I've made a small investment in ShopWell, joined the board, and will be working with the team to help launch the company over the next several months. The company is a spin-off of IDEO, backed by New Venture Partners, and is developing a new service around food and nutrition.
The company is in quiet mode right now, but without describing too much, there were a few things that intrigued me...
First, the growing attention and anxiety around food and nutrition suggests a wave of interest in the topic that bodes well for a start up, and I look for these waves (see Greg McAdoo of Sequoia describe these waves at Startup School 2008, starts at slide 11 or 4:46). Whether it's books like Omnivore's Dilemma, movies like Food Inc and Supersize Me, or a high profile debate about sodas in schools, it's hard to turn anywhere without finding the topic. I was in Borders Books in Palo Alto yesterday, where they were expanding the food and nutrition shelves into a broader section. When it comes to start ups, I like the ones that are working to ride an existing wave to shore, rather than the ones that are stuck trying to generate their own momentum, and this fits the bill.
Second, the top-box consumer demand test I ran was exceptionally compelling, one of the strongest I've run in the last several years, top 10% to be specific. Across almost every demographic, income level, geography, there was a high interest in a simple service that would help optimize health and nutrition. Beyond general interest and awareness, one aspect that seemed to drive this demand was a a growing part of the population that has some food related health condition. Only a fraction of the population may be overweight, or have high cholesterol, or have a food allergy, or be lactose intolerant, etc, but when you combine these factors, over 90% of those surveyed had at least one "condition." Unsurprisingly, one of the significant demographic differences included a markedly higher interest from women, especially those with children, and a lower interest from younger, single, men.
Third, the founding team is from IDEO and highly focused on user-centric design, and I haven't had the opportunity to work with many startups where product design was the core competency, and I'm eager to work with the team to find product market fit. Seeing demand for your concept is one thing, delivering a product that meets and unlocks that demand is another. I like to use the teleporter as an example: if I surveyed demand for a device that instantly transported you to your destination and saved a half-day of cross-country schlepping, demand would be extraordinarily high, but building that product would be a bit of a challenge. Mint's delivering the demand that Quicken and discontinued MSFT Money haven't been able to via a better product. In any case, building a engaging product that unlocks demand is a critical challenge for any startup, and the chance to work with IDEO on the challenge was too interesting to pass up.
Last but not least, I've got a personal interest in health and nutrition that's been growing over the last few years. At 37, I've jumped from the Masters A category in rowing the the Masters B category, where aerobic capacity starts dropping as much as 1% per year. I'm also finding that dropping weight to get to the 155 lb lightweight mark in the spring is a bit tougher each year; where I used to be able to drop the weight strictly by increasing exercise, I now have to incorporate diet.
So that's it. We'll be building the teamover the next several months, focusing heavily on products, user experience, engineering, and operations. Other roles will include metrics-driven marketing (seo, sem, etc), Drop me a line if you'ld like to learn more.