Surround yourself with a tight circle of believers who understand and lift you, and always be kind, generous, and patient with them. Never take your circle for granted.
As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrea Marcellus.
Andrea is the founder and CEO of ANDREA MARCELLUS, a lifestyle brand with the mission to help busy, driven people maximize their lives. For more than 25 years, Andrea has expertly guided clients in New York and Los Angeles to personalized health, utilizing her own unique, actionable set of principles to ramp up every area of their lives. Andrea is also the author of the new book The Way In: 5 Winning Strategies to Lose Weight, Get Strong and Lift Your Life, and the creator of the popular fitness app, AND/life, named top fitness app of 2019 by Women Fitness.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the ‘backstory” of how you decided to pursue this career path?
I’m in this field completely by accident. I had no idea I would be developing an app until the thought of putting out a website of workout videos seemed to be a woefully inadequate representation of my highly individualized, total lifestyle approach to fitness. Within months of contemplating how to scale the disruptive approach to fitness we offer — namely, to ditch diet culture and gym mentality in favor of finding what works best for your own body in terms of food and activity, it became clear that a digital product with the ability to think like I do would be the only way to accomplish this.
What lessons can others learn from your story?
Technology isn’t so daunting when it’s grounded in delivering a clear, meaningful and impactful service. I barely knew how to operate my iPhone when I started the first design sprint for the AND/life app. The key is finding developers who understand that technology for technology’s sake or just because a feature would be cool doesn’t mean anything in the marketplace necessarily.
We were fortunate enough to have a team of developers and designers who spent two weeks really trying to understand exactly what it is that I do that’s so unique in the fitness industry. Iteration after iteration, we have worked to create a product that is nothing like any of my competitors, and that truly works for anyone. I’m proud to say a highly successful third-party research study done at the end of 2020 proved that our hard work has paid off. Results showed that my 4 Daily Goals method in the app is both easily adoptable by anyone, and also highly effective at improving overall wellness, both physically and mentally. Incredibly gratifying to think that after years of iterating, we finally got AND/life to offer at scale what I do with people one on one.
Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
I am always creating new ways for the AI in my AND/life app to be more finely tuned to the needs of our users. I’m working hard on the mental wellness side of things right now. Finding ways to make the app more sensitive to mood and motivating users accordingly. Also we are working on smart integrations with wearables and even more finely-tuned food recommendations.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Ryan Roslansky, now the CEO of LinkedIn, was kind enough to discuss an early iteration of the AND/life app with me. He was the Head of Product at the time, and I believe LinkedIn was (and perhaps still is) the world’s most successful digital subscription service — so his advice was invaluable. He encouraged me to take it slow and really focus on product/market fit before continuing with marketing efforts, so that is exactly what we’ve done and we’re finally ready to scale in a big way.
Scott Michaels of Apply Digital was also instrumental in helping me see and prioritize what I needed to do to make the app highly valuable for users and easy to navigate. Scott helped us create a roadmap for prioritizing, developing, & testing new features based on analysis of competitors, as well as disconnects between what I intended for the app to do versus what users actually experienced.
As the CEO of a small start-up in an overcrowded field of well-funded giants, it’s crucial to be very strategic and have the right mentors. There is a learning curve to my mentality-first fitness methodology. Rather than messaging grueling workouts and food elimination, we seek to put the brain in a positive space In small ways every day, so beneficial choices will be more likely. The app does not offer calorie counting or suggest eliminating foods, nor is it all about the workouts. AND/life, therefore, needed to be designed to skate the line of providing features users have come to expect from fitness apps so it feels familiar and yet stay true to our method, which we believe to be a better long term wellness strategy.
The app does not offer calorie counting or suggest eliminating foods, nor is it all about the workouts. AND/life, therefore, needed to be designed to skate the line of providing features users have come to expect from fitness apps so it feels familiar and accessible while they get going.
The app’s suggested daily goals reduce stress by eliminating micro-decisions, unleash “happy hormones” in the brain when you track them, and make beneficial choices easily repeatable so they become habits.
Mentors were crucial in helping me figure out how to “softball” an all new method in a familiar product. The goal is to exceed expectations in terms of being a straight up workout app, and then inspire loyalty with highly unique life-lifting features as well.
What are some things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?
