Kara Collier of NutriSense: “Be careful with feedback”

Be careful with feedback. It can be tempting as you are building a new company to take every piece of customer feedback into account, but this can put you in the wrong direction. Instead, you should constantly interact with customers and really understand their struggles and obstacles, then build the best solution for them. As a […]

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Be careful with feedback. It can be tempting as you are building a new company to take every piece of customer feedback into account, but this can put you in the wrong direction. Instead, you should constantly interact with customers and really understand their struggles and obstacles, then build the best solution for them.

As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kara Collier.

Kara Collier is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Nutrition Support Clinician with a background in clinical nutrition, nutrition technology, and entrepreneurship. Seeing an opportunity for technology to substantially improve preventative health, she co-founded NutriSense where she is now the Director of Nutrition. At NutriSense, she developed a model for using continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) technology to help non-diabetics with health optimization, disease prevention, and reversing metabolic dysfunction.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

I grew up in a small, middle-class town in rural Indiana with a loving family visited by a health crisis. My father was diagnosed with a terminal illness when I was three and passed away when I was 10. That experience shaped and molded me into the person I am today by starting a fire in me to take care of myself and others. While his disease was not preventable, I learned that the vast majority of ailments are. Ever since I was a young child I have been motivated to do everything that is within my control to live a healthy and long life and help other people do the same.

Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I was a freshman in college when I discovered Ray Dalio’s ideas on how to create principles. It was a 100-page PDF document and it changed my life. It’s all about using the power of mission to create a clear and unwavering decision-making process. I’ve used this tool to state and refine what I’m working toward every day since. It’s a tool for being driven rather than reactionary in life.

How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

For me, making a difference is doing something that goes beyond myself. It is creating a ripple effect with my words, knowledge, and actions that improves the lives of others. Meaningful ripple effects can begin with small changes such as identifying for someone that their go-to breakfast smoothie is giving them a diabetic level glucose spike and causing their afternoon energy crash. Then we test a few other foods until we find a better breakfast alternative that gives them stable glucose levels. This may seem like a simple, easy swap but its impact is profound over the long term. By tweaking their diet, we can help lower this individual’s risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and dementia. For me, making a difference is using technology to identify a habit that isn’t working for somebody early so they can do something about it while it still matters.

Ok super. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

For the last fifty years, we’ve lived through the era of one-size-fits-all nutrition advice and it has failed far too many people. You may have noticed that the advice changes every few years. When I was a kid, experts recommended fat-free and reduced-fat diets and today we know those recommendations made health outcomes worse for a lot of people. I no longer believe any one particular diet is perfect for everyone. Because of factors like genetics, the microbiome, food sensitivities, age, and gender, only a more personalized approach can improve the major health problems today that cite diet as a major contributing factor.

At NutriSense, we are changing the paradigm of my profession of nutrition toward evidence-based personalization. We look at continuous data from each customer’s body rather than relying on general guidelines alone. Specifically, we are making great strides today by leveraging blood glucose data to optimize the metabolic health of people who don’t yet have a diabetes diagnosis but may have pre-diabetes or metabolic dysregulation that we can catch early enough to change outcomes with lifestyle advice. With this data, we are able to make gentle, evidence-based suggestions and measure the efficacy of every suggested change. Metabolic dysfunction, or insulin resistance, is the bedrock upon which most chronic conditions develop, including diabetes, heart disease, and neurological diseases.

Our model of personalized nutrition is already making a big difference for our customers. According to the CDC, over a third of Americans have pre-diabetes and 84% of them don’t know it. We see the truth of this statistic in our work every day. A lot of people can improve their metabolic health and feel a lot better right away as a result of that work.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

When I worked as a dietitian in the hospital systems, I worked with very sick people and found myself wishing I had met them twenty years sooner. Every day I saw patients suffering from devastating complications of lifestyle-related chronic conditions. It’s hard to give nutrition advice about the dangers of sugar and soda to a patient on the eve of a leg amputation resulting from uncontrolled Type 2 diabetes or talk about a balanced meal to a patient going into their first dialysis from kidney failure due to hypertension. But that was what I was asked to do. Sometimes giving nutrition advice at that late stage of illness felt more like lecturing than helping because so many of their health problems were no longer reversible with tools like diet and exercise.

