that really want to wreak havoc on what you've built and it's not a small number of people.
Christopher: Tell me about how you got into investing. You were an early investor in Facebook and Twitter. Once you've told me how you got into investing. Tell me, would you invest in any of those companies again today?
Kevin: Well, I think that to start with your first question about how I got into it, it was just honestly, it was the fact that I was very lucky in that Digg had a lot of early success in the Web 2.0 world. We were the front and center, kind of poster child for success for a few years. That put me in contact with all these other founders. I got to meet all these other founders and we would hang out. It was a thing where when you become friendly with someone and they're like, "Hey, would you like to put some money in here or there?" Whatever it may be and certain opportunities would come up. For me, I was just like I didn't have any money to really invest, but I figured I would put in some because why not. Those businesses did quite well. That was very fortunate.
Christopher: Quite well.
Kevin: Yeah. It's crazy to watch all that because I don't think any of us really knew. When we were excited, it was like because you had a few million people coming to your site every month. The numbers that are on the web and on mobile today are in an order of magnitude larger than were back then. It was very fortunate that I was in the right place at the right time for a lot of that.
But would I invest in them again today? It's harder in that there's so many good things that come out of social media. Any of these tools, they're just tools, and they can be used for good or for evil. I feel that we're going through a really ugly period and a difficult stage. I think it's going to be that way for a while because you can't build -- we don't know what we want to be when we grow up. It's kind of like that, the adolescent stage of a lot of these tools out there. I think it's going to get worse before it gets better. Because I think that there's going to be at some point in the next five years, the anonymous decentralized internet via blockchain technology is going to be a real thing. Today, we can kind of combat hate speech and all these forms and they can be removed like you hear about ISPs pulling the plug on some of them over the last few months.
Christopher: Or a merchant account.
Kevin: Yeah. Merchant account or Facebook kicking them off their platform or Twitter cracking down on certain accounts. There will be something that emerges in the next five years that is going to be censor proof. It will become large in popularity and not even the creators of it will be able to take it down. They'll all be hosted on a distributed blockchain ledger. Yeah, I think that's going to bring out some really nasty stuff.
Christopher: I mean, that technology is already here. That's exactly what Tor does.
Kevin: Yeah. I mean, Tor does it in a very slow way and there still has to be servers behind the scenes on Tor. If they find out where the servers are located, they can take them offline. There are some new kind of things that are like IPFS and some of these distributed file systems that there are no ways to take them offline. It's all encrypted and kind of stored bits all around. You don't know who's holding what, but it's being kind of pulled together to form certain sites. Blockstack is one that's creating these anonymous applications. There's a couple other big projects out there, and they have very good intentions behind them. But I worry you get that type of technology in the wrong hands, and it can be pretty brutal.
Christopher: Where I was getting at with that question "Would you invest in those companies again?" is that it seems like you've moved into this space where you're making apps, software that help people feel better and live longer and better lives. I'm not sure I could say that about Twitter or Facebook now.
Tommy: Definitely not about Twitter. It's the worst place you could possibly go anytime nowadays, it sort of feels like.
Christopher: But we've even got some evidence that Facebook makes people miserable as well.
Kevin: Yeah. I mean, it's tough for me. If you take a look at my tweet activity, I probably tweet once every three weeks or something like that. It's like my own personal usage of these platforms has slowed way down. I think it's getting back to understanding that this always on, always connected brain leads us to be in constant need of stimulation. It creates this fragmented brain that cannot ever feel really fully settled. I worry that we're training a whole generation of people, myself included. Everyone is susceptible to this. My mom is a Facebook addict. She's in her late 70s.
I feel that we have to be very careful that our pleasure and happiness isn't from these devices and that we can actually be comfortable and be at peace just by being bored and sitting alone. I've just witnessed firsthand and had conversations with people about these devices that they've seen the data and it doesn't look good in terms of your just general happiness. It's a very poor substitute for strong connections. It's like this fake -- you're creating all these really weak ties with people, but you're not going deep. You may have more friends and you may get more likes and you may have more interactions, but those are just surface level. It's no substitute for face-to-face communication and deeper conversations. I think that a lot of people are getting their fill on these lightweight junk food style social interactions. Without the depth there, you're going to see a lot more anxiety and depression and ADHD and a whole slew of problems.
Christopher: Is this the type of problem that you saw that inspired you to create Oak, the meditation app?
Kevin: The reason I wanted to create Oak initially was just because I felt that meditation is such a -- well, it depends on what style of meditation you're talking about. But in general, there are a handful of different apps that service different types of people. If you need a prescriptive meditation app where you want to come and you say, "Listen, I'm having problem sleeping, I'm having problems with anxiety, I have problem with the fear of flying. I need a quick SOS pack like Headspace, Calm." There's a bunch of great solutions out there. If you're just looking for general mindfulness instruction or a loving kindness-based meditation, just stuff that has been practiced for thousands of years, we have the blueprint for that and it's pretty easy to deliver that type of content. What we do with Oak is we said, okay, we're going to create a meditation app that's completely free. I mean, no ads, no nothing. Just give away that very basic content and allow there to be a free alternative to a lot of the paid apps that are out there.
