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Welcome to the Outcomes Rocket podcast where we inspire collaborative thinking, improved outcomes, and business success with today’s most successful and inspiring healthcare leaders and influencers. And now your host, Saul Marquez.
Saul Marquez: And welcome back to the Outcomes Rocket podcast. Saul Marquez here and today I’ve got Victor Penev on the podcast. He’s a Serial Entrepreneur and the Founder and CEO of EDAMAM. He’s also a mentor and investor in food technology startups and advises early stage entrepreneurs. Previous to EDAMAM, Victor Co-Founded and sold Bulgaria’s largest Internet company Net info BG. Victor also ran the international digital business of Playboy Enterprises and was instrumental in starting the digital marketing efforts of BMG and in creating an e-commerce capability for a book club. The Bettors Man book clubs. He’s a very talented individual and I’m excited to dive into a conversation with him given that he’s a little bit more than just healthcare but just the enterprise of of of wellness health and and nutrition. So Victor thanks for joining us on a podcast today.
Victor Penev: A pleasure to be here.
Saul Marquez: So did I leave anything out in your intro that you want to share with the listeners?
Victor Penev: I think that about covers it. I mean I think what’s important now is the context that I’m being passionate for you know starting businesses an ambition about food health and technology. And EDAMAM kind of combines all those passions of mine so to speak and so I’m having a really fun right with this company.
Saul Marquez: That’s great man. Now you guys obviously cover a lot of different areas but what is it that got you focused in wellness in the first place?
Victor Penev: So I think it was the realization and I will focus on food and nutrition so and wellness is obviously very intimately tied to that but it was a realization sometime ago that people to live healthily long lives they need to eat right and that the majority of first world problems today obesity and diabetes even cancer, Alzheimer’s are linked one way or another to food and nutrition and that people are not making the right choices because they get marketed to because they get all kinds of fats that they follow simply because they have over abundance of food and not something good for them. And so I saw that as an information problem. If we get the right data the right information to people when they make informed choices when the area in the grocery store, when they’re at a restaurant, when they’re cooking at home, we can’t help them eat better and consequently live healthier and healthier lives, longer lives without chronic conditions, without problems. And that’s kind of what got me to health and wellness. I just wanted to help people. Leave those subject your lives and I thought it’s getting foods, the right food is the way to go.
Saul Marquez: Love that Victor and you know it’s such a shame that you’re right. I mean so much of what ails us today has to do with the way that we choose to behave and what we choose to do and not to do. What would you say is a hot topic that you would put on today’s health leader and business leaders agenda and how is it that you and your team at EDAMAM are tackling it.
Victor Penev: Yeah I mean I do attend quite a few healthcare conferences and wellness conferences and for better or worse. But as the reality of this situation most of the conversation center around healthcare is providing its medical service providing hospitals by providers, people that are sick and what not and too little time is devoted to prevention and health maintenance and well-being and not getting to the situation when you have to go to a hospital, not getting to having a chronic condition that needs to be treated. And so if I were to reshuffle the agenda for all the people running hospital systems and insurance companies and pharma companies and so on and so forth I would focus them on how do we get people not to get sick you know. So how can we motivate them. What services can we provide to them so that they take better care of themselves. You know whether to eating right, sleeping more, meditating you know doing physical exercise whatever it is. So that will be the the agenda we put on front and obviously person to food and I think that that should be an important part of the message for everybody out there in the health and wellness business that they should promote healthy eating and personalized noted because health changes from one individual to another but a personalized healthy eating. So people are in better shape and then they just don’t get sick. So that’s kind of the. No it’s generic but that’s going to be item that I think we pay for.
Saul Marquez: Now for sure. So so can you give us an example of how you and your company has created results by doing this focus?
