Celebrating 5 Years of Helping America Shape Up
This past month we passed an important milestone in the history of ShapeUp: the five year anniversary of the founding of our company.
Half a decade ago, my co-founder Brad Weinberg and I sat in the Sciences Library at Brown University, situated at the top of College Hill in Providence, our microbiology textbooks pushed into a pile at one end of a long table and our attention firmly focused on a single page of notebook paper in front of us. It was this piece of paper that became the handwritten founder’s agreement that solidified our company and our partnership, an unlikely one between two restless medical students, one from Connecticut with a background in non-profit organizing and public health and the other from Kansas with expertise in software development and financial accounting. Despite our divergent backgrounds, we united around our desire to think beyond the thick concrete walls of that library and our shared belief in a single, powerful idea: that sustainable behavior change is only possible when people work together.
Brad and I spent many hundreds of hours in that library, sketching wireframes and stretching our minds around the idea that we could have a greater impact on the world around us than the books we were studying from might suggest. Surely we could master a body of clinical knowledge and spend our lives imparting that information to our patients, one at a time, as they came to us seeking treatment for their ailments. But it was this very reactive nature of medicine itself that frustrated our natural instincts to be proactive, to try to see the future and act on it before it could dictate to us how we should react.
The future became obvious to us during our clinical encounters in our class on “doctoring,” where we spent time at the bedside interacting with patients and participating firsthand in the exalted doctor-patient relationship. It was a frightening future that we saw, one filled with glucometers and stents, insulin pumps and dialysis centers, medical machinery being furiously deployed by overwhelmed doctors trying to respond to the seemingly unstoppable flowing tide of obesity, and with it, debilitating chronic diseases like diabetes. Neither of us could accept that future, nor could we stomach a “wait-and-see” approach to dealing with it. We instead imagined a time where prevention, not treatment, was at the core of our nation’s health care system. We envisioned a future where our resources were front-loaded and aimed squarely at keeping people healthy before they began slipping down the slope toward chronic disease.
Our vision began to take shape and gain clarity thanks to a few extraordinary patients who seemed to succeed against the odds. These were the rare individuals who had heeded the advice of their physician and gone on to successfully lose weight, increase their exercise, eat healthier, and quit smoking while watching their blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol plummet along the way. We discovered, through our recently-learned history-taking skills, what set these patients apart from the masses who failed at achieving the same goals: a trusted social support network. These individuals had brilliantly, albeit instinctively, leveraged the important people in their lives—their family, friends, and colleagues—to provide them with the motivation, encouragement, and accountability they needed to change their behavior. Instead of joining a gym alone, like most of us do, they signed up with an exercise buddy. Rather than dieting alone and in private, as is the norm in our society, they involved the entire family in changing how they stocked their fridge and what they cooked for dinner. They power-walked at lunch with their co-workers, announcing their goals publicly and enlisting the support of others to achieve them. Inspired by these stories and impressed by this simple and obvious, yet underrated and underutilized approach, we pictured a world where people everywhere had easy access to programs and tools that would encourage, facilitate, and strengthen social connections designed to improve and sustain their health. During our first year of medical school, that’s the future we set out to design and then build, one wireframe, one line of code, one program, and one company at a time.
That company is ShapeUp, which today works with hundreds of employers and hundreds of thousands of employees, helping organize and facilitate the social connections that empower individuals to achieve successful behavior change. We’ve grown from two hopeful medical students into a team of fifty passionate individuals who wake up every morning excited about the challenge of influencing the future by keeping people healthy. These past five years have been engaging, enlightening, and humbling for our team. As Thanksgiving approaches, we’d like to express our gratitude to the entire ShapeUp community for joining and sustaining us on this incredible journey. Thank you for an amazing five years, and let’s keep working together to build the better, healthier future that we all hope to see.
wellness programs, wellness innovations, social wellness, shapeup history, shapeup culture, reversing the trend, rajiv, employees, brad