Christopher: What the heck? Where's the business model?
Kevin: That's a good question.
Christopher: How are you ever going to pay for all these developers and designers and meditation teachers?
Kevin: Yeah. I mean, we've kept the team really lean. At first, initially, I just used some of my money that would normally go out to other things like charities or whatever it may be and said, okay, this is the allotment of cash I'm going to spend on this per year, just out of my own pocket and go and build this. It's been great. We've had over half a million people download the product and it's pegged at five stars. We're pretty happy with what we've created.
I think that if we ever decided to charge for anything down the road, it would be along the lines of getting into -- I just don't want to duplicate what else is out there. There's a couple of things that I see that people haven't done well in the meditation space. I would say no one has really taught a really amazing class on mantra-based meditation. You can go and take a transcendental meditation course for $1,500 or whatever. It's pretty expensive. No one has done that so that's something I've considered dabbling into.
Then also, no one has really provided high quality -- Well, I take that back, 10% Happier has done a pretty good job at providing high quality support. But I think that there's a lot of questions that come up in building a practice, like a daily practice, like a lasting lifelong practice. If anything, I would imagine that we might have some component that is a way to interact directly with instructors or actually get that support if you needed it. That's something where we'd have to hire and have full-time instructors on staff and things like that. I don't know. Honestly, it's an experiment right now and we're dabbling and playing and trying a slew of different things. It's a fun space to play in Oak. I get to meditate every day and use the product. I love it.
Tommy: Can you talk a bit about using technology to solve problems that technology created in the first place?
Tommy: I had a little bit of a tete-a-tete with Deepak Chopra a couple of years ago where he had this big app and it was going to do everything that you needed your phone to do. One of the functions was that at some point, the phone was going to tell you, "You need to turn me off right now so you can have a conversation with your spouse." I thought by the time you need your phone to tell you to have a conversation with your spouse, I mean, you've lost the game already. How do we kind of balance those things?
Kevin: It's tough because so much of convenience is now coming in the form of a phone. I've thought about getting rid of my phone completely and going to something like The Light Phone. I'm not sure if you've seen that, but all it is is a dial pad. It's like really thin and beautiful.
Tommy: I wonder where the lock is.
Kevin: Yeah, exactly. But even like super thin and like cool looking. Palm has something somewhere out now. Yeah. I mean, we need to call Ubers. We need to pay for parking, which actually I do now on my phone, which is crazy when I go downtown. It's just like using the app. There's a lot of reasons to have these devices in our lives. But the answer is not a sexy one. It's like you have to get in front of your own life and say, "Enough is enough and I need to actually put my own limits on the usage of these types of apps."
That means all the same hacks you've heard of before, like hiding the applications for social media all the way to the back folders. It means things like the new Android devices are amazing. I have a Pixel 3 over that I've been using and I absolutely love because they do things like automatically turn your phone completely grayscale at a certain time of night so you know it's kind of time to wind down. You can set limits on apps now on both iOS and on Android to notify you and you've used an app for too long. I'll say no more than 20 minutes on Instagram, and you can set that directly on that account. Really, just trying to equal my total time spent on my mobile device outside of actual phone calls should be under an hour a day. That's kind of my own personal goal. Sometimes it's an hour and half, sometimes it's two hours. But if I can stick to under an hour day, then I find that mentally I'm in a pretty good place.
But I don't think the answer is just no technology. I mean, especially with all these new Apple Watches with the EKGs and all the health stuff that we're getting from Oura Rings and you name it, there's so many good sides and good aspects to a lot of this health-based technology that it would be ashamed to miss out on that stuff if you just said, "I'm a Luddite. Screw it. I'm going back to Nokia."
Christopher: What do you think about the idea of an Atlas interface? Rather than you pushing on app buttons on the front screen of a phone, you have more of an Alexa style interface where it's like, "Alexa, give me a guided meditation." What do you think about -- could that be the best of both worlds? You've gotten rid of the screen and people glued to screens and you're still retaining the best of the technology?
Kevin: It's a long way to finally get to that point of where we're interacting with technology in a completely screen-free environment. Alexa has a long way to go, Siri certainly has a long way to go if you think of just in terms of their accuracy.
Christopher: Wouldn't it be great though? So the moment you're forced into a particular channel like Uber or Lyft, I don't care whether it's Uber or Lyft. I just want a ride to the airport. Wouldn't that be cool where I didn't have to choose?
Kevin: No. It's really cool. It's just like it's sanding down a lot of the rough edges that exist out there. There's no way to get perfect accuracy on where you're standing yet. Is it going to know that I still like to say, actually, I'm at this restaurant versus you thought I was five doors down and across the street.
Christopher: Right. Yeah. I saw that earlier today.
