Isabelle Kenyon’s mom had had enough.
She was having weight-related health problems, and all the solutions that used to work were getting her nowhere. She told her daughter, “I’ve tried every diet and every plan and it doesn’t work anymore. Something changed with my body, where the things I used to do to lose 20 pounds will only lose four pounds now. How do I get this under control?”
At the time, Kenyon was an executive at the pharmacy startup Capsule, so she had built up a roster of medical contacts in New York. “I found one that ran a weight-management program, so I sent my mom there,” says Kenyon. “It was one of those classic entrepreneur moments where I’m asking myself, how many of these doctors are there, and how many of my mom are out there? There are 4,000 doctors like that, and there are 175 million of my mom.”
It was that insight that led Kenyon to found Calibrate, a new startup that aims to scale metabolic weight-loss management programs to bring the kind of treatment that is traditionally reserved for a few to the masses of Americans struggling with weight loss issues. The foundation of the metabolic approach is that it treats everyone as a unique person, eschewing the long-held belief that a simple calories-in-versus-calories-out approach can work with everyone. It revolves around the idea of a set point, where your body is defending the highest weight you’ve ever been at, and when you’re not at that weight it’s doing everything in its power to slow down your metabolism and conserve energy. This approach works to reset that set point to a healthier weight.
“These programs have existed for four decades, they’re not that complex, and we’re not getting them to people,” says Kenyon. “Obesity is a complex, chronic disease that we’ve learned so much about in the last decade, but we’re not changing how we’re delivering care fast enough.”
And it’s not just about speed. A traditional metabolic weight-loss management program can cost up to $5,000.
Calibrate is a platform that creates a 52-week program for each user that acts as a metabolic reset. You work with a doctor and a coach via telemedicine, from anywhere, moving through 52 weeks of content to make tiny changes to the way you eat, sleep, exercise, and manage stress. A subscription costs $129 per month.
A new sell for a new treatment
The new brand is launching into a culture that is conditioned to view weight loss programs with skepticism. We all know someone who’s tried one system or program, only to gain weight back and leave frustrated. Kenyon says that’s understandable, given the basis of so many traditional approaches is willpower.
In 2013, the American Medical Association designated obesity as a disease, and that began a shift in attitudes toward how to best treat it.
That is the insight Kenyon says is fundamental to the Calibrate brand.
In early testing of its advertising, the line that has resonated the most with people is “Designed for your biology, not your willpower.”
“People have been told time and time again, whether it’s Noom, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, whatever it is, they’ve all been about willpower,” says Kenyon. “Like, ‘If you stick with this, you’ll get the outcome.’ So to say it’s not about that at all, but about biology, physiology, working with a doctor, and understanding your own metabolic health, is a totally different approach. The minute you tell people about the set-point concept, that’s the a-ha moment in every consumer interview we did.”
The initial target market consists of people who are aware that their weight is having a negative impact on their health. Someone who’s been diagnosed with gestational diabetes or high blood pressure, or men and women who’ve just been in and out of the doctor’s office and can’t seem to lose weight.
“U.S. consumers spent $300 billion on weight-loss solutions last year, and they gained a pound and a half. The traditional market is broken,” says Kenyon. “Our goal is to be top of mind, we want to be trusted, and have people to believe in the credibility and outcomes of the program. At the same time, this type of thing is inherently, deeply viral. When you lose weight, everyone asks: ‘What’d you do? How’d you do it?'”
Right now, the company is running an early access program for people who already looked into medical weight loss and prescription weight loss, to build momentum and early results.
“One of my favorite pieces of consumer research is 67% of American adults self-identify as overweight, and the actual number is 75%,” says Kenyon. “But only 4% self-identify as obese, and the actual number is 43%. This affects everyone.”