Our new Small But Mighty series is taking a look at some of the homegrown companies from folks who know diabetes the best! This week, we’re chatting with Matt Tendler, co-founder of MYLEstone Health, the company that brings us Glucose Buddy, the leading iPhone application for blood sugar logging. Matt was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in college and soon realized the importance of good record-keeping to manage his BG levels.
Formally trained in Business Management and Entrepreneurship at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, Matthew designed and implemented financial strategies for ultra high net worth clients at Merrill Lynch. But he left that world to team up with lead creator and co-founder Tom Xu to do “something more meaningful and closer to his heart.” Matt now runs marketing and long-term strategies for MYLEstone Health. Today, he shares his own D-story and how he believes Glucose Buddy is making a difference in the community.
DM) Matt, first off, please tell us your diagnosis story.
MT) I was nineteen years old and a college freshman when I was diagnosed with diabetes. At the time, I was pledging a fraternity, drinking alcohol several nights a week (mostly foreign concoctions forced upon me by fraternity brothers), and struggling to keep up with rigorous academic demands. Those college binges and trysts that had no visible impact on the bodies of my peers shocked my system, leaving me hypoglycemic one minute and hyperglycemic the next. I firmly believe that the “honeymoon stage” of my disease — that period of time immediately following type 1 diagnosis during which initial insulin shots stimulate the pancreas to produce insulin on its own — ultimately saved my life.
Equally detrimental was the psychological toll the disease took. At diagnosis the doctors tell you how to control the damage the disease takes on the body, but nothing of the damage to the mind. Upon diagnosis, I remember feeling resentful, angry, anxious and depressed. These feelings parlayed with a hackneyed college-aged excitement and sense of invincibility furthered my confusion. Confusion soon turned to a lack of control that no person like me, who loves control, can handle — and for 12 months, I struggled with severe panic attacks. Only constant blood testing remedied these fairly regular attacks.
At one point, I tested my blood glucose 30 times a day. Really, think about that for a moment… I was only awake about 15 hours per day.
I refused to sacrifice my “college experience” at the hands of my disease and ultimately determined that if I wanted to maintain a certain unhealthy lifestyle, I needed to understand by blood sugar impeccably. Ironically, the catalyst for me to test more often and log my results was wanting to keep up with my peers’ partying lifestyle.
How did you get involved in the business side of diabetes?
As an Entrepreneurship major, I was constantly asked by professors to create business plans, mock venture capital pitches, value propositions, etc. Sometimes these assignments were designed for group participation and others for individual work. No matter the design, the professors’ advice was always the same: create something that you know. Though diabetes was something I knew, I was not yet comfortable enough with my disease to share it with entire classrooms.
In 2008, I was asked by one of the top business producers in Manhattan to hold an event for his clients. The assignment was to create a seminar that would be interesting to his ultra high net-worth clients, while bringing new potential clients and companies to his doorstep. The assignment awakened in me a passion for innovation and creative thinking. I decided to base the seminar on diabetes, symptoms and treatments, with a financial twist. I arranged for three speakers to attend: a prominent endocrinologist from Manhattan with vast knowledge of new frontiers in diabetes treatment; a hedge fund manager specializing in medical technology investments; and me, a victim of the disease.
My managers were less enthusiastic by the prospect of my seminar than I. I was disheartened, to say the least, but I thank these same limiting managers for providing the catalyst for my professional change. I thought Wall Street was the place I wanted to end up, but it left me craving the excitement of innovation, business plan creation, and integration.
Tom Xu and I met via the App Store. I had an idea of creating a glucose meter that was integrated with the iPhone and Tom had the most popular diabetes App on the market, a strong computer science and electrical engineering background and a number of great ideas of his own that complemented my vision. Together, we formed something called the Triware model (webware, appware, and hardware). Our educational backgrounds were different but our goal of helping people through technology was the same, so we complimented each other quite perfectly. Very early on, both of us recognized that we were a very strong two-man think tank. We spoke everyday via iChat and Email, strategizing our respective roles and working together on business initiatives. In fact, we filed a provisional patent together before we ever met face-to-face. The first time we did meet in person was the night before an important meeting in California in Tom’s office: Starbuck’s.
How did you get involved with Glucose Buddy?
Being the original founder of Glucose Buddy, Tom recognized the iPhone App Store’s potential in the medical space very early on. The iPhone was engaging, beautiful and most importantly, always with you and thus served the perfect device for health management. Glucose Buddy was the second diabetes app in the entire App Store which is now inundated with more than 30 and growing. When Tom and I created MYLEstone Health, we used the foundation that he built to take Glucose Buddy to the next level, adding tools, strategic relationships, and functionality.
How did you and Tom go about developing the next generation of Glucose Buddy?
It’s important that Tom and I work together for most of the work being performed. I have the ability to recognize what are the most important features that also make sense in the grand scheme of things. Tom has the ability to pinpoint what works and what doesn’t during the User Interface stages. One thing people often forget is that each person’s diabetes is a bit different. If we included every request from Type 1s, Type 2s, old, young, etc. then the program would be too bulky. On top of that, we make sure that the ‘insides’ of Glucose Buddy are always ready to be integrated with meters. We spend 90% of our time planning which features to include and which to exclude. You see, most App developers are just thinking about how to make the best manual entry App. We design Glucose Buddy for how our software suite is going to fit in when pumps, meters, CGMS, etc. connect to mobile phones.
Why is working on helping people with diabetes important to you?
Both Tom and I believe that consumer health-driven initiatives like what we’re doing with Glucose Buddy are the solution to a lot of problems. As people with diabetes, you and I need to be able to learn from each other more effectively. A day in our lives are filled with so many decisions and records including what we’ve eaten, what our BG numbers are, how much medication we take, how long we exercise for, etc. If we can sort out this data and share it with each other effectively (and “effectively” is the key word) we will be able to learn from one another. However, this process needs to be user-friendly and less, not more, time-consuming. In essence, we would be Glucose Buddies.
Tell me more about your partnership with Roche.
We worked with Roche to develop the ACCU-CHEK Testing In Pairs education program because manual logging just isn’t enough for our users. We want to include interactive tools in the Glucose Buddy App with the hope that they will provide deeper understanding of blood sugar levels and diabetes in general. ACCU-CHEK agrees with this mission so the companies fit well together.
Are you working on anything now? Anything we should be looking out for in 2010?
I’m not able to comment on specific new features but they all involve better ways for our Glucose Buddies to learn about their own bodies and from one another.
Thank you, Matt. Sounds like everyone could use a ‘Glucose Buddy’ like you, who really knows how to get things done.