Kevin: Those little tiny tweaks.
Christopher: Matters, right?
Kevin: Yeah, these little things that you don't think about when you try to go completely like hands free. You'll notice that when you try and use an Apple Watch for a lot of that stuff, how limiting it is actually? I've tried and hail like an Uber on an Apple Watch. It may have gotten better, but it was pretty brutal before. But yeah, I mean, there's little hacks you can do again there.
For example, my Apple Watch has LTE built into it so I can leave my phone back at home. If there's an emergency, my wrist will ring and I can pick it up if something horrible happens that I need to get someplace. But that does allow me to go out to dinners with my spouse and leave a phone behind. It does allow for certain private moments like that that I think are really important. But again, it's not going to do it for us. While we're waiting for that perfect interface with no screen, even then I think people are still going to -- we're kind of driven and connected to visual things. I can't imagine where the screen just goes away.
Christopher: Yeah. I'm sure you've seen what it's like when you give a kid a screen.
Kevin: Oh, absolutely. Try and pull that out of the kid's hands. It's not going to happen.
Christopher: It's so much like a little bit is worse than none at all because then they've seen it and they're just going to talk about it whole time. It's horrendous.
Christopher: Talk about your experience with fasting and what inspired you. What problem did you see that you thought you could solve with technology when it comes to fasting?
Kevin: Yeah. Honestly, Zero, which was the fasting app that I created here, gosh, it's been like over a year and a half ago, maybe two years now, coming up two years. The idea was just that I just wanted a way to track my fast over time. I'm a geek and I love data. Just this idea that I can see little graphs of my data over time and be able to export that into a CSV file and to know what I'm eating into the nighttime hours so it automatically gets here along with that. It tells you when sunset is coming down and it can tell you how many nighttime eating hours you have. It was seeing a lot of the data by Satchin Panda and his work at the Salk Institute, and Valter Longo's work. I was just like, "Wow, there should be a little companion app for this that's simple and free." That's why we created Zero. Yeah, that's what it is today.
Christopher: How about do your ideas come from the podcast? I thought this is really curious. I thought you're a technology invested guy, perhaps a media person. Then I started listening to your podcast more recently and it seems like it's not quite the Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast, but it's like in that area, isn't it? How much of what inspires you to build applications comes from the interviews that you do for the Kevin Rose Show?
Kevin: Yeah, that's a good question. I'm at the stage of my career where I want to just build things that aren't necessarily like when I first thought about building Oak and about Zero, I wasn't trying to create another business. It was just like how can I have something that I would personally want to use, like scratch my own itch, and see I want the best possible meditation timer out there. Like I'm going to go out there and find the best background sounds, the best chimes and gongs and all that stuff. Just going out and saying, "Well, even if no one else uses this, I'm going to love using this application."
Christopher: That's a great place to start.
Kevin: Yeah, and then see what happens. Zero was very surprising. When I first launched this a couple years ago, fasting is now a much bigger deal than it was then. I think we've had something like over 15 million fasts that have been completed on it. It's been crazy how fasting has just taken off. But yeah, the idea was not like let's go build the next Facebook and it's going to be fasting. I'm sure everybody has those ideas that you're in the back of an Uber or something and you're like, "Oh, wouldn't it be cool if there's an app that did this?" I just go and build those when I think about them. That's not like what I like to do.
Christopher: Have you ever heard about Paul Graham talking about the idea of a sitcom startup idea? I have those all the time. The general premise is that imagine you were writing a story for a sitcom and you had to have an idea for a startup that would be in the sitcom, those are sitcom startup ideas. When you ask people whether they would like to have that product, they say, "Oh, I know someone who would like that." What happens is everybody knows somebody that would like that, but nobody actually wants it. I wonder whether this is just a problem that affects layperson like me. But when you're a true ninja when it comes to technology and creating things that you can have these ideas in the back of taxis and they stand out to be really good ones.
Kevin: Yeah. I mean, I don't know if they're good ideas. I think that they serve a certain group of people and hopefully they'll find it useful. I think it's important. As a venture capitalist, this is something that we think about. We are pitched ideas all the time that are great lifestyle ideas. I would put a lot of stuff that I've created as like little hobbies in that kind of bucket. You don't know if they're going to graduate out of being a lifestyle business. That may make a decent amount of money and you may have a few handful of employees working on it. But those aren't like venture-backed businesses, like businesses that require capital and that have a potential outcome of several billion dollars. There's a difference between something that's going to go make $2, $5, $10 million dollars in revenue a year and something that's going to be in the hundreds. I think that's an important distinction between something that is a hobby and something that we would go and write a big check into as a venture capitalist.
Christopher: What about wearables? Do you think there are some opportunities like the ones you just described where it's scaling orders of magnitude with any of the wearables?
Christopher: I see, for example, you're wearing an Oura Ring. Do you think that has the potential?
