Founders: Josh Clemente, Andrew Conner, David Flinner
When you visit your doctor to do an annual checkup, you are hoping to catch something that might cause you future illness. If you aren’t feeling well, you talk to your family doctor and they start to search for an issue. Western medicine likes to believe that it is preventative, but pharma company profits and our habits suggest otherwise. We wait until there is an issue, then act, sometimes when it’s already too late.
When I worked in Taiwan, the company I worked for provided a annual perk of a comprehensive 40 point health check, that covered everything from liver fat, bone density, to white blood cell count. The information learned would help guide people who were motivated to change their lifestyle, or give confidence to those already doing well. The place doing the test looked at your results year over year, so you could track the progress of certain issues the following year, and included suggestions from an on-site doctor. This was a large improvement to how I tracked my health in Canada.
The future will be even better. We will all have devices attached to our bodies which are collecting data real-time, to share with our main devices (currently our smart phone). It’s already started – over 100 million Apple Watch’s have been sold, tracking our heart rate, and most recently, VO2 Max. In a perfect future, we have a group of nanobots moving through our bodies, and sharing this data in real-time with a doctor, who will send you a monthly email about how you are doing, and call you if there is a larger issue.
Before we get there, there is going to be an epic wave of devices covering different biomarkers, which brings us to Levels. Biomarkers are a data point about something in your body, which lets you know the current state. Levels makes a continuous glucose monitoring system (CGM), which feeds your blood glucose level right into your mobile phone, and the app allows you to learn about how your metabolism is doing.
CGM’s were approved by the FDA already back in 1999, but only in 2018 did they make them allowed to be used for more than 90 days. Levels started in 2019, right after their team was put together.
The biomarker market is going to be profoundly large, it’s a bit difficult to quantify. The Apple Watch is technically in the space, and is the best selling device. There are predictions that it will be $100 billion dollar market by 2026. The next wave of biomarkers will include sweat detection, insole sensing, Alzheimer’s, and mental health. There are startups focusing on blood testing at home, so cancer treatment can be completely done at home through a small hematology analyzer.
Currently the most tracked biomarkers are likely heart rate and VO2 Max. With the pandemic of 2020 causing more people to be health-focused, glucose monitoring interest is growing and eventually will be massive. Check out the Google Trends data for searches over the last 5 years:
The Levels team is very impressive, which is where part of the quick funding and PR interest is coming from:
Josh Clemente – Former SpaceX engineer
Andrew Conner – Former Google Engineer Manager
David Flinner – Former Google Project Manager
Casey Means, MD – Doctor, Physician, Nutritionist
The product is a combination of a sensor, and application that displays information from the sensor. The device needs to be implanted into your arm, and synced with your mobile device (Android and iOS apps available).
Over 40,000 people have signed up to be part of the beta test already, so there is great interest in it.
After a short calibration period, you start to get data from the sensor, which is sent to your device via Bluetooth.
There are a few reasons I like Levels’ product over the incumbent’s, and I’ll focus on two here. Firstly, they are marketing it in an attractive way. Other products look too medical, and really are focused on diabetics. This device is focused on people who are trying to optimize their health. They are going to be the “Apple” of CGM. Secondly, the app is doing exactly what the crowd that will want this needs – gamification. Once calibrated, the app will display your metabolic fitness score. This is where it becomes a personal game – trying to get the level up. This is similar to how the Apple Watch pushes you to close your rings, or gives you a monthly goal. Gamification is important for making advances in personal fitness fun.
Check out this great video about YouTuber Ali Spagnola’s experience with the product:
The company is currently beta testing the product through some trusted reviewers, so is not yet for sale.
There have been two rounds. The latest was led by Andreseen Horowitz, for $12M.
The space has a large incumbent, called Dexcom. They’ve been selling for nearly 2 years already and get the best search results for CGM. They’ve got a loyal following already being the first, and have been mentioned in a lot of popular media (ex. podcasts, YouTube videos). New competitors, like Bionime (Taiwan), will be entering the market soon.
Any company wanting to enter the space also has to keep an eye on the FAANG company’s ability to add what they do to a current device and become a feature of something else. I do expect either Apple or Google to get into CGM, for reasons beyond the scope of this post.
The biomarker market is in its infancy. There are going to be a lot of opportunities to start a company and invest. Our conclusion after reviewing this space for the past 6 months is that Levels has the right approach to the market, and therefore the most upside. They have an amazing team and and interesting looking product. We will be keeping an eye on the space and specifically them.