Having happened into the digital world out of necessity rather than by trade or training, I’ve never really given much thought to the fact that I’m on the front lines of an industry that is woefully underrepresented by women in the leadership level. I grew up with a mother who fought the battles of being a female entrepreneurial trail-blazer in the 80’s. So it’s an honor to think I’m following in her footsteps in my own way by creating AND/life during a time when women are actively calling out systemic gender-based marginalization. That said, myriad men in this field have helped to lift me and push me forward. So, at least in my experience, the tech industry is ready to move beyond the idea of gender as a qualification, and room at the table is being made for anyone who brings disruptive, impactful ideas and has follow-through. There are still too few women in leadership roles in tech, and hopefully that won’t be for long.
I’m also excited by the idea of global reach and customization that would not be possible without AI. As AND//life scales and our team grows, AI can be used to offer geo-personalized solutions to improve health and wellness practices on a global level.
What are some things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?
I’m always deeply concerned about privacy, transparency, and AI being used only for purposes a user has requested.
On a more existential level, I think AI is best used in a supportive, coaching capacity in terms of people’s lives and decision-making as much as possible. I wonder if reliance on AI allows us to, in essence, “mentally atrophy” similarly to how the comforts and conveniences of tech advances have allowed us to physically atrophy? AI’s capacity for processing data and using it to drive solutions is astonishing. But for all the speed, accuracy, and efficiency that AI provides to make our lives better, the nuance of human empathy should never be left out of decision-making entirely, and will always be lacking from a purely AI-based approach to problem-solving.
As you know, there is an ongoing debate between prominent scientists, (personified as a debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,) about whether advanced AI has the future potential to pose a danger to humanity. What is your position about this?
As with all technological advances, there are significant pros and cons to be weighed. I do believe that corporations bear responsibility for how their AI affects humanity as a collective. Defining usage parameters and setting enforceable limits and protections seems reasonable, but will no doubt prove very difficult. As the genie is out of the bottle, it’s now a matter of asking ourselves as a society how deeply are we going to agree to engage with these tools and allow our lives to be influenced by them.
What can be done to prevent such concerns from materializing? And what can be done to assure the public that there is nothing to be concerned about?
There is plenty to be concerned about, and the public needs to be involved in the ethics of technology. Until there is greater accountability and transparency there will continue to be discomfort — and rightly so.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
Last summer during the pandemic we launched AND/life Cares, our philanthropic vertical. We offered a free year to nurses and now we’re reaching out to caregivers. It is giving us tremendous gratification to care for those who dedicate themselves to caring for others. AND/life’s brand mission is to help busy people maximize their most precious personal resources, namely: time, energy, and funds. This year has made personal resource supplies even lower for those groups, and we are pleased to be giving them a lift.
As you know, there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the AI space to thrive?
- Get clear on your personal mission behind your work — the crucial “why” you NEED to be doing what you do — and then honor it every day.
- Surround yourself with a tight circle of believers who understand and lift you, and always be kind, generous, and patient with them. Never take your circle for granted.
- Do your best, then take a rest.
Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?
Tech opportunities in our education system starting from grade school. Gender-equity is a generational issue and it’s critical to foster inclusive thinking from the earliest possible age.
What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?
“Never complain. Never explain.” This Katharine Hepburn quote has gotten me through many tough situations in life, both personally and professionally.
Complaining is a double negative — it is simply adding your burden onto someone else’s already overloaded plate, and without even truly relieving your own. If something is wrong, don’t come to someone’s table until you have a solution — or are willing to hear possibilities — so you actually stand a chance of improving your situation.
As for the “never explain” part of the quote, learning own my choices and avoiding the impulse to defend them has been essential to being able to forge my own path. If your truth and your best path forward are clear to you, putting it out to committee just creates the opportunity for others to throw obstacles in your path based on their own experiences and fears — which are often entirely irrelevant. It takes courage not to seek soothing or validation when we move in directions that are all new and therefore stressful, or that upset others. But too much conversation only serves to stir that pot even more. If you’re being true to yourself, then make the moves you need to make, and let things settle.
“Never explain” is also huge in terms of apologizing. When you make mistakes, simply apologize sincerely and fix the situation as quickly and as best as you can. Discussion of “why” you made the mistake makes it about you when it’s not — apologies are for the other person. Own it, fix it, move forward.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d call it “One Lift” and I’d ask people to do something, anything, to give someone else a boost every single day. It’s impossible to be stressed out while you’re doing a good deed. So the world would be a better place not only from all the little “lifts,” but also because the act of “lifting” is an automatic mood booster. If everyone offered just one lift a day, the whole world would be in a better mood!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!