Kevin: Yes. I invest in Oura personally. I think that they have the highest fidelity data when it comes to some of the stats they're able to pull out, like the HRV-related data. Their sleep data is really high quality. It's hard to get that sleep with an Apple Watch because you have to charge it at night. They have really close proximity to the arteries in your fingers. They're able to get pretty amazing data.
Again, this is kind of like something that is for a pretty hardcore health enthusiast. I think it's going to be a great business. But you kind of have to be really into the geeky data and into analyzing your sleep and improving your sleep. If you fall into that bucket, then you'll absolutely love it. I think it's a great device.
But in terms of wearables, I like some of the research that's going on in terms of trying to get at your blood glucose levels without actually having to inject something in your side. There's some pretty interesting stuff, some patches that kind of go into the very -- You would know that, the epidermis, the very first part of the--
Tommy: Of the skin.
Kevin: The skin, yeah. They're trying to get at blood glucose through that. It's still not perfect, but that stuff is really interesting to me. I think the Dexcom, the G5 is quite nice in that you don't have to calibrate it, which is pretty awesome.
Christopher: Right. That's a 6.
Kevin: A 6
Christopher: It's a 6, I think.
Kevin: Yeah, the 6.
Christopher: Quite nice calibration.
Christopher: Do you see like regulatory hurdles to that technology? We've struggled with that. At the moment, you need a prescription from your doctor to get a continuous glucose monitor. What I am understanding is last time I talked to Dexcom, unless you have a diagnosis of diabetes of one type or another, then you're not getting this device.
Kevin: You can, it just won't be covered by insurance.
Christopher: Oh, yeah. Okay. Maybe the agent told me wrong. They said, "We're just not selling you one unless you have that."
Kevin: Yeah. As long as you get a prescription from your doctor, they don't ask like why.
Tommy: Then you use a doctor like yours which most people don't have.
Kevin: Yeah. Well, the good news is that most doctors like we found that if they ask it the right way, they will write you the prescription for it, but--
Christopher: Talk about your then since we're here.
Kevin: Yeah. I mean, I use Peter Attia who's my primary doctor. He's like a very concierge kind of longevity, like awesome doc. He's got a great podcast called The Petter Attia Drive.
Christopher: Yeah. He's been a previous guest on this podcast.
Kevin: Oh, awesome.
Christopher: But tell me about how you found him and what you hope to achieve through working with him.
Kevin: At the time, he was friends with Tim Ferriss. Tim and I were talking about different doctors that are out there that really go above and beyond, kind of what your standard doc that you would find on Zocdoc or some other place. Just someone that is a lifelong learner and believes that in reading all the latest published science as it comes out, not five years after or ten years after it comes out. It's harder to find those doctors.
Attia is really an amazing person. Not only is he a really fun awesome person to hang out with, but also just takes this very seriously and has a whole team of researchers that work for him that go and pour through all the latest published findings. He's just someone that like, for example, I had my blood drawn this morning.
Tommy: I was going to say I saw the needle mark on your skin, so I was going to ask you about it.
Kevin: Yeah. They did it pretty early this morning. I don't think they aimed properly. But it was not Attia's person. It was somebody here locally. Attia does my blood work every three months or so, and then we go and just review all the different numbers. We're looking at things like hormone levels and inflammation markers and my cholesterol and a whole slew of different things.
We'll take one thing at a time. Like my homocysteine levels have always been an issue. He has someone there that we work with different types of methylated vitamins to bring them down or a whole slew of different things to kind of work on to try and get optimal.
Christopher: Have there been any life-changing interventions that happens soon rather than? It seems like a lot of this stuff that I hear Peter talk about is all delayed gratification. Like you do all this stuff and then maybe you'll get to live to be 90, maybe you won't.
Tommy: Oh, it's the same with a lot of stuff that we do. I mean, let's be honest.
Tommy: I mean, it's very similar.
Christopher: Yeah. But certainly for me, I had some huge transformations five years ago. Has there been anything like that for you or is it more just looking to the future? As a father of two children, you're thinking, "Well, I need to be around and functional for the foreseeable," right?
Kevin: Yeah. I mean, I think that's a big reason why I decided to go down this path is I really wanted to be around for my kids. But also, I think that the main stuff for me has been around some of the experimenting I've done with the cold and the heat, like the sauna usage. Daily sauna usage at 170 degrees for 20 minutes which is where kind of the sciences peg things at for a lot of the kind of cognitive enhancement and lower blood pressure and things like that. That's been great.
I've done a lot of the Wim Hof cold training which I'm currently in the middle of right now. I would say in terms of just like elevating your mood and energy and just overall well-being, doing an annual kind of ice-cold training for ten weeks is just a great thing to do and something that I've found to be real tangible where you can say like, "I definitely feel a difference." Like this is not placebo. I feel amazing right now.
Christopher: Yeah. I mean, you've got this fantastic new home here. Did you have the opportunity to design the sauna in from scratch? Like most people have to kind of budge something afterwards. We've even seen some clients buying these things from Amazon where it's just like a sleeping bag with like a heating element in it. Maybe it gets the job done, but wouldn't it be lovely to start from scratch and design something into your living environment?