This difficult work experience inspired my passion for preventative health. I knew I wanted to reach people sooner before they developed these conditions that are both preventable and far too common.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

It came down to finding alignment in my passions with the right people and seizing the opportunity when it came up to work together and create something special. I’d been saying for years that non-diabetics should monitor their glucose because so many people were making their health worse and didn’t know. People thought I was crazy for suggesting it, but I really felt strongly about it. Then I met my cofounders and they wanted to do the same thing. And it was an “aha” moment because I wasn’t alone in my insight and we had the diverse set of skills to actually make it happen.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

Start where you are. But start. It all feels overwhelming until you start breaking it up into to-do lists. And sometimes the to-do lists are about researching how to do something or hiring someone who knows how to do it. You don’t have to know how you are going to complete every step to get started on your vision.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

We opened our business to customers in September of 2019, so we only had a few months of normal operation before the pandemic hit. Not only did we have to figure out how to get a new health tech business off the ground, but we also had to change all of our plans of how we would do that because of new circumstances. It was a hard and fast pivot from our original blueprint of what building a vibrant company and culture would look like for us. It required tons of innovation. We had a number of great mentors to help us figure it out but none of them had ever faced a year like this one.

I think we built a stronger company in the end because of these challenges. Being remote allowed us to pull from a national talent pool and double the size of our team with incredible professionals as we found our traction in the marketplace. I’ve still never met ninety percent of the people I work with every day in person, a strange fact I hope changes soon.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

I was learning a new client communication tool right after we opened for business. I sent an email to the entirely wrong list of people and felt mortified in front of my co-founders and all the people that had gotten an email from me that were not part of the group I was addressing in the email. But we still got customers from my mistake!

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

In early 2020 we went through the accelerator program Techstars. Techstars has an amazing network of mentors available to help as you are building your idea from the ground up, along with your fellow startup companies who understand the struggles you are going through. Being able to connect with the other companies and mentors helped us to refine our ideas early on.

Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I’ll always remember one of my earliest clients who was able to get pregnant after years of trying to conceive. She has PCOS, a condition that causes the body to produce excess levels of insulin and can make it difficult to conceive. By being able to see her glucose data 24/7, we were able to fine-tune her diet, supplements, exercise, stress management, and sleep patterns to stabilize her glucose levels into optimal ranges. Just four months after we started working together, she messaged me in tears that she finally had a positive pregnancy test.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

First, I’d love to see public policy that increases incentives and coverage options for preventative health. Right now, too many people wait until it is too late to make lifestyle changes that can prevent poor health outcomes because only critical problems are covered by their insurance.

Second, I’d like to see stricter food marketing regulations because labels are confusing and misleading. I regularly see customers eating things that have been marketed to them as “health foods” that are full of unhealthy ingredients and their bodies definitely aren’t reacting well. We see it in the data.

Third, we need to update dietary guidelines to include personalization. People need to know that factors like age, gender, and genetics can substantially change what is a healthy diet for them.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each).

  1. Write things out. Most meetings can instead be written communication. Don’t fill your days with unnecessary meetings because you will need that time.
  2. Think about your values early and communicate them to every new team member. Culture develops whether you are intentional or not. Be intentional.
  3. Be careful with feedback. It can be tempting as you are building a new company to take every piece of customer feedback into account, but this can put you in the wrong direction. Instead, you should constantly interact with customers and really understand their struggles and obstacles, then build the best solution for them.
  4. Remember your why. The journey is long, and it’s going to be stressful. If you keep your mission statement front and center, it will all be worth it because you will be motivated by the meaningful differences you are making.
  5. Don’t read the comments. Really. You can’t unread them and they never help even if they are positive.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Now is the time, when you’re young you have less to lose! It is so much easier to make the jump sooner than later. Write out your obituary, what do you want to be remembered for? Then do those things NOW, not tomorrow.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Peter Attia — I credit him for my initial interest in CGMs for nondiabetics and he puts out some of the most thought-provoking and detailed information in this field.

How can our readers follow you online?

@karacollier1 on Twitter is the best place to say hi.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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