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Interview with CEO of Limeade, Henry Albrecht

Henry Albrecht, CEO of Limeade online employee wellness firm, was nice enough to talk with me on his cell phone in the evening (after 5 p.m. West Coast, 2 a.m. Amsterdam time).

Both of us were banging pots and pans, cooking dinner (him), making coffee (me).There’s something comforting about speaking with a high-tech health care executive in such an old-fashioned, "conversational" way.

Thanks again Henry – pleasure to meet you and Limeade.

Limeade is a health information technology
application that aims to improve a firm’s bottom line by tapping into the "soul" of increased organizational wellness and monetize it
by improving employee output. Limeade believes healthier, happier workers make more productive
companies, and the company has built a business around that belief.

It’s HIT with heart.

The company officially launched in mid-April, and already the firm is beta testing at 10
employer sites, and has over 10,000 Limeys enrolled.

JMG: Henry, tell me about why you left Intuit to start a health care company.

HA: We don’t always think of ourselves as a health care company. We
have some health care people involved – Dr. Michael Parkinson on our
board for example, but we’re not docs. The company was started by
behavior change people, software people, web people (we are service,
not principals oriented).

JMG: How was the company funded?

HA: Startup funding was provided by CEO/founder and angel investors,
including some health industry people, VCs investing with personal
funds, and "general supporters."

JMG: How long did it take to get Limeade up and running?

HA: We’ve been working on this since 2006. I left my job at the end
of 2005, and spent several months doing research – quantitative,
qualitative, focus groups, and interviews. The company officially
started in February of 2006. So it took just over 2 years from the
pilot company to initial deployment in fall of 2007.

JMG: How are you getting the word out?

HA: We had our official press launch April 12th…we’re not spending a
lot of time and effort on mainstream press. If it happens, it happens.

Mostly we’re B2B, so we’re focused on companies that help businesses
be better. We’re focused on channels to get to those companies. So far
we’ve had tons of commercial press and sales response to our initial
roll-out is good – we have employees wanting to work here.

Also our web site has a good demo. We’ll provide increasing
functionality with that. Our primary outreach is direct to our
customers – employers but also indirect brokers, benefits chain players
including insurance firms, organizational effectiveness firms, health
plans, etc. We’re doing some speaking and conference attendance but not
much.

JMG: Why create another employer benefits wellness management program?

HA: We believe this: "Create healthy happy productive people and you
reap a bunch of dividends." We wanted to find a way for companies to
help employees take fewer sick days, but we didn’t start off asking how
to reduce insurance costs. We started off with a different question –
how to improve productivity.

So it’s not how can we reduce risks to save money on insurance
coverage, but how can we maximize the performance of people in the
company?

Health and wellness management is just a subset of this. Other
factors are work-life balance, job satisfaction, etc. Limeade believes
some are also well being factors including resilience, positive
relationships, self efficacy. We take a more holistic approach.

Health costs are important, but the ultimate goal is high-performance, globally competitive organizations. And we’ve built our system around that goal. We take an engaging
whole person, whole population approach that’s more social – not
limited to sick and high risk people, we’re a web service that meets
delivery challenges the market faces today.

JMG: What makes Limeade stand out?

HA: We take a different view — a "whole person, whole population"
approach. Human beings are not their lipid counts, not their BMIs –
they’re people – people with untapped potential. They feel belittled
and impersonalized when they’re participating in a program designed
solely to reduce insurance costs.

With Limeade we create positive water cooler chat. They’re interested and engaged in something that matters to them.

Really its Psych 101: You’ll work on something that’s important to
you. It’s about intrinsic motivation versus extrinsic motivation, or
being told what to do.

JMG: How does a software as a service model provide additional benefit to employers and employees?

HA: With SaaS, it’s a platform in addition to being a service. We
can make the whole wellness delivery model more engaging and effectively.
The web-based access and open platform makes it more engaging to
partners, employers and workers.

With this open approach to the market, we can plug in other services
to add to the plan. It supports other platforms – we’re already a
Health Vault partner. We want to be a partner with Google.

A big segment of the market here is totally underserved by wellness
management in the US – employees, midmarket, small businesses,
everybody below the Fortune 500 that doesn’t have millions to spend on
development.

Three things are really key to the market: programs must be engaging, effective, and open/easy to deploy.

JMG: What are employers looking for in next-generation wellness management offerings?

HA: What employers tell us is give me something that makes me look
good to my people, something that works, and that has some proof that
it works.

The types of companies we’re seeing are interested, and that we can
connect to include health coaching, phone coaching programs, and other
things some health plans already offer (disease management and pharma
compliance) smoking cessation, weight loss programs, etc.

Employers are really looking for behavior change resources and interventions…not for lists of docs and tons of content. This is just info, not using info to improve happiness at work. What we measure is a good predictor of health costs and productivity.

JMG: Tell me about your background.

HA: My personal background includes working at Intuit with
QuickBooks, TurboTax, etc. This is a very consumer–driven company. When this company got started there were a bunch of accounting
companies out there. The founder was a marketing guy. He called a bunch
of people and said what sucks about this system, and how can I make it
better?

I want to do for health and wellbeing what Quicken does for
financial management, which is give people more awareness and help them
improve a situation by making it super, super simple to understand
where they are. I felt like there was a big void in that market.

JMG: Where is Limeade Going? Are you growing according to targets? Looking to hire?

HA: Yes and yes. We have a smallish very productive group of people and will grow significantly in 2008.

As for company growth targets, right now we already have:

  • About 10 company pilot deployments, with around 10,000 users of the system.
  • Many of these users come from pilot deployments, but some are not affiliated with those companies.

JMG: Can you tell me who any of those 10 pilot organizations are?

HA: Nice try. We’re not making customer announcements at this time,
but will be making announcements in coming weeks and months. In other
words, we do have paying customers.

JMG: Where’s the industry going?

HA: I’m not the best prognosticator in the world. I think the winning approach has to start with the consumer at the
center of the equation (user, employee, whatever you want to call
them).

With regards to incentives, companies will start realizing that consumer-directed can include things like incentives, HSAs or
different structures of plans. All incentives are working towards goals that companies want to
achieve, including high performance, low costs, employees that are easy
to insure.

I think corporate involvement in health care is going to be critical to radical change. In general, I’m extremely disappointed with the current overall
level of prevention and health promotion spending and emphasis.

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Gabriel
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Great interview with Henry Albrecht, I think the health community needs more CEO with such a clear position about what it is really important for companies and for employees incentives and performance. Good words.