Victor Penev: So we actually powered the nutrition for quite a few companies out there any anybody from New York Times and Food Network to companies like you know that focuses on diabetes and you know can deal with AARP and so on and so forth. Ultimately we are delivering on their mission, we are providing people with information in real time about the nutrient content, about diet and knowledge and content of foods and making you know incremental admittedly but big enough change over time for people to make the right food choices. We can point to a number of deals that we’ve done and some of them I can not disclose but suffice it to say that right now to our partners we reach hundreds of millions of consumers with our data and very soon I think within next year we’ll be reaching billions of people when somebody else we’ve done get implemented. And so that’s kind of the impact we tried to drive. We try to make as many deals and get to as many people and help them make those right food choices.
Saul Marquez: Well I think that’s really great because we’re you know oftentimes it’s hard. How about the planning right because you could have a lot of information and if it were as simple as having the information I think everybody with an Internet connection would live in a mansion and have six pack. So how about the planning side you know. I mean you guys doing anything to help people on that site?
Victor Penev: By planning a meal. You mean meat meal planning?
Saul Marquez: Yeah meal planning and like exactly what they would need because everybody’s different, right?
Victor Penev: Right right right. And that’s that’s an evolving theme for us. You know ultimately we started with just providing information and a lot of it is behavior science right. People eating right you can provide them with all the kale salad says recommendations but if they feel like potato chips they’ll go for the potato chips. But…
Saul Marquez: Yeah.
Victor Penev: What we’ve discovered over time is that with enough it’s always you know I hit it and brainwashing but they don’t have a better word for it now. But if people exposed enough times to healthy meals eventually they’ll choose that healthy meal. And it’s just been available in the auction set there. So that’s one. And then what we’re doing now with a lot of our partners around meal planning and personalized nutrition is we are trying to marry you know personal data from you know from our partners that either they manage populations with chronic conditions or they may focus on a community of paleo or they may be you know just health nuts that are running marathons whatever it is, we try to marry personal data with nutrition data so we can provide of real time personalized new recommendations and those who depend on various things know the basics of you know your age and gender and you know your activity level but also things like you know your genome, your microbiome, your blood chemistry things like that what you had for breakfast what you have for lunch what you kept in the fridge this type of thing. So and then planning is a is an interesting topic because we all think that we plan for our meals but the reality of what we’ve discovered is that people are very asked around their meals even if they had a good intention to you know make a pea soup tonight. You know they get tired they just say “oh I’m gonna pour the Chinese many in order” you know that type of thing. And so…
Saul Marquez: Yeah.
Victor Penev: Creating that optionality arouse wwhat foods you choose when you make those impulsive decisions is actually we think more impactful than sending somebody else’s 21 meals you going to eat this week because then the behavior is well they maybe eat five of those 21 meals and the rest is impulsive decisions. But we do think that we can marry kind of real time your recommendations with some kind of you know measurement you know either on a daily or weekly basis to provide meal planning. So we’re working with partners around that but we try to adjust our data to the actual human behavior rather than shoving solutions down people’s throats because they know they’re not going to take it’s ultimately about a shortcut to the food that people want to be tasty as well and a great.
Saul Marquez: I think that’s great now and I appreciate you addressing that Victor because it is an area where I feel like a lot of people struggle and it’s great to have a partner you know that you know whether it be in a device or an e-mail or however the information is pushed to the user just to have especially in those moments of high stress or impulse that you have some nice options that pop up.
Victor Penev: Absolutely absolutely. It’s kind of like the same thing. You know I liken it to smoking in the campaign to really get smoking you know there was a lot of bands and whatnot but ultimately there was a massive education campaign of why smoking is bad and whatnot. And it’s changed. It did take time didn’t happen over a year or two years. And I think with food is the same. We indulge too much especially in the Western society and there is too much processed food and too much sugar in it. It’s been the reason of nausea. But people don’t change their habits right away. But I think eat you. Yes. You should proactively show people healthy options that they’re tasting as well. Eventually they’ll change their behavior. And I think it’s already happening especially with the millennial generation. They are much more proactive, much more attuned to their body and the nutrition needs in the food they eat and what not. And so I very hope within the next 10 to 20 years we will live in a world where their kids are going to be you know brought up with a completely different mindset around food and they’re not going to be reaching for chips, Coca-Cola, and ice cream. They’ll be reaching for healthy snacks maybe it’s like you know string beans or whatever it is.