Kevin: Yeah. That was one of the things that I feel very lucky. It's the difference between living in the Bay Area and in Portland is just like you have so much more space out here in Portland. Yeah, I was able to build a sauna. It's a small one, but we can fill like four or five people in there.
Christopher: That's great. It's a traditional sauna bath, no infrared.
Kevin: Yeah, the traditional. Yeah. I like those. They get really hot and you can pour water over the coals. I just like that old traditional. When I was living in New York, I used to go to the old Russian and Turkish bath houses out there. Those are quite a thing to experience, like dirty and just like hardcore and people beating each other with the leaves, the oak leaves. I don't know if you've ever been at a traditional kind of like Russian or Turkish bath house, but they are awesome.
Christopher: I don't think I have. Now that you said that, like I feel like I've been to a lot of saunas. Tommy is from Iceland so there's plenty of sauna and cold immersion in Iceland. But no, I don't think I've ever seen that.
Kevin: No. It's really cool. It's definitely worth checking out.
Tommy: Can you get anybody at home to beat you with oak leaves you get all the same benefits? Are you missing any of the benefits?
Kevin: No. I haven't asked my wife to do that yet. You know what? Tim would definitely do it. When he's out here, I'll let Tim take care of it.
Tommy: What about the cold plunge? Have you got one of those too?
Kevin: I only use that stuff during the winter months. I just don't turn on the heating for the pool. The pool right now is in like the 50s. It's like nice and cold.
Christopher: Yeah. That's great. Okay. I know you've got a hard stop right now and I wish we could go on longer. Maybe we could get you back on another time when we get a little bit more organized. How does that sound?
Kevin: Yeah, sounds great. Thanks for having me on guys. Any other questions you had for me? I mean, we got a couple minutes.
Tommy: I was going to ask about -- obviously, you're doing a lot of high-level intervention stuff, loads of data, and all of it is driven by, obviously, some of the best minds in the field, but in a relatively short time period. What do you think you will still be doing in 10, 15, 20 years time?
Then also, how does that apply to the population at large? Because we talked about the health enthusiasts. We're here with our Oura Rings and where we can vacillate about how much time spending in the sauna, but how do we improve health on a population scale? Let's get those two questions.
Kevin: Oh, man. The population scale, one, I would ask you guys that. That's a tough one. In terms of things that I do personally, like I mentioned that I know that for certain that the sauna and the cold is not just a fluke thing. I will continue to do those. I really have been enjoying the increases in kind of VO2 max via High Intensity Interval Training. I think that's been nice. I love the Peloton for that. I use that.
Tommy: Oh, you're going to have to tell us about the Peloton.
Christopher: Yeah. Tell us about Peloton. Yeah.
Tommy: Because I used to do spinning classes back in the day and Peloton seems to be like the new CrossFit, except now you don't have to go and interact with other people.
Kevin: That's right, so it's not as embarrassing. Yeah. Because the spin class, I took one in New York. It's SoulCycle. I was like the only guy there. They're doing the dance moves and stuff. I'm like, "Yeah. I cannot do this." Yeah. The Peloton is like a spin class in your home. There are different types of workouts. It's not all dancing. It just can be hill climbing or whatever it maybe. It's like got all the social components built in. You can race your friends, things like that if they happen to have it. It's just a lot of fun. They're really good music, really great instructors, and it's a great way to get a workout in. I do Peloton three days a week. I think that's been great. I'm doing some weightlifting as well, but nothing too hardcore.
I would say on the supplement side, one of the biggest things I've enjoyed doing is really getting all my 23andMe data and taking out of 23andMe and taking all these third-party tools and taking a look at all the genetic polymorphisms that I have and seeing what I can address based on my genes. I'm a MTHFR, so I know that I have some issues with methylated B-vitamins and that accounts for my high homocysteine.
Tommy: You still wouldn't have intervened based just on genetics, right? You still want phenotype as well as genotype data before you actually intervene with something?
Kevin: That's right. Exactly, exactly. I would say I have like five different markers that say, "Guess what? You probably have low vitamin D." When got checked, it was like 15. I was like, "Oh, crap. Okay."
Christopher: You shouldn't have move to Portland. You got to go get back to San Francisco.
Kevin: Yeah, I know. Well, thankfully, I'm getting some D via the supplements. Things like that. It was just like a lot of little tweaks that I do. Stuff will change as the science evolve, but I have a pretty good little daily regimen of different supplements and I try not to go overboard on that stuff. I cycle a lot of stuff as well. It's fun to experiment. I'm always trying new crazy little compounds.
Tommy: Do you take any rapamycin yet or thinking about it?
Kevin: No. Peter, that's his world. I'll wait for him to be the guinea pig.
Christopher: Peter didn't send you an Amazon affiliate link for rapamycin?
