Fun Ride to Health and Pride

Several weeks ago I interviewed Greg Rublev, the founder of LeanWagon: “fun ride to health and pride”.

Marina: What is LeanWagon about?

Greg: LeanWagon is about helping dieters eat better and lose weight. It’s about being happier and healthier.

Marina: How does it work? What do users need to do?

Greg: First of all, users need to already have some motivation to make a change of some sort in order to lose weight. The wellness movement is the new green movement, so the number of people that want to make a change is growing. They are both inspired by publicized stories of famous people losing weight, as well scared by stories about the growing diabetes epidemic.

Greg: Second, when users come to the site, it will usually be through a recommendation of a friend. They will immediately become a part of a team and have access to a professional coach. They simply need to agree to make gradual changes in their diet – in every day choices they make, and they need to share their progress with their team and their coach. LeanWagon guides the process that can take 6-12 months.

Marina: Who are the coaches?

Greg: The coaches are nutrition and fitness professionals, with an interest in helping people lose weight.

Marina: How do you find coaches? Do you hire them or is there another benefit for coaches?

Greg: Yes, we recruit coaches to work for LeanWagon. In addition to getting paid, LeanWagon provides them with an opportunity to improve their professional reputations.

Marina: How are you different from WeightWatchers? What is your secret source?

Greg: The weight loss industry is very crowded, however despite 40B spent annually, the obesity problem is getting worse every year. WeightWatchers is one of the bright spots. It is the one solution that works, primarily because it provides a support system that enables people to stick to the change they have committed to make. However, WeightWatchers is both expensive and inconvenient, since members have to attend physical meetings. Also, most people are unwilling to keep track of what they eat every day.

Marina: So your customers don’t need to go to real time meetings, but just follow recommendations based on trust system? Is there any tracking involved?

Greg: There will be some real time meetings via chat and phone conferences. Members will track whether they are sticking to their commitments, as well as how their weight changed over time.

Marina: Do they get any rewards or incentives besides losing weight?

Greg: Most active members will get recognition on the site, and some prizes are forthcoming as well.

Marina: How did you come up with this idea? Did you experience weight problem yourself?

Greg: Definitely.

Greg: I was about 40-50lbs overweight for about 5 years. I often felt powerless to change that and it caused depression and anxiety for me. One day, a friend of mine told me about a simple change I could make in what I eat – avoid bread, pasta and sugar 6 days per week – and that got me started on this journey. What really caused me to get started creating LeanWagon was the incredible feedback I got from my friends and relatives, when I talked to them about making a change, and seeing how many of them actually tried it themselves with quite a lot of success.

Marina: That is great!

Marina: Who are your main competitors today?

Greg: Our main competitor is WeightWatchers. There are many startups taking various approaches to wellness, but none have the traction that even remotely resembles WeightWatchers.

Marina: What do you think about Healthrageous?

Greg: They sell to companies, so their growth is limited due to competition in that segment. Their solution promotes walking through awareness via a GPS tracker, and there is a lot of competition there from companies like Nike+, Fitbit and Runkeeper to name a few. Ultimately, nutrition is what makes a much bigger impact on weight, so that is where our focus is.

Marina: Can you describe your customer archetype? Age, gender, income, etc.?

Greg: Our target right now is someone who has tried to diet once or twice, but is still overweight.

Greg: It’s going to be someone in the 25-65 range, knows how to use “the google” and facebook.

Marina: When did you start and what stage are you at? Beta? Are you doing fundraising?

Greg: We started in September 2011 and we conducted a beta to validate some of our assumptions. We are rapidly improving the product now and are planning to raise seed financing later this year.

Marina: Who is on your team and what PR have you done? I know that you participated in a business plan competition recently.

Greg: Our team consists of three full-time founders, each covering biz dev, technology and UI. We also have 2 part-time developers helping build the product. We pitched at Ultra Light Startup recently, and actually got 2nd place :) It was our first pitch and it was very good practice and a lot of fun.

Marina: What is the most important element in the process of losing weight?

Greg: Being open minded and trying things that may not be in your comfort zone, foods you are not used to and habits you don’t have yet. These new ideas will become second nature, if you only give them a chance.

Marina: You mentioned happiness in the beginning. Do you think there is a direct relationship between good health and happiness? Can’t an overweight person feel happy?

Greg: Absolutely, they can. I certainly did when I was overweight. However, happiness is not a constant state, it is a feeling that you possess some of the time as you go about your life. Being overweight definitely caused me in particular to feel unhappy very frequently, and I know many people who would agree with me. So, perhaps a better way to say it is that LeanWagon is about being “happier”, perhaps “much happier”.

Marina: Are you planning to list your site in the Quantified Self directory? http://quantifiedself.com/guide/tag/health

Greg: Definitely, we are planning a PR campaign which will kick off after the next version of the product is up and running.

Marina: Final words to the readers? What are you looking for: users, investors, coaches?

Greg: All of the above! We love interacting with users and coaches, as that is informing our product development. We interact with a lot of potential investors, and we like to develop long term relationships with the right investors for us, and that starts with early conversations, feedback and ongoing updates.

Marina: Thank you so much for your time, Greg. And best of luck to LeanWagon, it is a great idea and cool website! :)

Greg Rublev: Thanks, it was a pleasure!!!!

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