Ari Tulla is a San Francisco-based entrepreneur and the co-founder and CEO of Elo smart nutrition service, transforming food from the cause of disease to medicine. Ari has a long history of turning ideas into products and businesses. In a wide ranging discussion, Ari shared with us the mission of Elo Health, his point of view on AI (and how it will help his business) and perspectives on innovation.
[01:24] Ari told the story behind the founding of his health startups. His interest in health food was seeded when his wife had a medical issue twenty years ago.
[07:57] Ari discussed the meaning of the name “Elo” (Life) which came from Finnish.
[09:20] Conversation on the history of Nokia, its impact on the country Finland and its resilience through various transformation
[15:58] Ari discussed the macro view of technological changes (fire/transportation/internet/mobile/AI). The impact of AI on many industries will be massive. Ari believes that AI will be the catalyst for healthcare as it is all about data.
[22:24] Ari discussed the opportunity of “food as medicine” and Elo’s business model and products.
[25:28] Ari took a deeper dive into Elo’s product.
[25:52] Market segmentation and competitors are discussed.
[27:48] Ari shared Elo’s go-to-market strategy with the audience.
[30:03] Ari discussed his fundraising experience and the importance of conviction.
[32:52] Recent funding trend was discussed and contrasted with the peak in 2021.
[36:09] Conversation on how to handle difficult questions with investors/board members and the distinct roles between executives and board members.
[38:32] Ari shared how he is using OKRs (and Rocks) to set/track goals for the company. He also discussed a mandate that everybody in the company has to learn AI tools and educate other team members what they are doing with it.
[41:15] Ari continued to discuss how he is infusing AI into the business process. He further discussed how he is applying the concept of marketing funnels in other management disciplines (e.g. hiring).
[43:33] Ari shared with the audience two books he enjoyed reading.
Books and TV series mentioned in the conversation
When Heavens went for sale
Ari on Health Tech Innovation and Disruption
Very little has happened in (digital) healthcare yet. We’re barely getting data in the cloud. We are barely able to deploy mobile phones into people’s lives. We are barely able to get these sensors working (e.g. apple watch). In the next 25 years, healthcare will go through this whole chasm, and how much happened for the automotive or the finance industries will also happen for the healthcare. And I think AI will be the catalyst for healthcare because healthcare is all about data. It’s about data from your body data, from the blood test data, from your weight. Your doctors never tell you anything before they do a test, because if they do, that would be malpractice. So almost every decision the doctors are making is based on a blood test or some scan, or some type of study about you, and then they do something. But there is so much more data coming every day that not a human can ever understand it. Systems like AI will help us understand better and make real time recommendation. So I think healthcare will be most disrupted out of any field, and people being less sick and people living longer.
Ari discussed Go-To-Market Strategy
We are a classic B to C play because we customize every product to you. We can build really great products for you, and we can send it direct. There’s no middleman. But at the same time we can’t put our product in retail easily, because every product that you get is made to order, we can’t stack it on the shelf in a store. I don’t think we can even go to Amazon today, because there’s no system at Amazon that we could easily do this. (I hope they do it soon, so we could go to Amazon.) So we have to get people into our funnel. We have to find people, we have to first identify who are the right people for these things. Then we need to get the word out. We don’t have million of dollars to do marketing campaigns on TV and super bowl. We have to do it more grassroot level. (e.g. using a lot of influencers) There is no easy way today to build the consumer brand. It takes time, it takes effort, and it takes a huge amount of work to do that. So there may be a time, maybe 5 years ago, that you could use social media to really grow quickly and get viral. But that’s not happening often anymore.
Perspective on Fundraising and Startups
I think fundraising is sales. It’s about having a conviction in yourself that you know this can be done and having a team who have the conviction and then being able to tell the world/the people who have more money than you have. I mean most VCs, of course, think about the return aspect, but many of them in the end they invest in companies that feel like something that should exist in the world, and they would love to be part of it. There’s a lot of mental and emotional engagement also when they think about it. I was lucky enough to join the first startup as a first employee around 1999 (Web 1.0), we built the first websites in Finland for bigger companies. And that was very early. I was able to build new business inside big companies for a decade and learn a lot. And when I started my first own company 2011 it was a big learning, but I had done most of things already. I knew how to build a business, how to hire a team, how to run it. But the fundraising was an interesting experience then. We run the company almost a decade and now it’s part of a bigger company that I run as well. and they’re doing well, I mean, they’ll hope to be a public company the next 2 years. So that’s pretty exciting if you have your own baby [company] to go public someday. That’s a big thing. And but now I am doing it again. I’m starting something new. (sixth time for myself) Yeah, it’s been a bit easier, but you know you always have to first believe in the idea yourself, and you have to have a good idea that you want to believe in, not for one year, but for decade. So it’s not easy to pick a topic you want to work on, because you can only do so many times in your lifetime. You only have, maybe, like 4 or 5 companies. I don’t know anyone who has really built like more than 5 companies as a CEO or founder themselves. So you have to pick the paddle and stuff that you really care about.
Ari on OKRs and funnels
For about decade, I have been using the concept of OKRs. So today at Elo, we use a concept called rocks. That is like a simplified way of thinking OKRs. We pick 3 different goals every quarter. We pick 3 different goals for every year and then we are tracking those with different KPIs. They all have to be smart measurable things, but you never pick more than 3, and sometimes we pick like 2 business goals and one development goal (e.g. an internal team development). And today, I also have a mandate that everybody in the company have to learn the AI tools and educate other team members what they are doing.
I’m a big believer in the funnels. I ‘m a marketing/product-oriented CEO. I’m less oriented on the finance. I spend a lot time on products that people really care about. The funnels for marketing, for example, like understanding exactly what is the cost of every step of the funnel, can be applied to other management process. How do people (job candidates) go through the funnel? How do we get the right people in what the retention looks like? That’s really important for me. I’m trying to deploy the same rigor that we have in marketing today into other parts of business, like hiring how to build the same quality funnel.
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