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Part 1: How being data-driven helped me lose the weight.
Part 2: How Matter's company culture is helping me keep the weight off.
On May 6, 2015, I sold my company, Hall, to Atlassian. I weighed 420 pounds on this very day, having put on 140 pounds since founding Hall in 2010. While up-and-to-the-right-type growth curves are generally the goal for start-ups and investors, this wasn’t the type of curve I wanted to see in my weight.
On May 7, 2015, I knew I had to make a commitment to my health. Over the next two years, I lost 160 pounds, over one-third of my body weight.
When I meet with folks who haven’t seen the “new” me, they are often taken aback by my transformation. Often on their own journey toward health improvement, they eagerly ask for my “secret.” Unsurprisingly, it’s not so simple. However, I realized that a technique that helped me achieve my weight loss goals bears a striking similarity to one of the keys to my success as a founder: Be data-driven.
While being data-driven is fairly common practice now, it was just starting to gain traction in 2010, especially at startups. When running my last company, I learned to identify a “funnel,” which is a way customers move through a series of events. For example, a sign-up funnel introduces strangers to your product/website and converts those strangers to sign up for your product.
I approached my weight loss like it was a funnel. After meeting with a nutritionist, I realized that one of the key ways for me to be successful was to maintain a feeling of fullness in my stomach. With the data on how many calories I should be consuming each meal/day and knowledge about the caloric content of different foods, I began to make informed choices that helped me move down the weight loss funnel.
My goal was this: Reach the state of a 100% full stomach without exceeding the allowable calories per meal. Calories are analogous to the counter metric of ad spending. Just like I used ads to drive traffic to my website (but could not spend too much money), I aimed to achieve that “full stomach” feeling without blowing my caloric budget. I quickly realized which foods were better (and worse) for this funnel. For example, I could allocate 22% of my meal’s caloric budget to one serving of vegetables, which would really give me that feeling of satiation. Good bang for my caloric buck. Conversely, I could douse my food in olive oil (almost four times my meal’s caloric budget) and do little to put a dent in those feelings of satiation.
There were also other data-driven practices that helped me lose weight. I weighed myself regularly and graphed the trajectory on a weight loss app so I could visualize my progress. I took pictures of my food portions and reviewed them with my nutritionist to make sure I was recording my calories correctly (I bet one cup of rice isn’t the amount you think it is…). I also made sure I was getting at least 10k steps per day.
While data-driven practices were an essential component of my weight-loss success, Matter’s company culture has been designed to help the team stay healthy.
At my last company, some team members preferred working early hours (8am-5pm) and others opted for later hours (11am-9pm). As the CEO and founder, this meant I was there for both shifts (8am-9pm). By the time I left, I’d typically eaten junk food for dinner with the team. On the rare occasion that I hadn’t eaten yet, I was so famished (and exhausted) that I didn’t make healthy choices and ate past the point of fullness.
At Matter, I’m building a team that shares the same work and lifestyle ethics that I do. This means that we begin our day at 9am, work normal business hours (with a break for a walk when we need it!), then head home between 5pm and 6pm to recharge. Yes, this may mean that we lose out on hiring the awesome night-owl candidates, but I’m convinced that it’s worth prioritizing health. A healthy team is more likely to result in a healthy business.
Silicon Valley and other shows about startups would have you believe that the early days are all non-stop coding amid endless streams of Mountain Dew. While that makes for great television, it’s a recipe for failure in the real world. At my last company, I was convinced that more = better. More coding, more people, more work hours, etc. While every business is different, non-coding activities like exercise, walks, and even a vacation to decompress will lead to more effective and impactful work.
It’s critical to find a way to decompress over the weekend. I’ve found that I really need to make the weekend feel like the weekend and not just an extension of the work week. I give my brain a true rest from work. The more fun and non-work-related activities I do on the weekend, the more enjoyable and productive my upcoming work week. I got a dog (built in exercise requirements!) and regularly enjoy day games at AT&T Park.
I hope the above tips and learnings end up helping others. I’d love to hear what helps you maintain a a healthy lifestyle… tweet @bretthellman
And if any of these philosophies resonate with you, we are actively hiring at Matter. Please reach out!