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Curating vitamins for better health

with Akash Shah, Co-founder & Head of Product at Care/of

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Determining which supplements to take can oftentimes become a guessing game.

With hundreds of thousands of different sources out there on the different vitamins and supplements that can boost health and prevent diseases, how does one decide which of that information is actually relevant or which experts to trust?

This is where New York startup, Care/of, leaps in to get to know their users through an A.I.-powered quiz before providing vitamin recommendations that are tailored to a person’s specific needs, health goals and lifestyle choices, which can then be customised into a monthly vitamin subscription.

In this episode of HealthRedesigned, we chat with Akash Shah, Co-founder and Head of Product at Care/of who shares how they’re transforming the way people choose and consume the right supplements for their needs as well as their plans to introduce tools that build positive habits.

Cutting through all the noise

How much did you know about vitamins before launching Care/of?

I think growing up, it was interesting understanding what was healthy, which nutrients to avoid, understanding where being a vegetarian might actually create gaps in my diet, and knowing the importance of holistic, integrative medicine where it’s not just about what you eat and how much you exercise, but also about the people you interact with, how happy you are and your mental health.

All of these things are connected to each other which is called integrative or holistic medicine. When I started to learn more about that, I became very interested in wanting to start a business that helps people access that information and sort through all of the confusing information out there. Along that path, Craig, my co-founder, and I stumbled upon the vitamins and supplements industry.

After studying the industry and having some personal experiences of our own, we realised that this could actually be a really good wedge into building a product and service that helps people sort through the confusion of vitamins—and if we can figure out how to do that, our vision is to see if we can expand that beyond vitamins into health and wellness more broadly.

Do you think people are mostly poorly informed and not making the right decisions or are they likely to be overly informed and exaggerating their vitamin intake?

I think this is the biggest problem in this category—not only is it overwhelming and confusing because of all the different information out there but also that everyone is different and so are their health concerns and situations. Being able to sort through all the information and figure out who to trust is one thing, but you also need to figure out what information is actually relevant to you and your life.That’s the hardest part that we’re trying to solve with personalisation.

You’ve got this spectrum of belief systems, and different people believe different things based on their what’s going on in their lives at the moment, their age, diet and lifestyle choices. The key for us, at least with regards to delivering a product and building a brand that resonates with people who are overwhelmed, is creating a way to personalise what we’re recommending based on who you are.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to give people a little bit more confidence in the decisions that they're making around their health—and we're starting with vitamins. ”

Continuing the conversation

What do you think are the advantages of having a digital element to this service?

It’s been almost a year since our launch and we’ve been really excited about how many people have taken the quiz on our website. 80% of people who start the quiz finish the quiz. It’s a privilege for us to be able to have had customers of ours trusting us with all that personal information about themselves in exchange for getting an honest personalised recommendation.

We’re trying to capitalise on this idea of a conversation. The quiz is essentially an initial conversation that people have with us. My biggest consideration is how do we continue that conversation with our members? There’s no better way to do that at scale with millions of people than to use technology. There are infinite numbers of things that are constantly happening in people’s lives and people’s lives change and adapt which means their health concerns also change and adapt.

We want to continue providing more personalised recommendations and service that hopefully allows both parties to trust each other more and for us to deliver more value.

Recommending with transparency

What happens after you take the quiz?

You’re able to click through each of the recommendations to learn more about why we recommended that specifically to you. Underneath that, there’s information on the research and science behind that product and abstracts of the studies that we’re referencing.

There’s also information on the product’s ingredients, where they’re sourced from and the production process. When you advance to the next step of the process, you’ll see how many pills are in this pack and the cost. Then, you’re able to make changes by removing items, adding others that we didn’t recommend and increasing or decreasing the dosage—customising it until you feel good about it.

Designing for beliefs and motivations

What was your user research process like?

We started very broadly, posting advertisements on Craigslist because we wanted to make sure we were talking to strangers. Before inviting them to our office, we’d send them a 10-question survey to make sure that they were people who purchased in this category, were interested in supplements and were actually part of this large market.

For 2 or 3 months, we were running a ton of interviews, focus groups and one-on-one settings to really understand why people buy vitamins and the spectrum of different types of people. In addition to all of that qualitative research, we did a lot of quantitative research, surveying thousands of people and collecting data on them. We then segmented all of that quantitative data, backing it up with the qualitative research we did with user testing.

As the process got more advanced, we’d present mocked-up landing pages at the end of these interviews and say, “Let’s say this service existed. What do you think?”. Eventually, it went from landing pages to mini alpha sites to a beta where we actually had a service for about 3 or 4 months with about 50 customers coming from Google advertisements.

What were some of the biggest takeaways that you and your team got from all this research?

One thing that surprised me as a product guy was that the general rule of thumb tends to be to have quick and efficient onboarding so that you’re not creating too many opportunities for people to drop off. But we found that the exact opposite was true in this case. For example, very early on, we had a 1 page quiz with 5 questions. Then, we expanded it to 10 questions, still really short and high level.

We were worried that if we had a 50-question survey, people wouldn’t want to answer all those questions. What we found was that while people do finish a short quiz, they don’t trust your recommendations as much. It doesn’t feel like they’ve given you enough information and if you’re trying to deliver something personalised, you really need to know someone.

Beyond vitamins

What have been some of the feedback you received that you’re going to apply in the future?

For a lot of people who are new to vitamins or who have been wanting to take them consistently, it can be difficult to maintain a steady habit. One of the things that we’ve been thinking about is, how does Care/of become a partner to you in the habit-building process?

We all know it’s no secret that sometimes habits can be hard to build and easy to break. We’ve got a lot of feedback from many of our customers that as much as they love the packs and the products, they’re still feeling like they’re forgetful of taking them every day. We’re releasing tools to help people build that habit in a way that’s motivational, but also in a way that’s soft and warm, human, and friendly. So it doesn’t feel annoying or naggy. Our hope is that with the right amount of feedback and iteration, we can help a lot of these people get over that difficulty.

Do you think this could then be developed into something that helps improve other positive habits?

Yeah totally. Behaviour change and habit-building is hard. We’re looking forward to learning about whether some of these tools we’ve developed are actually impactful. As we gain insights, we’re learning if there are any important takeaways that we could apply to other things like exercise, mindfulness or even things like memory games in addition to the herb that you’re taking to support perhaps your memory.

How do we surround our suite of products with habit-building tools that motivate people to do the things they want to do but have been struggling with in the past? I’m definitely very excited about those possibilities.

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