Saul Marquez: Yes.
Victor Penev: A lot of it is just how how you brought up and what what you are accustomed to.
Saul Marquez: And I think that’s great. And so you guys have been doing a really great job of partnering. You’re reaching millions of people going to be billions here soon. Tell us the time when you had a setback and what you learned from it.
Victor Penev: God we fail all the time. It’s a day without fail is a isn’t they not lift that joke aside I think the biggest thing we changed in the company is moving from B to C Married to a B to B model. And if it’s failure or wrong decision and what not we kind of you know started with okay we’ll serve everyone on the plan directly. And as we moved along can build a business to consumer product. And we did have pretty good initial traction there were a hundred thousand installs of our app and people using this sort of time and being very happy with our product. But the reality is we didn’t find a business model. And so we had to sell the company down or repurpose it suggesting that it was the technologist so we pivoted to a B2B model and you know it’s been an upward but since then. But you know we’ve got a company was to the brink with that B2C model and it was not understanding I think the market well enough that people are not willing to pay for data or do their monetization of nutrition data. It’s not as easy in the consumer market as it is in the business market. So that was that’s an example of how we almost took techno with health.
Saul Marquez: Yeah. Now that’s really great. And you made a shift and you know we talked about this topic a lot in many of our podcasts with some of the entrepreneurs that we have on as you know what model do you pursue is it the business to consumers or the business to business and most of time in healthcare it’s the B2B model that tends to be the model that gives that trash and given how people pay for things in healthcare and so you guys successfully made that shift even though you did have that traction when you were doing B2C it just wasn’t providing the potentially the dollars that you needed to stay afloat. So kudos to you for for doing that. What would you say one of your proudest business moments has been to date with the company?
Victor Penev: You know we we haven’t wince every once in a while and I can mention a few big names of partners that we’ve know partner with and that we’ve made an impact with. But as you build a business those become kind of this is just what we are doing to reach the ultimate goal. I think what I mentioned earlier is what our proudest achievement is that those partnerships we are now reaching hundreds of millions of people. So we are making the real impact in the world even though it’s not directly noticeable but we are making really impact in the world. And then I hope that next year when a couple are about apartments launched their products we turn data we’ll be reaching billions of people and then you know that will be for me I wouldn’t say mission accomplished but having made a huge step forward and I think setting us up to impact the way people eat all over the world. This is going to hold true measurement for us. The achievement that I would point to.
Saul Marquez: Yeah for sure I think it’s great man and to be able to to touch that many people is is a huge thing. It’s all about adding value and how can you do it at scale and when you’re able to do that at scale here. You’re starting to make an impact that’s that’s meaningful. And so tell us a little bit about an exciting project you’re working on today.
Victor Penev: Exciting project so we have a few things that are that are going to brewing up on our end. One is we probably going to expand our capability to provide personalized nutrition for various chronic conditions. We’re thinking about 200 different chronic conditions that we might have to be able to kind of know from the get go and say hey you have a kid like this is what you do or you have psoriasis that’s what you do or you have stroke cancer Stage treat that’s what you do. So that’s that’s one area that we’re developing. The other is you know being able to be effective for us we need to be able to provide personalized recognition what we should eat and that involves all their meals. Hundred percent of the meals that they eat then you know something good. Sometimes they shop in a store but sometimes they eat out and we work in very much on kind of filling up the gaps in these data of people eating out because it doesn’t exist. But our vision is that in what we’re working towards is that within a couple years we’ll be able to know the nutrition of every single meal ever cooked served provide it also to people so that we can measurably make recommendations so those are the projects we work on. I don’t think that we have projects with partners we work in right now a couple of big companies on providing recommendation plans for cancer for irritable bowel syndrome and stuff like that. Those are kind of the day to day things that we do. The vision of getting every meal in our data set and being able to personally provide to personalized nutrition recommendations is kind of what we’re working on. And again those restaurant go as you know understanding better chronic conditions and then the more exciting stuff that we haven’t still touched in reality is a linking genome data and microbiome data and understanding you know when the science develops their understanding know how we can provide people with personalized recommendations around their genome or microbiome.
