Founder Story: Jamie Rosen
This blog originally started as a place to highlight the accomplishments of entrepreneurs we meet that inspire us. That motivate us. That don’t just come up with ideas but who have the guts and the gumption to execute them. Our work takes us all over the world, which poses the question: why can’t we highlight some of our friends who aren’t lucky enough to call Silicon Beach home? Answer: We can!
Jamie Rosen is an expert in Fun Theory, the philosophy of taking things that are tedious and making them more enjoyable by injecting them with playfulness. Fun Theory is the basic philosophy that has propelled Jamie his whole life. A Harvard alum, ex-politico, startup entrepreneur extraordinaire, Jamie’s curious nature has earned him a diverse portfolio of personal and professional experiences. He strongly believes in the old adage that if you are doing something you love, you will never have to work a day in your life. That was the main reason he started NYC based DietBet in the summer of 2011. After witnessing the fun employees were having during an office weight loss competition, Jamie saw an opportunity to monetize the healthy and often tedious act of losing weight.
DietBet allows its users to join social dieting campaigns where each user is challenged to lose four percent of their body weight in just four weeks. Each user bets a pre-determined amount and has to submit photo evidence of their starting weight and their progress. At the end of the four weeks, the players that have lost the four percent split the pot. DietBet has been growing rapidly and has especially caught on in workplaces around the country.
Jamie sat down with us to give us a more detailed look at his Fun Theory, discuss the strides his NYC based company have made in the past year, and how he did it by focusing on one thing: having fun.
Founding Date: July 2011
Education: Harvard College, Harvard Business School (dropped out)
Entrepreneurial Icon: Warren Buffett
Words to Live By: If you find a job you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.
What is DietBet and what was your inspiration to start the company?
I started DietBet after visiting an office where a weight loss competition was happening. I was blown away by how gung ho everyone was about eating healthy and exercising. One guy was trying to intimidate his competitors by doing push ups at their cubes. Someone else was leaving chocolate on his rivals’ chairs. Everyone was laughing and the morale of the office had picked up — all because of this healthy challenge. It occurred to me that if I could somehow bottle this up and “productize” it as a motivational platform, it could be valuable.
I’ve been starting businesses and inventing products since I was a kid. After college, I worked for the Clinton-Gore campaign. By the end, I was more interested in coming up with new souvenirs than organizing political events, so I came up with a few products and started selling them in Washington around the inauguration. I sold out of everything and the experience convinced me to try to become a inventor. But I didn’t know what being an “inventor” meant, so I went back to Cambridge and started taking engineering and art classes. I also snuck into an intellectual property class at Harvard Law School, where I learned about patents and trademarks. I lucked out and got a Lemelson Fellowship, which was a new program at the time to support young inventors. I became friends with the donor, a legendary inventor named Jerry Lemelson, and went into business with him inventing toys. After doing that for a few years I went off to HBS to get a more conventional business education. That was in the late 90s when the “Web 1.0” was taking off. After a semester I decided to drop out when a company I founded got a round of venture capital. That company was Comet Systems, which I helped run for eight years until it became profitable and got acquired. After that, I started to work on some ideas I had for location-based social networking and ended up selling that IP to Yahoo! Around then I got married to a woman from Mexico City and we moved to Mexico where we started an internet business to help Americans and Canadians research and buy vacation and retirement homes in resort destinations. We loved that business but it unfortunately got derailed by the mortgage crisis. That’s when I shifted focus to DietBet. I spent a couple years honing the concept, getting investors, and assembling an amazing core team — during that time it has evolved into a fast-growing company with thousands of paying customers and a product we’re all really proud of.
The Fun Theory says that you can change human behavior for the better by making things fun. The power of the Fun Theory is in taking things that are tedious and making them easier and better by injecting some playfulness. DietBet employs the Fun Theory to gamify weight loss — something few people would associate with the word fun. By turning your diet into a sport which you can play with friends and strangers, it takes some of the work out of losing weight. It makes it exciting and competitive. While “fun” is hard to quantify, it is an essential part of the DietBet experience. Without the fun, I don’t think we would be seeing such high efficacy or repeat rates.
We had a memorable DietBet with six “All Pro Eaters” to compete in a DietBet. Three of them kicked it off in Times Square with a pizza-eating contest followed immediately by their weigh-in. We figured it would be interesting to see if these big guys could channel their competitiveness for eating into not eating (or at least eating less). Amazingly, they all got into it. In fact, Joel “The Cannon” Podelsky, who weighed-in at 272 pounds, ended up losing 18 pounds during the four-week game. And he just called me over the holidays to tell me that he’s gotten into walking and has dropped 90 pounds since that game — he now walks up to four hours a day and attributes DietBet to changing his life. (NY1 shot a fun segment about that game here.)
We’ve grown a lot, not just in terms of business metrics like users and revenue, but also in understanding how we can help people lose weight and keep it off (which is harder than losing it in the first place). We initially thought that DietBet was about the financial incentives, but after thousands of players, we’ve come to the conclusion that the most important factor is social interactivity — bringing people together in a friendly way to both compete and collaborate as they change their behaviors. Going forward we’re excited to expand from a simple game that works wonders as a kickstarter into a long-term “social dieting” solution that helps people adopt sustainable healthy habits.
Don’t listen to anyone who purports to have universal advice.