Kevin: Yeah, exactly. I'm sure it's coming soon. But I look at people like Ben Greenfield. I'm like, "Dude, that guy is crazy." It's like you kind of have to watch and make sure none of your friends kill themselves. When they haven't died, you're like, "Okay, I might dabble on this."
You know what's been great for me though. I got to tell you a couple things that I would recommend to people on the cognitive side. Lion's mane mushroom, I found that that has been amazing for me and just kind of like getting a little bit more mental clarity and helping with some of my short-term memory issues as I get older. Then also Bacopa is another one that I found is a great memory enhancer. Actually, it's an anti-anxiety as well. It makes you feel really -- If you've ever tried a Xanax or something, it's like taking a half one of those. It just totally melts you and makes you feel amazing. But it's also good for the memory. I would say those two supplements are probably -- the things that you were talking about like what have you noticed? You take something and you really can say you don't know who's taking vitamin C. There are certain things that like --
Tommy: Well, unless you take 20 grams and shit your pants.
Kevin: Right, then you'll notice. Yeah. That's creatine for me, but I get it.
Christopher: Tommy, you're a neuroscientist. Are you convinced by any of the data on either of those two supplements?
Tommy: I think there's some on Hericium or lion's mane and BDNF, and some also on Bacopa and acute cognitive effects. They're both actually in Bredesen's--
Kevin: They are, yeah.
Tommy: Protocol for Alzheimer's disease.
Kevin: The ReCODE protocol.
Tommy: Yeah, and His MEND protocol. Yeah, I think there's enough to warrant somebody trying out and see if you get benefit.
Kevin: Yeah. The other one too, microdosing lithium I think is interesting.
Tommy: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Kevin: That I haven't noticed any kind of benefit from, but I think that there's some interesting data on that.
Tommy: It will switch off your homicidal tendencies.
Kevin: No. I think I didn't have any of those to begin with. But yeah, I mean, that's probably one of 20 things that I've tried. But I tend to only stick with the stuff that I can actually get tangible results from either via blood work or I'm feeling something.
Christopher: Can we shift into a rapid-fire ram where I'd just like throw shit at you and see what sticks the wall?
Kevin: Let's go.
Christopher: Okay, yeah. You talked earlier about blockchain. What do you think about the idea of storing electronic health records on the blockchain? Do you know think that's coming? Is someone going to do that?
Kevin: There needs to be a way both in terms of an audit system and a trusted encrypted system to store health records. I certainly believe a solution like that would be better than a centralized place that can be hacked.
Christopher: Right. Well, trust it. Do you trust Facebook to store your health data?
Kevin: Right, exactly. I would not is the answer that. But yeah, it's very early days. Blockchain is one of those technologies where I feel that it's starting to become less scary. Over time, in order for people to adopt or to accept something, there needs to be a history of safety. I think that five, ten years from now, we'll be in a really strong place to point to and say like, "This has been a great way to store certain types of data." But yeah, I mean, there's going to be private solutions that will be blockchain based as well that may be suitable for this. But yeah, it will eventually get there.
Christopher: And you've not been sufficiently frustrated by any of the solutions that no doubt you've had to interact with so far, right? You just had blood drawn, you get the results back. You're not annoyed that there's not some sort of fancy dashboard that you might have when you're working at Google and you're monitoring a whole bunch of servers.
Kevin: Yeah. I mean, it's getting there. It depends on the service you're talking about. But I mean there's these smaller little paid concierge services that are out there. WellnessFX, I don't know if you've seen them on the blood front there.
Christopher: Of course.
Kevin: They're great at kind of tracking this stuff over time and giving you beautiful charts and graphs to look at so you can see historically what your blood values have been.
Christopher: Is that what you're using right now?
Kevin: No. No.
Kevin: I just go straight to Attia and then he's just like because his people generate beautiful reports.
Christopher: Oh, really?
Kevin: Oh, for sure. Yeah.
Tommy: Do they have software or they're making them by hand? Do you know?
Kevin: I think they're doing it all by hand. Yeah.
Christopher: Talk about behavioral science and how you're going to get people to use your meditation and fasting apps. I feel like that's one of the main thing that's missing from -- The moment I see this race between the Harris' and Headspace and Oak and to some degree, it seems like you were trying to build a better mousetrap. What I'm waiting for is somebody to integrate the latest and greatest in behavioral science, especially the habit formation. James Clear has a fantastic book, Atomic Habits. But who is going to do that with meditation? Rather than me having to use a great deal of willpower and discipline in order to become a meditator, the latest and greatest behavioral science is already integrated into the app and so it just happens without me really having to try anything.
Kevin: As you would imagine, there are a whole slew of different use cases for meditation. People come to meditation apps for different reasons. Oftentimes, it is very prescriptive. People are coming because they're going through a breakup or they're coming because they have a severe anxiety or they're dealing with depression or whatever it may be. That accounts for a lot of usage and drop-off. You come in and you say, "I need some help through this difficult time." When that subsides, you kind of go back to your old way of thinking and your old way of doing things and you don't need meditation again.