Victor Penev: Well you’re definitely a mastermind at this Victor and I love how you think big and you’re tackling populations not just the individual and and so super exciting to see you guys moving at the pace you’re moving and I’ll definitely be keeping up with you guys and by the way folks if you’re curious about Victor’s company Adam will provide a link to to the company on the show notes which you know you can go and find and outcomesrocket.health just type in edamam on the search bar and you’ll find it there. So Victor this is fascinating stuff getting close to the end here. We’re going to do a lightning round. I’ve got five questions for you. It’s the ABC’s of Victor Penev. So here are the questions, you’re ready?
Victor Penev: Yeah Go ahead.
Saul Marquez: All right. What’s the best way to improve healthcare outcomes?
Victor Penev: I think the best ways to not get to people being sick, just prevention. That’s I think the game.
Saul Marquez: What’s the biggest mistake or pitfall to avoid?
Victor Penev: In healthcare I think it is presuming as a provider I guess so it is the healthcare system presuming that you know what’s best for the consumer and not listening to that to the patient. I think the biggest pitfall is to shut down solutions versus listen to the consumer and then create solutions for them.
Saul Marquez: How do you stay relevant despite constant change?
Victor Penev: You gotta keep changing. There is no other way. That’s the world around us. It keeps changing all the time and if you don’t change with it you’re not going to stay relevant. So it’s a practice to daily practice.
Saul Marquez: Amen my friend. What’s one area of focus that drives everything in your organization?
Victor Penev: You know we… I have a vision that we can help people live to 120 without ever getting sick or having a mental disease. And I think that’s kind of what the area of focus is. We’ve chosen to it kind of the way to operate. You know that’s kind of what keeps you motivated. And I personally aim to reach that goal and I think everybody on the planet can.
Saul Marquez: Love it Victor, I want to be there with you. 120?
Victor Penev: That’s a metal age you don’t get sick.
Saul Marquez: Man I love it. Well folks live to 120. Dive into this an interview listen to it again. Victor’s definitely got some inspiring thoughts on really food nutrition wellness. What would you say your your book recommendation is to the guests?
Victor Penev: I have gone through so many books but there is one book that I keep gifting to people. It’s a Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu’s infamous Treatise on How to Live Life and The Universe and I find that to be fascinating because those synthesise wisdom in verses that are just mind blowing. So I haven’t read it in a while but a when I have to give the book to somebody I don’t know I feel they need a little bit of extra push. That’s the book I give.
Saul Marquez: Love it. Tao Te Ching, again folks go to outcomesrocket.health and type in the search bar edamam or just type in Victor Penev. That’s Victor Penev. You’re gonna find this entire interview transcript as well as a link to the books resources and an area areas of discussion today. Before I conclude I’d love if you could just share a closing thought Victor and the best place for the listeners could get in touch with you.
Victor Penev: So start with the best place I think you can email me at email@example.com. I’m much more diligent with e-mail than any other means of communication and I forget what was the first part of the questions. You see that.
Saul Marquez: Yeah just a closing thought for the listeners.
Victor Penev: Closing thoughts for listeners take care of yourselves. I think that’s important. I think in today’s world we run like crazy. We measured blink clocks, we always get things to do and we forget to take care of ourselves. And ultimately we pay the price. So if I had one advice just make time to take care of yourself.
Saul Marquez: Beautiful Victor and I love that message and I will take that message and definitely apply it myself to listeners. Take care yourself Victor. Really. Shit you taking time to be with us today.
Victor Penev: Same here. I appreciate your time as well.
Thanks for listening to the Outcomes Rocket podcast. Be sure to visit us on the web at www.outcomesrocket.com for the show notes, resources, inspiration, and so much more.
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