By SUSAN LAHEY
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
Olaya is the son of a physician and grew up seeing a shift in medicine, away from reactionary care.
“We always had these conversations…exploring ideas for software that could solve a lot of these problems with behavior and lifestyle choices,” Pechacek said. “There’s a huge gap of data in between office visits.” Chronic health problems, he noted, happen over time and add up. “You don’t see the longer picture. So we created this idea of feedback loops using game theory as a way people could influence better habits. It’s not really a science problem, it’s a data problem…. With better perspective and awareness you can create better decisions over time.”
But it had to be simple for people to use. No matter how enthusiastically some people may begin to record their calories, most people quit after a short time. Their solution was Pictrition, which lets users take photos of their food to keep a record of the kinds of choices they tend to make. You snap a picture of your food, post it anonymously, and allow others to rate it. For an extra fee, you can enlist the feedback of a nutritionist. On average, people tend to rate 30 photos of other people’s food for each one they post, according to the founders. If you score well, you could win a prize. Loop Health, the parent company of Pictrition recently teamed up with Techstars company HighFive, an advertising platform that links health-based apps to tangible rewards, so if you’re a high-scorer on Pictrition, you might win a gift certificate to a health-food store or similar bonus.
“You may ask ‘What’s the incentive for me to go through and rate these?’” said Pechacek. “It’s about peer-to-peer learning from each other…I want to eat healthy, let’s both play. And it’s scaleable. The more people who play, the more accurate it gets…. Down the road, if we have enough players and we have a robust enough app it will be an extremely valuable tool.”
There are, of course, outliers: Vegans or Paleo fans who will never rate certain foods highly. But that only adds to the community’s richness, Pechacek said.
Olaya and Pechacek applied for admittance to the Tech Wildcatters incubator and were named finalists. In the process they met Brian Johnson, who had a health physiology degree from the Cooper Institute. At the time, Pechacek said, “The idea wasn’t well formed. We didn’t know what we were doing. We met a lot of people who gave us direction.”
Shortly thereafter they met Jonathan Harvell who was working on a similar app that was more of a quantified self app. They also connected with Evan Davis as their CTO and co-founder.
In the summer of 2012 they started building Pictrition. By the end of the year, they were running out of money and Olaya had to sell their cars to keep the company going. Then the company applied for the SXSW pitch competition “Move Your Company to Austin.”
Gordon Daugherty, investor and advisor, discovered Pictrition when he was reviewing applications for the pitch competition. “We accepted their application to pitch and…we met a couple of times,” Dougherty said. “They wanted my advice on moving to Austin. A few of us (investors) invested a little bit of money just to get them to Austin, around $40,000-to-$50,000. So they quit their day jobs, loaded up their Uhauls and came to Austin.”
Brett Hurt, Bazaarvoice founder, Larry Walker of Silicon Labs and Jeff Jackson of Thayer Ventures in San Francisco were other investors/mentor who helped the company move to town. The company was accepted into the Capital Factory incubator and started building out their application, testing it, and meeting with potential partners.
Dougherty said he was inspired in equal parts by the team and the idea.
“I really fell in love with their focus and dedication, their scrappiness. They are very efficient. They’re not the type to waste money. They’ve really bonded together as a team. They live together in the same house. They’re focused. A lot of companies that have good ideas that don’t have that will fail.”
Walker of Silicon Labs likes the idea that the founders come from north Texas, rather than the usual places. “They’re smart, they’re articulate, they have good ideas, they’re full of beans, they’re Texans….” he said. “I thought it was kind of cool that they didn’t come from the usual suspect places…they don’t harbor illusions about how much work it takes.” A lot of founders, he said, went to see the Mark Zuckerberg movie and think that’s how entrepreneurship works. This team was ready to pivot if necessary.
And it has been necessary a couple of times. Last fall, Walker said, they became engrossed in perfecting Pictrition, loading it up with features before launching. All their mentors advised them to just “get it out there” and let the marketplace dictate iterations. Loop Health officially launched at DEMO in October. Also, while Pictrition is a good app, their mentors wondered whether it was enough to sustain a growing company. So the team evolved to Loop Health, a corporate wellness platform that connects more than 100 apps and wearables into a portal with a dashboard. Companies can keep track of how often employees are using their apps and devices and reward healthy choices.
So while the company has been, as Walker said, willing to adjust their preconceived ideas and dreams, the focus on making the world a better place through tracking daily health has stayed consistent.
A lot of companies, Walker said, are focused on being acquired by some huge company. “They were just excited about moving to Austin, getting a house and getting to work on the idea…. Their focus is, we want to change the world in this way and do it sustainably.”