Then there are people, and I tend to be in this camp, where they believe that with enough kind of diligent practice over time, you can achieve different states of consciousness and view the world in a different light. Some people talk about the eventual path to enlightenment or whatever that means in the different stages to get there. There's a great book that details out this entire progress called "The Illuminated Mind" which I think is phenomenal. It talks about just kind of this idea of ramping up your time sitting from 20 minutes to 45 plus minutes a day and then all the different potential pitfalls and reasons why you don't meditate and how to develop certain motivations around meditation. But with the goal of eventually getting to this state of not seeing the difference, kind of eliminating the duality of nature and kind of getting to the state of, what do they call it, nirvana or enlightenment. That is a very different practice.
I think that it's impossible to create a one-size-fits-all in the meditation space. We have decided that our niche -- I think Sam Harris is an amazing speaker. It was my pleasure to meet him and hang out with him this last year at TED. We went on a walk together and I thought he was just an incredible human, very thoughtful. I think that Sam is going to have a great series of exercises and content and library of things that are very Sam. You're either going to love that or not.
Christopher: Yeah, I don't. I find like he's an automaton. I feel like I'm listening to Siri.
Kevin: Okay. Yes. What I'm saying is some people love Sam, some people don't like Sam.
Christopher: In Oak, you can choose the voice, which I really enjoy your female voice.
Kevin: Awesome. Some people love the British accent that's happening in Headspace with Andy.
Christopher: I know. I used to and then I got bored of listening to Andy Puddicombe preaching at me. I just need something new.
Kevin: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think that's the nature of these apps. People come up to me and they're like, "Kevin, talk about your meditation app. Why should I choose it over Headspace?" I always say the same thing. I'm like "I don't believe it's about the one app to win them all." If you come to me and say, "Kevin, I have a fear of flying." I'll say, "Go take the Headspace package on fear of flying. Go do that because that's the place for you."
Christopher: Yeah. Is that meditation though or is it talk therapy of some sort?
Kevin: Well, I mean, at the end of the day it's --
Tommy: It doesn't matter.
Kevin: Yeah, exactly.
Kevin: It's like as long as they're achieving. You'll pick up little bits. But yeah, I mean, I'm interested in going really deep. That's kind of my path forward is I want to graduate to hours of practice a day and I want to see what those stages of consciousness look like and explore that within myself. That's kind of like not everybody wants to do that. That's hardcore for a lot of people. But that's just not like, "Oh, would I find the time?" It's not about finding the time. It's about saying, "This is my schedule and it is part of my schedule every day."
Christopher: Right. It's about commitment.
Kevin: Because if it's about finding the time, then you're just a casual meditator. I'm not knocking that, a lot of people are like that. There's great benefit that can come from casual meditation, but it's not different stages of exploring your brain in that capacity. That's a lot deeper practice.
Christopher: Right, right. Yeah. I'm not sure about enlightenment, but I noticed recently that I'm better able to deal with the toothpaste situation in our house. My daughter is now five.
Kevin: Baby steps.
Christopher: Yeah. She gets the toothpaste and she just like sprays down the entire sink with the entire tube. The other day, I got out a new tube because I couldn't be bothered to deal with that. Then the puppy got hold of it and he has little puppy teeth and you can't really notice that he's punching it. When you squeeze the toothpaste, like the toothpaste come out all over because of the puppy teeth holes. Maybe five years ago, I would have totally lost my shit over that. Whereas now, I just kind of laugh.
Kevin: You give me small wins. I love it. That's awesome.
Christopher: It's not really enlightenment. What do you think about user churn? I'm sure that you have a panel. Do you use mixed panel or something like that where you're looking at user retention? What's the churn rate like? We have software and when I see people churn, I'm like, "What just happened? How can I get better unless I know why that person just left?"
I mean, in the app, you're kind of like you don't know. As you just said, there's all these different reasons that people come to a meditation app. You don't know what that reason is. You don't know why they left. Is it that they got what they wanted and then left and now they're fine, or did they not like something about it? What are your thoughts on that?
Kevin: Well, there's a couple different ways. You can go and say, okay, if someone leaves an experience early, they bail on a meditation early, you can attempt to engage them then and ask them for direct feedback. Like what happened? Was it that the voice was distracting or annoying? What is that bit of feedback that we can collect and then aggregate that looks like something meaningful that we can then make a change on the app side?
We hired a data scientist, a full-time data scientist that had come from Calm. He had done a bunch of work with some of the top meditation apps that were out there. Meditation apps in general are notorious for horrible retention, massive churn in the meditation space. Because people come in and everyone wants -- You bring up the fact that you work on a meditation app and people like, "Oh, my gosh, I want to meditate." Like everybody wants to do it. It's like, "Oh, that sounds so cool. It's like the hot thing. It's like the new yoga." But it's very, very much the gym model, like people come in with this great intention, they all sign up January 1st. I will show you our stat. January 1, it's like boom through the roof. It's like thousands and thousands of people.
Christopher: Crashed the servers.
Kevin: Exactly. Then end of the month, even a week later, everybody's gone. It's like back to your old habits. First thing Monday morning, our busiest days are like Monday mornings and afternoons because people are like, "Oh, man, I had a crazy weekend. I went out drinking, this or that. I got to get back to my meditation." It's like same thing with fasting. Our busiest day is on Monday because people are just like, "Oh man, I had a crazy week."
Christopher: Yeah, I had so much pizza.
Kevin: Exactly. It's tough. I certainly would like to figure out and learn more about certain ways to onboard and prompt people. One of the things that we did that worked quite well for us is our push notifications to your phone on Oak are not asking you to come meditate. They are little quotes, little Zen quotes that we send out every day. There's a different quote of the day. It's a gentle nudge just to remind you that we're on your phone and that we're here when you need us. We have a really low unsubscribe and almost everyone keeps our notifications turned on. It's been kind of this beautiful little lightweight way to reengage with people and bring them in.
But that's the whole thing with this app. It's like because we are not going out there and paying to acquire customers, we don't have to play this aggressive game. For us, it's like we'll pick up the stragglers, the people that can't afford it, that people that are looking for great free content that has been tested with thousands of people. Yeah, that's kind of where we're aiming to sit in the ecosystem of meditation.
Christopher: Is there anything else that you hope to achieve with the data scientist?
Kevin: There's a lot of things that we would like to look at in terms of the drop-off rate. You really kind of alluded to that. You see where people are giving up, where they're getting frustrated. What day is it they get frustrated? Is there a certain type of content that we can display on that day? There is even drop-off when people just go download and install the app and they get to the first or second screen and they bail out.
Just trying to figure out what success looks like and saying, what does a successful meditator do? What do they do? What do their habits look like? How can we encourage more of that activity from a new user? That might mean that we know that certain people of a certain age or a certain demographic may prefer a certain voice over another or a certain duration depending on time of day that we recommend. There's a lot of little things that you can get into and start A/B testing out different things. That's kind of what we're trying to dig into.
Christopher: You just gave me an idea. You could build a model that would predict whether someone is going to drop off or not, and then you could maybe use that information to change the way the app works. Like, "Oh, look, you're about to drop off. Let me suggest."
Kevin: Oh, 100%. Why not come back for a ten-minute one just to reengage somebody to get them? That's the tricky thing about meditation is like and the gym for that matter is -- well, at least with the gym, the next day you can feel your muscles are sore. That's kind of one nice piece of instant feedback. With meditation, it's going to take you a couple months of practice before you'll notice little things trickle in or you're getting a little bit more space.
Christopher: And not losing your shit over toothpaste.
Kevin: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, the toothpaste is your first sign. It's great. I love it.
Christopher: What about the wearables? Some of the things I think about a lot is there's no feedback loop. You've just basically described a problem right there is like, "I do this thing and it was kind of hard work and it was sort of boring. I didn't really get any immediate feedback." But perhaps you could. You're wearing an Oura Ring. Perhaps if you saw some change.
Kevin: Oh, we've got that coming. We're working with Oura right now.
Christopher: Okay. Shit. Okay.
Kevin: Yeah. That's one of the things that we're doing integration with. We're looking at that stuff. I've been talking to Oura.
Christopher: Okay. What else is coming that I've missed that I just like should have been?
Kevin: Oh, not that we're going to announce today, but we're just--
Christopher: Nice try.
Kevin: I mean, that's the thing about having a fun nimble team is we can try out a bunch of the crazy stuff and then see what happens.
Christopher: All right. It's not going to be a Peloton of meditation. We're going to have like group meditations.
Kevin: Yeah. That might be a little overkill. We'll see though. It could be fun.
Christopher: Okay. Well, this has been fantastic Kevin. Thank you so much. You've been very generous with your time and hosting us here in Portland.
Kevin: Well, thanks for flying up and getting up at 3:00 a.m. and taking the train down too.
Tommy: It was a pleasure. Thanks for having u s.
Christopher: The Kevin Rose Show is fantastic. I'd highly recommend people listen to that. Is there anywhere else that you would send people? We will of course link to Oak and Zero.
Kevin: Yeah. I'll just say kevinrose.com has all of my links. You'll get all my podcasts on there on the latest episodes. Yeah, it's been a fun show to do.
Christopher: You're quite active on Instagram. Is Instagram the antidote to Twitter and Facebook?
Kevin: It's just a casual thing for me. I get on there and post. I've been doing my Wim Hof challenge. There's been pictures of me in the shower freezing and things of that nature. If you're ever curious what little experiments and stuff I'm dabbling with, definitely Instagram is the place to go.
Christopher: Excellent. Well, thank you so much. You've been very kind. Thank you.
Kevin: All right. Thanks, guys.
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